The other day (and by the other day, I mean months ago), I was talking to my friend who is the mother of two young girls. Her youngest daughter, who was 4 at the time, confided in her mom that she really, really wanted to be a ninja.
I was stoked to hear this. First of all, it’s adorably badass, but I was also excited by the possibility that the next generation of strong, high-flying Karate-ka could be sitting right across from me.
“She’s going to learn so much about being a good person.” I said smiling and staring dreamily into space. I imagined the little girl as a master of kata. A sparring prodigy. A well-coordinated keeper of justice!
I think this went on for about a good minute before I realized that it was really quiet. Confused, I looked to my left.
That’s when I noticed that my friend was looking at me all kinds of strange.
“What?” I said, wondering if I’d said something weird out loud while I was zoned out.
“What do you mean a ‘good person’?” She asked.
I realized that she had no idea what I was talking about; the mental benefits of the martial arts.
As I sank back into the couch, I began telling my friend all about the principles that I learned as young kid in Karate that helped shape me into a self-aware adult.
When Gichin Funakoshi started Shotokan in Okinawa, he also established the 20 guiding principles of Karate. These principles serve as guidelines for how to approach training with an open mind and set intentions.
The best thing about the principles is that not only do they hold value for the art of Karate, but they can also be applied to so many other aspects of life.
You don’t have to be a Karate-ka to reap the benefits of martial arts. Here are a few lessons that can make anyone a better student, worker, or whatever you happen to be.
- Mentality over technique.
There are a lot of things that I love to do that I actually really suck at. Some of these things include dancing, singing, drawing, painting, and drinking. Yet I still do them every chance I get. [Editor's note: I hope Shane doesn't do all these things at once, though actually, that might be kind of fun to watch.]
Attitude is everything when it comes to learning a new skill. Tackle it with all of the ferocity that you can muster. If you suck, suck loud and proud.
In Karate, the student with the most spirit will always be praised more than the one with perfect technique.
I ran into a number of professors in my day who believed in being patient and forgiving to students who struggled but always tried their best. It was these hard workers who always stuck out in the minds of their instructors even years after they’d graduated.
How to apply this lesson: If you are new to a job, you probably have no idea what you’re doing. Leave an impression on your boss by showing that you may be clueless, but you’re eager to completely stumble through the first few lessons that you’re poised to learn.
Keep in mind that taking this approach doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be focusing on eventually mastering your technique. Just understand that the most bodacious skills take time. Don’t be afraid to flex your muscle in the mean time.
- First know yourself, then others.
In competitive sports, there’s a lot of pressure to compare yourself to others. While competition is an important part of Karate, it’s only a small part of one’s training. The biggest part is understanding what role you yourself will play in your mental journey.
There’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition (that’s the Aries in me talking). Before you can understand your opponent, however, you must understand yourself.
Oh, and here’s a big secret. YOU are the biggest opponent you will ever face. Once you figure that one out, you’re going to be a champ.
Consider what this means for you as a student or employee. If you are competing for that top spot in your class or on your team, stop and ask yourself what studying habits and working conditions are right for you. Remember that in order to get where you want to go, it’s going to take much more than beating the person next to you.
Focusing on you is that extra thing that you need. What are you doing to improve your own test scores? What are you doing that’s holding you back? You may find that you’re sabotaging yourself by focusing more on beating “the competition” than your own self-achievement.
How to apply this lesson: Every time that you approach a new challenge, imagine that Mr. Miyagi, Lao Ma, and I are all standing over your shoulder holding a giant mirror. Learn to face yourself before squaring off against others.
- Do not think of winning. Think rather of not losing.
In Karate, people on the outside seem to think that getting a black belt means that you’ve “made it.” Little do they know that there are actually ten dan (levels) of black. Getting to that first black belt is not winning. Rather, it is an indication that you refused to quit. Achieving beyond that means true dedication to the game.
I imagine the day when I’m established enough at a company to be up for a promotion. Little punk rock angels will fly around the room and bass-heavy music will play so that only I can hear it.
If you have similar daydreams, only indulge in them for a moment. That first success in the workplace is just the tip of the iceberg. You’ve got miles to go! Think of each milestone as affirmation that you’re still in the running, but you haven’t won the race yet.
Being disillusioned into believing that that first triumph is the only one isn’t going to get you very far. It could get you a world record as the oldest, second-level sales rep at a company. But you don’t want to hold that one. Trust me. Especially when the people that you started with are now running the company.
How to apply this lesson: Pretend that you have no idea if and when the finish line will ever come. That way, you’re always performing at your best and will rarely be caught slipping.
- Make adjustments according to your opponent.
Remember how we talked about knowing yourself before knowing others? Know yourself so well that you can identify exactly which of your skills to deploy at the right time so that you come out on top. Whether it’s that big presentation, stressful conference call, or international business meeting, know that you have the weapon for success in your arsenal. Then the key is knowing which one to arm yourself with.
You wouldn’t tackle a humanities paper the same way that you write a lab report and I don’t write each blog post the same way that I wrote the last one. Be able to adjust your style so that you come out on top every time.
How to apply this lesson: Internalize the idea that things that are constantly growing are alive and stagnant things dwindle. Approach each opponent with an empty mind, ready to be filled with well-informed tactics that will bring them down. Imagine that each job that you are applying for is the enemy and the only way to take it down is with a killer résumé. Make sure that your approach is unique for each and every one. You can’t get away with one generic application.
- Be constantly mindful, diligent, and resourceful in your pursuit of the Way.
Define “Way” however you want. This one speaks for itself.
How to apply this lesson: Just do it.
- It’s a lifelong pursuit.
What does it mean to be better? How do you know when you are “it”? Is there a magical point where you are “the best” student, worker, or friend?
If you’ve answered “no,” then you are correct.
Not to sound like an inspirational cat poster or anything, but success is the journey.
A really long one.
How to apply this lesson: Have patience in every single thing that you set out to achieve. Remember that your name will be attached to the work that you turn in. Build a lifelong career of quality and excellence, dude.
This is what I explained to my friend. As I finished my rambling, I noticed that she was looking at me funny again.
“What now?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she said with wonder in her voice. “I just didn’t realize that you could get all of that from Karate. I thought it was just kicks and punches.”
I love kicking and punching; however there’s so much more to Karate that’s kept me coming back for the last ten years.
As a young kid, Karate taught me courtesy, self-respect, and kindness. As an adult, it teaches me diligence, humility, and patience. In every job interview, I talk about how the lessons that I learned in Karate when I was ten make me a better worker today because I truly believe that they do. Maybe not the kicking and punching part, but all of the other stuff makes me a productive and process-oriented part of my team.
After I shared my collected wisdoms with my friend, she began to see how her kid could indeed develop the makings of a great person, all while wearing a little white uniform and colorful belt. She promised that once her daughter was done pursuing her aspirations to be a dinosaur, she would look into signing her up for a kids’ Karate class.
Homework time! Are you ready to be a ninja at work? If you’re ready to commit to the physical demands of the martial arts, find a Karate class and sign up to take lessons after work. You can improve your mental skills while also learning to kick butt!
If not, explore the non-physical benefits of Karate for yourself by sticky noting some of these principles (or others) to your work space. Read them whenever you’re feeling frustrated, unmotivated, or stressed out and you’ll become the well-disciplined, black-belted you that will thrive right from your desk!