Excerpted from the book on conscious business management, Business Black Belt
Live your life in a way that you would recommend it to anybody.
Here is my pitch for studying martial arts—it provides a wonderful metaphor for life as well as a great work-out that includes a variety of practical tools to get you by.
One night while I was in Tae Kwon Do class, I was sparring very poorly. I was holding back, being defensive, and not responding. After being clobbered a few times, I absently wondered whether I was managing my company the same way. While I had a minute left in the round, I decided to get in there and aggressively kick some ass. Guess what? I turned my sparring around and started winning. Indeed, my business was also being run sloppily and I needed to wake up and put some energy back into it. My karate training, in parallel with my business, graphically illustrated how I was getting lazy managing my company.
I recommend participating in a sport to observe your behavior from a different perspective. The next time you’re playing your favorite sport or doing your favorite thing, look for ways that you similarly run your business. After all, your behavior is consistent from activity to activity—it all comes from the same brain, with the same mind and the same consciousness.
Put your foot in someone else’s mouth
After watching some Bruce Lee movies and participating in my own karate training, I saw that Japanese management emphasized corporate karate. Like the big guy in the movie who gets pounded so fast he doesn’t know what hit him, most American and European automakers had been punched out and left in a daze by the Japanese. While American managers were talking in terms of “home runs” and “touchdowns,” Japanese managers were strategizing, maneuvering, and striking. Perhaps it was because, instead of baseball and football, they grew up with martial arts.
Martial arts began as training for survival, while the purpose of most American sports is… (selling cars and beer?) If American management had seen the feet and fists coming, then it could have blocked, counterattacked, and won the fight.
I wonder if more of us learned and practiced the martial arts, we would pay more attention to detail, practice with more intention for mastery, and develop an intense personal as well as company-wide preparation and conditioning for success. “Action” under these conditions comes with incredible force, very efficient use of energy, and precise targeting. That’s what it looks like to me four nights a week when I practice Tae Kwon Do. It’s far more than the punching and kicking, it’s the physical application of a philosophy and it seems to have direct applications in business.
When we were negotiating with the purchasing and marketing managers of a large software retailer, one of their tactics was to ask us to increase our advertising allowance to $100,000—an amount they thought would generate sales of $1 million through their stores. This was great leverage of our advertising investment with this reseller. I felt like I was on the hot seat. When I’m sparring in Tae Kwon Do, I flow with an attack—it works for me—it worked for me here too. The merchandising manager was shocked when I responded with “OK, what if we committed to $200,000 in ad co-op, would you commit to $2 million in sales?” I was serious. I didn’t have the money at the time, but I had all year to get it. If they were so sure of the marketing programs they were pushing, this shouldn’t have been a problem. Now they were on the hot seat. We passed the test as a player in the business and they took us seriously as a vendor who would play ball. (We actually invested about $125,000 that year.)
In your head and insecure
There are those who accuse me of being out of my mind. In fact, by being in your mind (in your head), you miss much of the reality that is happening around you. I just don’t buy into most of the fears of others. So, if I don’t act afraid of the same things they are, I seem out of touch—with their reality. I’m just not afraid of many potential problems, because I’ve never seen most of these imaginary problems ever really happen. That doesn’t mean I’ve never thought about them, or that they actually couldn’t happen, but I know that in my moment-to-moment existence in the here and now there is plenty of time and resources to deal with just about anything that does happen.
So, if you go into what seems to be an unknown with your eyes open and your senses tuned, you can handle any situation that arises. In my experience, this ability has provided far more security and peace of mind than anything else I’ve done or know of. Generally, what I’ve found is that I actually have lots of time—especially when I’m not wasting it by being in my head imagining all the evil possibilities that could befall me. Solutions are available. Look for them. This is a wonderful and productive distraction from panic.
Are you smarter than an elephant?
In India, they tie a baby elephant to a small log that it cannot move. By the time the elephant matures it has given up on ever moving that log although it could easily drag it away. The Indians count on the fact that the elephant never continues to try and has given up—so they can get away with securing a large elephant to a small log. My theory: Most of us at some point (especially if you go back to childhood) endured some physical harm—or the threat of it—and have been left with a lingering subconscious fear of others. Our first experience of fear was usually in the presence of a large looming character (an angry parent, a tormenting older sibling, an unfamiliar stranger, maybe even a pet). Although we grew up, got older, wiser and bigger, like the Indian elephant, this subconscious fear of physical threat (learning that he can’t move the log) remains. When I reached black belt, I had a revelation that I was no longer afraid of this potential physical harm.
I was sparring one evening with a seven-year-old named Nathan. Although I outweighed him by 160 pounds, I wanted to see what a seven-year-old Black Belt was made of. I took a swing at him, he stepped in, blocked it, and kicked me really hard in the stomach. This kid had no fear! He had obviously handled his fear of larger people. I suspect that his karate training had much to do with it. In martial arts training, you learn that you can take on just about anyone, and if you learn that when you are seven—the same time when just about everyone on earth is bigger than you—the fear of larger people is offset.
Translate this experience to a business situation: Take away the fear of a larger competitor or an imposing deal and you are actually dealing with individual people. You can handle people. Without fear of them, it’s easier to be patient and hear what they say, get closer to them to understand what they want, dance with their conversation to interpret what will drive a deal with them plus you’ll step in to address potential problems before they become real problems. This is how a business black belt flows with a partner or an opponent.
In summary: By practicing the martial arts, you can eliminate much primal fear. With this fear gone you have freedom, security and time to think—to be out of your head (out of your mind) in situations where others often panic. You enjoy the time and ability to actually see solutions and opportunities. In fact, you’ll often see problems coming way down the road and never end up in a in bad situation in the first place.
Business Black Belt Notes
- Everything you do comes from the same mind—you are the same person no matter what you do or where you are.
- Physical fear is your first fear—the foundation of all your fears.
- Practicing a martial art to eliminate this fear, go a long way toward freeing you fear from allowing fear to dominate your every move.
- Overcoming subconscious fear of harm will unleash a powerful way of being.
- Choose a martial art to practice and improve your business skills.