The Losing Experience
There’s a quote that goes like this, “You either win or you learn.” It replaces the word “lose” in the coupling of either winning or losing and is meant to express the fact that we learn something from every fight or game. I agree with this sentiment, although I believe you learn a lot from winning as well. Maybe less, because the satisfaction of having achieved what is pretty universally considered “success” with a win might gloss over mistakes made during the fight. The pain of losing motivates you to correct those things much more than the bliss of victory does.
But just as not all victories are equal, not all losses are either. I’ve lost fights and felt afterwards that I performed to the best of my ability and am very happy with it. And I’ve won fights where I feel that I didn’t deserve it at all. In the case of fights where I performed badly and lose, it’s very difficult to trim away the excessive emotional response and just focus on the part that can be a lesson that leads to improvement. My fight last night was such a fight. I made mistakes from the start and couldn’t recover from the initial error. I lost to an opponent who I believe I could have defeated. However, fighting her fight I will most likely lose 4:5 times due to her superior experience. I absolutely had the power advantage, but if you can’t land anything then all the power in the world does absolutely nothing to help you.
What feels so awful about last night’s fight, however, is that I knew while it was happening what a terrible performance it was and at the very same time my corner was telling me what a terrible performance it was. Khun chok mai dee, my trainer said as I stood in the corner. (“You fight badly.”) Disappointing your own expectations is one thing, disappointing your coaches and trainers is another. They’re not entirely separate and in the grand scheme of things disappointing yourself is a bigger issue – what other people expect from you or of you is largely out of your control – but feeling obligated to the reputation of your gym makes those fights where you essentially piss the bed a really, really hard pill to swallow.
Really, the challenge for me is letting it go. You can’t ever go back into the fight and fix what you did wrong, even if right upon leaving the ring and hours after the fight you know exactly what you did wrong and what you should have done to correct it. But you can’t go back, you are forced to move forward – all you can do to remedy the past is change what you do in the present and the future. That’s what training is for. And I know this, intellectually. But I’m not well practiced in it quite yet. I’m that kind of person who is embarrassed about something I did or said from days, weeks, or even years ago. It softens over time, for sure, but there’s still a little swell of embarrassment when I remember putting my foot in my mouth in front of my professor at college or being a total little shit to my brother at some point when we were children. I think part of that is that I have photographic memory, so I recall everything with great detail. So instead of remembering that something happened, when I remember it it feels as though it is still happening. The embarrassment is vacuum sealed in my brain to be forever fresh. It kinda sucks. But there are wonderful things about that, too. Remembering every detail of my grandmother’s hands or how my first dog’s ears smelled are wonderful memories to me. I’m just geared toward the negative, which is a struggle for me. Give me 10 compliments and a criticism and I will take to heart the criticism more strongly. (Unless it comes from some asshole who I don’t know or whose opinion doesn’t mean anything to me. That’s pretty easy to ignore.)
What Matters in Losing
So what do I do? Well, one of my brothers (not the one I was awful to) is a Ph.D in Sport Psychology and he put it succinctly in a less-than-polite example, but one that gets the point across brilliantly. “Sylvie, what do you do with shit in the toilet? You flush it. Don’t sit there staring at it. When you take a shit, flush.” Lovely, right? But it’s absolutely the right example for what’s happening when we hold on to these experiences that make us feel embarrassed or ashamed or disappointed in ourselves. Everyone knows the horror of using a friend’s toilet and suddenly the damn thing’s not working or it’s about to overflow. You freak out and then at some point the problem is solved – you get it to flush or you start fiddling with the tank – and probably nobody ever knows about it except you, but you keep feeling embarrassed and paranoid about this experience. That’s why I use the example of pissing the bed. How you deal with it is everything, because probably nobody else knows or even cares. Right in the same vein with my brother’s advice to “flush,” an Aussie fighter I trained with at Lanna was commenting on a friend of ours who was making much too big a deal about his loss in a fight the night before, acting all shameful and apologetic and staying away from the gym. “His problem is he thinks anyone gives a shit if he loses a fight,” he said. And it made me realize that it doesn’t really matter. My coaches are disappointed for a minute, maybe they gambled money and I literally cost them by losing, but anyone who gambles on a fight or corners for fighters has experienced loss before. It feels bad, but nobody cares after the first day of talking shit at the gym to the other trainers. They let it go quickly. They don’t leave shit floating in the toilet.
This fight was scheduled a few weeks ago and then last week I was confirmed for another fight in Bangkok, just four days later. I’ve fought at that kind of frequency before and it’s not a problem, but the only issue that could derail the whole thing would be if I got cut in the first fight. You generally can’t fight with stitches in, especially on your face. If you’re looking at it from a wide angle I actually accomplished what I set out to do, which was to fight this first fight without getting cut and without injuries that would be detrimental to my second fight. In fact, I’m not injured at all. From that vantage point, I succeeded. The downside to the fight in four days is that I’m still feeling shitty about this loss, because of my performance, and I won’t be going into this next fight with the confidence of having done well in my most recent fight. Confidence is very important in fights, but it’s not the only motivator. Wanting to correct the things that made this first fight so terrible – and having the belief in myself that I can change those things in my performance – makes the proximity of the next fight absolutely wonderful. I’ve always said that the best way to deal with a loss is to get back in the ring, to wash the taste out of your mouth so to speak. So, for my next fight, win or lose, I just want to do the things that I set out to do in the fight and leave the outcome out of my mind all together. I would love to win, but winning doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t be disappointed. More important is to change the things that bothered me so much about last night’s fight, and part of last night’s failure had to do with internalizing the external expectations from my corner – men who unanimously owned that they don’t really know me as a fighter yet, so their expectations were based on a combination of things that do have to do with me and what they’ve seen in my training at the gym and things that have nothing to do with me because they don’t yet have all the information about how I perform in fights. But I do have that information. I want to meet my expectations. That, to me, is how to grow and if I’m able to do that, the win will come.