Invest in loss? That does not sound like wise financial planning or a promising career strategy! Yet it is a slogan we practice with in martial arts, passed down by tai chi master Cheng Man Ching. What does it mean?
In the martial arts context, it means being willing to lose in order to gain skill and knowledge and ultimately, mastery. As Professor Cheng explained, 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.
For example, yesterday, I was sparring with an advanced student who is always able to move past my defenses and get me in some kind of hold. Because I embrace the principle of investing in loss, I always ask to spar with him, and I always ask him to do the same thing. When he moved in yesterday and got me in the hold, without even thinking, my body moved to break the hold and strike him. We were both surprised! He gave me a high five and there was much laughter and celebration.
Almost without my knowing it, all this time I was gathering information, experimenting with different responses, and learning what didn’t work. And when the moment was right, success simply happened.
The coolest thing about this training slogan is that investing in loss applies to life beyond martial arts. There is so much we can learn when we are not attached to “winning.” I find that this principle has begun to permeate my life, sometimes with surprising results.
For example, the other day, someone was upset with me. I started to react to what I believed was an unfair accusation, but instead, I paused. I listened to what the other person was saying. 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 be still and to let go of the need to be right, or “win.” I could listen and offer compassion instead of threat. She eventually 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.
We’ve probably heard the saying “The best defense is a good offense.” Perhaps, instead, the best defense is no offense.
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