Martial Arts - Unlocking the Door to Success
by Marc Trezza

For many of us, whether we are entrepreneurs, salespeople, managers, or simply someone trying to build his business - martial arts encompass the skills for developing the tools you need to succeed. 


Business is much like combat.  It is a war out there.  Are you fighting to win?  What are the personal weapons you use to fight your war?  Would you like to develop and apply more of the six weapons listed above?  If so, listen up - because martial arts training applied to business will give you every one of them. 

“I will be tougher, more focused, and more motivated than anyone who stands between me and my goal.  I will attack my own self-imposed limitations without exception, such as laziness, weakness, and complacency, as the path to being a leader.  I will attack each new day with optimism, and a profound belief in my principals.  I will attack my training regimen with joy and devotion.  I will never forget that life can be war, that business can be war, and I will win that war.  I will be relentless, uncompromising, and I will never, ever surrender.  I will never give up.  I will never quit.  Failure is not an option.” 
Richard Marcinko

That pretty much sums it up.  In the world of martial arts, including the military, nothing in life is lower than a quitter. 

Speed is a combination of awareness and efficiency.  In martial arts we differentiate between reflex-speed and response-speed.  This translates into competitive performance on a global level.  How do you, as an organization, respond to changes and shifts in the economy, changes in certain vertical markets, internal changes at a client, etc? 

Awareness is the first requirement for effective speed.  Reaction-time and effectiveness are the next issues. 

Two of my clients, who are both mid-sized receivables management companies from different parts of the country called me recently because they found themselves in jeopardy when each were informed that one of their most important clients had been acquired by a larger organization (a real concern for many business service firms). 

Client #1 called me within 24 hours of being notified that its largest client (a hospital) had been acquired by a conglomerate.  First, we identified my client’s primary concerns, which were: a. losing their client, and b. too large an increase in business volume for them to handle competitively.

I asked them where the hospital was in the conversion process, and was told they were already in the process of making decisions regarding their roster of out-source firms and vendors.  We set an appointment with the hospital for later that week.  Then we put together a list of wins/victories/successes that my client has had for the hospital over the years, to quantify the advantages and benefits of the existing relationship.Next, we put together a capacity plan that would clearly explain how my client would handle an increase in volume.  The plan included:

Systems information regarding current volume and immediate capacity available without any system upgrades.

Physical capacity for additional workstations, along with the number of workstations immediately available for the increased business.

A process map to explain how the accounts will be processed and   flow through the system (including the new volume).

A call-center plan for a variety of billing and patient follow-up programs, including the number of lines and predictive dialer stations that would be devoted to such projects

A training plan for additional staff, designed specifically for the hospital’s needs and requirements

A Letter from each of my client’s vendors (hardware, software, workstations, phone system, and phone carrier); committing to installation and/or upgrade of their product(s) within specific guaranteed time-f

A written commitment from my client’s landlord to provide 8,000 additional square feet (according to my client’s specs) within 60 days. 

Establishment of a “Quality Control Management Interface Team” to facilitate the transition to larger volume, as well as supervise the updating of the company’s policies and procedures to conform to any changes in the hospital’s needs, workstandards, and requirements as the result of the merger.  Resumes of the team’s members were included, along with a request for a group meeting at the hospital so the various department heads could sit with their opposite members to discuss the conversion and how my client could help to reduce the hospital’s administrative burden during the transition.

Client #2 called to inform me that they had just been dropped by their largest client after the client had been merged/acquired, and wanted to know what they could do.  I asked them how long they knew about the merger, and they said three months.  I asked if they had met with the client, to which they said, “Yes.”  I asked what happened at that meeting.  Reply:

“I told them that we’d been their #1 service provider for10 years, and I would do whatever we had to do to stay #1, regardless of any increase in volume.  But they still dropped us.” 

I asked him what he thought the other incumbents had said.  It was quiet for a while, and then he replied,

“They probably told them that they’d been one of their best service providers for years, and they would do whatever they had to do to be #1, regardless of any increase in volume.”

Although we came up with a similar approach for Client #2, we knew it was too late.  They may have a shot at some later date, but they blew it.  The first issue was speed.  They waited too long to react to danger.  The second was focus.  They failed to identify the key elements necessary to convince the client of the validity of their claims because their focus was on their own needs, not the client’s.  The third was efficiency.  They never developed an effective plan of attack and put it into motion. 

Company #2 did not deal from a position of strength.  They responded to a perception of weakness with promises.  Sincerity is not enough. You must persuade.

Winning is often a matter of superior strategy.  A martial artist analyzes every situation, and applies his strengths against the enemy’s weakness.  The enemy is either anything standing between you and your goal, or he’s the competitor that is shoulder to shoulder with you in the race for that goal. 

A Common Business Approach:
Knock the competition, and go in guns blazing, making all kinds of promises as to how you will outperform the competition, peppered with lots of assurances about how you customize your services for the needs of each and every client.  In this approach, you are totally focused on YOU! 

Don’t focus on what you have to offer – focus on what they need! 

The Martial Arts Way:
Learn everything you can about the enemy.  Why have they succeeded, why have they failed?  Do not meet confrontation with confrontation -  bend, deflect, and then attack the openings.  This will help you to deflate irate, or irrational adversaries.  Use his force against him.  Meet a hostile, full-frontal attack with humor.  Positional bargaining is an unskilled, flawed approach.  Never get stuck on a position, focus on goals and win-win solutions.

In a famous confrontation related in Malcom Kushner’s “The Light Touch,” Eugene Cafiero, President of Chrysler, had traveled to England to meet with workers from a troubled plant there.  He was confronted by a burly, hostile worker who loudly proclaimed, “I’m Eddie McClusky, and I’m a communist!”  The Chrysler executive extended his hand and said, “I’m Eugene Cafiero, and I’m a Sagittarius.”  The ensuing laughter defused a potentially explosive situation. 

Know your enemy.  Study him.  Learn everything you can about him.  Sun Tzu said he would rather have one spy dining with the opposing general, than outnumber that general’s forces 10 to 1.

That means you must know absolutely everything about your prospect or client’s needs, requirements, likes, and dislikes.  You must know each of the buying influences, their level of influence, their perception of your firm, their perception of the solutions you offer to their problems, and their methodology and approach to company selection and management.

If you know less, you don’t know enough.

Deal from strengths.  If you don’t have any definable strengths, than your focus better be on developing them.  Identify your weaknesses and turn them into strengths.  Do you have a competitive, product or service, but are only growing at a rate of 10% or 20% a year?  Then attack the problem and turn it around. 

Do you consistently leverage your strong client relationships into new business?

Do you build loyalty and esprit de corps within your organization?  By your own behavior and management style do you inspire others to “go the extra mile?”  Or do you manage from weakness, using the threat of discipline or termination as the motivator that “inspires” subordinates to perform with excellence?

Do you have a quality middle management team?  Do you give them clear guidelines, measurable personal performance criteria, and the authority to manage?  Or are you a micro-manager.  Micro-management, by definition, is a failure of leadership.

Is there a reward system that motivates only production staff (such as salespeople) or is there an equivalent reward system that promotes excellence in other departments for performance (not just showing up aka “perfect attendance”)?

Leadership is example.  Martial Arts is about taking what you have learned and applying it to all aspects of your business and personal life.  It is about living an example that sets the standard for those around you. 

Focus on the objective!  In sales, focus on the prospect.  Identify his strengths and weaknesses.  Determine his specific needs and requirements, likes and dislikes; then talk calmly and reasonably (using real life examples) about how you can meet those needs and exceed those expectations.  Go in to listen, not to talk.  Ask questions instead of making statements.  If done properly, prospects will invariably tell you everything you need to know to not only close the deal, but to keep it as well. 

Martial Arts is about focusing on the enemy.  In combat, have no idea what the nature of my attack will be before a conflict begins.  A thousand details will determine my choice of techniques and execution.  Even if I thought that my personal best weapon is a snapping front kick, the last thing I will be thinking is, “OK, how do I get him with my front kick?”  That is focusing on myself.  When under attack, the only thing going through my mind is “target acquisition.”  Where is he weak?  Where is he open?  What is the core of his attack?  Then I attack in the most efficient manner possible.  And it is not a one or two-strike attack.  Once I start, there is no break, no pause, no shift in intensity - it is an unending, unbroken wave of kicks and strikes until the conflict is over.  And I mean OVER

Business is the same.  Do those difficult or unpleasant things that you hate to do, so that others will be inspired or encouraged to do those things that they hate to do.  Focus on the target.  Assess it.  Identify what you need to know.  Eliminate assumptions and predetermined notions.  And them apply your weapons and skills from a position of strength.  In sales, do not stop until the prospect or client recognizes and believes that there is no better solution to his problems (on his terms) than you.  You must fight from strengths, based on real information about the needs and requirements of the prospect and the strengths and weaknesses of your competition.  Sell by focusing on building relationships, not winning points or closing deals. 

The “Zen” of it, is that focusing solely on closing deals demonstrates to the buyer that you are motivated purely by self-interest.  Focusing on building relationships and providing value instead of closing deals is the way to close more deals. 

In negotiations, focus on the goal so as not to get stuck in positional bargaining.  If there is an obstacle, determine why it is there before you formulate your attack.  Don’t predetermine their intentions from your fears.  Too often we presume that what we fear most is what the opposition intends to do.  Don’t cast blame – solve the problem.  Think more like a judge deciding a case then a lawyer grandstanding for the jury.  “Negotiation ju-jitsu” requires that you use questions rather than statements, offering the opposition no targets to strike or points to attack.  Questions educate rather than criticize, creating an atmosphere conducive to success.  Never be a victim.  Stand on honorable ground, and stand there firmly.  As Fisher and Ury said in their book, “Getting to Yes,” it’s easier to defend principle than an illegitimate tactic. 

The Way of the samurai is a way of honor and principle.  It is a way of focus and determination.  It is a way of victory and pride.  From Sun Tzu’s  “The Art of War,” to Musashi’s “Book of Five Rings,” martial arts principles have been applied to business with clear, definable results.  It is a proven way of success.

Godan Roshi  Marc Trezza
Trezza-Ryu Samurai Dojo, New York City
President/CEO Search Net Corporation

Recommended reading:

The Book of Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi
The Art of War, Sun Tzu
Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun, Wess Roberts
Leadership Secrets of the Rogue Warrior,  Richard Marcinko
The Ideals of the Samurai,  translated by Richard Scott Wilson
Bushido – The Warrior’s Code,  Inazo Nitobe

Search Net Corporation’s founder, Marc Trezza is a management consultant and coach for executives nationwide.  He provides business leaders with guidance and advice for analyzing, attacking, and solving the most frustrating problems that business leaders face today.  He is also a 5th Degree Master in Karate and Jujitsu. For information, contact Marc Trezza at: (212) 874-6265, Fax: (212) 496-1005,   Email: .

Many more articles in Competitive Strategy in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2000 by Marc Trezza. All rights reserved.

Current Issue - Archives - CEO Links - News - Conferences - Recommended Reading