Not Winning

In second grade, I was on the baseball team that won the town championship. Part of the thrill of victory is knowing that the other guy didn't get your trophy. A few years later, I was on the soccer team that lost every single game we played. Nothing like knowing you suck to strengthen your resolve not to. That's the ebb and flow of life, and it's just as essential to one's development as knowing what foods to eat to avoid constipation. Of course I'm still bummed I didn't get selected for MTV's Singled Out when I auditioned in 1995, but it made me realize my energies could be better spent on less futile things than trying to impress women. I can quote you any line from Pulp Fiction.

Winning is good. Losing sucks. But losing gives us the opportunity to reinforce some really important things: self-confidence, resilience, perspective, and will power. By removing loss from the equation, we end up raising a generation of kids who cannot deal with things not going their way, and that leads to things like reality shows. So I guess you can tell how I feel about the "everybody gets a trophy" thing that permeates youth sports today.

Yes, sport is about about fun, it is about learning the value of teamwork, it is about pushing yourself beyond your perceived limits. But just as much, it is also about winning and losing. 

Fury had his first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament this past weekend. As someone who has trained in martial arts for more than 20 years, I can say that this was one of those life-defining moments for me, characterized ironically by my inability to define the mix of excitement, pride, apprehension, and anticipation I felt as I saw him lined up, ready to do battle.

I was also pleased to see that, although every kid got a medal for participating, only one competitor's hand got raised at the end of each match. There was a clear winner, and a clear loser; and the loser got a different colored medal. As the matches progressed, I thought, "good on them, they totally get it." As kids' anticipation turned to disappointment when their names did not complete the sentence "and the winner is..."  I thought "hey, it builds character." As my own kid got taken down to the mat moments after the opening bell, and the tears in his eyes begin to well up, I thought "oh... shit."

When the final whistle blew, it wasn't Fury's hand being raised in victory.

There was my boy, who has seen the fire in my eyes when I talk about K-1, UFC or a sick KO clip on YouTube. My boy, who has heard a thousand times the story of how I bought him his first pair of Muay Thai shorts when he was just three months old. My boy, who has felt the pride emanating from every pore of my body when we talk about Jiu Jitsu practice at the end of the day. My boy, a 10 year old with expectations now turned to tears streaming down his face. 

What he saw was the other kid's hand being raised. What he didn't see was the one hell of a fight he put up against an opponent who was more experienced and a full rank higher than he was. He didn't see the hours in the gym that he's put into training -- the hours that transformed theoretical moves into an arsenal of instincts. Nor did he see the relentless hustle, the heart of a fighter, and in the end, the grace of a sportsman he displayed in defeat that we all saw, including his coach. 

Right after the match, before he even left the mat, his coach awarded him his next stripe. Right after that, Lisa hugged him as he cried and said the things that moms know how to say so well. And after that, I knelt down, put my hand on his shoulder looked him in the eye and told him today he was a warrior. 

Fury didn't win his first Jiu Jitsu match. And I couldn't be more proud.