The Weird But Interesting Link Between Martial Arts, Board Games and Success

After having wanted to take up some kind of martial arts for some time, I recently started learning a martial art called Kenpo at the The Armoury.

It was somewhat different to what I had expected. I thought we would practice set moves, flashy kicks and be able to look intimidating enough to make potential opponents back down. Instead, the overriding message has been about getting away to safety as quickly and efficiently as possible. If you are unable to escape without resorting to violence, Kenpo teaches you to defend yourself and escape when someone is about to or has already begun to attack you. The safest and most efficient ways to do this often involve performing strikes that might be described as brutal or even “dirty”. But they are effective and they work. Logic is applied to defensive and offensive moves: elbows and knees used for striking cause an incredible amount of pain, strikes and defensive moves are often combined into one, and the eyes, throat and groin are all commonly targeted weak spots. If your life is on the line, do you want something that looks good or something that is effective?

Another activity that I picked up recently was playing Words With Friends. Having played Scrabble as a child, I started playing this similar game in the way that I thought was best – come up with the longest and flashiest word I could think of in order to get the most points out of the tiles I had and to impress my opponent with my outstanding vocabulary. A few of my friends, however, showed me very quickly and very clearly how wrong I was. They placed down tiles which made up small words, but gave them strategically advantageous positions, maximised high scoring letters, or even placed “dirty” words that the system let through but would never be used by the general population. I learned that the game was all about the most effective moves. Logic was applied to their moves – how to force me to “open” up the board, how to put tiles alongside another word to get bonuses I didn’t think they’d be able to get and how to make effective use of words that they had memorised as being strategically advantageous (like placing “quiz” on triple letter and triple word score tiles). When the only things that are “fair” are the moves that the system allows, do you want to play in a way that looks good or in a way that is effective?

And so I got to thinking about how what I’d learned in these two areas could be related to success. To try and become successful, do most people often do what looks good? Yes. Do they play by what is largely maintained by most as “the way to do things”? Yes. Is there a general lack of understanding of what one can achieve until they seek out a true master? Yes.

One example can be found in music. Being able to play long flashy solos on the electric guitar is nice, but your playing is more efficiently enhanced by practising scales, fingering and timing, not just the same solos over and over again. A master can point out what you are doing well and what needs improving. These things may cost more, take more time, or may be more boring, but in the long run, what’s more effective wins.

Choice around exercise is another example. Some people might convince themselves that a bit of walking or sports once or twice enough a week is enough. It looks good on the surface, but it’s not really effective (although it’s better than nothing). Something like running, perhaps three to four times a week, would be much more effective and more benefits can be gained in a shorter amount of time. Solid advice from a qualified practitioner for you and your circumstances can be worth so much more than what abounds our society (including this blog!).

Even education is another example. There is a widely held belief that going to university, getting a getting good grades and a degree will lead to success. Yes, there is definitely some security there, but many of the most “successful” people in the world don’t have university educations.

So while there are obviously some imperfections with this connection I have drawn, I would still ask you to consider questions like these for one area of your life that you want to be successful in:

  • What am I doing that looks good, but isn’t really that effective?
  • When I make a “move”, am I just following the crowd?
  • How am I leaving myself open to attack?
  • How can I make my moves really powerful?
  • Where can I seek out people who can teach me?

These aren’t questions to simply skim over as you read this. Sit and have a proper think. Write them down. Write down your own questions to ponder. Hang them up in a place where you will see them. Start thinking outside of the box you have been taught to think inside of. (On a side note, asking the right questions are what good coaches do. If you have reached a road block in your progression, consider some coaching as a way to get moving again.)

This train of thought about achieving success, however, may warrant some consideration of ethics (and, of course, the law). For example, if someone attacks me and I manage to disable them, am I going to follow up with kicks to the groin or knees to the face? Probably not. If I’m far enough ahead of my friend in Words With Friends, do I really need to maximise every word I play after that? Probably not. If I end up as a CEO of a large company one day, will I really need my million dollar bonus to complement my ten million dollar a year salary? Probably not.

This post is intended to get you thinking. Change the moves you are making in life to become effective moves.


  1. Great questions and post. I had a serious think about some of the stuff I was doing and I’m not being effective in the slightest. Especially with my day trading, a lot of it can be just reading news and looking at charts to find trends. What I’ll start doing is breaking down the charts that give me the best results.

    Cheers dude!

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