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6 years ago

Elegance is an Attitude

Recently I’ve come across a post on harmfulness of analogies with martial arts. Indeed, there’s a handful of posts comparing software development, or agile adoption, or product development  with  martial arts  – Aikido, Karate, Judo etc.

If you make a direct analogy of software product development and mastering some martial art, it would not be exactly accurate. I guess  people revert to the analogies as they try to project their copies as romantic martial arts disciples into their usual lives as software developers, managers etc.  Perhaps, they’re making the image of their lives more mission-filled this way since there’s not too much space for showing primeval qualities of warrior in software development. But the need to exercise this attitude is still there, as it turns out.

We don’t have beasts to fight, bloody battles and mortal combats. This wrap-up for courage, strong will, persistence in achieving goals and readiness to fight has remained in the past largely. With no wrap-up, people forget that there’s lots of space to exercise these qualities in their usual life.

Let’s go back to analogies. Roger Federer is an unbeatable specimen of mastered elegant performance to me. Look at the way he plays. No waste. He knows, what to do, he knows when to do what. It’s a perfect flow,  the model for effective lean production with no waste and –  the model for perfect warrior  in our modern life. Elegant, no blood on his hands, but he fights, has pitfalls on the way,  stands up, recovers, marches on and wins gracefully.


But he’s just a guy in red T-Shirt. As many software developers :)

Another point is that it’s much harder to fight, win and achieve goals when there’s no immediate physical danger involved as in tennis.  Soo much room for elegant warriors, isn’t it ?

The point I’m trying to make is – let people compare their lives and their jobs to whatever they want. If it inspires and motivates them, makes them feel good about their lives and their work – and makes them feel like warriors, achievers, believers, fighters, winners.

P.S.  February 23 is a perfect day for such a blog post :) Wish you well, guys!

  • David Johnson

    Although I agree that analogies should not be misused, I believe that the original use of the analogy between software development and martial arts has been lost in this article. It's not about fighting, nor about a higher purpose in life. The analogy was originally used to point out that our software industry is missing some concepts of craftsmanship. For instance in martial arts you are a student that learns everything from a master. The master will teach you his techniques through a long series of lessons. If you improve your skills he will reward you with a higher belt until you reach black belt and are able to teach other people yourself. The analogy might not be perfect, but you must agree that there are a lot of developers out there that miss a certain craftsmanship. Maybe they should get some lessons from a master.

  • Olga

    That's a great point on the original use of this analogy, Dave. Exactly. Principles of mastering martial arts and craftsmanship are very similar. My favorite book on this philosophy is Mastery by George Leonard:… I highly recommend it for mastering not only software development skills, but any art or craft.

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