Learning How to Lose- by Lauren Ellis

“How long have you been training?”

“Two years, but in MMA. So we have kicks… spinning backfists… elbow strikes… takedowns, you know… that kind of stuff.”

 The eyes of a dozen well-trained, muscular, tattooed men widened. A few nodded.

 “That’s a bit different,” said a novice African American boxer.

 “Yeah,” I laughed, “a bit.”

For two years I have been training in Bruce Lee’s mixed martial art, Jeet Kune Do, and been loving it. The next logical step was to compete in some fighting tournament – and win. The obvious choice was the regional Golden Gloves boxing tournament, and so the journey began.

I started training solely in boxing for about 4 months before the competition. I worked 3-4 times a week with Sifu Forrest and Coach Mike, trained alone outside in the evenings, even on the nights when it was below freezing and I was bundled up like Randy from the Christmas Story. I did strength training in the mornings, shadowboxed during my lunch breaks, and dieted for the month of January. It was not easy, but it was worth it.

I spent hours watching novice women’s boxing matches. I trained for a lot of common scenarios. I was punched the hardest I’ve ever been hit, pushed to my physical limits, and had more than one intrigued look from other gyms. But I’m JKD, I’m Phase 2, I’d tell myself. They just don’t understand. I’m going to kick ass.

I knew that the fight was going to be intense and challenging, but I thought I was going to win and I began to shape my identity around that.

The thing about pride is that when you lose, it hurts. It feels like everything is stripped away from you and you are left with nothing. When I heard, “and the winner, in the blue corner…” my whole body sank. No, it disintegrated into a mushy pile of tired Lauren. Everything went grey. I felt small, disappointed and frustrated.

“It doesn’t matter if you win or lose,” I was told multiple times. But when you are a highly competitive person who finds self-worth in how you fight like I am, it does. It shouldn’t, but it does. And that is the beginning of what I learned from my Golden Gloves experience.

It doesn’t matter what activity it is, be it a gym, school, church, etc. Wherever you go, you think that it is the best. When you have someone as amazing as Bruce Lee as your founder, you (can) begin to think all other martial arts don’t compare and that JKD is the bees’ knees.

I’m not saying that it isn’t, but no matter how good you are, chances are that there is someone (or many someones) better than you. My opponent, Morgan Molidor, was a better boxer that night. She kept a better head about her, threw more punches, and played with spacing better than I was able to. I was really honored to fight with her and I am excited to see her fight in the future. She was amazing.

Once I got over my bitter frustration, I began to see that what everyone had been telling me was true. Winning would have been a nice highlight, but there are so many more even with losing.

Highlight #1: Making new friends
On the surface, fighting seems vicious, hateful even. But the reality is that when you get out there and fight someone, you bond with him or her. You share similar interests and struggles that only fighters would understand. I made friends across many gyms, including my opponent after our bout. There can be egos in fighting sports, but at least from my experience, I have been never been in a group of people with more camaraderie.

Highlight #2: Developing a Strong Mindset
I respect people who, when in terrifying, dangerous, and even life-threatening situations, are able to keep a level head. I aspire to do the same. One of the best things I learned from fighting, especially in a ring with adrenaline flooding your body and 300 people watching, is having a strong mindset. Being able to focus and tell yourself, “no, I’m finishing this,” is hard. It takes real strength to not lose focus. But that is the great thing about fighting. The spar will be over soon, so just bite down and push through it. Giving up is not an option. You have to dedicate your whole self, mind and body.

Highlight #3: Pushing yourself to accomplish a goal
Pushing yourself to your very limits, both physically and mentally, is terrifying. “What ifs” flooded my mind. “What if I forget how to fight? What if I pass out? What if I let down my coaches?”

The thing about trying your hardest is that you might not reach your own expectations. If you fear failure like I do, that makes it even scarier. To work so hard and not be rewarded by the end seemed miserable to me.

But pushing yourself beyond what you think you can do is so satisfying in the end. When the day is done, I was proud that I stepped into the ring and gave everything I had. When the third round rolled around, my instructor told me to go out and give it my all. I did, and landed a beautiful uppercut while doing so. Sure, I didn’t win, but I worked as hard as I could and no one can take that away from me.

Highlight #4: Support from my friends
My phone was buzzing again. “How do I buy tickets?”  Geez, I thought, how many people are coming to this thing?

I was amazed by how many people supported me, both online and off. I was humbled to come down from the ring and have everyone tell me how proud they were of me. “But I got second place out of two,” I’d retort. It didn’t matter. They loved me just the same. And at the end of the day, I am thankful and humbled by my friends’ support, love, and encouragement.

Highlight #5: My victories/losses do not define me
For one reason or another, I got the idea stuck in my head that winning the Golden Gloves would one, confirm my ability to fight and two, prove that that I’m a bad ass. I even went so far as beginning to plan my next tattoo based on my victory. Silly, but somehow justified at the time.

Now, having gone through everything, I realize how big it was just to get into the ring and fight. Regardless of my loss, I still feel like a bad ass. I feel accomplished and satisfied that I was able to reach one of my goals. Win or lose, what defines me is the strength to get out there, give it my all, and handle the results with grace and joy.

My Final Thoughts
I think losing the Golden Gloves was one of the best things that could have happened to me. I have no doubt that it has made me become a better person overall.

When I remember where I was a year ago, I am so pleased to see how far I’ve come. I feel braver, tougher, and more determined about my life. I am in the best physical shape I have ever been. I am thankful for the love from my friends and family, as well as the dedication and support from my coaches.

Would I fight in a competition again? I’m not sure. But I have learned that there are aspects to experiences like this that makes winning look inferior. For that, I wouldn’t change a thing.

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