You really have no idea how much I hate losing. I have NEVER, and I do mean this most literally, never, met anyone who hated losing more than I did as a competitor. I would cry all the way home on the plane, lock myself in the bathroom and cry, break things, you name it.
Before the finals at the world championships, a coach, trying to make me less nervous, I think, said,
"Look at it this way. Even if you lose, you'll have tied with the best any American has ever done."
I turned to him and said,
"No, if I lose, I'll have fucking lost!"
He laughed and agreed,
"Well, yeah, I guess that's another way to look at it."
If someone had come up to me at 19 or 26 and said that losing could be a blessing, I probably would not have punched them in the face. On the other hand, depending on their timing and who it was, maybe I would have.
And yet .... in hindsight, which is far more often 20/20, I realized that losing was a blessing.
When I fought in the finals of the U.S. Open at 17 against Diane Pierce, one of the best women competitors ever, she armbarred me in nothing flat and I was PISSED. It's a really good thing I didn't get lucky that day and win on some fluke. Diane was a lot better than me and it showed me how much more judo there was I needed to know. When I asked her for advice then, and later, she was extremely generous with her time. She taught me that armbar. It won me a ton of matches. She also gave me great advice on competing, like
"Never change divisions because there is someone tough in it. Get better and make people run out of the division to get away from YOU."
By the third time I won the U.S. Open, I came back to work, told my co-workers I'd won a gold medal over the weekend and everyone was like, "Yeah, yeah, you did that before."
When you win all of the time it's sort of a no-win situation. If you win again no one is impressed and if you lose everyone is shocked.
Most people put more pressure on themselves the longer a winning streak goes on, and this is especially true if they are young. Mathematically, the guy who has a 17-0 record and loses should be far less upset than the guy who had a 7- 10 record. I mean, the first guy won 17 out of 18 fights. It's not that way at all, though. For many, many people, the stress to stay on top builds with every win. I remember feeling as if it would just be the end of the world if I lost. I'd go a year or two at a time without losing a match, and then I'd get third in Paris or London or something and I would be PISSED. But, guess what, the sun still rose in the morning and I wasn't dead.
Yeah, some people I thought were my friends would disappear. There were always the people who thought this loss showed I was over the hill. As my coach, Jimmy (Man Mountain) Martin, used to say, "You're only as good as your last match."
Overall, though, losing was not the end of life on planet earth as we know it, and after crying for a few days or a week, I'd be back at practice, training harder than ever, with all of that pressure from feeling as if I could NOT lose gone because, I had lost and so there, it was over with.
The most important thing I learned from losing is that the things we fear are never as bad in reality as in our imagination and that no matter how bad they are, we can still overcome them.
After competing for years, when things were not going right, I still had the confidence and strength to keep on training and believing in myself that I could pull through this slump, because I had done it before.
The blessing of losing is realizing that you have the strength to come back from a loss and win again.
But I still HATE losing.