Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Competitive ethos

A while back I reviewed Paul Greenhill's email newsletter service, Today I got the most recent email and thought I'd share part of it with y'all.
...I've had the pleasure of being around and training with many martial arts champions (and a few pro football athletes) over the years and the one thing that I'd never heard any of them do was expect mercy from their opponents. Those champions understood that it was a contest to see which person (or team) was superior on that particular day. And they understood that it was their goal to dominate their opponents, hoping to leave a permanent scar on their mental psyche that would make their opponents to never want to tangle with them again. And if the outcome didn't turn out the way those proud champions expected it to, they took their butt-kicking with pride and expected NO MERCY from their opposition! They didn't get mad at the end of the contest for getting publicly embarrassed; they took it upon themselves to stop the embarrassment or to store the anger from the embarrassment for payback in the future! They didn't try to gain support from the media or rationalize the beating they received from the opponent with their fan base. They took their beating, focused on what they could've done differently with their preparation, fix the mistakes, and hope for a second chance for redemption in the near future.
I'm not sure where this attitude of "losing with dignity" came from...but it stinks and anyone that thinks losing with dignity is what a real champion would do is completely off the mark... (excerpted from emails available at or via email at
What do y'all think?


  1. Sheesh, i think it's an example of just how far off the mark people's ideals are these days. I dont think there's anything wrong with the mentality of expecting the other guy to win as hard as he can but i may just not have the enthusiasim to ".. leave a permenant scar on their mental psyche".

  2. I was a young black belt once and it's true - you give your all and take the result in your stride. This is a natural result of the training. If it was a self defence situation (esp v weapon) it would be slightly different - I might be more conservative and ensure to block or deflect all strikes - less 'sen no sen' type engagements. But to think that the fighting spirit must only focus on winning would make you into a less objective fighter, wouldn't it? I'd take smarts over brawn any day. Colin

  3. I'm going to take this at it's surface level: It's true. As a competitive athlete, I would walk into the ring feeling the fear that this may be my last fight- I may be disabled or killed. I looked across the ring and knew that that guy, for whatever reason, wanted to knock my head off. In that scenario, you choose to be ruthless. You bottle up your humanity for a little while and turn cold. At least I did. At the end of a fight, no matter what happened, you feel the joy of relief, akin to the feeling after a car accident - I'm ALIVE! I also open up that bottle and share that joy with my opponent.
    I don't know that the same kinship is inherent in combative team sports, unless a strong coach is there to instill it. The mob mentality makes people do ugly things. Hmmm. May be a post...

  4. No doubt a robust winning attitude is necessary for maximizing your performance. The original article to me however is less about competitive ethos than about taking losing badly. No one can deny that you go into the ring/fight to win but to admonish yourself when you lose ... that doesn't refer to your competitive spirit at all. If I had that attitude I'd surely be called a sore loser.

  5. You're right, Colin. It's always possible when you excerpt someone's words that you'll get them out of context but I picked the most interesting part of his email and took greater than half of it so I don't think I got it too far from context.
    I don't think he's talking about admonishing yourself for losing, rather excusing losing by trash-talking the winner or by complaning about how the winner ran the score up or something like that. Making excuses about the contest being out of the control of the loser. He's right. That's bad form and unhealthy.
    I think that does have something to do iwth competitive ethos - not only competing to win, but taking responsibility and not excusing your losses - rather learning from them
    This is something that hs recently bothered my wife and I about the teebll program in this town. There are no winners and losers. everyone gets to play and everyone gets a trophy at the end of the season. Youth soccer, however doesn't play that non-competitive nonsense. They have winners and losers and there is a champion at the end of the season. Nobody gets bad hurt felings and the kids get to learn that competitiveness is a good thing instead of a thing to be frowned upon - a thing for big kids who can handle it.
    That's one thing that I am working to instill in the kids doing my kid's judo - that competition is a good thing. We have monthly tournaments with winner and losers and a grand champion for the month. The kid's love it and get to learn about competition and winning and loss.

  6. "I don't think he's talking about admonishing yourself for losing, rather excusing losing by trash-talking the winner or by complaning about how the winner ran the score up or something like that."

    You're right - much of his post is spot on.

    This is quite interesting - how we can interpret different meanings by just deciding to take a positive view or a negative view on it. It's almost similar to kata. If you think kata is useless, then everything doesn't stack up. If you think kata is the best thing next to sliced bread, you'd be totally passionate about it.

    If I were to take a positive perspective and look at it as how you say, then I would absolutely agree. Trash talking and bad mouthing have no place in the martial arts. It shows lack of maturity and bad sportsmanship.



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