On Losing

At work, I am fortunate enough to have a friend who is not only an Aikido enthusiast, but also willing and able to let us use his dojo’s space every now and then during lunch. We train in different styles, so our sessions often center around differences in movements; both the practical (re: martial) reasons behind a given technique or strategy, and the philosphical aspects.

Today, he brought up the fact that he had been struggling with Tsuki (punch). Not just regular, we’re-in-a-martial-arts-class tsuki, but the real thing. Jabs, body blows, the whole shebang. No problem, I thought to myself. I’ve trained in this type of situation before. I know what principles to apply and what strategies to employ. I have something to bring to the table here. I admit it: in my own mind, I felt that I was going to really show that I could dominate such a situation. I had the knowledge! I had the practice! I was ready to go!


When we got to the mat and began our workout, I lost. A lot. By “lost,” I mean that either I was forced to the ground or was hit hard enough/in the right area that, had this been an actual conflict, I would have been hurting. Certainly not the outcome I was anticipating. In all fairness, I don’t think I lost every time. But I lost enough that I found myself frustrated and upset. What made it more challenging for me was that I had done this exercise countless times, successfully! Why was it not working now? Was my training flawed? Was the uke that good? Am I just not that good of an aikidoka? I am a sandan, after all. I should win, and win often!

When we left the dojo, I found myself with these questions bouncing around in my head. I’ve come up with the following answers:

  1. Was my training flawed? Doubtful. I’ve done this technique before–at least enough times to know that I can be successful.
  2. Was the uke that good? Probably! He’s not unskilled, and is extremely committed. If anything, he is more of a martial artist than I am.
  3. AmI just not that good of an aikidoka? What a ridiculous, egotistical question. I should know better than to beat myself up over the poor execution of a single technique.

Aha! Ego! Perhaps the problem lay there. I thought back, and attempted to remove my ego from the situation. When I did so, I realized several things. First, I realized that the very fact that my ego got involved at all shows that I have a long way to go before I master this art. Aikido is not about ego. It is about calmly accepting the situation and responding as needed. With my ego in play, I was resisting my uke; I was not attempting to blend with him. I wanted to beat him. What I should have wanted was to join him.

Second, I realized that, the closer you get to real fighting, the more luck can become a factor. Sometimes I think I won because I shifted my weight at just the right time. Other times, I think I lost because I made a slight mistake in my movement. These are things that cannot be helped, and could happen to anyone.

Third, while I didn’t win every time, I didn’t lose every time either. Yet all my mind wanted to focus on was losing. Again, an illustration of how far I have to go in this art.

Fourth, even though I lost sometimes, and even though I was frustrated because I couldn’t figure out why, I didn’t get overly upset. Granted, I wasn’t the perfect example of calmness, but I was at least present enough to realize that I needed to keep myself calm and collected. That alone shows that, as far as I have to travel, I still have made some progress.

In the end, we gradulally slowed down the attacks. After a certain point, we reached a speed at which I became successful nearly every time. That tells me something. Just like with kokyu doza, perhaps the solution lies in slowing things down and rewarding correct movement even if it still could be improved. The next time we have the opportunity to do this, we agreed to start at a slower speed, and slowly increase that speed until we reach a point where the technique falls apart. The goal would be to get to where the point where things fall apart is beyond the speed at which any reasonable uke will attack.

In the end, I was grateful for this training opportunity. Next time, I’ll do better.
And, next time, I promised that I would not bleed all over the mat. But that is another story.

One thought on “On Losing

  1. Sensei,

    This is something that I’ve always had a hard time with. Two of my best friends are extremely good boxers. One of them, Alex, will hit the heavy bag up to 2000 times in one session. I’ve counted. The other, Zack, knows a lot about boxing. Watches probably 2 hours of boxing a day on TV, bets on it, reads about it. He doesn’t quite have the physical aptitude that Alex does, but he makes up for it in knowledge.

    There appear to be some similarties between boxing and Aikido. At least in regards to distancing, posture, leading and feinting, and control of space and mind.

    I’m not a skilled Aikidoka so I am not able to truly test any Aikido against such good boxers. However, I have been able to test theory. Through my Aikido training my body as become more aware of the energy of an attack. I see the foot planting, the wave moving up the leg through the back and out through the arm. I know where the fist is heading and if there is any real commitment behind it, as the distance is closed, is he going to move back away or continue entering in? This awareness allows me to organize myself as to not take on damage and position myself for an attack. It seems that at this point usually my Aikido brakes down and I rely on Tae Kwon Do or Wrestling (my first two martial arts). Even the Aikido helps me when using these arts because of the awareness. I may throw a punch or kick that I think is going to hit hard but then realize that all that energy has left open other areas of vulnerability on myself.

    I’m not sure what all this means.

    I think of the story you told me when the guy broke the beer bottle in the bar trying to start a fight. You just reacted instantly without thought. You were organized and you were aware of what his intention and capability was. You responded accordingly.

    The training I have had has allowed me to see how unskilled I am. My greatest weakness can be my strength if I am aware of it and can transform it.

    In my own art, one day I would like to return to TKD, Wrestling, Karate, Kung Fu, Muai Thai, etc. Train in these, and then bring them to the Aikido mat. There are many types of attacks, conventional and unconventional, learning to deal with these attack in the most efficient way will do nothing but to advance the current state of Aiki.


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