Recently, I had an opportunity to be very mean. A fencer asked for some one-on-one time with me to practice fighting as a legged fighter. With them sitting on the ground, we spent the next 30 minutes fighting and I did not go easy. Through it all, they got some really good kills on me, but the majority of the fights went to me. I did not hesitate to be aggressive, sneaky, or pull out some of my meanest tricks. Over and over, this fencer faced defeat and I’m very proud to say that they faced it admirably. Not only that, I know that they learned something from the experience which impressed me even more.
After they left, I started thinking about what it’s like to get beat. And I don’t mean to just take a loss. I mean to really get beat. To lose again and again, despite your best effort. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing that on several occasions in my fencing career and it always felt like a punch to the face. As I reminisced about those therapeutic moments, I realized how beneficial those moments were to me and how they impacted me as a fencer.
Winning ≠ Success. Losing ≠ Failure
From those moments of defeat, I learned a really important lesson when it comes to winning and losing. In sports, and especially in Fencing, many of us view the concept of “winning” as success and “losing” as failure. I have learned that that just isn’t true. Winning does not equal Success and Losing does not equal Failure. They are not the same things. A fencer can succeed without always winning and a fencer might fail even if they rarely lose.
Winning and losing are easily determined. Every time you enter a duel or a melee, someone will win and someone will lose. Easy. Success and Failure are much harder to determine and most often, completely personal. If we confuse Winning/Losing with Success/Failure than our feelings of accomplishment, self-confidence, and self-worth hinges on something as fleeting as a Win or a Loss. We should instead determine what we consider Success and strive for that as a long-lasting goal. As long as we are always striving for that kind of success, we’ll only face Failure when we stop pursuing that goal.
Sometimes We Need to Be Broken Down
Another lesson I learned from being beaten soundly, is that losing can break down barriers, walls, and plateaus we all face. Every now and then, we need to break ourselves down so we can rebuild ourselves better. With constant success, we run the risk of becoming complacent or developing bad habits. It isn’t until we begin to lose that we see a need for change.
Breaking ourselves down takes commitment and perspective. This will not bring short-term gains, but long-term success. But by making an effort to take apart ourselves, we can see more clearly the individual pieces. In these moments, we can consciously choose what we are and hope to be while also eliminating the things that might be holding us back. If you never take the time to make a course correction, you’ll never really know if you’re veering off track.
Winning Isn’t Important
Finally, getting whooped really puts things in perspective. Every time I walked away from these humbling experiences I realized that winning isn’t important to me. Learning and getting better is. I found more satisfaction getting back up after a series of defeats and trying again than I did winning a fight.
A hard-fought victory is more meaningful than an easy win and I never would have realized that if I didn’t go through challenges and opposition while I fenced. The struggle can propel us forward if we are willing to stand tall and push through the adversity. Additionally, when you shift your focus from just getting the kill, you can realize that enjoying this sport with others can lead to benefits both on and off the field.
When each of us walks up to another fencer, both parties should feel comfortable and excited at the prospect of facing a friend. We rely on each other to keep us safe while still fighting our hardest. With every fight, there is an opportunity to build camaraderie and friendship, along with skill. If we’re just focused on winning, we’ll never understand how true that idea is or worse; we might even damage the camaraderie that the Order of the Rose strives to achieve.
Go Out and Get Beat
My challenge this week is two-fold. The first thing that I would like everyone to do is to go out and lose. Lose a fight. Lose multiple fights. Let go of your need to win and just fight, even if it means you’re going to get whooped. You’ll realize that winning just isn’t important and that’s part of having a great Attitude in the group. Once you’ve let go of your need to win, take a moment and define what success means to you. When you have that established, go back out and fight to be successful. Not to win.
The second thing I would like everyone to do is think about the people you face at practice. Think about what you can do to help them have the best experience possible. It may mean sacrificing a win or two, but taking the time to focus on others will help all of us to become better fencers and better friends. I just wish someone would have knocked that sense into me sooner in my fencing career.