Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The economics of martial arts

One can find just about anything for which to apply economic theory, for instance, martial arts.
When starting out in martial arts, you’re like a fresh business person without prior experience. Just like it is wise in business to take on manageable amounts of risk for an expected level of reward, in martial arts, one has to start at the bottom and as confidence builds, risk aversion diminishes (probably proportionally or even by more).

The learning curve - the time it takes for a person to learn a new task and perform it competently – can be steep or flat in both business and martial arts, but wholly dependent on the individual’s aptitude and attitude. In business, the reduction in time taken to carry out production as the cumulative output rises, is mirrored in martial arts by the reduction of time taken to execute a series of moves as your cumulative knowledge rises.

Of course, the longer you’re in business, you develop business acumen. This means that generally, the learning curve concept, which is based on the doubling of output, can apply. Broadly, a 70% learning curve means that the cumulative average time taken per unit falls to 70% of the previous cumulative average time as the output doubles. The cumulative average time per unit is measured from the very first unit produced. Similarly, the cumulative average time taken to "assimilate" new variations of martial arts and execute them successfully should fall to 70% of the previous cumulative average time as your output (total martial arts product) doubles.


Consider a man assembling flat-pack chairs from Ikea, having never assembled a chair before. He will take the longest time to assemble his first chair and his speed/efficiency will be very slow to start with. Once he has assembled a certain number of chairs (this dependant on his aptitude), he will discover ways in which he could minimise the time taken and still end up with a complete assembled chair. Soon, his production becomes more efficient and takes less time.
Similarly, in martial arts, the man starts with the basic kick and punch. At this point, this is all he can manage because he may well be very stiff (from not previously working his body in such a way), his ligaments may well be quite tight, which means that even his very basic kick is a poor one – no power, just a fling of the leg. After many repetitive classes, if the man is still attending martial arts classes (because this is the stage at which the first batch of beginners drop out, disappointed that they still can’t move like Bruce Lee - myopia galore), he finds that suddenly his product is increasing with less time taken. The previously known 1-2-3 step is now executed in one move and completed in a position that allows manoeuvring for the next set of moves. Attitude in this case becomes more in important than aptitude. The beginner then reaches a level where the learning is exponential. Suddenly the body (and the mind) is supple.

Achieving your first million is like achieving your first black belt. It has been said that your first million is the hardest to reach (effort and time); the same has been said for your first blackbelt. However, some individuals push further and are goal oriented whereas others are just happy enough to have reached the milestone and leave it at that. After 5-10 odd years in business, you know what works for you, your market, your niche, your risk preference, etc. Similarly, in martial arts, you have honed in to what style of fighter you are. Are you a kicker? Puncher? Or a combination? Can you grapple as well? Are you an all rounder? And most importantly, what is your physical (not mental) limititation as a person and how have you/are you working around it?

Inevitably and invariably, the businessman that survives the longest is the most well-rounded because it implies adaptability. Similarly, in martial arts, those who turn out to be the best (Bruce Lee) are the most well-rounded. Bruce Lee took concepts from judo, fencing, boxing, jujitsu, kung fu, etc, and combined them in a way that enabled him to fight different opponents because no two opponents are alike. Additionally, in combat, one cannot afford to be predictable. In business, what Bruce Lee did is known as strategy. Companies cannot afford to be predictable and their competitors are forever evolving.
Bruce Lee would have been a fantastic business strategist. He was famous for applying the statement below as one of his principles. He said:
“Become formless and shapeless like water. When water is poured into a cup, it becomes the cup. When water is poured into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Be water, my friend.”
Being a successful strategist (either in business or martial arts) is a competency and I think that there is a direct, positive correlation between the best business strategists and the versatility of their approach to life (adaptability). You have to be able to roll with the ever-changing punches. However, the most adaptable people are not necessarily the most book-smart (though there is a required level of mental acrobatics for both scenarios), because adaptability requires a far broader and multifaceted (hence superior) level of intelligence.
For instance, as in business, there are those in martial arts that study almost everything but fall short in application. Their reasons for falling short of performance can be mostly due to unexpected stimuli but in the real world, businesses and opponents are not predictable.

If you are looking for a potentially successful business strategist, seek out those whom, from their career progression and lifestyle, have displayed the most adaptability. It cannot be taught at school and it speaks volumes about a person’s attitude, which has a bearing on their performance. Preferably, someone who is successful in any competitive sport (from chess to mountain climbing).
As a closing note, and at risk of sounding too geeky, martial arts even has production functions but the outcome of the equation is the successful transmission of energy from the attacker to the opponent. That energy has got to come from somewhere doesn't it?
"Energy transmission is a function of power generation. E = f(power).
Power generated is a function of speed, distance, firm footing (footwork), hip rotation, arm and body alignment"
...p = f(speed, distance, footwork, rotational force, and the correct alignment of the transmission vehicle)
Ok, that's quite enough.


Anonymous mshairi said...

First time to see economic theory compared to martial arts:) Fascinating concept, nevertheless.

Thursday, September 22, 2005 1:45:00 pm  

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