There are parallels between leadership and martial arts
“The way of martial arts is the way of enduring surviving and prevailing… Ninpo is the art of attaining what you need while making the world a better place.”
Many clichés have been written in recent years about the parallels between leadership and martial arts. Yet few delve much beyond the surface. At their core, martial arts practice is about aligned relationship to oneself, to one’s community, and to the dangers, which many of us face in our lives.
For those of us who practice these arts, there is an implicit understanding that to study martial arts is to improve one’s environment and community. Of course, here lies the very same purpose of leadership whether it is within the business arena or through personal development. And, those of us who become leaders may spend years cultivating the correct alignment of relationship of ourselves, our constituents, and to the environment in which we live and operate.
In my personal experience as a coach and martial artist, I have discovered that while people often find excellence in cultivating relationships with others and even to oneself, there is a disparity in the cultivation when it comes to learning how to read and understand the environment.
We call this the space beyond the relationships. What do I mean?
Discovering the Space in Between
When we speak of the environment, I am not only speaking of the actual context, subtext, or interactions of an experience. Instead, we’re referring to the space, physical or metaphorical, in which the relationships co-exist.
Think of the space between written words. Is the meaning only found within the words or is there a deeper implication that is found in the space between paragraphs? What happens when the words are spoken instead of written? We use this same concept of context, whether it is a martial arts technique or a team development activity.
Many would argue that it is not humanly possible to absorb all of this information at once. Rather, we must take a more rational approach, breaking down each element separately, analyzing it, and reconstructing a picture from there.
Yet, we know that often this analysis isn’t possible. In the high-paced environment where much is at risk, it’s not always in our best interest to have every piece of information.
Princeton and Stanford University psychologists found in their research that having too much information can be paralyzing.
Actor and comedian Louis C.K may have said it best: optimum decisions are often made when one has around 70% of the information available. Leaving the last 30% up to instinct and our ability to read the situation, and act based on our internal knowledge.
Intellectual understanding or guessing at one outcome versus another is not the intention. Instead, we look at the whole, an embodied knowledge, one that is available to all of us who glimpse the entire spectrum of the space and feel our way toward right action.
In martial arts, this is the ability to perceive another’s intent as we learn to take in and read the feeling(s) of a whole environment.
From Internal Compass to Inspired Action
- You already have the skill set you need in order to act. This skill is well known and is covered within any formal education and previous experiences. It is the hard knowledge that comes with who you are.
- Find a quiet internal space from which we are free from the mind chatter and processing of information. Settling in this space is a method of inward reflection and outward action that comes out of that reflection. The paths that point from this place of silence are abundant.
- We need this insight to know the difference between being patient or waiting and the moment requiring immediate or targeted action. This insight is the artistic expression of knowing when and how to act in combination with an emerging intuition out of the silence.
As a coach, this is where I support my clients in discovering their own leadership that unites their gained knowledge with their unique capacity as human beings.
It is also the internal compass that I find myself returning to on a daily basis.
I continually cultivate the balance of expanding the sphere of silent awareness and sharpening the edge of skill through action and learning whether I am on a coaching call, in a leadership role, immersed in a project, or in my martial arts practice.