Author: Shihan Graeme

The concept of winning pervades all cultures. From winning at the races, the casino, in sales, in business, in sports, in intellectual argument, at work, in kumite competition, in relationships and so on. Having the last word is some people’s attempt to finally win a moral if not actual verbal victory.

The general concept of winning infers somebody must lose. Somebody pays for our victory with their loss. Sometimes the cost of victory is so great that in hindsight, it really was a loss. The concept of a pyrrhic victory should be well considered. Where’s the victory if in winning you destroy yourself, or somebody else.

Mutual victory should be the goal of martial artists. I win, you win. "Mutual escape" as espoused by Musashi should be considered as an alternative to actual combat, particularly if you are in the position of being virtually assured of victory. Remember the "fighting without fighting" scene from Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon?

Where’s the victory in a well trained martial artist beating up an ordinary member of the community without these skills? Where is the victory in a highly trained martial artist beating up a junior grade? Winning is easy. Losing with dignity is something else.

Anybody can be a humble winner. It’s harder to be a majestic loser. Unfortunately the world has too many mean spirited winners and bitter losers.

Western culture values the concept of "I’m OK, you’re OK’. How can you be OK if I just whipped you? Sometimes though, you have to be defeated so that you can learn. Unfortunately, not many people take the opportunity to learn from defeat, preferring to argue about the result, claim they were robbed, and generally pour their poor sportsmanship and sour attitude over everyone. What’s worse is sometimes their coach or teacher is more upset and embittered than they are. They lost and they weren’t even in it! Unfortunately, their ego was.

Mutual respect means winning is not important, but rather the opportunity to learn, to grow, to experience. The victory is not in winning, but in growing.

The martial arts experience is directed to self development, self sufficiency, discovery, peace and harmony. Defeat is a worthwhile idea to explore along the way to self discovery, just as is winning. But non-attachment means just that. To be the best doesn’t matter. Just to be does.

There are times when victory is important. Victory in World War 2 was pretty important. Losing the Vietnam War wasn’t.

Why fight when you can’t win? Because the highest moral victory has to be sought, even in your own death. The father who wouldn’t "be in it" if he couldn’t win, wouldn’t enter the burning building to rescue his child. Or anybody else. But history is full of testaments to higher human spirit against all odds.

If we both had razor sharp swords, and the fight was to the death, would you really fight me? Would I really fight you? Of course there could be circumstances where we would, but not in the world of karate-do or everyday living.

Perhaps a thousand years ago, or in some troubled country today, or even in an alley close to home, the opportunity could present itself to "put it on the line".

How do we prepare for that? By avoiding conflict? No. By seeking conflict? No.

By preparing. By living our life. By learning, growing, contributing, helping. By pushing ourselves beyond mental, physical and emotional endurance. By visiting and making friends with fear. For the martial artist, competing in tournaments is one way in which we can expose ourselves to these concepts in peacetime.

It is said that winning isn’t’s the only thing. Who remembers who came second? Being runner up is like being last. At least last can sneak away........... It has been said that it’s not whether you win or lose that matters, but rather how you play the game. Is that the rationalisation of the loser? But these sayings miss the point. Life is the battle. Victory is sought in one’s own death.

In this world of winner takes all, the martial arts offers a wonderful alternative. To be. To live, to grow and to discover one’s own true self. Your true self can be found in many ways. To look for it in danger and conflict is as important as finding it in meditation and introspection.

It’s not important to win. It is important to compete, to be involved. Look for the victory in defeat. Every sales teacher says, look for the opportunity to learn to grow, to get better. These opportunities are greatest in losses.

Now let’s look at it in the purest sense, so that we can understand the very reason for the Martial Arts. The karate Master teaches winning. He teaches you how to enter the battle and win. What battle? Life’s battle, any battle. All those lessons on tactics, distancing, timing and so on were designed to teach you how to win, not to lose. The Master will teach you how to cope, how to grow, how to deal with situations that appear insurmountable. The Master will teach you self-sufficiency. He will teach you how to face your fiercest enemy (yourself), and win.

Look at a typical karate class. Your teacher will teach you how to win at kata, to defeat the unseen enemy (yourself). Look at bunkai. Techniques that are designed so that upon reaching competence, you will win. Or kumite, look at how you put techniques together to "win", with or without a point score.

Equipped with winning skills and a winning attitude, developed and nurtured over many years of strenuous training and effort, you can face life and win at anything. Even if you "lose" you will win. Because winning is in your nature, it’s a part of who you are.

In any event, how can you win when you’re not in it? Tournaments are full of instances of victories being achieved against all reason.

The ego says, I must win, I must be the best, I am proud, I need respect, acclaim, adulation. This is very ordinary human performance. To lose one’s ego means to lose attachment to such things. When you lose your ego you can see things and people clearly.

Then there will be the ultimate victory. You will discover your true self. The greatest battle will be fought and won. Self enlightenment and personal peace grows out of ultimate commitment to human excellence, and understanding.