Fighting to Not Lose – The Martial Arts Mindset

I have the habit of recounting a story about something weird a kid did in karate class without telling anyone I teach karate. It doesn’t matter how enthusiastic I am about whatever wild stuff happened, the conversation usually reverts to me having to explain that I teach people of all ages how to fight. From here, I am then almost certainly asked, “Do you think you could beat me in a fight?”

That question drives me insane. Lately, I’ve been shutting the conversation down by answering with, “I could wreck you even if I didn’t know any martial art.” That response, as brash as it may be, is much easier to deliver than going into a half-hour lecture on the martial arts mindset. Besides, if someone asked the basic “could you beat me up?” question, I doubt they’d have the patience or brainpower to really understand what I’m getting at. Since you’re still reading this, I’ll assume you are of a different sort who doesn’t revert to vying for status when someone you meet has an atypical skill set.

Outside of combat sports, there is no such thing as winning a fight; there is only degrees of losing. You can say “you should’ve seen the other guy” all day, but it won’t change the fact that you yourself have been injured. Following this logic, avoiding a fight all together is really a flawless victory. At the end of the day, you’d be just as well off as an 11th degree black belt who came out of a fight unscathed.

There’s an old story that goes roughly like this; a sensei’s student was walking along a street when an untamed horse kicked at him. He dodged the potentially deadly blow with such skill that the onlookers were astonished. Strangely enough, the sensei chastised his student for this. The onlookers heard about this, and wishing to see the sensei’s skill, put the untamed horse in his path. The sensei simply passed on the other side of the street. This illustrates the martial artist’s outlook; avoiding a fight is preferable to winning one.

There may come a time, however, when avoiding a fight is impossible. In this case, you aren’t trying to prove anything and win – you’re trying to not lose, hence the odd title of this post. “Fighting to not lose” may seem like being motivated by the fear of defeat and defense of an ego, but instead think of it as how a cornered animal fights. In a way, martial arts is like a concealed carry weapon. It is drawn only in last resort, and once it’s revealed, it’s used without reserve.

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