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Learning from the world of Judo

JudoJigoro Kano founded Judo in the late 1800s, and although Judo was not based on the principles of Zen outright, Judo is seen by many to be a great expression of Zen precepts. I have a lot of respect for people who dedicate themselves to the art of Judo. Judo is more than a sport or a mere physical activity born in Japan. To those who practice Judo, the lessons, wisdom, and experience gained serve to help them in profound ways in all aspects of life. 

Jigoro Kano summarized the essential goals of Judo. These are noble goals in life and in business. Can they not be applied to a presentation context?

(1) Seiryoku zenyo — strive for maximum effect with minimum effort *

Make no mistake, "minimum effort" does not mean to slack off or give less than full commitment to the moment. Rather it implies the use of experience, intelligence, and skill. In the presentation context, it could translate into simple yet powerful visual support, a delivery style that makes complex data accessible without confusing, endless, overly verbose explanation. Sometimes, for example, a short story (minimum effort) can have a huge and lasting result (maximum impact).

(2) Jita kyoei — strive for mutual welfare and benefit *

Presenters often seem focused only on their content from their point of view. Audiences — especially potential clients — want to know "what's in it for me?" Presentations should be two-way; they should be conversations. And while it sounds like a cliché in 2005, "win/win" should be the goal.

(3) Jika no kansei — strive for perfection as a whole person *

No presentation is perfect, of course, but we must aim for perfection. Content, design, style, evidence, engagement, all of this is important. But in all our business dealings, including presentations, we must always embrace too the ideals of integrity, honesty, character, kindness, and so on. It is never just about winning the contract, as lofty a goal as that may seem at the moment.                                              
Think about this: Commenting on the secrets of Judo, H. Seichiro Okazaki, said

"Only by cultivating a receptive state of mind, without preconceived ideas or thoughts, can one master the secret art of reacting spontaneously and naturally without hesitation and without purposeless resistance." (Emphasis mine)

This idea need not be confined to the mat.

Think about the last challenging presentation you had that just did not go as well as you had hoped. Perhaps there was more "pushback" than you expected. Could you have done better by engaging your audience and answering the difficult questions while "reacting spontaneously and naturally without hesitation and without purposeless resistance"? In my experience, when I have received challenging questions from a skeptical or even hostile or aggressive person, a natural, non-aggressive response from myself always was more effective than showing any irritation or defensiveness. Butting heads is very easy to do, but usually leads to a sure defeat for us as presenters.

T. Shidachi, speaking on the principles of Judo in 1892 said,

"We come by daily training to know that irritability is one of our weakest points, and that we have to try to avoid it in our life, as it facilitates our opponent's efforts to overcome us . Not to be irritated in any emergency, but to always be calm and composed, is one of the first principles of Judo. Prudence, precaution, temperance, perseverance, presence of mind, quick discernment, decision after deliberation, animation with moderation, self-respect, and self-control — all these are surely moral qualities which are inculcated by the study of Judo." (Emphasis mine)

At some point, we will encounter a hostile client or an audience member who may be more interested in making us look foolish or derail us during our talk than getting at the truth. It happens. The key is to remember that they are never the enemy. If there is any enemy at all, it is in within us. Even if an audience member does choose to assume the role of "opponent," our irritation or any display of anger will surely not do us or the rest of our audience (99% of whom may support our views) any good at all.

In the world of Judo, founder Jigoro Kano had this to say about dealing with an "opponent":

"Victory over the opponent is achieved by giving way to the strength of the opponent, adapting to it and taking advantage of it, turning it, in the end to your own advantage."

Many years ago I was giving a presentation to a large group. It was going very well. But one person in the audience often interrupted with irrelevant comments to the point of becoming a distraction for the audience. I had many occasions to become angry (but did not). I could sense that the audience felt I was going to rip into the guy if there was one more interruption. And frankly, they would not have blamed me. But I always was respectful to the man and did not show any irritation or anger. After the presentation, several people complimented me on my handling of the "interrupter." The ironic thing was that although the boisterous man may have intended to damage my effectiveness, he actually had the opposite influence. By flowing with the moment, not butting heads — which only would have made things worse — and showing self-control I gained respect from the audience. This in the end made the presentation more effective. This was very much unexpected and was a good lesson for me.

In the beginning, we may have to work at just not showing our irritation to the audience. But through experience and practice, it is possible to not even feel irritation in the first place when challenged.


More on the history of Judo.


Lauren Muney

It's interesting that you note connections to judo in regards to presentation. I frequently note connections to aikido, due to my minor associations in the aikido world. Aikido is about harmony (its name means "the way of harmony" or "the way of love"), and its harmonious interactivity between participants certainly reflects what you describe here.

In aikido, the opponent has a place of respect and care: one does not dislike the opponent; in fact, he/she is the method for one to discover him/herSELF. Aikido is about bettering oneself.

Being 'onstage' can be akin to being "attacked" (you are wide open, others are waiting for your success or failure, it can be nervewracking, etc), so the martial arts lessons are very applicable.

Lauren Muney
Laurel, MD, USA

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