Failing Your Way To Success
Rhadi Ferguson, PhD

What’s the best thing that ever happened to you in judo?

Winning a tournament? Finally beating a nemesis at a shiai? Learning the first 3 Kata? Winning the judo trivia night at your dojo? Getting promoted to your first belt? Winning a national championships? Submitting your first opponent? Going to the Olympics?

What was it?

When I conducted a survey some time ago to some of the followers on my email lists what I found out is that most people receive the greatest joy in sport from watching their children succeed and learn.  I also found out that many competitors count their losses and injuries as monumental turning points in their judo careers.

It’s something how society has very little reverence for pain but are great respecters of it.  And it’s also interesting in judo how we have to learn how to properly fail and endure before we can start succeeding.


One of the first lessons that we learn in judo is how to fall. Ukemi is the foundational experience of the judoka. In competitive judo, falling too often or with too much frequency can certainly increase the propensity towards losing, which would be categorized in data collection as a “fail.”  If the attempt in judo, primarily is to throw and you get thrown, you are actually “failing.”  But the most beautiful thing about this is that such lessons mirror life.

I recall having a discussion with a parent who brought her children to my dojo in Tampa, Florida after having done Brazilian Jiujitsu for some time. Her children cried when we had to perform some of the tachiwaza techniques because, as she said, “They did not like throwing.”

To which I replied, “No ma’am. Your children love throwing. What they do not appreciate is falling. And in this dojo, if you do not fall, you cannot throw. And allowing them to manipulate the system and the bypass the fact of life that falling down and getting up is instrumental in the development of core leadership qualities is a sin that we will not propagate here. Ma’am, I love your children, as I do my own, but the process of failing is crucial the success as falling is important to learning how to get back up and succeed.”

She looked at me tearfully and said, “But its just so hard for me to watch. And I’m all that they’ve got. And when they cry and I don’t run to them, I feel like I am abandoning them.”

I told her that I understood and that here in the dojo where the environment is controlled, allow this to serve as a miniature proving ground for some of the crucial developmental processes that must occur through childhood and adolescence.

Now, she talks to me about that conversation months ago and she smiles when she sees her children going through the drills on the mat, climbing the rope, doing randori and failing successfully.


There is absolutely nothing wrong with falling.  And there is nothing wrong with failing.  Not getting back up is a problem and not trying until you succeed is another one. My greatest moment in judo was not when I made the Olympic Team in 2004, nor was it when I coached an Olympian.  It was not when I got my black belt or when I coached my first national champion. My GREATEST moment in judo happened in Las Vegas.

It was Las Vegas and the year was 2008.  I had coached at the Weightlifting Olympic Trials, I had two clients running at the USA Track and Field Olympic Trials, and I had one client at the USA Wrestling Olympic Trials and 2 current and 2 former clients at the USA Judo Olympic Trials.

I was also deep in chapter 4 of my dissertation process and I had more than enough on my plate professionally and personally.  I could not wait for all of these Olympic Trials to be over so that I could return to some level of normalcy in my life.

I had no idea that my life was not normal, nor would it ever be.

That time in Vegas was one of the worst ever in my sporting career.

I had never been so heartbroken in my life.

I had never cried so much or had a deep pain like that without there being a death. I had a spot, a location, that I just needed somebody to rub so that I could be soothed so that the pain would go away.  But there was not identifiable spot. The pain was real, but would be categorized at phantom. The hurt that I felt was real. And watching the levels and depths that people would reduce themselves to in order to make a point, I think was the ugliest part of the whole process.

I was so angry that I was sweating. And after a few moments of lying on the floor I didn’t know if it was sweat running down my face or if those were tears.  At any rate, I knew I couldn’t lie here forever but I needed to. I needed to be as low as I felt.

Because I sold this man a dream that I could not deliver on.

If you think that the power of belief is powerful, you should check out the power of disappointment.

I’m having a problem writing this now and I’m running out of time. But….

That day, my son had a fever of 103.  My wife had to fly back early with him after going to an urgent care facility and I had just had one of the best coaching experiences of my life and one of the worst at the same time.

I will tell you all about it tomorrow.

I have to go to rehab for my shoulders right now but don’t worry, I will tell you tomorrow and you will not want to miss it.

Please look out for “In Judo Do You Really Have To Fail To Succeed? | Part 2”

To be continued………

Rhadi Ferguson, PhD
2004 Olympian
4-Time National Judo Champion
BJJ Black Belt
Master Educator | Teacher | Author | Coach