Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Invest in Loss
If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Moving, be like water. Still, be like a mirror. Respond like an echo. ~Bruce Lee
Invest in loss? That does not sound like wise financial planning! Yet it is a slogan we practice with in martial arts. What does it mean?
If I am sparring with someone who is more skilled than I am, which is almost always, I can take one of two approaches.
I can become stuck in my ego, insecure and nervous. In this case, I’m focused on myself, on my own discomfort. I’m tense and distracted. If my partner attacks, I’m likely to just back up, trying to get away. Eventually, I’ll get backed up against a wall with nowhere to go. Or I might go on the offense, flailing away with false bravado to mask my growing panic. At the end of the match I’m winded and discombobulated. I haven’t learned anything.
My other choice is to become free from my ego, confident and calm. In this case, I’m focused on my partner, on my partner’s energy and movements. I’m relaxed and alert. If my partner attacks, more times than not, his attack will connect. (I should interject here that we use only light contact, so I’m not in danger of serious injury.) I’m more judicious with my attacks, waiting for an opening. At the end of the match, I’m energized and excited. And I’ve learned something.
In his book There Are No Secrets, Wolfe Lowenthal explains this lesson from his tai chi teacher, Cheng Man-ch’ing. If you allow someone with superior skill to attack you 100 times, you can study his technique. Out of the 100 times, you might “lose” 99 times. But you have watched and learned. When your partner attacks the 100th time, you are prepared. You neutralize the attack and your partner is defeated by his own energy.
Easier said than done. Yesterday, I was sparring with a very advanced student. At the end of the match I thanked him and asked for advice. His one comment to me? “Breathe.” Hmm. I will be investing in loss for a long time, I think!
That’s okay. It’s better than okay because I’ve discovered that investing in loss applies to life beyond martial arts. There is so much we can learn when we are not attached to “winning.”
The other day, someone was upset with me. I started to react defensively to what I believed was an unfair accusation, but instead, I paused. I listened to what the other person was saying without getting my ego knickers in a knot. As she vented her indignation, I realized that she was ascribing thoughts and motives to me that existed only in her imagination. I listened more deeply to the underlying fear that created the story she was telling herself.
Because I was willing to “allow” her attack, I learned something about her that opened the door to true communication. Without attacking in return, I was able to “deflect and reflect” until she saw for herself that her distress was unrelated to me. I became her ally instead of her enemy. We parted with connection and friendship instead of separation and pain.
Perhaps, to paraphrase the saying, the best defense is no offense.
I can think of other examples, but perhaps you might share an experience from your own life when investing in loss turned out to be a good strategy. I’d love to hear your story.
First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win. ~Mahatma Gandhi
related posts: My Half of the Bargain; No One Wins in Court