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


December 16, 2007
Ido Kron

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.

8. http://www.nrg.co.il/online/archive/ART/389/579.html

9. http://www.akban.org/blog_en/?p=124

The Red Queen Hypothesis in Martial Arts


October 7, 2007
Ido Kron

By Ido Kron

One of the more interesting terms in the field of evolution is co-evolution, or, in other words, the evolution of different species that affect each other and evolve side by side. This field encompasses a wide range of species, having symbiotic, predator-prey or parasite-host relationships. The patterns in which these species affect each other received the term “Red Queen Hypothesis / Syndrome” (see reference number 1).

 

This principle was first suggested by the evolutionary researcher L. Van Valen in the year 1973. It is derived from the story “Alice in Wonderland”, in which Alice runs alongside the queen but notices that they are not moving at all. When Alice asks the reason for the phenomenon, the queen answers “You have to run at full speed in order to keep standing still. If you want to get elsewhere, you would have to run at least twice as fast (2)”. Van Valen suggested that if species a, which is in competition for resources or is the predator of species b, were to gain an advantage over his competitor, it would be able to push the other species from his niche, and in extreme cases bring about extinction. In response, so as not to be left behind, species b will develop means to deal with species a, and thus the two are caught in an “arms race”. Such an arms race will bring about evolution and development in both species, focusing on traits that enable them to deal with each other, a development that would not otherwise occur.

 

A common example for this phenomenon in nature can be found in predator-prey relationships: if the dove were to develop an ability to fly faster not allowing the falcon to catch it, the latter would have to develop increased speed as well so that its fitness is not harmed. In such an arms race, both species raise their flight speed yet their abilities in relation to each other remains the same. It is important to mention that evolutionary changes do not affect an individual but rather a particular group or population over several generations, and this change is passed on to offspring genetically. The development is expressed in a trait that a certain individual has attained, and if this trait increases its fitness, it may become an integral part of the population. However, when addressing the Red Queen Hypothesis and the arms race out of the biological context, it may be applied to other fields such as physics (3) and political science.

 

I would like to apply this principle in the scholastic-developmental sense on martial arts in general and specifically on Budo Ninjutsu.

 

In Budo Ninjutsu you learn constantly. In the beginning you learn the basis and perhaps a little too much. After a while, when things sink in, you learn new things or understand the basics in depth, this is learning as well. The veterans, from their many years of experience, can introduce new techniques and new forms, compare them to the existing ones and then break or leave some of the old. Every practice brings about new learning of technique, attention and dynamics with the training partner. At the end of each training session we test some of the things we learned in practice through Randori and sparring.

 

Randori, which is combative in principle, enables us to test and apply the understandings from practice together with our training partner. When Randori becomes a little competitive, it places us on Alice’s running track facing our training partner. In order to remain better than my partner, I must outrun him. The competitive instinct, which exists in some of the trainees, pushes them to progress and learn, improve and work harder in order to better deal with their Randori partners. The difficulty which arises during Randori urges us to cope, and if the partner uses a new technique on us we will try to learn it, as well as its counter, so as to be more prepared the next time. This is a non-genetic arms race, but rather a scholastic and acquired race. In this arms race, just like any other, “not improving” means stopping progression. Often a trainee reaches a certain moment when she feels comfortable and able to defeat others with no effort. This can be followed the by a realization that she has rested on her laurels, some better opponent is the wake up call. Those who she had once easily defeated, now make her surrender, thus she (or he) is faced with two options: to run faster or to stay behind. Staying behind is not a bad choice for someone who is not competitive, but a competitive individual might despair and leave, for example.

 

Leaving is analogous in martial arts to extinction. Running is difficult, uncomfortable, you have to learn new techniques and polish the old ones, you have to face the hardships after supposedly reaching the summit, yet this all leads to development, to evolution.

This same principle applies to an individual and also applies to entire disciplines and schools in the field of martial arts. The need to preserve the traditional and existent knowledge is obvious, and it may clash with the need to innovate, refresh and update knowledge. A discipline that closes itself up for change, that stops innovating and progressing, leads itself to extinction. When is this apparent? Whenever the veterans in the discipline begin to leave and search for alternative places to train.

 

Perhaps the most pronounced example of the Red Queen Hypothesis in martial arts is the competitive fighting arenas – UFC, MMA, Pride etc. In the beginning these were mainly composed of big strong men who beat up other big strong men. Along came the men of technique and showed the world different and much more effective ways to make men bigger and stronger than them surrender (for example the Gracie family). Several years passed and fighters from other disciplines were forced to learn Jiu-Jitsu in order to cope with the small man choking them from behind within a few seconds, and thus the wheels turn. In contrast to what happens in nature, evolution here is rapid, and its cycles can be seen every few years. Even inside the field of Jiu-Jitsu an arms race is going on, and we profit.

 

Speaking of fighting arenas, the arms race occurs not only in a technical aspect but also when dealing with illegal substances. If my rival is pumped up on steroids, I would have to act as he does in order to beat him, and, when possible, through the use of more effective drugs. This is an arms race in which there are mainly losers. This phenomenon exists also in nature, when species compete with each other and the traits they acquire bring down their overall fitness: in the forest, for example, trees compete for sunlight; a taller tree is capable of receiving more light than its competitors. This causes the other trees to grow higher, thus creating a situation where the fitness of species “a” in comparison to species “b” remains as it was, yet both species invest more resources in order to reach the desired height and the overall fitness is compromised.

The arms race exists also between the developers of illegal substances and those who are required to detect them, which is reminiscent of the arms race between parasites and their host (5), as well as within the immune system (6).

 

The Red Queen Hypothesis can be applied to many aspects of our lives that contain an element of competition. This interaction with “competitive species” leads in most cases to change and development, it makes us learn more and improve, it leads to a desire to practice better Ninjutsu.

 

=== References: ===
# http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/REDQUEEN.html

# http://cewh-cesf.ca/PDF/health_reform/gba-red-queen.pdf
# http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3114432,00.html
# picture taken from image

# Yoshihiro Haraguchi and Akira Sasaki (1996). Host-Parasite Arms Race in Mutation Modifcations: Indefinite Escalation Despite a Heavy Load? J. theor. Biol 183, 121-137.
# Andrew F. Read (1994). The Evolution of Virulence. Trends in Microbiology, vol.3 no.2 73-76.