Learning (and Winning) By Losing

Today, I write as a matter of personal privilege. Yes, this post isn’t like most of my others. But bear with me, I promise I’ll try to bring it back to the edu-thinking you come to expect.

About a year and a half ago, I took my first kickboxing class. To this day, I couldn’t quite tell you why I did it. But I did. I enjoyed it There was something about hitting a heavy bag that was so much more satisfying than driving a golf ball.

I quickly learned that my time on the mat was the one hour in a day when my mind was completely clear. For 60 minutes, I couldn’t think of work or family or the writer’s block my latest book had triggered. I could only focus on the task at hand. For someone who spent the first 42 years of his life engaged entirely in rhetorical sparring (and spent 40 of those years staying as far away from physical activity as possible), it was a big change.

About six months after I started, the edu-daughter decided to give it a go. This week, she earned her blue belt, inspiring her to now want to “be more serious” about it. Her older brother began earlier this year. And even the edu-wife is giving it a go.

This past weekend, I participated in the Challenge of Champions. Yes, participated as in competed. I strapped on my gloves, stepped onto the mat, and gave it my all. I even have the video to prove it.

Yes, I got hit. But I also landed some of my own. Yes, I got knocked down. But I got back up. Yes, I lost. But I hung in there the whole fight.

And yes, I was fighting an opponent who was about a foot taller and a good 30 pounds heavier than I was, but I didn’t use it as an excuse. Sure, it completely threw my gameplan out the window. But it also helped me see what I need to work on and how I need to improve.

Those who know Eduflack professionally will likely be quite surprised by the video. Surprised to know that I even think of doing such a thing in my limited free time. But what might be a surprise is an incredible learning experience as well.

Each day, I watch the very definition of personalized learning at its best. On the mat, Sensei Billings is able to teach a wide range of students with a wider range of skills and knowledge. Sensei is able to know, on a daily basis, which students need positive reinforcement and which need tough love. And he knows how to get the most out of each and every student.

On the mat, one sees knowing and being able to do and apply what you know are two very different things. It’s one thing to practice the repetition of a single move on a heavy bag. It is very different to throw combinations as a classmate is holding the pads. It is far different to put it all together and spar with your brothers in the school. And even more different to put it all together as you go against a complete stranger with the single goal of beating you on the mat.

As MMA is now a family affair, the experience also provided an ideal moment of teaching by doing. After watching my fights, my kids can no longer say that something is too hard for them to do. They know it would have been very easy for me not to show up this weekend, or to use an injured foot as an excuse, or to avoid engagement once I saw my opponent. I did none of that. Instead, I just brought it. And both the kiddos know that’s what I expect from them. I don’t care if they win or lose. I don’t care what grade they get. All I care about is whether they did their best and worked as hard as they could.

But the most surprising lesson I learned from all of this, and one I should have known from all my years of education advocacy, is the importance of family and community. I’m incredibly fortunate to train at Tiger Schulmann’s in Princeton. With all sincerity, I can say it isn’t a gym and it isn’t a school; it is a family. We are all of different races, ethnicities, and religions. We all come from different backgrounds and different career paths. But at TSMMA Princeton, we are all one family.

At the CoC, I was cheering as hard for classmates and their children as I would for my own wife and kiddos. And i received similar enthusiastic support and encouragement from my mates. Those I spar with are now my brothers and sisters, pushing me harder as I hopefully push them. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

After my fights this weekend, I was originally down. I had lost. Watching the videos afterward, I felt a little better about the situation. I had hung in there and fought good fights. But it was my brothers and sisters at TSMMA in Princeton who truly helped me see all that I accomplished. And it is their words that already have me thinking of what I need to work on and how I need to strategize before I compete in the next CoC.

I get that MMA isn’t for everyone. But the lessons I have learned from Tiger Schulmann’s, particularly in my most recent defeat, are incredibly important to me. They are important not only to what I might do on the mat, but they are important to both my professional and my family lives. Osu!


2 thoughts on “Learning (and Winning) By Losing

  1. Good for you Patrick! Although that guys is about as tall as Kareem Abdul Jabar. I would have gone the other way. Or old school, grab him in a headlock until he cried uncle. Also, he gave you a bunch of kidney punches. Isn’t that illegal?

    Anyway, cheers to you for trying new things.

    Love your stuff.



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