April 8, 2018

Intermediate men

This morning, I got up early and drove to a karate tournament. I was registered to compete in two competitions: forms and point sparring.

The tournament organizers segment the competitions by gender, age, and rank. I’m a 49 year old male blue belt, so my division was “intermediate men between the ages of 40-49”.


It turns out that not many intermediate men between the ages of 40-49 felt like competing this morning. In fact, there was exactly one: me. Which meant that I took first place in both competitions by default.

But when the time came for my forms competition (and nobody had showed up at the last minute), something unusual happened.

Everyone involved - me, the scorekeeper, the three judges, the audience - tacitly understood that this was a bummer. Nobody - me included - wanted me to just say “Thanks!” and sit back down.

It was obvious that the only thing to do was perform my kata anyway. Even though I couldn’t NOT take first place. So I did the form. It was the right thing to do.

But why?

If you think about it, it’s really weird. There’s a huge disconnect between the language we use to describe the reasons for our behavior (rational) and the true motivations behind our behavior (irrational).

I have some theories but honestly it’s pretty hard to sort out the root cause of this desire to not just sit back down.

Maybe because I came to perform not to win?

Or maybe I just have a need to share the effort I put into the art form?

Or maybe I feel I can only get better under the scrutiny and pressure of live performance?

Or maybe I wanted to satisfy my own expectations of what the day would be like?

I don’t know the reason for sure. But I do know that it wasn’t unique to me.

There were several other unopposed folks who performed even though they had already “won” by default. And when my sparring match came up, an unopposed guy (Tom) from another division and I jumped at the chance to fight each other.

This makes no rational sense.

You could analyze every one of the tens of thousands of words on the tournament brochure, in the registration website, and in the rules of the governing association and you won’t find anything that explains why Tom and I faced off in that ring.

So at the end of the day, I walked away with two comically large first place trophies that I won because I was the only guy who showed up.

And maybe there’s a lesson there about “showing up being half the battle” or something trite but true like that.

But for me, the takeaway from the experience is how murky the motivations behind human behavior are, and how disconnected our language is from the deeper reality.

I could tie this back to pricing psychology and irrational buying behavior, but... it’s late so I’ll leave it at this:

We humans are endlessly fascinating.

See you tomorrow 👍



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