120. Todays' Lesson In Corp-Speak
122. Those Who Need It The Most Do It The Least

121. But Mommy, It's My Turn To Win!

To continue my New Year's thematic ........ the truth is truly extreme.

How many times have you heard the phrase, "As a martial artist you must learn to transcend victory and defeat"?

Wow.  If I heard that once from Sensei I heard it a thousand times ... maybe 10,000.  Problem is .... it's largely a lie ... or a falsehood ... or too optimistic and unrealistic  ..... depending on how critical you feel like being today.  It just sounds all "zen-ny" and "new-agey" and "aikido-esque"; sorta like saying, "When you can snatch the church key from my hand you are ready for happy hour."  ...... 

Church-key-can-and-bottle-openerHumans didn't survive the last million years or so of evolution as we shed our hair, lost our tails and climbed down out of the trees and started walking upright and learned how to talk and use tools by not being competitive survivors.  We survived because bottom line; we are highly competitive creatures who got here by competing with nature, with animals, with the weather and with each other.  It's only the fact that we developed abstract and critical thought processes that we haven't killed off the planet or made ourselves extinct ..... yet.

Not competitive you say?  Bwahaha .. don't make me laugh and call you  a liar to your face.

Standing in line at a great restaurant that won't take reservations, waited for 2 hours and the next person called for a table ahead of you got there AFTER you did.  Roll-over or immediately ask the host WTF?

Studying hard in school, took the tests, scored the same perfect 100%, straight A+ scores as one other person but told THEY are going to be the Valedictorian and you're not?  WHAT?

Working that dream job for the big corporation that has one slot open for promotion and a 20% raise in pay.  You have seniority and you've been doing that job anyway for the last 90 days as a stand-in until management decided who to promote ..... and the guy who sits in the cube next to you with half your experience and half your time on the job gets the nood.  And you're happy about that?

How many examples do you want of just how competitive all of us really are?

You want to win just like I do.  The problem is that an overly strong desire to win is largely out of place on the mat when training, especially when doing randori of any kind.  It leads to inappropriate behavior, injuries, hurt feelings, belligerent attitudes and anger.  So this is where Sensei says, "You must learn to transcend victory and defeat"  ...... (must be said in deep booming voice with echos in background like a mystic living in a cave)  ...... you know ...... one bowl, one robe, one koan ..... oh and throw in some mist slithering along the ground like in an old B&W werewolf movie.

So what do we do about our competitiveness?  Well, my solution was one I could never voice to my Sensei as I don't think he'd really understand nor appreciate.  I want to win all the time but ... I equally want to lose all the time.

If I want to win then I'll do my best.  If I want to lose all the time the it's likely that I'll not do my best or, will hold back so that Sensei is not critical.  So the rub here is that if I have the wrong view of "transcending" then if I win I may start feeling guilty about being better at randori/kata so I'll hold back and do badly so that everyone likes me and I follow Sensei' directions.  Now I'll never do my best and never improve.  Judo gets past this with no competition in class but with shiai at tournaments.  Aikido, being a non-competitive martial art (tanto shiai be damned) has no such outlet so randori in class can become an issue.

In Aikido randori (the toshu, tanto kind with no tournament or competitive aspect of that kind involved) I strive for a balance.  I want to win as much as I want to lose.  I want to lose as much as I want to win. 

If I can keep it at 50-50 then both benefit me.  I have the satisfaction in randori of "winning" (more properly translated as "doing the best I can even if the other guy is less able than I am and can neer catch me.")  But if I lose then I have a very positive attitude about that because I can take that experience and improve myself.  It becomes a "win-win" even when I lose and my training partner who just took kote-0gaeshi on me 37 times in a row is teaching me and showing me where my weaknesses are so that my subconscious mind can begin to make those little corrections in my footwork and timing and posture that will, in the long run, make me a much better Aikido player.  If this is the case and my attitude, then how can "losing" to him be a bad or a negative thing?

So now "winning" or dominating the other person in randori teaches me how to be technically best and most effective against a lesser "opponent/uke/player" ...... while losing to that other person shows me my weaknesses so that I can correct and improve upon them.  Both "winning" and "losing" then become positives and I can positively direct and focus my competitive side while not feeling badly or fretting over my "I lost" side.

It is certainly true that in a dojo there will always be those naturals who have spent the time to become better and that in a heads-up randori scenario they will most always come out on top.  However, as long as everyone acknowledges that "winning" is not that "bad thing" that we're told it is and as long as the better players always take the time to assist and teach the lesser players how to improve and grow and become that "better" player, then a positive atmosphere is developed and maintained in which "winning" in randori is not a negative and "losing" in randori is simply nothing more than a challenge to oneself to work to learn to do better and is always, always a positive learning experience for all involved.

Randori is a critical part of training and of learning.  "Winning' therefore is not something to be avoided and "losing" also is not something to be dreaded.  The two are nothing more than two sides of the same coin and each should be valued for its appropriate place in the Aikido paradigm.  One cannot exist without the other and both can, and should be, made positive learning tools for the true Bushi/Aikido player.


L.F. Wilkinson Sensei, Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

January 2012


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Rick Matz

I take the non attachment to winning to mean that there is no real difference between practice and performance.

When an archer is shooting for nothing he has all his skill.
If he shoots for a brass buckle he is already nervous.
If he shoots for a prize of gold
he goes blind
or sees two targets
- he is out of his mind!

His skill has not changed. But the prize
divides him. He cares.
He thinks more of winning than of shooting
and the need to win
drains him of power.

Zhuang Zi

The comments to this entry are closed.