The martial arts teach centeredness, love and respect for all of humanity, unity of body, mind and spirit, and above all discipline and self-control. These are priceless and fundamental leadership skills. But where the martial arts differ is in technique. How does a karate practitioner confront an oppressor in contrast to someone who knows jujitsu? If a leader were to apply these radically different martial arts tactics to handling an aggressive or angry employee at work, he or she should expect very different outcomes.
Here’s the scenario: John is angry about his year-end bonus. He expected more, even though he knows that cuts were made across the board. John’s going about slandering everyone in upper management, and it’s time he was stopped.
In karate, the practitioner fights back to defend him or herself, using punches, kicks, knees, elbows, and open hand strikes. The goal is to disarm an opponent with a single blow.
Karate at work: “John, you’re fired.”
In tae kwon do you must overcome your attacker. Concentrate your energy into one point and use the greatest force. This practice can be dangerous and life threatening, to the extent that students are not allowed to employ it to full effect in competitions.
Tae kwan do at work: “John, you’re fired. And you’ll never work in this town again.”
With jujitsu, the goal is to get your attacker into a position of submission where they are forced to surrender. Exhaust them or wear them out with your technique rather than hurt them.
Jujitsu at work: “John, I need you in the office until mid-night every night this week. You will also being travelling to the Ohio office every weekend until spring.”
Judo practitioners are calculated and scientific. The first years of training are spent in learning to take a hard fall. The goal is to let the opponent get in a few blows and rush at you while you impassively step out of harm’s way. At the last second, you use the opponent’s momentum to flip them with one finger and send them flying across the room.
Judo at work: “John, you’re right. You absolutely deserve more. In lieu of the bonus, I’ll give you something better—a promotion to VP of Strategy…in Siberia.”
In aikido you defend yourself, but you also protect your attacker from injury. They eventually end up on their back, but are in shock, having no idea how they got there since you’ve been entering, extending, and blending with their energy. They thought you were on the same page with them the whole time.
Aikido at work: “John, thank you for sharing your concerns with me. I hear you loud and clear. You are the perfect candidate to head up an employee e-newsletter. I’m looking forward to proofing the first issue on Monday morning. Have a good weekend!”
A modern leader would do best to use aikido tactics to handle a difficult employee, as aikido is a diplomatic method that causes the least collateral damage. With a hostile corporate takeover or courtroom battle, any of the other martial arts might be effective as well. Everything has its place and a centered leader is able to adapt fluidly to which style suits the situation the best.