Three Things that Martial Arts can Teach us about the Business World

From Lao Tsu’s The Art of War, to Miyamoto Mushashi’s Book of Five Rings, ancient treatises on combat and strategy have been converted into practice by thousands of successful executives and entrepreneurs in order to get an edge in their careers. Many of us, though, are in positions where gathering masses of people or resources for an attack are not a feasible option, or even be wholly beside the point. To that end, I present three simple ways of doing and thinking that can help any aspiring executive along their path.

1) Many Different Skills Reflect upon One Another

What good is calligraphy to a martial arts student? How does carrying buckets of water help with training? How does staring at a candle improve focus during battle? These seemingly disparate practices are not to be considered separately, but as working in concert to bring about a more well-developed mind and body. Whereas practicing calligraphy helps to teach the student control of their body, it also instills an appreciation of aesthetics, how each stroke is just-so to bring out a desired result.

Carrying buckets of water or strenuous chores bring about a sense of mental and physical resilience, as the motions and tasks are constantly changing, giving the mind and body little to chance to get stuck in a rut. Staring at a candle or fixed point trains the student’s mind not to wander or get caught up in a tangle of dithering during crucial moments. Take an inventory of your own skills and practice; how could they cross over into aiding your career?

2) Know Your Opponent, then Act instead of React

Humans are trained from birth and genetics to look out for stimuli, and then make a choice of action. By this, we are essentially trained to await orders or for something else to happen before we make a decision. Aspiring samurai are trained to take action decisively, yet before the other opponent makes their move, anticipating movement and strikes so that their opponent is defeated before the first actual strike.

How they do this is they study their opponent. The opponent’s stance has advantages and weaknesses; the type of fighting style or approach to the fight has its own characteristics. Even knowing the mentality of the opponent can help to attain victory. Using your opponent’s own habits and traits is the essence of Judo or Aikido, where an opponent’s own body and movements are used to defeat them. What are the facets of an obstacle or opponent of yours? Look at how you can turn those features inside out to your advantage.

3) Strike like your Life depends on it…Because it does.

An oft-repeated and essential aspect of combat, as is in business, is to make definitive moves without the slightest element of distraction. Many times in combat, a fighter will get distracted and lose the force of their strike, or change the direction. When this happens, the attack is usually deflected and the fighter is at a disadvantage because not only have they lost their critical moment, their energy is also needlessly depleted.

There is an ancient phrase that goes: “ichi-go ichi-e” which literally translates into “One time, one meeting”. In battle, there are no second chances, no space for practice once in a given situation. An aspiring student is taught to strike without dithering or re-consideration, and once the move is initiated, to carry it out to its fullest effect. This is a characteristic of a decisive and successful executive.

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