Life (And Business) Lessons I Learned from Martial Arts?

In a famous sequence from The Karate Kid, teenager Daniel LaRusso asks Mr. Miyagi to teach him karate. Much to Daniel’s surprise, his first “lesson” was to wax his teacher’s car. He was to apply the wax on in one direction, and then wipe it off in the other. Daniel does this day in and day out, thinking it was a waste of his time, until he becomes frustrated and complains.

But he soon learns that all those hours he spent waxing on and off have developed his muscle memory for defensive blocks.

This exemplifies the Eastern paradigm of education, in which you do the application and then the theory bubbles up. (In contrast, in the Western paradigm, the teacher first explains the theory to the student, who then applies the theory.)

In a lot of ways, martial arts, in general, are a way of learning a philosophy through physical activity. You practice adapting to a changing physical environment and you implicitly learn through that.

I experienced this first-hand over the course of years of training in jujitsu.

Jujitsu (also known as Jujutsu or Jiu-jutsu) is a unique Japanese martial art, because it uses either no weapon or only a short weapon. Literally translated, the name means “gentle art.”

By practicing Jujitsu, I’ve learned two life lessons that also have applications in business.

Use Your Opponent’s Force Against Them

How does one defeat an armed opponent when you yourself have no weapon or only a small weapon?

In Jujitsu, you use the attacker’s force against himself or herself, instead of confronting it. When somebody throws a punch, for example, they shift their weight forward, which means they’re off-balance. You then have the opportunity to take charge of the situation while they’re more vulnerable.

For this reason, I think a better translation for the Jujitsu is “flowing art,” because you flow with what comes, instead of meeting force with force.

This relates to having an entrepreneurial mindset. When something comes at you, you don’t just push back against it. You can see everything that comes at you as an opportunity. Faced with a challenge, you ask, “How can I leverage this? How can I flow with this? Where is the opportunity in this?”

“You don’t panic, win lose or draw. You go down practicing the art of jiu-jitsu. And the art is: how do I control and submit my opponent and survive using the least amount of attributes. ie. strength, explosion, youth, size any of that and the maximum amount of leverage, cunningness, guile and technique” – Chris Haueter, one of the first American Black Belts in Brazilian Jujitsu

Mastery Takes Time and Practice

Another thing I’ve learned though Jujitsu is that you can’t move past the beginner level unless you first get good at the basics. You first have to practice the beginner moves 10,000 times or more.

Like Daniel in Karate Kid, when you start training, you get excited about trying cool, new techniques. You can’t wait to go past the tedious beginner moves. But you need a good, strong foundation to build on before you can move onto more advanced techniques.

You do it by getting good at the basics. You do it by practicing the beginner moves 10,000 times. “Natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest,” Malcolm Gladwell says about the 10,000-hour rule he made famous.

There’s an analog there to business. If you want to develop real competence, it’s not about constantly looking for new things. It’s about developing a deeper level of understanding, of insight, of the things you already know and do.

The shiny object syndrome refers to the tendency of people, including entrepreneurs, to get distracted by new strategies or new approaches. They move from one new thing to the next, before they’ve implemented something well enough to get results from it.

“The rule is to train, train, and train some more. Train until the lamb becomes the lion.” – Paulo Miyao, Brazilian Jujitsu Black Belt

We often think of martial arts as training for physical fitness or self-defense. But for me, it’s also training for life.

Source: Danny Iny on

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