How Do You Square Winning and Losing in Games and in Life?

On Saturday, I competed in my very first official grappling tournament. It’s been a little while coming: while I used to box before I basically destroyed my wrist, I’ve been training grappling (a mix of wrestling, Judo, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) for a little over a year and a half. With, naturally, a few months off for a re-injury. I’ve wanted to compete ever since starting. I’m just the kind of person who loves to test herself physically and a lifelong athlete, but I waited until, well, I had at least a little bit of experience before signing up.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Aaaahhh! Danielle!

Have you ever tried rock climbing?

I’m not a competitive sports person, so climbing is far more to my sensibilities. Similar to grappling (which I have a tiny bit of experience with), you need to be highly aware of your entire body. If you see videos of climbers, it’s often not about getting it first go (though “flashing” can be quite satisfying once every so often), but the whole experience of going back again and again until you get the route. By stringing together so many intricate and powerful moves, what once seemed impossible can finally happen.

Climbers are also generally pretty hot, but …

1 Like

Training in BJJ taught me a lot about letting go of ego. Day after day you go into the gym and pay attention and work hard only to end each class getting the crap smushed out of you by people who have been doing this way longer than you. And sometimes by people that haven’t. For weeks it seems like all you’re learning is how tap out. And then it takes a little bit longer for your classmates to get you to tap. And eventually, if you stick with it, you make someone else tap once before they recognize how you caught them and smash your face in the mat again.

I never competed and I unfortunately don’t have the time to train anymore, but I like to think I’ve taken those lessons to heart and apply them to other aspects of my life. That losing is an opportunity for growth. To not be jealous of people that are better than you at something, but to consider it an honor to learn from them. I’m still human and I still get salty after a close loss in something competitive, but it tends not to sting quite as much as it used to.

1 Like

I have so much respect for Danielle and for anyone who is able to engage in anything competitively and find it centering or humbling. My psychological makeup just doesn’t allow this — no matter how hard I try to maintain a healthy outlook, the second I lose in a painful way, I take it as proof of my essential uselessness and incompetence as a person. This goes back to my childhood and has only gotten more immediate with my ongoing depressive issues. The thing that really sucks is that I understand what healthy competitive play looks like, and I almost fetishize the practice/training/precision/determination that goes into it. So I’ll pick a new game or hobby and fall in love with the grind until I’m disheartened enough or my old self-harm instincts kick in and I’ll have to make the decision to stop.


I’ve never learned how to emotionally handle losing. Either I get shitty and sarcastic “oh I didn’t care at all” or I have a temper tantrum like I’m still 5. This is why nobody ever wants to play Mini Golf with me anymore.

I don’t know how to fix myself.

I am not typically good at handling losing (though it tends towards avoiding competition rather than being a sore loser or whatever), except at chess (which, to be clear, I’m terrible at). The difference with chess, for me, is that I can compartmentalize each move into it’s own discrete chess problem and ask myself, “ignoring everything that has gone before in this game, what is the best move I can make given the current board state,” which somehow leads to a totally different attitude.


I’m part of a group studying historical italian rapier fencing and it is so incredibly satisfying to be doing something with such clear success and failure conditions. I’ve been doing it for about 3 and a half years and I’m still only mediocre, but I find it very calming to do drills, work on technique and form, and get stabbed in the face by people better than me.

1 Like

context: I’ve studied judo, kempo, and jiu jitsu for about ten years.

Martial arts tournaments are both magical and hellish. The clash between competitive parents (like mine) or competing schools (Gracie Jiu-Jitsu likes to pick fights off the mat) leads to heightened tension–especially in the ring. The toxic masculinity that overtones the competition will sometimes lead to people not tapping (giving up) until they actually pass out, or even greater injuries like actually breaking a bone. This only increased for me as I went into the advanced sparring/grappling sets, and since I was the only under 18 black belt, I would exclusively fight against people twice my age with double the experience. I feel like you would hope that those people would be the most controlled of the bunch, but I received more injuries there than any other tournament. After that, I stopped going.

On a more positive note, I also love seeing the skill/size/speed difference between competitors. Imagine if you could see how a chess-player might move before you even enter the match. It’s fun to guess and important to plan when waiting between sets.

1 Like

I just try to do my best. I’m not a professional in anything and I’m not THE best, but I just work hard and play well. And if I do that, even if I don’t win, I’m usually satisfied (I also keep my expectations pretty low).

1 Like

that sounds like a pretty rotten experience.

there have been moments in my life where i considered thinking about starting to try to do some jiu jitsus kinda training stuff just for “fun” but have always been scared of the idea that at the gym there will be some jackasses who just want to hurt me for whatever reason.

1 Like

I feel you with that, I have issues with self-esteem, so playing football and hockey as a child I was often the ‘left-over’ for sports teams when we played competitions. My friends and family all loved sports as an activity…I never really did but went along with it and think it left a sour taste for me, even if I enjoy sports recreationally.

However, I have started taking running seriously this year and found it more healthy for my own well being to just be competing by myself. I don’t expect to win a race, but if I can improve my PB by a few seconds that feels like a major win. Even if I don’t beat the time, if I know I put the effort in it is fine. It has also aided my own depressive tendency towards self-flagellation, and made me feel healthier about my own physical capability.


I think learning to be a good loser takes more than just practice at losing, it also takes having good support. Friends and peers that help keep the bigger picture in mind so you don’t focus just on the L’s or other setbacks. Finding a good gym or training group is intimidating and not particularly easy (it’s like dating or interviewing) but it can really be worth it in the long run.


I can only speak for myself, but gym ‘shopping’ is extremely important to me. I’m a small queer woman, and I’m injury prone. I went to several MMA schools and took the free class before settling on a smaller gym with a very positive, queer-friendly, woman-friendly atmosphere. Staying away from a "bro-centric’ place stinking of toxic masculinity was priority number 1 for me, and always will be.

I can say that training grappling has been one of the most positive, happy, fulfilling experiences of my life, but it did also come with being very careful about the folks I train with and the place I go to. I hope that’s helpful on some level!


I work in pretty competitive field (politics) so games are my solace. My competitive nature does take over though. And between that and my perfectionist streak I have a real problem. I walk away, reflect, slow things down in my mind to isolate the inflection points and think about what may have worked better. But never, ever quit because it’s too hard. I have been thinking of taking up kick boxing though. Pretty limber for a 6’4, 350 pound 45 year old. What’s the worst that could happen?