Zero Sum Game = Failure

RDF-Aug2013The following quote struck me as I read the article on LinkedIn

Ed McFarland offered, “Takers view life as a zero sum game, they keep score and concern themselves over who got what. Givers see life as anything but a zero sum game, they give and help, not because of any immediate gratification, but rather because it is simply the right thing to do.”

The reason that it struck me wasn’t actually the gist of the article. One of the flaws of our society is the focus on competition, which is the ultimate of zero sum games. By keeping track of placing and trophies, a student learns that their value is based upon the scores. Even in the professional sports leagues, if the business side of the team isn’t happy with a player’s performance, the player can be traded. The same can happen to the coach who doesn’t have enough “wins”. All this re-enforces the zero sum game.

The zero sum game can be seen as students transform (or not) into martial artists. Tournaments, as any competition, generate winners and losers. At least locally, tournaments have tried to promote the idea of “compete to improve yourself” but they have really only done was spread out the losers. In making forms divisions of no more than four competitors, they let students “win” a trophy at the lose of the life lesson. Each division having a “First-Second-Third-Third” doesn’t promote true competition and builds false successes. I remember competing in divisions of 30 with only the top three placing…and there was VERY little whining, poor sportsmanship or victory dances.

The other tournament problem (again, at least locally) is the sparring wins. I came through the colored belt ranks when sparring was a full 2-minute round. Now, its the first to score five points wins. What happens to the quality student who needs a bit longer to get the game going? It was a lot more fun when scores were 15-12. The quicker student wins regardless of technique quality…and tells the other student, after 30 seconds, that they’re not good enough.

The last Open tournament that I went to was disappointing. Seeing competitors lining up with fuzzy bunny slippers on, walking away from the ring during their event, and not even staying in full uniform to be awarded their trophy. I won’t even go into the gymnastics performances being rewarded over the martial arts presentations.

The martial arts has developed, or so I thought, into a community – even family – that supports the development of each student as they challenge themselves physically, mentally and emotionally. Getting a little medal every-so-often is a great “good job” reward from an external source but is NOT the focus.

Those who avoid playing the zero sum game find that they develop higher quality technique and a deeper understanding of application. In fact, it follows what most spiritual teachings promote. Eliminating the ego of instant gratification. This leads to greater success in all aspects of life. I’m quite happy with seeing my students receive recognition, whether martial arts or career/life. I get to say “I trained them.”

Why do you train?

Author: Master Robert Frankovich

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