I’d love to be the person who genuinely only thinks that whether I do the best I can in a fight is what’s important, and winning or losing is secondary to that. That if I fight well, fight hard and with heart, and do what I’m able, that this is all that should matter to me. But, the fact is, losing sucks. And winning even when you haven’t done your best feels better than just not having done your best.
Last night was the fourth fight I’ve lost in a row. There are tons of little things that kind of buffer those losses: two of them were shortened, 3 round (2 min) fights; 2 were against opponents more than 3 kg bigger than myself; 2 of them I very realistically could have had the decision and having lost them is a bit of a surprise, even if I can find reasons for how it went the way it did, just because I can reach for those explanations. Only one of those fights was a really shitty performance on my part, where I just flat-out didn’t do enough or much of anything at all. In 3 of those fights I fought really well, showing genuine growth and progress as a fighter. And in this last fight, I honestly and truly don’t believe I lost – I can’t find where it makes sense – and the promoter, owner of the stadium, many people in the audience and a good size of the gamblers believe that I won. It’s bogus. But it still goes on your record as a loss; you can’t believe you won and go around with that fight in the win margin of your fight ledger. And for that simple fact, the loss feels shitty even when you perform well; even when everything that makes a fight a success is still true, the fact of a loss feels terrible and it flavors everything you think and feel after the fight. And I’m not the person who can just feel the first part of that equation, as much as I’d love to be.
Muhammad Ali said:
I never thought of losing, but now that it’ s happened, the only thing is to do it right. That’s my obligation to all the people who believe in me. We all have to take defeats in life.
So how does one lose rightly? Well, for one, you don’t go around hanging your head like it’s the end of the world. It simply isn’t. Losses can change your career; they can be devastating in ways beyond the feeling-sorry-for-yourself realm that 99% of losses are relegated to. But they’re still not the end of the world unless you allow them to stop you from trying again; if you quit, then it’s the end. So, losing well means you take it as feedback for what you need to improve, something that often the gloss of winning doesn’t help you to do. Loss can be a great motivator, especially if the loss pisses you off rather than makes you curl up in the dark with a pint of ice-cream. That’s okay, too… but just for a day, then get your ass back to the grind. Really, wins or losses only last as long as you let them. Even with losses that are unjust, there’s still something to learn from that. We’ve all heard, “never leave it in the hands of the judges,” and quite frankly if you fight a perfect fight and those guys fuck you over with a horrible decision, you can still improve by working on how to end fights when the opportunity arises. You lose well by saying, “I controlled all this, but I let this other part be out of my control and I can change that.”
Master K, my founding teacher who now is 77 years old, has 79 fights and only 4 of those are losses. He’s got a sadism in him that allows me to understand fully how that came to be and, in fact, many times during my early training he would say to me, “you have to be sadist to do Muay Thai.” Interestingly, the word “sadist” in Thai also means masochist; they don’t differentiate between the two. That part is really appropriate for Muay Thai because you have to get hurt in order to be as brutal and, quite frankly, cruel as some of the most dangerous fighters are. It’s about embracing pain in either direction. And while I certainly am willing to take anything that comes at me in fights without backing down, I need to work a lot on demonstrating my ability to then put the pain on my opponents, who are often bigger than I am so it’s harder to show the damage I know I’m causing. In the close proximity of a fight you can feel and hear and see your opponent being affected – you hear the air leave their body or their breathing changes as they become stressed or angry, in the two-inches between you and they; you hear a strained sound from a knee. But the judges may not see that from outside of the ring. It’s on me to make that more evident. That is perfecting the art, magnifying the small things that matter.
Master K also used to say to me, “you have to hate to lose; you have to hate to lose more than you want to win.” I always hated that, because I feel bad about losing but I don’t hate it in the way that some fighters really, really hate losing. But I get it now, even if I’m not fully in that mindset yet. I’m angry about this loss, which is a more energetic and motivated response than being depressed or sad that I lost. I’m angry that it was unfair, yes; but I’m also angry because it’s the fourth loss in a row, which means I’ve been missing an element – a very important element of undeniability. Sadism, maybe; but definitely being a fighter who during the fight you can see hates to lose, rather than the fighter who after the fight shows how they hate to lose.
I hate adding this loss to my record. I hate it because it’s embarrassing and unjust and a reminder that I’m in a rut. All these negatives that are signified by a number – a fucking number – that says nothing about the fact that all these fights, other than one, show incredible growth and progress on my part. It’s harder to see how well I’m fighting because they aren’t ending in wins, even though I’m often fighting better than these opponents who are beating me. And I know that I’ve been on the other end of that as well; for years I’ve been fighting opponents who are better fighters than I am in a lot of ways, but I was able to beat them in fights which must have felt so awful for those opponents. Like how I feel now. So now I have to swallow this pill of losing to opponents who aren’t fighting well in the fight, aren’t really better than I am and have no business winning, but that’s not what determines the winner and loser in a fight. It’s not on paper, it’s in the ring. And fights can be lost by inches, just these tiny little things that, even as I’ve gotten better these tiny things have become more important and I have to keep adjusting to be both a good fighter and a winning fighter.
It’s hard to say I’m glad that I lost, because I don’t feel that way. I don’t want to lose. But I am grateful for the fact that losing forces me to work hard and make these changes, whereas winning these fights sends me the message that I’m doing good enough. It slows progress because it shows progress more attractively. Wins make you look better than you are and losses make you look worse than you are. This is just how it is.
So how do I lose right? I let myself feel angry and hurt, for a short time, but then I suck it up and turn that disappointment into the kindling for making adjustments. I take the encouragement and help from others who will facilitate that change and I stop carrying the dead weight of those who won’t, including the parts of myself that just want to feel bad. As my friend Robyn says to me, “feeling bad never made anyone feel good.” And I don’t have to feel good about losing – why would I? – but I do have to feel good about me. Even if that’s feeling good about my potential. It’s hard not to take it personally when judges say you lose even when you didn’t -it feels like a personal “fuck you” – and it’s hard to acknowledge your personal responsibility when you did lose. But in both those cases the injury is from only paying mind to the negatives, to the fact of the loss itself rather than the ways in which I did well and the ways in which I can do better. When you know better, you can do better.
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