Karate and The Sunk Cost Fallacy

The sunk cost fallacy is when you make a decision based on the desire NOT to see your past investment go to waste, rather than on the best outcome.

Nowhere else do I see this phenomenon as much as in karate.

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I have listened to many karate students and teachers explain to me that they are disenchanted with their current karate practice:

“The application practices are unrealistic.”

“The body movements are mechanical.”

“The teaching style is too militarized.”

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Yet when I ask, “Why don’t you quit or switch styles?”, there is always an excuse. Sometimes, they quote loyalty to their instructor or peers.

OR

It’s just the way they’ve always done it.

Denial-san at it’s best!

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The real reasoning is they cannot bear the thought that they’ve invested their entire life for a method that is now or always has been worthless.

It’s a security blanket that is worn, tattered and useless!

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I’ve also seen long-time students make no meaningful commitment to training, but show up for the last 15 minutes of class once a month, do a kata and leave, while claiming they are still passionate about martial arts. It is obvious their interest has faded and they’d be happier somewhere else.

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Why do they continue to come to a class when they aren’t getting anything from the class mentally, physically or even socially?

They hold on by their fingernails because they fear that if they completely stop, that all those years of real commitment and work will have been a waste.

As Julia Galif explains, “whatever you have already spent is called the sunk cost. It’s gone no matter what you do going forward.”

The irony is that the desire to not see your past investment go to waste makes you waste even more time clinging to something that you no longer enjoy.

My advice is to not waste any more time pretending martial arts is something you actually want to do. Put yourself in a place you want to be, even if that means leaving the Dojo behind.

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For instructors who are disenchanted, find a methodology that truly fits the outcomes you want to achieve. It may mean biting the bullet and starting over again from the beginning, but once you realize you are on the wrong path, the only option is to correct the course you are on.

For the students who have lost interest, your time hasn’t necessarily been wasted. The benefits of pursuing the fighting arts are far and wide and the lessons you’ve learned will always be with you. Remember, it’s better to have loved and left than to have never loved at all.

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