Cooperation vs Conflict

Competitive sports provide a phenomenal environment to study human nature. Look to the explosion of UFC and how it relates to the development, improvement, and evolution of martial arts.

Styles and traditions that have claimed to be the best have crumpled under the pressure of cage fighting, and plenty of bullshit-o artists have had their names rightfully tarnished by showing the world exactly what they’re made of (not much).


UFC is an incredible context where various strategies, methods, and training styles can mingle and challenge each other, which contributes to better understanding of how these martial arts play together.

But, it seems to lead to a belief that misses the mark.

“If it doesn’t work in the octagon,
it won’t work in the real world.”

I want to look at this a little more closely. It’s a belief that the octagon is the closest thing we have to a real life simulator for a dynamic situation out in the real world where you’d have to defend yourself.

This completely misses the fundamental difference between the street and the cage.

One is cooperative, and the other is conflict driven.

There’s a GIANT difference between the two.


Any sport is more about cooperation than anything else. Think about a football game.

Things they agree on:

  • Time & Place where they’ll play
  • How many people are allowed on the field
  • What shape ball they’re going to use
  • Who wears what colors
  • What behavior is and isn’t allowed
  • How many tries they get before giving up
  • What each goal is worth
  • The role of each participant
  • Who starts on what side
  • and on down the list it goes. . .

Things they disagree on:

  • Which team is better at playing by the rules they’ve all agree on.

That’s it.

While it’s true that they are in direct competition with each other, there is often very little conflict. There’s an enormous amount of cooperation that happens within the team itself, and between the teams, too.

Each team member wants to cooperate with his team so that they will win this game, as well as play in a way that makes the team want to invite him back to play in future games, too.

There’s the literal game, and then the Game of Playing Games in a meta-analysis sense.

All of this is predicated on cooperation.


Now, when I think about someone attacking me on the street, there’s very little cooperation. We are in direct conflict. There’s a totally different dynamic going on. We are in opposition, and it has a good chance of turning violent.

Of course, my attacker(s) want me to cooperate with them, which makes achieving their goal much easier. But our fundamental outcomes are in direct conflict with each other.

I work to produce the best life for myself, the people I love, society at large, and the world in general.

My attackers are working to hurt others, which leads to their pain & suffering ultimately.

Different Animals

Sure, I don’t even want to spar with dudes in the UFC, but that doesn’t mean assuming the ring is a reasonable stand-in for the street is the best way to think about it.

Even though there’s a lot of trash talking, both fighters are agreeing to a set of rules, when to show up, how long they’re going to tear into each other, that they’ll stop if the other guy is unconscious, and a whole list of rules that govern their behavior.

In a dynamic encounter, you have none of that cooperation. Do not make the fatal mistake of cooperating when you’re actually in conflict!