At Foundation we believe one of the most important and useful lessons our students will learn is the value of losing. Its all very well perfecting the technicalities of a backwards break-fall or memorising the stances of a kata but the life long benefits of being able to cope with and accept losing are massively underrated.

We have a mantra at the club, and it’s one that’s used extensively in the modern martial arts community and beyond – you either win, or you learn.

We start work with our very youngest students through playing simple games and introducing the concept that sometimes luck is against them, sometimes their training partner is quicker, faster or stronger than them. And thats ok. Of course we also encourage them to want to win and we celebrate accordingly. But at the same time we never view losing as a negative experience.

Reframe loss
So your child comes to you, upset and dejected after losing a game or falling short on a challenge. Its good to acknowledge their feelings whilst at the same time reminding them of all the things they’ve done well at. “So you didn’t win but i’m so proud of you for giving it your all/listening so well to sensei/showing how mature you are/not cheating”. Reframe the loss as a learning opportunity and the whole experience is turned around. Talk about how next time your child faces a similar challenge they will be so much more prepared, they can do things differently, try again. 

Beyond the Dojo
Learning how to lose in the safe and supported environment of the martial arts dojo sets students up for a lifetime of resilience. We, as fallible humans, continue to lose in one way or another as we pick our way through the ups and downs of life. To be in possession of a skillset that means we can experience a challenge or disappointment and deal with it constructively rather than falling apart will greatly improve our ability to cope and ultimately our mental health. 

Learning from Japanese culture
You may notice small, round Daruma dolls and references to the Japanese proverb ‘Fall down seven times, get up 8’ in our Dojos. Nana korobi ya oki – the Japanese concept of resilience, no matter how many times you get knocked down – be that in martial arts, figuring out your maths homework, navigating playground friendships – you just keep getting up and trying again. We really appreciate the value of this resilience, and the importance of teaching our students that sometimes new things are difficult – you don’t have to be the best at everything straight away (or even ever) as long as you keep trying! This leads neatly to the Japanese concept of Ganbaru – the art of sticking with a task until completion. We would never consider a martial arts education ‘complete’ as there are always new things to learn, but it’s a great concept to apply to small tasks or when your child is feeling less than enthusiastic about anything. Ganbatte! Never give up, keep fighting, persevering and remember how good it feels when you achieve those personal victories.

Celebrate the successes of others
So your child didn’t win, but their fellow student and training partner did and that deserves recognition. There are few sights more rewarding to us than that of young students passionately cheering the success of their friends. The ability to deal quietly with your own perceived ‘defeat’ whilst simultaneously jumping up and down with glee for your fellow student is a tricky developmental milestone for children. We appreciate the maturity of students who are able to grasp this complicated emotion and we always support and work with our young people who are not quite there yet.

It’s not all about the belts
We use a system of coloured belts to mark the grades of our students once they reach the kids class (4+). These gradings are wonderful and suitably celebrate and recognise the work put in and the achievement of each student. But also, it’s so much more than belts. The effort one child puts in to reach their first grade compared to another can be completely different. Please recognise each time your child overcomes a personal challenge, or does something small that makes you feel incredibly proud of them. These things matter more in the long run than the colour of the fabric around their waist. We encourage our students to work towards their next grade but it’s not the sole focus of their martial journey. If they focus on trying their best, showing up every week, being respectful and kind to their fellow students the belts will come. But it will be the little things they’ve learned along the way that will stay with them. Patience, commitment, self confidence, self discipline, honesty. 

What to do when your child struggles with loss?
Give them more opportunities to lose. Children who struggle to cope with loss will often try to avoid any situation where they might not win. Sometimes to the extent of not joining in with activities, not trying new things, and not challenging themselves. The more they experience losing, with your support to give them positive strategies to fall back on, the more losing stops being a negative experience. And the less worried they are about losing the more they might find themselves experiencing ‘wins’, successes and the absolute joy of taking part in an activity purely for the love of doing it. 

Further reading we recommend:

Article: Here’s how to teach your kids to lose (and why that’s okay) – The Washington Post

Ebook: Win at Losing: How Our Biggest Setbacks Can Lead to Our Greatest Gains: Sam Weinman

Book: Talent Code: Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown – Daniel Coyle

Article: 9 Reasons to Let Your Kids Lose