Why I Love Losing

Photo credit: Ippon Kumite/ Team Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu via Flickr Creative Commons

Okay, maybe that title is a bit of a lie. I don’t love losing, whether it’s a jiu jitsu competition, a game of Scrabble, or my cell phone. It’s way more fun to win and come home with a shiny award and the knowledge that all your hard work really paid off. But is losing really that bad? Personally, I think it’s kind of awesome.

Those of us who compete in BJJ go in with a competitive mindset. We spend a lot of time, energy, and money training to win, so anything less than a gold-medal performance can leave us feeling disappointed. But the beautiful thing about jiu jitsu is that there is always, always someone out there who’s better than us… and if we’re lucky, we’ll get to compete against them.

At my last tournament this past weekend, I will say straight-up that I got my butt whooped in a few of my matches. One of the women in my division was, like me, a blue belt, but unlike me, she had an impressive eight years of BJJ experience. I watched with a mixture of horror and awe as she tapped out one of the women in our division in mere seconds. She was insanely good… and I was slated to fight her next. She wasn’t just going to beat me— she was going to chew me up and spit me out in front of everyone. And I was so pumped for it to happen.

I go into every match with the mentality that I’m going to win. I don’t like to look at any of my competitors and think that they’re going to beat me, especially knowing how quickly things can turn around in the middle of any roll. I tried to stay optimistic and focused, but four minutes after we’d shaken hands on the mat, my opponent’s rear naked choke forced me to make the choice between tapping or napping. I’d given it my all, but she was just plain better than me. A lot better than me. It was epic.

Even though we’re all used to watching black belts performing BJJ magic, such a goal can often feel out of reach for us, especially if we’re still many years away from achieving that coveted status. Being that good at jiu jitsu is something that we’ll get to “eventually.” “Some day.” “Maybe.” But when we compete— and lose— against someone in a tournament, we’re going up against someone who is around the same experience level as we are, give or take a couple years. Whether we’re defeated by an advantage point at the last moment or get utterly destroyed in the blink of an eye, we realize that no matter how good our jits game is now, it might not be that long until we’re just as good as that guy or girl who beat us.

When you compete, you’re going at 100 percent against someone who has the same hunger for victory as you do. You’re getting all of them, and they’re getting all of you. There’s no doubt that creeps in and suggests that maybe they were just rolling light or taking it easy on you. If you win, you earned it. And if you don’t, there’s a reason why. The old mantra that “you either win or you learn” is absolutely true, but losing in jiu jitsu is less about learning how bad you are and more about learning how good you could be. If that doesn’t inspire you to get back on the mat and work your butt off, then I don’t know what will.

It’s OK to be bummed out over a tough loss. But after you’ve smothered your sorrows in a post-tournament pizza, it’s time to look back on it and appreciate it as an invaluable educational moment. They say that your best teacher is your last mistake, but it’s time to also give some credit to the tough competitors who have shown us that our “perfect” side-control escapes aren’t so perfect after all, or that we really should stop skipping cardio class. To all the ladies and gentlemen who have sent me home with a bruised body and ego, thank you for giving me the excitement of seeing just how good I can be if I keep going with this incredible sport.


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