What is cowardice? Am I coward? I feel like a coward.

Ivan

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Hi guys, as some of you know I had another competition today. Although I won a silver medal, it was my worst competition so far, and the worst performance I’ve ever put on. I felt quite disappointed with myself, and honestly the medal is just a reminder of that. My first match I was up against someone considerably less experienced than me, and I was able to use some techniques instinctively to win by points. However, I lacked a lot of the finesse I usually have and made many mistakes I wouldn’t have in training. The match should have been over much faster, but the adrenaline hadn’t hit me this badly since my first/second competition. At the very least, I got a very nice Ogoshi, which is one of the first times I have managed to execute a forward throw in the live setting. My second match, I failed to sweep my opponent from deep half-guard, and after he passed, I attempted to turtle and perform a judo roll with his elbow trapped. Sadly, he got his hooks in and took my back and choked me out.

I am disappointed that I did not do as well as I could have, because I am sure I had the ability to win this competition. I performed much better at my last competition, and was much more calm and collected allowing me to tap into more of the skill I usually have at the gym. I was hoping this competition I would improve even more in this regard, but alas, today was not the day. My coach told me nerves got the best of me, and that he knew that wasn’t my best. He said it’s normal and that I will perform better and better the more I compete. I’ve come to terms with this now, and I understand that I cannot change the past, so there is no use in dwelling in it. A lot of people tell me I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, but I do aim to be a champion, so it’s difficult for me not to put such high expectations on myself and to not be upset.

I wrote the above paragraphs to provide some context into the situation I faced today. I have always struggled with feeling as if I am cowardly. I despise the thought of being like this, because I get scared by a lot of things. A lot of people say it’s normal to get the jitters even from normal jiujitsu sessions, but just knowing that I am going to have an hour’s sparring before class terrifies me. I force myself to go regardless, but the fear is always there and it never goes away and this bothers me. Does it ever leave? A big part of my martial arts journey was to be able to face this part of myself. I have always believed it was in my nature to be a coward, and that I was born this way. I’ve wanted to change that for a very long time. Everything around me tends to scare me, even just driving different routes to my BJJ gym. Everything.

Today, I was supposed to have another opponent for my first match but he didn’t show up. I could tell from his competition profile he was very experienced, and that he would be a tough opponent. I had built up this fight in my head as one of the hardest fights I would have until now. But when he disqualified for a no-show I felt a sense of relief. I couldn’t help but feel guilty for being glad that my opponent didn’t show up. Does this make a coward? That I felt happy that I wouldn’t have to face him? I cannot help but question that every competition up until now I got lucky with my victories, and believing that my opponents were not the toughest in the division and that I was lucky I did not have to face the tougher guys who got eliminated because they had a bad day etc.

Are all of these doubts or emotions normal? How can I deal with these? Am I coward? Thank you all in advance.
 

HighKick

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Hi guys, as some of you know I had another competition today. Although I won a silver medal, it was my worst competition so far, and the worst performance I’ve ever put on. I felt quite disappointed with myself, and honestly the medal is just a reminder of that. My first match I was up against someone considerably less experienced than me, and I was able to use some techniques instinctively to win by points. However, I lacked a lot of the finesse I usually have and made many mistakes I wouldn’t have in training. The match should have been over much faster, but the adrenaline hadn’t hit me this badly since my first/second competition. At the very least, I got a very nice Ogoshi, which is one of the first times I have managed to execute a forward throw in the live setting. My second match, I failed to sweep my opponent from deep half-guard, and after he passed, I attempted to turtle and perform a judo roll with his elbow trapped. Sadly, he got his hooks in and took my back and choked me out.

I am disappointed that I did not do as well as I could have, because I am sure I had the ability to win this competition. I performed much better at my last competition, and was much more calm and collected allowing me to tap into more of the skill I usually have at the gym. I was hoping this competition I would improve even more in this regard, but alas, today was not the day. My coach told me nerves got the best of me, and that he knew that wasn’t my best. He said it’s normal and that I will perform better and better the more I compete. I’ve come to terms with this now, and I understand that I cannot change the past, so there is no use in dwelling in it. A lot of people tell me I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, but I do aim to be a champion, so it’s difficult for me not to put such high expectations on myself and to not be upset.

I wrote the above paragraphs to provide some context into the situation I faced today. I have always struggled with feeling as if I am cowardly. I despise the thought of being like this, because I get scared by a lot of things. A lot of people say it’s normal to get the jitters even from normal jiujitsu sessions, but just knowing that I am going to have an hour’s sparring before class terrifies me. I force myself to go regardless, but the fear is always there and it never goes away and this bothers me. Does it ever leave? A big part of my martial arts journey was to be able to face this part of myself. I have always believed it was in my nature to be a coward, and that I was born this way. I’ve wanted to change that for a very long time. Everything around me tends to scare me, even just driving different routes to my BJJ gym. Everything.

Today, I was supposed to have another opponent for my first match but he didn’t show up. I could tell from his competition profile he was very experienced, and that he would be a tough opponent. I had built up this fight in my head as one of the hardest fights I would have until now. But when he disqualified for a no-show I felt a sense of relief. I couldn’t help but feel guilty for being glad that my opponent didn’t show up. Does this make a coward? That I felt happy that I wouldn’t have to face him? I cannot help but question that every competition up until now I got lucky with my victories, and believing that my opponents were not the toughest in the division and that I was lucky I did not have to face the tougher guys who got eliminated because they had a bad day etc.

Are all of these doubts or emotions normal? How can I deal with these? Am I coward? Thank you all in advance.
It is good to be so aware. When you start becoming a self-defeatist is when you cross the line. Every high achieving athlete I have ever known have had thoughts similar to yours. Feeling you can always do better is a very, very good thing. It will continue to drive you to do better and try harder. But there has to be a balance between sheer desire and experience. When one out does the other, more often than not, things don't go too well. And even when they do, we end up just feeling 'lucky'. Don't roll that crap around in your head too long. Competition comes in many different flavors. Just take the opponents one at a time.
As far as the match that didn't happen, let it go and consider it a gift. Hope the opponent is okay and that you get a chance to compete against him down the road.

Listen to your coach. He sounds spot-on to me.
 

JowGaWolf

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Train to be successful with applying your techniques and all this emotional stuff goes away. Training to apply techniques off successfully is different from training to win. It doesn't have the same focus, but it does have the same outcome. I can win a fight without using Jow Ga, but I won't be happy unless I apply Jow Ga. This is where you are at. You can win a fight without using some of your techniques, but you aren't happy because you fail to apply the techniques you feel that you are good in.

A few things happen when you train with the focus of apply techniques successfully:

1. You get better at applying your techniques. You begin to really understand them

2. You stop worrying about losing and begin focusing on troubleshooting. Instead of asking why did I lose? Why didn't I do better? You begin to ask. How was my opponent able to prevent my technique? Was it something that he did to offset how I normally apply the technique? If I had to replay that moment, could I be successful at the technique knowing what I know now?

3. You will learn that some people can be of lesser skills overall but good at countering specific techniques. I'm not good at fighting on the ground, but I'm good at defending the take down. If you spar with me, you will know that you are better than me on the ground, but you will become frustrated at having such a tough time trying to take me down and as a result you will have the same empty and negative feeling that you have now. In your Martial Arts, being on the ground is the norm. In mine, staying on my feet is critical. So I focus on being successful at staying on my feet.

Hopefully, this will give you some insight about why you aren't happy with your Win. But at least now you have a better insight of Why I don't train to win and why I choose to train to be able to do my techniques successfully.
 

isshinryuronin

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I have always struggled with feeling as if I am cowardly. I despise the thought of being like this, because I get scared by a lot of things. A lot of people say it’s normal to get the jitters even from normal jiujitsu sessions, but just knowing that I am going to have an hour’s sparring before class terrifies me. I force myself to go regardless, but the fear is always there and it never goes away and this bothers me. Does it ever leave?
To get to the root, you must figure out what you may be scared of. Is it getting hurt? Of losing? Of embarrassing yourself? Of letting yourself or others down? Of being a failure? I don't think it's the first one since you have pursued combat sports for some time now with enthusiasm and dedication. The other possibilities I listed I think are largely ego based.

Losing - Of course you may, and will, lose. Accept it. This is only bad if you didn't give it your all and did not take away any lessons from the loss that will make you better going forward. While you must have a degree of the "killer instinct," placing too much emphasis on "winning" can work against you. By the way, how do you define winning? Personally, if I could last one round with Mike Tyson, I'd consider that as a win.

Embarrassment - There's an old Chinese proverb, "Even monkeys fall out of trees." We've all made stupid mistakes that land us on our *** and made us a target for ridicule. Looking back, even you would think it was funny/stupid. Best thing at the time is to just smile and join the onlookers. Your past and future successes will ensure no real loss of respect from your peers.

Letting yourself or others down - When it comes down to it, you fight for yourself. If you're serious, you put plenty of pressure on yourself to do well. You don't need any outside pressure from others. Just do your best, take pride in that, and forget anything, and anyone, else.

Many famous and talented singers and actors get stage fright on a regular basis throughout their careers. Some say this is a plus as it keeps you from getting too complacent or overconfident. You just have to channel it to your benefit. Mental discipline plays a part.

My conclusion for you: Don't sweat it. Keep training hard, do your best and let the chips fall as they may. You said despite your fear, "I force myself to go regardless." I think that's the main point. That's courage.
 

Mider

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Not to be rude but my advise is stop asking everyone’s opinion about yourself

work on yourself and face your fears.
 

Gyakuto

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Taking part in a competition with many rules and regulations and with the rare occurrence of moderate injury -twisted fingers/toes, black eyes, strains and sprains- is by no means a measure of one’s bravery/cowardice. So any feelings of fear or courage in this situation are not a reflection of you and your character. You are merely feeling stress, excitement, anticipation of success or failure in that competition so try to put any ideas of your ‘courage’ or otherwise by using competition as a barometer of courage, out of your head. Winning a shiny medal or trophy is not of any importance in the true martial arts.

Indeed, competitive matches can be seen as contrary to the traditional concept of Budo in several ways:

1. Focus on Winning: Budo emphasises personal development, self-improvement, and the cultivation of character. Competitive matches tend to prioritize winning above all else, which can shift the focus away from these essential aspects of Budo.

2. Development of Ego: Budo encourages practitioners to transcend their ego and develop humility. In competitive matches, the desire to win can inflate the ego and foster a sense of superiority over opponents. This goes against the humble and respectful attitude that is integral to traditional Budo.

3. Lack of Mutual Benefit: Traditional Budo emphasises the concept of ‘mutual benefit’ (Kyōsei), where practitioners aim to improve themselves while also benefiting their training partners and the community. Competitive matches often prioritise individual success and can foster a mentality of defeating opponents rather than fostering mutual growth and support.

4. Disregard for Harmonious Interaction: Budo places great importance on harmonious interaction and maintaining a balance between oneself and others. In competitive matches, the goal is often to overpower or defeat opponents, which can create an environment that is less focused on harmonious interaction and more on dominance.

5. Limited Range of Techniques: Competitive matches usually have specific rules and regulations that restrict the range of techniques that can be employed. Traditional Budo, on the other hand, emphasizes the exploration and mastery of a wide variety of techniques for self-defense, personal growth, and spiritual development. The focus on winning within the confines of competitive rules can hinder the comprehensive study of Budo techniques.

6. Ethical Concerns: While competitive matches in martial arts generally have rules to ensure safety, there is still a risk of injury. Traditional Budo prioritizes the well-being of practitioners and emphasizes ethical values such as respect, compassion, and non-aggression. The potential for injuries in competitive matches may contradict these values.

I once read an interview with Apollo 11 astronaut, Buzz Aldrin where he was talking about whether he felt fearful, lying atop the Saturn V booster awaiting launch. He thought for a moment and suggested there are many types of fear: breaking down on a level crossing with an approaching train is terrifying. But realising you will grow old, and infirm, all alone is also a frightening thought. In these contexts he was not fearful, just anxious to do the best job he could.

I marvel at the true bravery of a surgeon who has an unconscious patient lying on a gurney in front of them knowing they will take their life in their own hands. I marvel at military personnel who engage directly with an enemy who is trying to kill them. I admire the firefighter who rushes into a burning building to grab an unconscious victim of smoke inhalation. I respect the bravery of the whistleblower who raises their head above the parapet to highlight an injustice.

I can’t remember what my point was…🤔…astronauts are brave? No…do the best job you can in your personal circumstances and be cognisant of that negative voice that will try and put you down despite your success. That voice will be with you forever, but you can learn to tune it out.
 

Anarax

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"What is cowardice?"

The term coward is thrown around a lot nowadays. Some people mistakenly believe that if we allow fear to have any affect on us whatsoever then that makes us a coward. Unfortunately, this causes many to believe that they themselves are cowards when in fact it just means they're human. The most cowardly actions IMO are when people act with malicious intent when most/all possible consequences are removed from the equation. Bullying those smaller than you, disrespecting those you have power/authority over, taking advantage of the vulnerable, etc .


"Am I(you) a coward?"
No, you're human. George Foreman said in an interview that he was afraid of Joe Frazier. This is only one of many examples of pro fighters admitting to being afraid of their opponent. Fear is a critical part of our wiring and it can control, influence and motivate us. Being faced with obstacles, overcoming it and learning from it is part of the martial artists journey.
 

Mider

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I honestly don’t know why you care what we think. I’m not bashing you but I don’t half of us are even at competition level…why would our opinion matter
 

Instructor

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I honestly don’t know why you care what we think. I’m not bashing you but I don’t half of us are even at competition level…why would our opinion matter
You are right, what we think doesn't matter. But what the OP thinks does matter that is why he asked for another perspective.
 

Hot Lunch

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I honestly don’t know why you care what we think. I’m not bashing you but I don’t half of us are even at competition level…why would our opinion matter
Yeah, I'm with you on this. I am strictly speaking for myself when I say this, but I don't see fishing for words of encouragement as very manly thing to do.

I probably would have worded it a bit differently. Something like "This is what's happening. If this has ever happened to you, then how did you handle it?" Because then, you're asking for solutions. Not encouragement.

Again, just me. Not telling anyone what to do, just saying what I would do.
 

Tony Dismukes

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Are all of these doubts or emotions normal?
Totally normal, especially for competition. I was talking to one of our (quite successful) pro fighters the other day and he was explaining how he always gets the jitters before a fight and he's seen other pro fighters freaking out, crying, or even literally ****ing their pants before a fight starts.
Am I coward?
Nope. Having fears doesn't make you a coward. Allowing those fears to rule you and prevent you from doing what you want to do or need to do is cowardice. Doing scary things despite your fears is the very definition of bravery.
I have always believed it was in my nature to be a coward, and that I was born this way.
Believing that <insert negative characteristic here> is an inherent aspect of your nature that you are powerless to change is a psychological issue which can have a lot of causes. Suffice it to say that this sort of belief is almost always wrong, no matter how real it feels to you.
just knowing that I am going to have an hour’s sparring before class terrifies me.
It may be worth examining what exactly you are frightened of.

Being scared before a fight is natural, because there is a very real possibility of getting hurt or injured. Hopefully your regular rolling sessions in BJJ class are not resulting in you getting hurt. (If they are, that's a different issue which needs to be addressed.)

Being scared before a (non-fight) competition is natural, because you've invested a lot of work into being prepared to do your best and you've attached some sort of importance to the results. Actually, a better description would be that you get nervous rather than scared - more on that distinction a little later.

If you're scared just of regular rolling in class (which you've done for a little while now), then try to figure out what specifically is freaking you out. Is it the possibility of being "beaten"? Is it the possibility of not doing as well as you have come to expect from your performance on other days? Is it the fear of being exhausted and having to keep going? Is it the fear of being stuck in an uncomfortable, claustrophobic position? Depending on your answer, then there are different strategies that you can use to alleviate the problem.

If you can't find any specific thing that scares you, it's possible that you are dealing with a generalized anxiety disorder, which kind of sucks to have to go through. If so, you have my admiration for showing up and training anyway. If this is the case, then you may want to seek some additional help outside of martial arts training, but I might be able to suggest some supplemental exercises you can do in the gym which might be of use.
I force myself to go regardless, but the fear is always there and it never goes away and this bothers me.
See my comment above regarding the definition of bravery. If you are terrified and you show up anyway, you aren't a coward. You are brave.
How can I deal with these?
There are a number of strategies you can use.

One is to keep showing up, just as you have been. Sufficient exposure will help to desensitize you to the experience.

Another is to mentally redefine what you are going through. Emotions are complex and one aspect of this is that they are composed both of a physical component and a mental interpretation that you are putting on that physical reaction.

Let's say that you are at a tournament waiting on your first match and you notice that your heart is pounding, you are sweating, and your hands are shaking. Your mind could look at these physical manifestations and say "I'm scared, I'm a coward." Or you could tell yourself "Aha! My adrenaline is kicking in, preparing me for the challenge. This will help me be stronger, faster, and block out pain or discomfort. Now I'm ready to go!"

Once you redefine the experience that way, then your goal changes from "how do I not feel this" to "how do I use this to my best advantage and regulate it so I use just as much of this hormonal jet fuel as I need in the moment?"

I hope this helps!
 

JowGaWolf

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I honestly don’t know why you care what we think. I’m not bashing you but I don’t half of us are even at competition level…why would our opinion matter
There is nothing wrong with trying to gain insight or check other perspectives. In addition. Ivan has been talking to many of us for a while now and he's gotten some good advice that has produced results. Then there's the actual experience that is in this forum is legit. Out of all of the forums and youtube videos out there. This is one where I personally feel comfortable with taking advice or listening to different perspectives.
 

JowGaWolf

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Yeah, I'm with you on this. I am strictly speaking for myself when I say this, but I don't see fishing for words of encouragement as very manly thing to do.

I probably would have worded it a bit differently. Something like "This is what's happening. If this has ever happened to you, then how did you handle it?" Because then, you're asking for solutions. Not encouragement.

Again, just me. Not telling anyone what to do, just saying what I would do.
I think the longer you spend time in this forum, the more value you'll see in some of the comments. You'll probably end up with 4 or 5 people that you'll begin to feel are reliable sources.
 

JowGaWolf

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Nope. Having fears doesn't make you a coward. Allowing those fears to rule you and prevent you from doing what you want to do or need to do is cowardice. Doing scary things despite your fears is the very definition of bravery.
I almost want to say that Fear may not even be the correct word. I've experienced fear before and it rocks the soul. Having the jitters is so far away from what fear is like. Anyone who has experienced real fear wouldn't describe it as "having the jitters."

I'm wondering if what Ivan is experiencing is an uneasiness caused by uncertainty of what is before him. He's not sure what the other person will do and something like has the ability to give someone "the jitters." It's one of the tactics that I actually use in self-defense. If I can create uncertainty in the aggressor, then he will be less likely to attack.

The concept is simple. Here's how it works. I can present you with a snake that you are unfamiliar with and say to you that I don't know if venomous. This will create enough uncertainty and create "Jitters" about dealing with that snake. But If present the same snake and tell you the name and that it rarely bits and it won't kill you, then you'll be more at ease, unless you have a fear of snakes.

This is what it's like for fighting. It's that uncertainty that builds up that anxiety. Something like this makes more sense than fear. I think fear is too strong of a word. Just like "Coward" is too strong of a word. He was probably having a healthy dose of anxiety and uneasiness. At a level that informed him about what he was getting ready to get into.

Pointing by to your observation about fear. I know people who fear water and the one thing they don't do is get in the pool. There are people who fear sharks and they don't swim in the water. Ivan showed up to the match, so this doesn't sound like fear to me.
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

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I almost want to say that Fear may not even be the correct word. I've experienced fear before and it rocks the soul. Having the jitters is so far away from what fear is like. Anyone who has experienced real fear wouldn't describe it as "having the jitters."
Anxiety and/or panic attacks is the words that Ivan should be using. It sounds like this existed before martial arts/that would imply it exists separate. If so, while I agree with a lot of the feedback here, the best advice would probably to speak with a therapist that focuses on anxiety disorders.
 

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