Danger: Lottery Mentality



 by Roger Alexander

There is a mental disorder spreading through our society which could destroy your aikido and your life. It's the "lottery mentality": the desire for unearned success. We read about it every day - a man wins the lottery and is set for life, or a woman wins a lawsuit and never has to work again. The mere thought of unearned success brings a smile to our faces - the new American Dream! You're thinking, "So what's wrong with winning the lottery, and what does it have to do with my aikido?" There may be nothing wrong with winning the lottery; however, the pursuit of unearned success which it represents can be a danger to all aspects of your life, including your aikido practice. If someone offered you the chance to buy a lottery ticket with the opportunity to "win" the secret to mastering the art of aikido, you would laugh and walk away. Or would you?

We have all heard students ask sensei to advise them how to improve their technique, only to receive an invitation to practice. At a recent clinic, Clark Sensei offered to reveal his key ("ki") to improving your aikido. Everyone turned on their mental recorders to digitize this shortcut to success. He proceeded to suggest that each of us perform the kihon no kata, including the weapon katas fifteen times a week for two years. You could hear the collective disappointment. He was telling us the key to improvement was commitment to our practice. Heck, we already knew that! Anybody can succeed if they are committed to hard work and practice. But we want the secret to unearned success. We want to win the lottery.

I witnessed an example of the lottery mentality during a recent exchange between an amateur golfer and a professional. The pro was hitting practice balls when the amateur walked up and began to watch. The pro was known to have hit a thousand balls a day in his youth, and is still considered one of the most dedicated professionals on the tour. The amateur finally approached the pro, introduced himself and began to explain how much he enjoyed golf, but was unable to improve his game. Then he asked the pro to give him a tip that would help improve his score. The pro looked up from his practice, and advised the man that he should hit at least five hundred balls a day. The man stood there in stunned silence while the pro returned to his practice. After a few minutes, the man regained his composure and interupted the pro to tell him that he didn't have time to hit that many balls, and all he wanted was a tip that would help him beat his buddies on the weekend. The pro stopped, took a step toward the man and told him in no uncertain terms that golf is a difficult skill to master, and he didn't have time to give tips to anyone who didn't have time to practice. The man walked away in embarrassment, and hasn't been seen at the practice range since.

We understand the difference between an amateur and a professional. However, our tendency is to excuse the amateur's lack of commitment, and by implication approve of his desire for unearned success. It's OK for someone to hit a thousand balls a day if they want to be a professional golfer, or do a thousand bokken cuts a day if they want to become a sensei, but the rest of us should be satisfied with our chances of winning the lottery. The "lottery mentality" practiced in one part of our life will soon spread to other aspects of our life like a cancer. Without recognition of this disorder, we will soon be wasting our energy chasing "lottery tickets" rather than committing to our everyday practice.

© Copyright 1996 by Roger Alexander, All Rights Reserved