Physical Activity and Sports

Many (perhaps even most) hackers don't follow or do sports at all and are determinedly anti-physical. Among those who do, interest in spectator sports is low to non-existent; sports are something one does, not something one watches on TV.

Further, hackers avoid most team sports like the plague. Volleyball was long a notable exception, perhaps because it's non-contact and relatively friendly; Ultimate Frisbee has become quite popular for similar reasons. Hacker sports are almost always primarily self-competitive ones involving concentration, stamina, and micromotor skills: martial arts, bicycling, auto racing, kite flying, hiking, rock climbing, aviation, target-shooting, sailing, caving, juggling, skiing, skating, skydiving, scuba diving. Hackers' delight in techno-toys also tends to draw them towards hobbies with nifty complicated equipment that they can tinker with.

The popularity of martial arts in the hacker culture deserves special mention. Many observers have noted it, and the connection has grown noticeably stronger over time. In the 1970s, many hackers admired martial arts disciplines from a distance, sensing a compatible ideal in their exaltation of skill through rigorous self-discipline and concentration. As martial arts became increasingly mainstreamed in the U.S. and other western countries, hackers moved from admiring to doing in large numbers. In 1997, for example, your humble editor recalls sitting down with five strangers at the first Perl conference and discovering that four of us were in active training in some sort of martial art — and, what is more interesting, nobody at the table found this high perecentage at all odd.

Today (2000), martial arts seems to have become firmly established as the hacker exercise form of choice, and the martial-arts culture combining skill-centered elitism with a willingness to let anybody join seems a stronger parallel to hacker behavior than ever. Common usages in hacker slang un-ironically analogize programming to kung fu (thus, one hears talk of “code-fu” or in reference to specific skills like “HTML-fu”). Albeit with slightly more irony, today's hackers readily analogize assimilation into the hacker culture with the plot of a Jet Li movie: the aspiring newbie studies with masters of the tradition, develops his art through deep meditation, ventures forth to perform heroic feats of hacking, and eventually becomes a master who trains the next generation of newbies in the hacker way.

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