Posts from December 2007

“Winner Effect” and “Loser Effect” in Martial Arts

Researchers in the field of animal behavior noticed an interesting phenomenon when regarding territorial fighting fish: these fish, the males to be precise, fight each other following a breach of territory. Researchers saw that a fish that has won several times in a row has a better chance of getting into an additional fight, as well as having a better chance of winning this fight. Conversely, and with even greater statistical significance, a fish that has lost several fights has a smaller chance of going into another fight and a greater chance of losing it or retreating in the middle (see reference no. 1). These phenomena have received the terminology “winner effect” and “loser effect” respectively.


The biological reasoning behind this phenomenon is clear: a fighting fish risks injury and wastes energy in each fight, as well as elevating his risk of being preyed upon. Consecutive losses place the fish in a certain hierarchy. Previous losses affect his behaviour and he avoids confrontation when possible. Furthermore, if presented into a fighting situation, he would prefer to finish it quickly. Quite often this fish will lose the fight. This is the loser effect.


Winner and loser effects have also been studied and presented in mathematical models in the evolutionary concepts of the game theory (2).

In a research conducted on territorial mice (3) it was found that mice had a significantly higher probability of winning their fourth fight, when followed by three previous wins. Also, the time lapse of the fourth confrontation was shorter, and the probability of “freezing” instead of fighting decreased significantly. Another interesting finding was that there was a strong correlation between the number of wins and the level of Testosterone in these mice. Testosterone, the main male hormone, is linked to male sexual development as well as to aggressive and competitive behaviour and social dominance.


The correlation between rising Testosterone levels and the winner effect are further pronounced when neutered mice are used (4). In these mice, consecutive wins were not sufficient in sustaining the winner effect for long periods of time. Additionally the winner effect causes the mice to improve their chances of winning in the future without regard for their initial combative capabilities. This study shows that as with fish, the winner effect is present in territorial mammals, and it is Testosterone hormone-dependent.


There is scientific evidence that in man there is also an increase in Testosterone levels preceding an imminent fight as well as following a fight. Testosterone increases coordination, cognitive abilities and the levels of concentration during the confrontation. It was found that among competitors that won, Testosterone levels were high and dependent on the elevated spirit of the winner. This effect was found among Judo practitioners as well as among chess players. On the other hand, Testosterone levels within the losing groups decreased (5). Researchers speculated that the reason for elevated Testosterone levels among the winners has to do with the fact that they stand before more competitions in the near future, as opposed to the losers who would rather abstain further fighting and risk injury.


The loser effect has also been studied on other animals (6) and is applied to other fields such as economics (7) and politics (8).

I would like to deduce from this phenomenon on martial arts in general and the martial school I study in AKBAN.


It is difficult to defeat a veteran. It is hard for me to beat someone who wins fights with me every time over. Even if inside I know I have improved, narrowed down gaps in technique, worked on my weak points €¦ evolved. Still, some hurdles are difficult to pass.

When I begin Randuri (practice fighting) with someone who has beaten me in the past, the mind and body do not work properly. Perhaps it is the mind that prevents the body from working as it should. I think too much, react too late and surrender positions. What chance do I have of winning to begin with?


On the other hand, there are those that cannot beat me. I feel that they give up on submission too easily, do not attempt to go into attacks, do not follow through with the techniques and look rather despaired against me. I, on the other hand, feel rather confident working with them. I allow myself to be a little more adventurous in Randuri, try out new techniques without concern and put myself willingly into bad positions. Often, when these same people work with other practitioners, it is noticeable that they give more of themselves, go all the way. This is an interesting phenomenon.


People are complex creatures, at least on the emotional-conceptual level, more than any other creature. The intricate social concept enables people to learn from the experience of others and apply this experience to them. “Who is wise? He who learns from all men”.

In a group dynamic, it is very simple to identify the dominant person, the authoritative person, the leader, and follow them. On the other hand, it is also easy to spot the weak person, the lowest in the chain of command. This can be noticed in groups of children playing.


These same characteristics enable us to see who is stronger or weaker, winner or loser. Even without personal experience, from observing alone, it is possible to assess within a group of trainees who is the strongest. If I fear him before the confrontation, the loser effect begins to have impact on me, even if we haven’t yet taken a bow or shaken hands. The winner effect has disadvantages as well: excess self-esteem, disrespect to the opponent and at times a feeling of having “reached the peak” and stopping the running (9). The loser effect has an advantage: a lower probability of being hurt.


The winner and loser effects are just a part of the whole picture, of course. There are many factors that affect us prior to and during Randori: technical level, physical fitness, fatigue, daily troubles, moods etc. However, psychological and hormonal effects have a direct or indirect influence on us as well. If De La Riva comes to Israel to train with us, and I do Randori with him, I wouldn’t do a violent Randori. Not just because he is tens of times better than I am and I fear his response, but also out of a feeling of respect and the fear of injuring or being injured. These reasons are also included in the loser effect. This can also be seen in Randori with the coach when he says “work, don’t be shy”. This hurdle is also difficult to pass.



1. Yuying Hsu and Larry L. Wolf (2001). The winner and loser effect: what fighting behaviors are influenced? Animal Behavior (61), 777-786.

2. Michael Mesterton-Gibbons (1999). On the evolution of pure winner and loser effects: a game-theoretic model. Bulletin of Mathematical Biology 61, 1151-1186.

3. Temitayo O. Oyegbile and Catherine A. Marler (2005). Winning fights elevates testosterone levels in mice and enhances future ability to win fights. Hormones and Behavior (48) pp 259 267

4. Trainor B.C., Marler, (2001). Testosterone, paternal behavior, and aggression in the monogamous mouse (Peromyscus californicus) Horm. Behav. 40, 32-42.

5. Allan Mazur and Alan Booth (1998). Testosterone and dominance in men. Behavioral and Brain Sciences (21) pp 353-363

6. Hugh Drummond and Cristina Canales (1998). Dominance between booby nestlings involves winner and loser effects.

7. Anthony J. Richards (1997). Winner-Loser reversals in national stock market indices: Can they be explained? The Journal of Finance Vol. 52, No. 5, pp. 2129-2144.




Holy disagreement in culture and martial arts

By Yossi Sheriff

Many veteran practitioners already know our multi personal work method: maintaining the last item on The AKBAN Code is too much for a single person cooperation is needed. Cooperation among people is not some simple dance. It entails some heavy arguing and disagreement. I wanted to explain why this aspect should be documented, why arguing is necessary.

Martial art and AKBAN-Wiki
One of the reasons for creating the AKBAN-Wiki is the fact that we are not sure of the precision of our technique, we are not sure of our fighting conclusions and perspectives. It might be more correct to say that we are sure of some of the conclusions and techniques but tend to sanctify their discussion, and such discussion might refute some of them.

Can martial art profit from discussion, from scientific disagreements? I believe that any field of knowledge not only needs but must have criticism. Therefore we use critical point of view to preserve the old concepts, examine them, find more adequate ways to practice and argue, we argue a lot. Sometimes politely.

Just two days ago I tried to show how to perform an ancient kata. The Tel Avivian veteran practitioner with whom I worked did not have to argue loudly with my point of view. He simply disturbed me. With time, we might find ways to do it together. This is serious work that requires years of patience: patience for the difficulties of fighting, and patience towards people.

The reasonable amicable relations in AKBAN and the many capabilities of the veterans have helped us build a structure of distribution, gathering and examining of fighting knowledge and techniques. Through semantic Wiki we created a database that enables change, improvement, comparison and further investigation. We have opened our discourse to anyone interested.

Someone might criticize our whole endeavor, saying: “This is no longer a traditional martial art.” And we can answer: “Tradition is a complex cultural structure, especially for those who rigorously observe tradition, especially people like ourselves.”

I’d like to shake up a bit the usual take on tradition, by bringing two different examples that are unrelated – neither to each other nor to traditional martial art.

Through these strange examples I thought I would show at least three things:

1. Traditions that seem frozen have undergone long periods of change and accommodation.
2. Tradition is the result of multi-voiced discourse.
3. Proper results require specialists.

Wikipedia and multi-voiced discourse the need for specialists

Writing encyclopedias is a tradition that is well-worth using for observing the process of opinion exchange and transformation. The editors’ work involves gathering information, writing, editing, cataloging and publishing. This practical work is founded upon a tradition that is hundreds of years old. The process of writing encyclopedias took place in groups that were committed to the idea of gathering information and considered themselves authorized to voice their opinion or edit the opinions of others. The encyclopedia would seem like an example of frozen knowledge after it was completed. However, the actual gathering of information is an accumulative action. The Encyclopedia Britannica epitome of knowledge and order published annual update volumes.

A look at the work process on Wikipedia discloses both the power of exchanging opinions and the reservations as to the free exchange of opinion. Many articles on Wikipedia and central entries are regularly monitored by an elite of editors, Sysops and bureaucrats. Free editing today is only possible at the periphery of knowledge. Anyone can write an entry about their favorite chocolate. But changing a single character in a central entry such as Islam or USA might immediately sound the alarm among a large number of people in charge who will then immediately provide a return to the former state.

The tradition of gathering information relies upon a backbone of entries as exact and objective as possible.

Multi-voiced discourse serves this backbone of entries and exact knowledge with one reservation the discourse must be supervised by responsible experts.

Talmud not everyone participates and the debate is worth showing

A Gemara page looks like this: a central text, itself a discussion of a passage in the Torah or of resulting texts, is framed by other texts written in later periods. Some of the texts are in Aramaic, others in Hebrew of various epochs.

Visually, the Gemara page is a rare phenomenon in religious writing. The Talmud page uses not only different languages and scripts but goes further a-field and even presents disagreement and differing points of view on the same page.

One might look at the page and see far beyond its contents see the editing considerations. The editors of the Talmud, those who signed the Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud), took a decision: rather than a canonic text, they presented a mosaic of interpretations, all perpetuated upon the same, single page.

A critical overview of the contents exposes the limits of this multi-voiced discussion. Not everyone is invited to join it. The Karais, for example, are not direct writers. Their opinions are always presented in a roundabout manner, and always by one of the authorized writers. The Karais are a good example in this context since in spite of their belief in the five books of the Torah, they are not partners, by choice, in the Jewish multi-voiced discourse. The community of writers in the Talmud believes in scholars connected to the source of knowledge, on the one hand, and to the reality of community life, on the other.

The Jewish prayers, dress codes and blessings before meals are all products of a multi-voice discourse, not of Scriptural edicts. Wearing a skull cap is not dictated by the Torah. The Bible hardly mentions prayers. Until the sages wrote contents and turned them into permanent tradition, Jews hardly prayed. They offered animal sacrifices.

Karai dialogue perpetuated Orthodox fixation. According to the Karais, if the Torah says “an eye for an eye”, one must take the Law literally because of the text’s sanctity. But a community that tries to live in reality understands that the law must be interpreted so that it accommodates changing life circumstances. The Talmudic discussion surrounding the strict revenge verse indicates that the meaning intended here is proper financial restitution.

The Jewish multi-voiced discourse has never ceased in spite of the tendency on the part of a good many to declare certain of its versions sealed and signed. The rabbinical books of Q&A (questions and answers responses and later interpretations of sages) are a part of this interpretative multi-voiced discourse. Naturally, Jewish tendencies that have been pushed aside from the mainstream created separate textual and interpretative trends.

This is a big question: Is it better to debate in that same studying space, in the same dojo, on the same Wiki page, or perhaps behind one’s back? Perhaps the momentary position should be perpetuated, or a new method developed? A new dojo maybe?

I believe that taking the argument somewhere else smells of psychological difficulty. It does not serve knowledge, only the fragility of some of our features.

Someone who removed himself from our studying space in AKBAN, Mr. H., concluded this well by saying: “I prefer to walk all the way to Afghanistan to change batteries in a listening device rather than sit at my aunt’s with my family for a holiday dinner”. And this is the crux of the code: friendship is physical presence, on the same page, in the same dojo, around the same camp fire, and that is no simple matter.