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Wisdom from the principles of Budō: Lessons for work & life

Budo_book I have great respect for those who dedicate themselves to the study of the martial arts in Japan. Budō, or "the martial way," is a term which encompasses the martial arts here in Japan. Bu (武) conveys the meaning "to stop clashing weapons." Dō (道) is "the way" or "the path" to truth and liberation. There is much we can learn by examining the principles found in traditional disciplines, even though they may seemed quite removed from the daily experience of most people. At the risk of greatly over simplifying things, think of Budō practice as not only being about competition or fighting and technique, but also of being a mastery of self. In the book Budo Secrets: Teachings of the Martial Arts Masters by professor and Aikido instructor John Stevens, the author recounts the three rules of the Tanseki School of Swordsmanship. I list the "Three Rules" below and then comment specifically only on Vicissitude (one of The Three Joys). Following that we'll look at "The Ten Evils for a  Budo Practitioner" with the art of presentation delivery in mind.

Budo_wear Even though these first simple rules comprising "The Three Rules for Practice" are taken from a manual on swordsmanship from a time long ago, notice how you may use these rules in your own work, or life in general. You can see how these ideas apply to the practice of the Japanese martial arts, of course, but perhaps you can also apply the ideas to the activities of everyday living including delivering a presentation or speech, managing a project or leading a team, and other practical endeavors where excellence is required and self-mastery a must. Here are the three rules from the Tanseki School of Swordsmanship.
The Three Prohibitions
(1) To give up
(2) To misbehave
(3) To be clumsy

The Three Joys
(1) Vicissitude

(2) Honesty

(3) Skillfulness

The Three Evils
(1) Fear
(2) Doubt
(3) Confusion

The Joy of vicissitude
Judo Change is a part of life. Change — even sudden and painful change — is indeed about the only thing that is certain in life, yet often we deny it or run from it. Instead, learn to prepare for change, face change, and even embrace it. We must adapt to the vagaries and ceaseless changes of everyday life. Experience can be a good teacher for dealing with the vicissitudes of life and work. Perhaps this is why athletes, for example, improve through real-game experience due to all the challenges that one faces in a real game that can not be simulated well in practice. If you want to get better at something, you have to do it, make mistakes, make adjustments, and improve over time. Just as a martial artist has his training enhanced by widening his experience through confronting ceaseless changes, we too can broaden our skills by being open to change and developing our skills further through the experience of dealing with those changes.


Ten "evils" to overcome
Aikido These items below come from The Ten Evils for a  Budo Practitioner, a list from a Kashima Shin School scroll which appear in Budo Secrets. These ten (fear & doubt appear again) have to do with one's character as a martial artist, but as the author points out, these are aspects of ourselves that everyone needs to overcome. All of these are in us (we're just human after all) — the key is not to be defeated by them. Our enemy is not in the audience (or the competition, etc.). Usually, the biggest obstacle to success is not from without, but from within. I love these words by the late Aikido master Kensho Furuya: "You have the infinite capacity to do anything you want. You compare yourself to others—that's why you feel so limited." Here's the list from The Ten Evils for a  Budo Practitioner:
(1) Insolence
(2) Overconfidence
(3) Greed
(4) Anger
(5) Fear
(6) Doubt
(7) Distrust
(8) Hesitation
(9) Contempt
(10) Conceit

Budo_kanji I think you can see, for example, how none of these ten are helpful when making a presentation, performing a piece of music, teaching a class, and so on. All of the ten listed above can be destructive and hold us back, fear and doubt in particular. Fear holds a lot of us back. It is our fear of failure, our fear of what other people may think. We're afraid. We're not sure. So we hesitate...and we fail to act. Seth Godin calls this the Lizard Brain. Now, confidence is necessary and important, but overconfidence can sometimes be as destructive as fear and can also hold us back. Overconfidence, conceit, and contempt also prohibit us from seeing the lessons from those people and experiences around us. The old adage is "Once you think you have arrived, you have already failed." Humility, a virtue often gained through much practice, study, and experience, is key. Yet humility and great strength go hand in hand. However, a kind of projected modesty that is really a face over self-doubt and fear is not the same thing as humility. Genuine humility comes from a place of strength. It is the truly courageous who remain always humble.  



Jonathan Thomas


Fantastic post. At my own presentation blog I often write about the similarities I see between the art of presenting and the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, of which I train often. I've written about confidence ( as fear ( as it applies to both presenting and fighting.

I love when you make parallels between your Japanese influences and your passions like jazz. There are so many lessons to learn in life that can be applied to presenting.

Jon Thomas
Presentation Advisors

Chuck Arnold

Thank you for this; as a student of iaijutsu (Japanese swordsmanship) for the past 16 years, I try to incorporate the lessons of budo in my daily life, and as an illustrator and graphic designer, in my artistic endeavors.

We should all embrace vicissitude, and become the catalyst for change. As a very wise man once said: "To become who you want to be, first you must stop being who you are now."

I will have to seek out Stevens-sensei's book.


Nice post. Liked the three rules from the Tanseki School. So true.

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