Forget Winning and Losing

Forget Winning and Losing

By: Joe Hannan

Forget Winning and Losing

                       Photo by Josh Smith

I’m told there’s at least one in every gym. This person goes by many names, most of which aren’t suitable for prime time. If you’ve ever rolled with this person, you know what you’re in for the second you engage. Their rigid posture, desperate struggle for grips and tendency to gas out tell even the most experienced grappler everything they need to know, and reading these signs, the experienced grappler now knows that they’re in for it.

While it’s easy and common to point the finger at this type of behavior, it’s worth remembering that the grappler of many names unsuitable for prime time was each of us, at least once. Hell, maybe it’s you or me right now. When was the last time you turned a critical eye to your pace and approach on the mat? We had to learn — just as maybe they have yet to learn — that jiu jitsu can’t be contained by the dichotomy of winning and losing.

I have a thoroughly unscientific, non-research based opinion on where this type of behavior comes from. I believe there are two factors. The first: For most of us, especially veterans of other combat sports, winners and losers are clearly defined. Most of the time in jiu jitsu, that’s not the case. You could exhaust yourself by keeping a mental score of points during each of your sparring sessions, but odds are this will take your mind off where it should be — the present, where your training partner is trying to choke you unconscious. The only way for a winning-obsessed grappler to come away with a clear victory is to completely dominate the round, even if it means holding their partner in one place for the duration, or putting on submissions with with injurious force.

The second, and in my opinion more prominent factor is the fact that we spend way more time in jiu jitsu losing than winning. Here’s a thought experiment: Do you remember getting your first submission? My guess is that you probably don’t. You might remember the move you used, but do you recall the training partner or circumstances? This memory is most likely obstructed by the cloud of experience in your head — all of the thousands of times you were swept, submitted, or defeated on points shroud this memory in a mental fog. What are traditionally thought of as loses outnumber and outweigh the wins in our BJJ memories.

But it’s these failures that fuel our growth in jiu jitsu. As I’ve written here before, failure is the grappler’s best friend and teacher. Considering these two factors that go into shaping the mindset of the grappler of many names unsuitable for primetime, it becomes obvious that the winning and losing dichotomy doesn’t serve the BJJ grappler any longer.

The most successful people I’ve encountered on the mats are, perhaps not surprisingly, always on the mats. They log the hours and experience necessary for building greatness. And they relentlessly experiment, unconcerned with the outcome of the roll. They’ve learned that winning and losing have their places in competition, but they’ve outlived their usefulness in training.

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