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The Art of Winning

I remember a conversation I had with my ninja martial arts teacher way back in the 1970s. I was in my twenties and had just moved to Japan to become a student in the grandmaster’s home dojo. I asked my teacher what was the most important thing to remember about martial arts training. “Why do we train?”

I was surprised at the bluntness of my teacher’s answer. I was expecting some lofty or highly philosophical answer, but he merely replied, “Katsu tame ni”, which is Japanese for, “In order to win.”

We train so that we can learn how to be winners. It really is just that simple. It really is just that uncomplicated. We do not train for the sake of beating others or making others losers. We do not train for the thrill of carrying out cruel violence. We do not train for the point of impressing other people, or proving ourselves as better, stronger, or meaner than others.

Katsu tame ni. We train for the sake of becoming winners. The way I now put it is, “The art of winning is the way of getting what I need in life in such a way that the world is a better place because of it.”

In many respects, this is why I became a professional martial arts teacher. I wanted to make the world a better place by way of receiving the kind of training and experience I needed so that I could become the most authentic me possible. What do you want? How would the world be a better place if you won and got what you needed? What are you willing to take on in order to be a winner like that?

After almost 50 years in the martial arts, I acknowledge that my childhood vow was to be a person who stopped violence. In order to do that, to win by getting what I wanted by becoming a force for stopping violence, I had to learn how violence works. I did not like violence as a young person, and so I had to learn all about how violence operates in order to learn how to make it stop. It was my path to have to come to grips with why there is violence in the world, and how violence is such a compelling choice for so many people.

By the nature of the word “violence”, a violent situation means someone will get hurt. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, or financially, someone is always damaged when violence happens. As a practitioner of the ninja martial arts, I had to learn how to neutralize an aggressor’s damage with techniques more sophisticated than mere brute force butting against brute force. I had to give up training in “how to not lose” and replace it with “how to win”. I had to learn to change my perspective to see any given moment from a more winning view point, and I came to see that controlling my own perspective is one of the keys to winning.

Sometimes people misunderstand my martial arts career and ask why I do not have a lot of trophies, medals, or championship belts after all these years. They ask why I do not regularly leap into a cage to try to defeat another man, or join some private army to test my killing skills. Clearly, their definition of winning in the martial arts is based on a standard that has no motivating force for me. My definition of winning through a martial arts lifestyle is based on what I need, and what I perceive will provide the biggest gift to the world.

Katsu tame ni. Warrior winners clearly define what they need, know what it takes to win, and then go about getting it done. And if they are noble warriors, the world is a better place because they won.

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