Saturday, 26 May 2007

Warrior management

OUR search for the Holy Grail of management has taken us to places we would never have expected to go.

To lands as far and away as China and Japan, and to times as ancient and mystical as those of the emperors and shoguns that ruled these far away kingdoms and fiefdoms. In order to run our organizations better, we have tried to emulate the spirit of the warrior, of great men like Sun Tzu and Miyamoto Musashi.

But can we really know what it is to be like the great warriors of old? Is reading books about the battles that Sun Tzu won, or those that tell about Musashi’s prowess with the sword, really helpful in allowing us to understand how these men achieved great success in their time?

Our answer over the last two installments of this series has been no. The problems are two-fold, as we have examined. The first stumbling block is our insistence on learning the ways of the old, as if they were things we could pick up from modern-day convenience stores —on demand and instantaneously.

Nobody these days cares much about learning something the old-fashioned way, through sweat and hard work.

How else to explain the proliferation of on-line management schools offering MBA diplomas without one having to sit through thousands of hours of rigorous case discussions? Internet management, if I may call it that, has a lot to blame for this mentality.

Unlocking the secrets of the old means we have to go through the same path that the original holders of these secrets trod.

Which brings us to the second obstacle in our quest to learn from the masters— we want to merely experience things, not to be immersed in them.

This is best typified in the comment one of my American friends told me, when I asked him why he never ventured beyond the borders of the United States? “Why bother,” he said, “when I can see Paris in Las Vegas.” This Paris in-Las-Vegas syndrome, or in our case this Musashi-in-a-book affliction is one of the great maladies of our time. And it ails the practice of management particularly badly.

A common trait required in martial training is a true openness of mind. Zen masters often exhort their apprentices to empty their cups first, before they may be served any tea. This means getting rid of our cultural prejudices, personal preferences, preconceived notions and fixed paradigms. Anything less and true learning eludes us.

Another martial prerequisite is truthfulness to one’s self, as well as to others.

Translated in management terms, this means having total transparency in our actions, and the absence of subterfuge, scheming and manipulation in our ways.

But just think—how many managers can actually do this? Show me one who can, and I will show you hundreds who lie, scheme, connive and cheat their way to the top.

Contrary to what the name suggests, the warrior manager does not have to learn karate, aikido or kung fu to become one. As Sensei T.K. Chiba suggests, the modern day workplace itself is full of real life struggles that we must face steadfastly, and resolve with conviction.

The true warrior manager will not shirk from these challenges. But most importantly, he faces these problems with the openness of mind and the purity of heart as the warriors of old. Only then can he lead and inspire his organization to victory.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, May 26, 2007 (

Saturday, 19 May 2007

The Warrior Manager (2)

Many Westerners think they are very well traveled, and know a lot about other lands and peoples. Just think of the hundreds of thousands of them who come to our shores each year. Many will have been to other countries already, apart from ours. But does this really qualify them as experts in other people’s cultures?

Experience and immersion are two very different things. To experience something is to witness things and events from one’s own point of view. But to be immersed, on the other hand, is a whole different story. It is a deeper and more meaningful experience, because it is done through the point of view of that which is being observed. As the old Indian saying goes – “to understand me is to walk a mile in my moccasins.” Experiencing is walking that mile in Nike sneakers, immersion is doing the same thing in authentic Indian moccasins.

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Most tourists merely experience the world. That’s why they usually come away with casual observations like “India is poor,” “Jakarta is so crowded,” and “Filipinos are very hospitable.” These comments are based on the relative situations in their home countries, and the places they visit. They see the world, but with their own cultural blinders on.

This to me is the reason why books on Musashi and Sun Tzu can never be fully understood by many of us who read them. One problem, especially with Western management thought, is that it forces its paradigms on situations where these same paradigms either don’t work, or do not exist. Nothing can be more contrary to the ways of the warrior, which we are trying to emulate, by studying the masters. “Enter through form, and exit from form” is how the venerable aikido founder O-sensei Morihei Ueshiba articulated martial arts learning should be. Begin with a paradigm, but then discard it as you learn new things, is perhaps the best way of describing it from a management perspective.

Let’s turn once again to what T.K Chiba Shihan, one of aikido’s most respected instructors today, has to say on the subject of total martial arts immersion.

“…if we can shift our perception into the objective situation of the world we live in today, it is not too difficult to recognize the situation as being very martial, as everyday life is full of many different forms of violence and threats - both visible and invisible. Examples are the spreading of incurable diseases; countless outbreaks of man-made disasters which take may human lives in one fell swoop, as well as natural disasters which highly advanced modern scientific technology often fails to prevent; the prevalence of organized and unorganized violent crime; increasing occurrences of local wars derived from nationalism, racism, and religious fundamentalism; and increasing ecological imbalance and poisoning on a global scale that mankind has never experienced before. Instead of limiting our perceptions inside of the Dojo training, it would be wise to expand our awareness into the bigger realm of everyday affairs where countless potential threats to our very existence are evident. In substance, it is a situation where we are forced to return to facing the basic question of who we really are, in our true face, thereby enabling us to face potential crises, which may become reality at any given moment, with the three principles of martial awareness: when, where, and with what - without being defensive or obsessed but with a free and open mind.”

Final installment next week.

ANNOUNCEMENT: It is with deep sorrow that I announce the passing of my great grandmother-in-law, Emma Lina Araneta del Castillo vda de Arguelles, of Bacolod City, who joined our Lord on the 4th of May 2007, at the age of 101. May we kindly request our readers to please say a prayer for her eternal repose.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, May 19, 2007 (

Saturday, 5 May 2007

The warrior manager

SO much time has been devoted to studying the martial ways, and how they could help us modern managers in our work.

Ancient manuscripts, such as Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” or Miyamoto Musashi’s “The Book of Five Rings,” have been the topic of countless scholarly articles and dissertations, that we are probably justified to think that we now know all we need to know about the ways of the warrior, and how we could put them to effective use in our own workplaces.

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Perhaps so, but more probably, perhaps not.

When I lived in the United States a few years back, I had the opportunity to practice with one of the Southeast’s most senior American aikido instructors.

In one of our lighter moments—and because, at the time, I was moving a lot between different cities and trying desperately to search for dojos to practice with—he told me his “method” for spotting the serious practitioners from the less-than-serious ones. And it was—“if a dojo is located in a strip mall, then it probably is not a proper one.”

It may have been light-hearted advice, but beneath the words lie a great deal of truth.

Many of the dojos that set up shop in malls are there offering a service that the rest of the businesses in the malls offer— quick, fast and convenient satisfaction of our needs and wants. And this is in direct contradiction with the way of the warrior arts.

So I get back to my earlier question on whether the countless books on Sun-Tzu and Musashi really teach us anything useful about the warrior arts and management. And my answer—perhaps it is as useful as studying the martial arts in a strip mall dojo.

Many of us who have studied the martial arts for some time will know this— they cannot be learned from a book alone.

Despite what we sometimes see in Jackie Chan movies, no one picks up a set of pictures, studies the forms on them, and in a few days becomes competent enough to challenge the neighborhood bad guy to a fight. It just does not happen like that.

More often than not, countless bruises, scrapes and skinned knees later, many of us will not even have gained the competence to scare, much less hurt, our baddie. Even just on a physical level, competence in the ways of the warrior takes a long time to learn and perfect.

And yet, gaining true insights in the relevance of Sun Tzu’s and Musashi’s thoughts require more than just experiencing the physical aspect of martial training.

Though it is certainly a start, learning to punch and kick properly is just an aspect of warrior life—a tiny, miniscule aspect at that, might I add.

So how are we then—as managers— supposed to pick up this knowledge? Is it only through actual practice of the warrior arts that we can be enlightened?

One of aikido’s most senior uchi deshi, T.K.Chiba Shihan, has this to say about his perspective on martial training.

“As martial artists, we are familiar with the term “martial” and much accustomed to using it frequently. However, I doubt if we can really understand its original meaning, in particular as our understanding is based upon the type of training, conditions and environment we have created by training in a dojo.

In my view, however hard and intense our training may be, we are still very far from the essential concept of “martial” and are barely scratching the surface. lt is unrealistic to think that, in today’s dojo environment, we can simulate a situation, like jumping off a one thousand foot high cliff or, in Zen expression, taking a step off the tip of a one hundred - foot high pole, where one is forced to face a desperate plight, and where one is able to transcend oneself beyond life and death.”

This article concludes next week.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, May 05, 2007 (