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Learn to Win Gracefully


It was mid-afternoon at the “Spar Wars” tournament in a neighboring city. I just finished a sparring match against another school’s junior black belt and won by one point. I politely bowed and thanked my opponent for the opportunity while complimenting him on his attributes noticed during the match.

As I walked back to my chair, one of my senior students made an astute observation. “Sensei, I’ve noticed that you fought just enough to win. You could have ended that match in a matter of seconds. He was no match for you. You do the same thing to us (students) as well, don’t you? You never win a match by more than a point or two!”

He had me. His question forced me to smile and I explained. “If I were to just dominate my opponent it would feed my ego, but lessen his experience. As a teacher I want him to have a chance to learn. Throwing rapid combinations of kicks and punches beyond his skill level would overwhelm him and undermine his confidence. Winning trophies and ribbons is not why we are sparring. We are sparring to gain confidence in our abilities, and to improve techniques. If I spar at a level that challenges my opponent without overwhelming, then he will have an opportunity to grow. If I beat the crap out of him, he might even quit martial arts (I must confess – that happened once) “

This perspective helped me to build a very solid friendship with many martial arts schools from different disciplines while gaining their respect.

The same approach helps in life. Some conflict is unavoidable, and must be dealt with. If we over-react and try to completely ruin our opponent for his infraction, he will probably go from being a rival to being a bitter long-time enemy. Usually a more subtle response that leaves them knowing we could have done MUCH more damaging things will leave them with a sense of gratitude and respect (if they have ANY marbles at all!) Sometimes they will actually become allies. Other times we at least reach a point of mutual respect.

One more thing, when someone has really been a pain in the rear, I make it a point to circle back at a later time and compliment them on being a worthy opponent. It usually brings a smile to their face.

 To me, this is a matter of sportsmanship. I try to be a “gentleman”… this is a word we don’t hear much these days, but I’d sure like to see more “ladies” and “gentlemen”. Wouldn’t you?

So, go “slay your dragons” this week, but “learn to win gracefully!” Even a dragon deserves some consideration and respect.