Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What the Martial Arts taught me about life and business

You may not know it, but once I was a true physical specimen LOL.

Seriously though for nearly a decade (18-28) I was an active practitioner of the Martial Arts. And for the first 5 years I was hardcore and obsessed, striving for perfection and what Bruce Lee called "authentic self expression". 

As the years went on and I moved into the workaday world I stopped my formal training, but for the next 10 years or so I would have sporadic bouts of "inspiration" and would start anew. Unfortunately this body keeps getting older (and fatter), so training has gotten less and less over the years.

(below is a photo from my 2nd Degree Black Belt Test circa 1992).

But recently I was thinking about the times when I was at my peak, in my "hardcore" phase, as I wanted to analyze what motivated me, what drove me to succeed, and above all what enabled me to overcome literally anything.

The 5 tenets of Tae Kwon Do (my main art of expertise) are Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self Control & Indomitable Spirit.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not always Courteous, and I don't always fully control myself (though when it came to using my art, I was always in control), and both of these tenets are vital to successful business. I've never had to apologize to someone for being "too Courteous". 

Further, in today's' business environment one can all too often find themselves in a situation where their Integrity is challenged. I've had many situations arise in my professional life where I had to chose between my Integrity and Money and I've had to walk away from 6 figures rather than compromise what I knew was right. The one time where I didn't walk away, and used a "gray area" to justify "getting paid", my soul suffered, literally. So I can say from personal experience there is no amount of money worth one's Integrity.

But the two Tenets I have found most useful, and what I find myself relying on more and more today, are Perseverance and Indomitable Spirit. So these are the two I wanted to take a closer look at.

When I was training I would literally spend hours upon hours on the same techniques. In the lower belts one is simply learning the techniques, but from Black Belt on, one is learning to PERFECT the techniques. What is the perfect body motion, the perfect reaction time, the perfect body position, pivot angle, power generation stance, head position, center of gravity location, leg and hip positions and rotations, the list is long. And as I would deconstruct the techniques down to their component parts, and then reconstruct them into lightning fast, smooth motions, a level of self mastery set in. It isn't an accident that the word "art" is used in "martial art". That perseverance to simply execute the "perfect technique", the striving for that "perfect expression" not only made me a great martial artist and fighter, but more importantly taught me one of the most vital lessons of my life. Never give up. Persevere!

This aspect of persevering was also ever present in each rank test as I moved up in belt. Rank tests were filled with challenges and fear to overcome. Standing in front of a room full of people, both peers, fellow students, instructors, and the ever dreaded "Masters" table in the front of the room. Having to do forms alone or in pairs in front of all these people can be nerve racking. But as I progressed in my art I found my training took over more and more and there was much less "Thinking". "Action" began to simply "take over". In fact the truest expression of the martial arts has no thinking in it at all.

And when it came to sparring, either full contact in tournaments, or "half speed" in class, the juxtaposition between "thinking" and "acting" became ever more acutely present. Nothing pushes you to the limits of your own fear and self-overcoming than being confronted with someone who is trying to kick your head off your shoulders. My greatest wins in sparring/fighting came when I stopped "thinking" and simply "acted". And my greatest defeat, being knocked out for the State title in 1993, came because I was "afraid" of the guy I was fighting since everyone knew he was "crazy". Even though I was as good as he was I was stuck in my head "thinking", couldn't "act" and moved slower than a turtle in molasses.

(here is a video I found of the 1993 US Nationals in Minnesota that I attended. I made it to the 2nd round)

When I look at challenges today I now find that I get myself in the most trouble when I "think" too much. Have you ever found yourself in a "think-think-think" (grinding) on a problem, worrying about a situation or future needed action, rather than simply LOOKING and then ACTING? 

Similar lessons could be found in power testing or as its better known "breaking".

(This is me breaking  a few boards at a Demonstration at the University Of Miami circa 1993)

(Here's a video of a wide variety of Breaking Techniques we Trained on)

When you are confronting multiple boards, bricks, tiles or other very solid items that have a greater density than any of your bones, the term "mind over matter" isn't just an epithet. You literally BECOME greater than your body. You literally can't think, or you'll break a bone. Every aspect of Perseverance and Indomitable Spirit comes to the for in breaking and the primacy of ACTING over THINKING is nearly self evident.

And so I wanted to look at, and share some of these thoughts with you as I examined what it is I do right and what it is I want to make better.

The thousands of hours of martial arts training taught me to simply never give up. And I'll be honest there have been several times in my adult life, personally and professionally, where the thought of "giving up" had crossed my mind. But I have to say, in those darkest moments, the foundation I built all those years ago with my martial arts training seems to get me through. 

as Yoda once said:

What gets you through?