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Business lessons learnt from martial arts

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Martial arts and business are almost similar. Surviving in a cut-throat competitive business environment is alike to surviving a combat in martial arts. The contexts in both keep on continuously changing and hence, strategies adopted in martial arts have also found their applications in the business world. Therefore, it is no wonder that the ancient and modern classics of martial arts like Arthaśāstram (Kauṭilya), Art of War (Sun Tzu), The Book of Five Rings (Miyamoto Musashi), The Prince (Niccolò Machiavelli), and On War (Carl von Clausewitz) are meticulously studied by businesspersons all around the world. Besides the strategies, there are also several tenets, principles, and values that serve as a common ground between martial arts and business. Thus, business lessons learnt from marital arts are many and few are briefly touched in this article.

The Way

In martial arts terminology, “do” broadly signifies “the way”. This way or path is to be travelled by following a code of honour. Every martial art has its own values, tenets, and principles, which are effectively shown in their respective code of honour. For example, Gen. Choi Hong Hi, a South Korean Army general, a martial artist, and generally regarded as the “Father of Taekwon-Do”, formulated the tenets of Taekwon-Do, which forms the Taekwon-Do code of honour.

TKD Theory video “The Five Tenets and the Tae Kwon-Do Oath”:

Likewise, in business, the way clearly shows the path on which the business should travel. The way comprises of the vision, mission, and value statements. These statements describe the company’s core values, fundamental purpose, goals, and objectives. They outline the what, why, where, when, and how of the business. Besides reassuring investors and motivating employees, they also effectively showcase the business’s ethics and culture to the entire world.

365 Financial Analyst video “The Mission, Vision, and Values statements”:

The vision of the business owner lays the foundation on which the way is created for the company to follow. For example, Elon Musk had the vision of creating an online payment gateway and he formed PayPal. Thereafter, he had the vision of making an electric car and Tesla was born. Now, he has the vision of colonizing the planet Mars via his company SpaceX.

60 Minutes Australia video “Rare interview with billionaire Elon Musk on his plans to colonize Mars | 60 Minutes Australia”:


In martial arts, if the breath is not correctly inhaled or exhaled, one would soon become tired and be out of breath. Moreover, the strikes and all the other techniques would be much less effective. Knowing when to breathe in and when to breathe out, or in other words, knowing how to breathe correctly, is critical to ensure victory in martial arts.

fightTIPS video “Karate Experts on How ‘Breathing Wins Fights'”:

The breath in business is money or cash, because that is what makes a business alive. But to continue being alive, breath has to go in and come out. What makes a business continue being alive is known as cash flow, which is the flow of cash as it comes in and goes out of the business. However, what makes a business go on and on to remain alive is profit. In business, breath is cash, while breathing is cash flow, and breathing correctly is profit. Breathing correctly is important in both martial arts as well as in business to attain the desired goals and objectives.

HBS Online video “Cash Flow vs. Profit: What’s the Difference? | Business: Explained”:


Mind over matter

This is a common phrase used in martial arts that signifies using the willpower to surmount physical difficulties. It generally connotes mental toughness by knowing oneself. For example, a martial artist may do push ups and then he reaches the point of extreme exhaustion. Fully exhausted, he thinks he cannot do anymore. At this time, in spite of being completely exhausted, when with the sheer force of willpower, he does one or two more pushups, then that increases his total count of pushups that he will do next time. In this manner, progress takes place with mind overcoming matter. Mohammed Ali was famous for saying that he did not start to count his sit-ups until they started to hurt; thereby signifying that he started counting only after reaching the point of exhaustion.

@AceMotivationOfficial video “WORK HARD (I don’t start counting until it hurts – Muhammad Ali) – Motivational Speech #shorts”

In business, it means not closing down, in spite of suffering losses in several aspects like production, sales, marketing, finance, and more. The business owner decides that it is time to close shop since the business cannot go any further as it has reached its point of exhaustion. At this time, if the business owner gives a last try, then the business may recuperate. A last try may involve gaining new knowledge, skills, getting part-time jobs, putting in more hours of hard work, or having faith in God, so as to overcome the phase of quitting the business. For example, Elon Musk after facing failed rocket launches in his SpaceX company, decided to give one last try, which fortunately worked and the business survived. In other businesses also, not quitting by enforcing the mind over matter principle, may bring about a turnaround in the company’s prospects.

Vanessa Lau video “Starting to HATE your business? WATCH THIS BEFORE YOU GIVE UP.”:

Aleena Rais Live video “failed business, financial debt, no job and no money – but this is a video about Success”:


The heights that a martial artist reaches are largely due to discipline. It is discipline that makes a white belt become a black belt, and thereafter, his martial arts journey actually starts.

Motiversity Quotes video “DISCIPLINE: Spirit of the Warrior – Powerful Warrior Quotes”:

In business, leaders are known to put in extra hours of work in a disciplined way. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and many more are known to work 24×7 and sometimes even sleeping in the factory or at the office. Hard work in business actually means putting in more hours of work in a disciplined way, so that the goal is achieved much sooner.

Alpha Leaders video “SCARY WORK ETHIC – Elon Musk Motivational Video”:


This means the capacity to withstand difficulties and to recover from it. In simple terms it means to get up again after being beaten down. In martial arts, it is difficult to beat a person who can get up, again and again.

Mateusz M video “Resiliency – Motivational Video”:

Successful businesspersons have achieved success because they got up every time they failed.

Savanteum video “How I Overcame Failure | Jack Ma | 馬雲/马云”:

Stanford video “Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address (with intro by President John Hennessy)”:


This is repeating the same thing every day. Martial artists have to go on repeating the same techniques, in order to achieve a reasonable level of perfection. Repeating may get boring, but repetition leads to perfection.

@healthydrops7567 video “Consistency – CREDIT@practical_gohu_ryu”:

Titan Man video “The Power Of Consistency | 5 Reasons Why Consistent People Are Successful By Titan Man”:

Consistency is one of the prime qualities of any successful businessperson.

ABOVE INSPIRATION video “CONSISTENCY IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS | Stay Consistent & The Results Will Follow – Motivational Video”:


Passion is a strong and barely controllable emotion. Passion provides the motivation to chase dreams. Martial artists excel mainly because of their passion, and it is due to their passion that they are disciplined, focused, and sincere.

Master Boxing video “How your passion for boxing can change your life”:

Passion provides the necessary motivation to start, remain, and succeed in business.

MotivationHub video “One of the Greatest Speeches Ever | Jeff Bezos”:


In martial arts, generally it is said that precision beats power, and timing beats speed. Perhaps debatable, yet this claim underlines the importance of timing. A well-timed blow can result in a knockout and therefore, timing is important.

Butt video “Best time counters in MMA”:

In business, besides getting the resources of money, men, and materials, timing is important to apply those resources. If the timing is early or late, it becomes difficult to establish the business. This is more so with respect to start-ups.

TED video “The single biggest reason why start-ups succeed | Bill Gross | TED”:

Visualization or Planning

Visualization is creating imaginary situations and planning how one would react if those imaginary situations became real. Hence, visualisation involves making real plans for imaginary situations having the possibilities of becoming real. Nowadays, planning or visualization is used by Olympic athletes and is seen in almost every sport.

Visualization – the secret video “Visualization used by Michael Phelps”:

Mastery Blueprint video “Scientific Benefits of Visualization for Athletes”:

Plans versus Planning

However, every warrior of ancient times knew, and every soldier of modern times knows that imagination is not reality, since reality is totally different from what they had imagined. A martial artist may imagine a fight and plan his moves accordingly, but when the fight starts, it is never as it was imagined. If such is the case, then why bother with planning to make plans, because the plans may work in imagination, but in reality they will not work, since imagination and reality are totally different.

If plans don’t work, then why undertake the trouble of planning at all? Dwight D. Eisenhower, an American military officer and statesman who served as the 34th president of the United States, said “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

@motiversequote video “The Power of Planning Dwight D Eisenhower’s Insight on Effective Preparation”:

Again, Mike Tyson’s famous quote is “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face” signifying that plans don’t work. If plans are useless then why undertake the trouble of planning? This is a paradox as the act of planning is important, but it creates a plan, which is useless. This signifies that the means is important but the end is not, where the means is planning and the end is a plan. In turn, this means that the only important thing is the procedure or the methodology, which is the act of planning.

For example, an imaginary situation may be that an opponent attacks with a punch. Based on this, the following plans may be made:

Plan A: Evade the punch, close in, give a front kick to the jaw and knock him out.
Plan B: Block the punch, grab the wrist, twist it and perform a wrist lock so that the opponent bends down.

In reality, if the opponent does not punch at all, but rather kicks, then both plan A and B are useless. However, the act of planning is important because the martial artist is mentally prepared to evade and hit, or block and twist. The same can be performed on the kicking leg instead of the punching arm of the opponent. Therefore, planning is indispensable, but plans are of no use.

Planning in business

In commerce, it is often said that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Planning prepares to tackle all possible imaginary situations, and thus, when the real situation comes, which although may be totally different, yet due to the planning, one is mentally prepared to adjust to it and handle it effectively. Making adjustments to some plan is easier than having no plan at all. Planning is important so that adjustments can be made more easily in a real situation.

Online Super Tutors “FAILING to PLAN is PLANNING to FAIL”:

The Family Business Institute video “Plans Are Useless But Planning Is Indispensable”:

Strategy versus Plan

In military and in business alike, strategy is given utmost importance, while a plan is considered as having little or no value.

Harvard Business Review “A Plan Is Not a Strategy”:


Leverage means to use something with little force to achieve a big result. In martial arts, all types of joint locks use leveraging. In grappling also leveraging is extensively used.

FALKOFIRE video “Human Weapon – MMA – Armbar”:

Gracie Barra HQ – California video “Basic Armbar From Mount”:

In finance, leverage, also known as gearing, is any technique involving borrowing funds to buy an investment.

Leila Gharani video “How to Use Debt to Build Wealth | Leverage Explained”:


To perform any martial arts technique, balance is required. The idea of making the opponent lose his balance while maintaining one’s own, is applied in every martial art, through various techniques.

Sampson Judo video “How to Break Someone’s Balance”:

Ireno Fargas video “World Taekwondo Training Program DVD. No.1 Balance training / English language”:

Balance in business means balancing inventory, production, labor, sales, marketing, finances, advertising, and more. The balancing of all these is reflected in the financial statements of a company. It is from the financial statements that one can know how well the company is managed or balanced.

Accounting Stuff video “FINANCIAL STATEMENTS: all the basics in 8 MINS!”:

Bench Accounting video “How To Read And Understand Financial Statements As A Small Business”:


Change is inevitable and without accepting and adapting to change, no warrior can win any war. Likewise, no martial artist can win any sparring competition without successfully accepting and adapting the changes that take place constantly.

UFC video “Top Finishes | 2023”:

Times change and businesses change with time. The businesses who do not change are left behind or close down.

Farm Credit Canada video “The 5 S’s to embracing change”:

HBS Online video “5 Steps in the Change Management Process | Business: Explained”:


Success is equated as winning in war or in martial arts competitions.

LEAK លក្ខណ៍ video “Man Sparring -64kg Final( DPRK vs Hellas) ITF World Championship.ASTANA2023”:

However, in traditional martial arts where one competes with oneself more than with others, success or winning has several different meanings. One may not win a competition, but the winnings in terms of physical fitness can be enormous. Similarly, simply going to the dojo in a regular fashion can help win discipline, integrity, perseverance, commitment, responsibility, and a host of other good habits, besides winning friends and having a lot of fun.

Pacific International Taekwondo video “The Traditional Martial Art for Teens and adults”:

Success in business is crucial, otherwise the business cannot survive. However, even in business, if one fails to become super rich, yet one wins by gaining a decent living and the satisfaction of having lived a happy life.

Business Motiversity video “”I Got Rich When I Understood This” | Jeff Bezos”:

FREENVESTING video “Warren Buffett’s Speech Will Change Your Financial Future (MUST Watch!)”:


Martial arts have innumerable lessons to teach businesspersons. Perhaps the most important lesson that it can teach is how to live a life happily in peace with oneself and with others, in a respectable, honorable, fulfilling, and a socially benefitting way, while doing what one loves to do.


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