Do You Have a Comprehensive Testing Plan?

Human brain
(Credit: Patrick J. Lynch)

As a professional software developer, I often ponder the similarities and correspondences between programming and martial arts. A style of martial arts is ultimately just an algorithm—executed in wetware rather than with integrated computer circuits—and there are many interesting correlations to be found between these two outwardly distinct disciplines.

Within both fields, the need for testing is widely acknowledged. I am not referring to rank or belt testing, but to a comparison of expected and actual algorithmic results. Ideally, we would find no differences during this comparison: every strategy and tactic, principle and technique would perform exactly as intended. In reality, the flawless style of martial arts is as elusive as the bug-free operating system.

The complex algorithms of a martial art call for rigorous testing, and the standards applied by many martial artists are inadequate to the task. “If it works, use it” may pass for wisdom in JKD or MMA circles, but to an experienced software engineer, it reflects the absolute lowest level of competence. Well-written software not only works, it also follows design principles that recognize the inevitability of change.

Defense In Depth

Most of us lack the resources or motivation to design a completely new style of martial arts. Instead, we can only test our chosen style as thoroughly as possible, exposing any defects for repair. The standard practices of the software industry provide a framework against which we can evaluate the completeness of our martial arts testing.

As Steve McConnell surveyed these best practices in his book, Code Complete:

Unit testing is the execution of a complete class, routine, or small program that has been written by a single programmer or team of programmers, which is tested in isolation from the more complete system.

Integration testing is the combined execution of two or more classes, packages, components or subsystems that have been created by multiple programmers or programming teams. This kind of testing typically starts as soon as there are two classes to test and continued until the entire system is complete.

Regression testing is the repetition of previously executed test cases for the purpose of finding defects in software that previously passed the same set of tests.

System testing is the execution of the software in its final configuration, including integration with other software and hardware systems. It tests for security, performance, resource loss, timing problems, and other issues that can’t be tested at lower levels of integration.

Do you have a comprehensive test plan for your martial art, addressing each of the levels listed above?  Or do you prefer to rely on luck?


  1. As an engineer, I relate to your example above. While testing and such needs to be worked out in its own setting, it is certainly something to help us technology-type people get out of our deskjob mindset and apply similar ideas to our physical progress.

  2. I used to be a software engineer before I went over to the dark side, and began working in marketing for a semiconductor supplier. I think a well worn copy of The Code Complete should be on the desk of every software engineer.

  3. As an older language teacher at university, I’m happy that testing in CMA for me is now not necessary at all anymore. I like to train, just for the fun of it, just for the subjective feeling of bodily und spirituell fitness it gives me.
    Testing years for my ego in form of ph or sparring are mostly over, thanks god!

  4. So fun, bodily and spiritual fitness are your test criteria.

    Is the pursuit of fun any less egotistical than the pursuit of gongfu?

  5. Totally out of my control, they manifest themselfs or not.
    I learn in a system, do not control it, never out grew one of the many.
    Western scientific approach and elusive CMA gongfu?
    Did you master the arts in this way?

  6. Chinese martial art is not unscientific. Some of its instructors are.

  7. Chris

    I like the way that you have linked the similarities between martial arts and software testing. Not only the concepts of software testing be applied for better results in martial arts, I suspect the reverse might be true as well. For instance, the following things from martial arts might be applied to software testing:

    1. Know your opponent (this could be linked to knowing intricate details of the software under test)
    2. Never stop learning
    3. Develop your own style

    Inder P Singh

  8. Good point, Inder. In either case, superior styles seem to be produced by necessity and accident, whereas the vanity styles never perform well under pressure.

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