Learning by *Not* Dominating

There is  great wisdom in the following saying:

Reputations from the opponent you barely beat

I have seen good fighters get stuck at “good” and not become “great” or “better”. I’m sure you have seen some athletes, businessmen, students/scholars, and others fail to make that jump from good to “gooder”. This adage explains one of them.

Using boxing as a ruler I would like to point out Pound-for-Pound great Roy Jones, Jr. He was a fighter who seemed naturally gifted, he was quick, confident, and had the power to knock out his opponents. Yet as time passed he seemed to keep his athleticism but not his ability to beat the better fighters. Was he doing something wrong? Was he “bored”, as some commentators posited?

They were on to something. But rather than blame his opponents, I will put this on him an his handlers. Roy Jones made it very difficult for the best fighters to meet him in the ring. He stayed in a weight class with few good challengers and fought what we would call “nobodies”. He allowed himself to become a fighter no one wanted to see because he never fought anyone we thought had a good chance of beating him. Not because he was so good, but because the opponents he fought were so bland. He stayed in a little pond, the Light Heavyweight division, where there was almost no notable activity and he could dominate without anyone threatening his title.

In other words, he was a dominant fighter in the division because he chose not to fight another dominant fighter. Stone sharpens stone.

If you are good, you must fight and train with other people who are just as good as you or better. Two things will happen if you fight another dominant fighter:

  1. You’ll win the fight
  2. You’ll lose the fight

So many people are so afraid of #2 happening that they shy away from making this gamble altogether. It isn’t that the martial artist fears getting hurt. He is simply afraid of being defeated, and ultimately he fears finding out that he isn’t as good as he thinks he is. It is not so important to win every fight you engage in. It is, however, important that you see your skill level increase from whatever point it is now grow to where you dominate most of your opponents. This is a progression that all masters-to-be must embark on. If you ever plan to one day call yourself an “expert” or master, you must have experienced this or helped a student experience this. Otherwise, the most a martial artist could be is an “instructor”–one who simply teaches a course or established curriculum. No tried and true experiences and discoveries. No personal modifications based on anything more than a untested theory. No absolute belief that what you are teaching is a truth of combat. You are doing not much more than taking what your teacher told you, and adding things you learned superficially and regurgitating to your students, unfiltered and untested.

Either outcome–whether you defeat each opponent or he defeats you–will be that hard-earned lesson that no amount of money can buy:  experience. Experience is one of the most misused words in the martial arts. We love to call someone “experienced” and “knowledgeable” without qualifying those terms. Experience is taking what you have learned, and finding out through practice, testing and understanding yourself. You cannot “experience” what your teacher “experienced”. You can only experience to a degree what a student has experienced if you were there through it all, and your student actually will learn more than you did. Regardless, this is a level of learning that you cannot get in a classroom, from a teacher or with a classmate. Fighting experience is not a team sport.

Finally, I want to add that you do not have to defeat your opponents decisively. You just have to have had the experience. If you barely beat your opponent, the tempering you undergo from being nearly defeated will harden you and your skills. In fact, you don’t even have to have won all your fights. I know a man, a former professional boxer with many losses, who is middle aged and will destroy most men reading this blog right now. And there are many like him. Experience teaches what lessons cannot, and the more you acquire–the wiser you become. Body fat percentages, websites and certifications mean nothing. This is why old retired fighters give the best lessons, and why most of the best fighters are learning from old men. You learn wherever the lessons can be found, and some of the best lessons will have to be painfully earned.

I have more to say on this subject, but we will have to revisit on a later date. Thank you for visiting my blog.

Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

3 thoughts on “Learning by *Not* Dominating”

  1. Hello Sir,

    I just received the last FMA Pulse articles and did read your words there and here.

    I’m a French 42 years old new student of the Beautiful Art and i would like to thank you for those “white-words”. Sure they speak to all readers who have a heart.

    I’m simply give my best each time i’m in classes and growing as good as i can.

    Most of all i have the great chance to have “Teachers-Fathers” who trust in me and really take care.

    If you permiss me i would like to share some few words from you on my fb page with your name and source.

    Waiting for your answer.

    Peace in Art


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