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.

Pinoy Votes: Sun.Star Election 2007

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 (

No comments: