You can’t win if you don’t play. And you can’t lose if you do.

By Master Eric Sbarge

The great coach Vince Lombardi famously said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” And less famously I’ve said, “In life there are wieners and losers, and my dogs are wieners.”

So what about winning – is it everything it’s cracked up to be? And if you’re not a winner, does that really mean you’re a loser?

In my humble estimation, it depends. If you’re fighting for your life then winning may be everything, and if you don’t buy in to the ideas of heaven or reincarnation then winning is the only thing. But if you’re talking about contrived competitions such as sports or spelling bees or wet t-shirt contests, winning not only isn’t everything, it may not be much of anything.

The glory, trophies and riches that come from winning in competition are often fleeting and short-lived. But by contrast, the lessons learned from preparing to compete can be profound and life-lasting.*

There’s a saying in boxing and sport martial arts that “A fight is never won in the ring.” It means of course that the winner is really pre-determined in the weeks and months preparing for the fight by training harder and smarter than our opponent.

Mohammed Ali was quoted as saying that he hated every day of his training, but loves being a champion. In traditional martial arts many of us take the opposite view: We love every minute of our training, and could care less about being a champion. We train hard, and while we hope to defeat the opponent when we step into the ring we know we’ve already won due to the health, self-discipline, focus, humility and positive energy that our training has afforded us. We don’t train or compete for riches or fame or glory, but for peace of mind.

One renowned tai chi master advises us to “invest in loss.” A great deal is gained and won when we lose: We lose tension, rigidity, pride, bad habits, arrogance, negativity, and so on. So while winning may not be losing, can’t losing often be winning?

If the notion that winning may be losing and losing may be winning seems paradoxical, enjoy the paradox for the Zen-like conundrum that it is. It’s like asking, “Can something be both long and short?” And the answer is yes, if it’s a wiener dog.

*The wet t-shirt contest example may be an exception.

One thought on “You can’t win if you don’t play. And you can’t lose if you do.

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