How my Martial Arts Training Helped my Business Mindset

Hard, loud, and smelly are all good descriptions of Kendo, the Japanese art of sword fighting. Here are some entrepreneur insights it has inspired.

I want to share something today that really helped me put a few things in perspective at one stage in my career. There are some things that commonly trip up new and emerging entrepreneurs, and feeling like you don't know enough, or aren't good enough to provide value to your clients is one of them. My hope is that this analogy will click for you like it did for me, if these are sticking points in reaching the goals you want to achieve. 

As you probably know, many people think that we have to 'be perfect' before we set out on a project or launch. And of course, this desire to be our best is great. It can elevate our sights and make us want to do more, do better… but if we don’t keep it in check, it can also turn toxic. It goes beyond a pragmatic ‘having all our ducks in a row’ / due diligence approach to something much more insidious. It can prevent us doing because we think we haven’t got it ‘exactly right’ or we ‘don’t enough’

And these thoughts can be paralysing! But here’s what I learned, as I sweated it out in the dojo, practising kendo (the Japanese way of the sword) with guys young enough to be my sons, and strong enough to snap me in two. 

I realised at one point that in my business, I was trying to be ‘Sensei’ before committing to doing something constructive with what I’d learned so far.  I was trying to ‘be the expert’ - have all the answers and be able to do everything right in my business. But of course it doesn’t work that way. That’s why it doesn’t sit right with us - we know that we don’t know everything, and it becomes a sort of chicken and egg situation. 

But here’s the truth of it: no one is born Sensei. You get to be Sensei by virtue of taking the journey and not skipping steps on the way. 

In the dojo, it's very formal. There’s a lot of bowing, and many, many displays of respect. There are some key roles that people fill. The most important one is Sensei. In any dojo, Sensei’s word is law. We look to our sensei for guidance and teaching as we try to figure out the difficult concepts and techniques. We look to Sensei to spot our shortcomings and point out the areas we need to work on. 

But you don’t have to be Sensei to help others in the dojo. Sensei has various senior students - known as sempai - to assist. And they are important too. So, just because we’re not at the sensei stage of our career, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have things that are worth sharing. So the role of sempai is also very important. Sempai is expected to share that knowledge and keep the newer members right, so that Sensei can focus on other things. 

Every Sensei learned how to be Sensei through being Sempai! 

And becoming sensei is not an end point in the journey, no more than being an artist or an expert of any kind is. It’s an ‘approaching infinity’ kinda deal. The better you get, the more you start to refine things. It really is a life-long process, and with Sensei into their 80s and beyond still active in many dojos and the international kendo community, is it any wonder that this art is such a hot-bed of life-long learners. 

The more I learn, whether in or out of the dojo, the more I know that I will always have more to learn. So rather than wait until I have learned it all, I will put what I have learned already to good use and be the best Sempai I can. 

The Sempai analogy has allowed me to get over the idea that I need to be at the very top of my field in order to provide useful service to others. It’s one of many ways that my martial arts practice has spilled over into, and improved my day to day life. 

Let me know if you've had a similar experience, or if you can relate to this analogy! 

As Walt Whitman said, “All truths wait in all things.” We just have to make the connections. 

I’d love to hear if you’ve learned anything from a hobby or other part of your life that has changed how you look at your business - let me know in the comments! 

Categories: : mindset, entrepreneur, development, neuroscience, learning