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All Seven Martial Arts Lessons That You Can Apply to Business

Using clear principles can improve your results.

Over the last few weeks, I presented a lesson or two a week for my readers. For your convenience, here are all seven of the martial arts lessons that I believe you can apply to business:

Lesson One: Laying a Foundation – Hapkido is a building program that relies on previous steps along the way to put you in the position to learn the nuances. The thing that frustrates people in training is that if you don’t know the fundamentals and haven’t laid a foundation, you will never master the powerful nuances. This takes a great deal of dedication and hard study but the good news is that you can always go back to that foundation when you are in a pinch. It’s always there waiting for you and it works.

The Business Application of Lesson One – Know the foundation of your business and your role. What problems are you solving for buyers, what is your offering, how do you make honest money and how do you care for your buyers? Answer these questions first, document the answers and share them with everyone. Regardless of the other issues that will pop up that probably represent low value to the business, employees can always go back to the foundation to know where to place their attention and where to add powerful nuanced value over time.

Lesson Two: Be Present – Woody Allen (will he ever again be mentioned in a martial arts article? Doubtful) once said that 80% of life is showing up. He was right. If you don’t show up to class, you can’t learn. Sure you can stay at home and practice the moves, but nothing replaces having a real person in front of you or two to three people coming at you at once. Show up, clear all of the junk out of your mind that creates mental clutter and learn.

The Business Application of Lesson Two – Show up everyday on time and give it your full attention. There is always a person who is known for being late or skipping important meetings. Don’t be that guy. Instead of coming to work and seeing it as drudgery, show up asking yourself what you will learn that day. If you’re not learning anything, you are either not “being there” or you need to leave that situation because there is nothing to learn any longer. By the way, buyers and your customers especially appreciate it when you are there with them and your mind is not somewhere else. Here's the real kicker you may not know - they can tell when you are not there and will respond accordingly.

Lesson Three: There are no short cuts – a Hapkido master told me this and thank goodness there are people in the world who still believe this. Stop trying to be clever and instead focus on earning real capabilities. In Hapkido, you either know it or you don’t and it shows in the practice of the art.

The Business Application of Lesson Three – There are business people in prison because they forgot this. Building a strong business that has great capabilities requires study and hard work. When people take short cuts, bad things tend to happen. Nothing ever worthwhile seems to come easy for anyone. I think that’s how the universe was set up and when you try to out-maneuver the universe, you are playing with fire.

Lesson Four: A million lessons everyday – Everyone you meet, everything that happens to you is a lesson. In Hapkido, every class brings either someone who knows more than you or someone who has taught themselves something you didn’t explore. Listen to them and humbly take their gift. This learning is happening to us everyday if we would just pay attention and get our ego out of the way.

The Business Application of Lesson Four - Stop worrying about who reports to who and why should you listen to them. Go to meetings with an open mind and listen for lessons that may have slipped through in the past. They can come from people who may be high performers to others who are struggling. Sometimes the person who is struggling is going to tell you something that can help the business. You will find that although there are people in the company that may not have a lofty title, they are critical players in how the company runs. They can and will teach you too, but you will only hear them if you are listening. For instance, the assistant to the CEO is seen by many CEOs as the eyes and ears of the organization. That may not be accurate or fair, but in many companies, it's reality. The best approach is an open approach where you are always on the lookout for wisdom and guidance. Good people want to be helpful, I believe it's in their nature. The only ones that aren't are those who have been hurt by others in the past. A culture of learning, collaboration and receptiveness can help show them a better way.

Lesson Five: Quiet the voices

– While in training, I like to sit in a lotus position, close my eyes and drift inward. There is usually some kind of a striking class like Karate being taught before Hapkido and it can get quite loud in there, but no matter. When you learn to go inward, you are able to quiet all voices and return to the very center of existence. It is from that core that you will operate. Not from a place of continuing definitions of what matters for everyone else, but from what matters from your very foundation.

The Business Application of Lesson Five - Operate from your core and stay focused. Most of what is going to happen during the day is noise. By operating from the inside out, you'll have your eyes trained on the buyers and not on frustrating issues such as organizational politics. If a person is focused on their job and is picking up skills everyday, there is little to be concerned with since those skills are usually transferable. Also, companies should be not chasing new strategies everyday, but quiet the voices that pull a business away from its core value. By going outside of the core, it can get expensive for companies and confusing for buyers.

Lesson Six: It will take you twenty times to learn this move – New students come into class and see all of the Hapkido techniques on sheets on the wall. The list is intimidating to say the least. Korean terminology, foundational moves, nuanced techniques and sometimes small notes written in pen on top of the typed sheets. White belts get very impatient because they want to be as fast as the higher belts. What they can't embrace is that we were all white belts once and if you want to be fast, you have to allow yourself to become masters of the foundation which is going to take more time than you thought.

One technique for teaching that I have used is to tell students, “it will take you twenty times to learn this move”. You should see how the stress in their faces goes away. I have given them permission to fail early and often. By doing this, the fear of failure is no longer getting in the way of learning and many times they learn much earlier than their twentieth effort. The open mind can now get back in the driver’s seat while the fearful ego can get out of the way.

The Business Application of Lesson Six - Companies and employees can be really bad at focusing. We live in a culture that expects us to be able to multi-task and the truth is humans were not built to multi-task. We were built to focus on one thing at a time. It's the way our mind works. What does this have to do with failure? When a company expects some failure and can stay focused, employees start to master techniques. Staying focused on targeted markets, positioning, messaging and techniques that work can give marketing and sales teams a foundation for excellence. Give employees a chance to fail, test things, learn and document. When you think about it, the techniques for any form of martial arts is the result of many man years of documenting what works.

Sometimes it can feel expensive to fail, but what is the hidden expense of creating a culture of remorse over the things we didn't get completely right the first time? If compensation drives behavior, what kind of behavior does a culture of the critical voice drive? Isn't praise or criticism a form of compensation? The simple truth is a person of even average intelligence and ambition will get more right than they will get wrong over a period of time in the midst of a learning organization. The alternative is a soul-crushing experience that drives out the most intelligent and the most capable. Build a culture of people who are eager to learn and a management team that promotes progress, not a constant critical voice. It's just going to get in the way of mastery, speed and yes - revenue performance.

Lesson Seven: Keep your energy centered – In Hapkido, one of your main thoughts is to stay centered on your energy. In the word Hapkido itself is the word "ki" which is your vital energy. Your ki or energy plus your natural body weight is difficult to for an unskilled opponent to overcome if you are trained on how to use it properly. When an opponent drives at you with uncontrolled energy or sometimes rage, you simple "nail your foot to the floor" thus centering your energy around your rotating hips, grab his un-centered energy and take them where you want them to go. Once you control their energy, you control everything. That’s why you will see people half the size of the opponent throw the heavier opponent with ease. Staying centered concentrates your energy while not staying centered disperses it.

It's the difference between the skilled person who is left standing and the unskilled assailant who is now face down on the ground wondering what just happened.

The Business Application of Lesson Seven - We have all worked with someone who chases one strategic initiative or daily disruption after another. We have to remember that all companies have limited resources. Even the most successful companies pulled back their marketing expenditures in the last few months. By adding a lack of focus to poor corporate discipline, waste becomes an inevitable part of the company culture.

There is so much coming at us everyday that we go through overload. It's unhealthy if we try to be everything to everyone. Pick the place in the world where you want to focus your energy and figuratively nail your foot to the floor. The best thing about focusing is that it allows you to put the distractions in their place. You always knew what you were focusing on was important, what many don't do is point out how unimportant the other areas were. Now that you have, you have taken the false importance you had given them and transformed it into more concentration around your priorities.

This clear energy focus can be the difference between a high performer and someone who is wondering what's going to happen today. At the company level, the difference can show up as profit at the end of the quarter or the C-level wondering what just happened.

The key to this series is to focus on how a principle-centered business can be much more effective. Since martial arts relies on principles to be successful, it makes it very applicable in everyday practice.

More Stories By John Ryan

John is an experienced leader with a strong background of defining and executing company strategies. He is especially skilled in channel management, market analysis, brand marketing and selling technology products and services. He has successfully served in a number of executive positions and has been in management for 20 years. John is currently writing a book on increasing revenue generation. He has been a co-author of a comprehensive marketing methodology for high tech companies and has helped venture capitalists and private equity firms gauge their technology investments. In 2004, John served as Vice President of Marketing for the NA arm of the $6B IT Services division of Siemens, AG. John served on the board of directors at WebTrends, purchased by NetIQ (NTIQ) for $1 billion in 2001. WebTrends was highly successful dominating the web site analysis and reporting space. Prior to WebTrends, John was the Vice President of Marketing for Tivoli Systems. John has worked as a contracted consultant for established companies, start ups and top analyst firms. John can be reached at john@johnwryan.com or you can follow him on Twitter @buyersteps

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