4 Ways Calculated Failure Will Bring You Closer to Success

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Let’s face it; we all want to win. The personal growth, the physical enhancement and the healthy lifestyle that come with practicing a martial art are all by-products.

When you cut through it all, the martial arts are a system of combat, a practice of self defence and the defence of your loved ones.

With this in mind, the goal is to win, get the submission, get the knockout, have your hand raised and live to see another day.

To qualify this point further, the goal of combat is to win as efficiently as possible, however this is combat, and combat is different to training.

The goal of training is the refinement of both physical and mental qualities characterised by durability and efficiency - the skills to get you that win.

The agenda of training is very different to combat. Sure, your goal is to become better at what you do - you don’t train to lose.

But calculated failure in a controlled environment, like the gym, can provide you with superior gains to that of treating each session like a real fight.

It is true too, that continual failure in the gym can kill your confidence. But, when your failure is calculated it serves a purpose.

I believe you should approach the gym as a laboratory, where you can test your theories in controlled situations with limited consequences.

I also believe that adopting this view of your gym and your daily training sessions is guaranteed to make you a better grappler, period.

And this is why…

The 4 Benefits of Calculated Failure



Calculated Failure Identifies the Purpose of Training

As mentioned earlier, training serves a different purpose to combat. Knowing this and approaching your sessions with a different mind frame, compared to competition or real life situations, will provide you with a number of benefits.

The first benefit is the refinement of skill. Trying out new ideas and concepts in a competition or in a real life encounter, where the stakes are higher, is never a good idea. Reserve trial and error for the gym and only use your A-Game in situations of higher consequence.

The second benefit relates to longevity. If you only ever enter your training sessions with the goal of winning, you will be constantly exposing yourself to high levels of intensity. A non-stop balls to the wall attitude causes a lot of strain on your joints, ligaments and tendons.

This is not to say hard competition-like training doesn’t have its place in the gym. It is a good idea to replicate the intensities of competition in your training to prepare you for the intensity to come. But doing this each and every session will lead to injury and poor recovery in the long run.

Calculated Failure Exposes You to Bad Situations

If you only ever roll to win in training, you’re robbing yourself of the chance to experience and learn from bad situations.

Having the best guard at the gym is great and it will allow you develop amazing guard retention skills and passing defences.

But, if you rely solely on the comfortably of your favourite position, you’ll never develop the knowledge or confidence to fight from the back foot. Then one day, you encounter someone with guard passing skills superior to your defence and attacks– welcome to the FML experience of being under side control.


It’s simple - If you don’t clock-up time in bad situations, you’ll never have the confidence or the knowledge to get back on track.

Which brings us to our next point.

Calculated Failure Provides In-Depth Knowledge of Technique and Position

The more you get caught in bad spots, or tap to submissions in training, the more you will be exposed to their mechanics.

Seeing a position or a sub for the first time can feel like you're lost in the dark woods at night without a torch or a GPS.

Constant exposure will allow you to recognise:

  • The set up
  • The possible transitions
  • The distribution of weight – where is it & where isn’t it
  • The strength of the position
  • The dangers of the position
  • The weakness of the position

I always tell my students that a bad position is like a bucket of water with a hole in it. The bucket can hold a powerful substance like water, but there is always a path to escape. Don’t use your strength to bust the bucket walls in vain. Look for the opening and flow through the path of least resistance.


“Be like water, my friend” – Bruce Lee


No Ego: Recognise When to Squeeze and When to Let Go

As the exposure we’ve discussed helps you to develop understanding of position and attack, you’ll now also be able to recognise when your efforts are beneficial and when they are futile.

This will aid you in two scenarios:


  1. When you attack
  2. When you defend


Imagine a situation where you’re attempting to guillotine your opponent. Now, there are two universes where this situation exist:


Universe A – You’ve never practiced calculated failure

Universe B – You do practice calculated failure


In Universe A your mindset is to win and only win. You grab a hold of your opponent’s head, fall back and squeeze for dear life. You see that your grip isn’t secure around the next and falling back has allowed your opponent’s head to start escaping. Your ego says,

“Just keep squeezing! We’ve got this tap, everything in my life rides on getting this tap on a non-eventful regular Tuesday night at the gym!”

You agree with your ego and squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeze! After 68 seconds of squeezing you feel you’re holding your breath and your arms are gassings out. Your opponent’s patience pays off and they eventually escape your ego and your guillotine. You’re gassed and now find yourself in a bad position. All you can think is – “FML!”

Now, the you in Universe B immediately recognises the grip you have is poor and that falling back in this position will decrease your leverage and increase your opponent's chances of escape – you decide to release the futile grip and advance to a superior position, where you can put your energy reserve to better use.

In defence, this concept aids your longevity. When you know a position and a submission well enough, you know when your opponent has you beat. Holding on for dear life when someone has you in a deep armbar, kimura or knee bar will only lead to injury and less time on the mat.

Let your ego go and tap when you’re beat – it’s only Tuesday night in the gym - we all know you’re a savage, you don’t have to prove it to us everyday.

BJJ Concepts Grappling Improving Technique

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