Learning From Failure

Allow the bad positions you find yourself in to be your teachers.

Relson Gracie teaching how to escape bottom side control at Kogen Dojo. Photo by Mike Oswald Photogrpahy

Not much is really learned from doing well aside from learning that we should not take any risks that might jeopardize our success. The problem with this is that success does not teach us how to deal with failure. Success gives us tunnel vision, causing us to have a false sense of security and invulnerability. When what we are doing is working for us, we tend to assume that it will continue to work indefinitely, that is, until we face an unforeseen challenge, a problem that success did not equip us to overcome.

It seems counterintuitive to intentionally put ourselves into bad positions or circumstances simply as a way of learning how to overcome them. In fact, this can have dangerous to our health and finances. Unfortunately, it is only through struggle and hardship that we learn who we really are and how we can and will deal with difficulty or even tragedy in our lives. We need a way to test ourselves under pressure so that we can exercise our troubleshooting muscles under stress.

One of the many benefits of Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) is that it allows us the opportunity to repeatedly, even intentionally, find ourselves into bad positions that we must think and work our way out of. It teaches us to remain calm under pressure, to find a way to breathe, to survive in the face of difficulty and even pain, and to make micro-adjustments that enable us to not only escape danger, but to actually reverse our bad position, putting us back on top. It is not always up to us whether or not we end up in a bad position in BJJ. Quite often it is the result of having a more skilled opponent. What is in our control, however, is how we deal with these negative circumstances and whether or not we learn from them.

“As in life, so too it is in budo. As in budo, so too it is in life.”

-Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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