Leadership at the peak – Lessons from martial arts


George Nyabadza

IN December last year I obtained my first dan black belt in the Korean martial art of Taekwondo. What made the award ceremony special was the fact that my banking friend

Douglas M also received his black belt at the same time.


Three years of effort, endless practise, prodding and challenging each other to greatness in the sport finally paid off. Douglas M would deny this but for him it was also three years of relentless punishment from me.


Achieving the first dan black belt status is only the beginning of a new lifestyle. In reality every martial art discipline becomes a way of living and thinking. If one doesn’t have strongly held personal beliefs and value systems it can also become a new way of life, governing your behaviour as the physical and mental disciplines become habits deeply grooved in the subconscious, through countless hours of various forms of practise.


First there are the strict form patterns and stances that in Taekwondo are called “poomse”. This is the martial art in its strictest form. You can really only become an accomplished martial artist if you master the poomse by continual repetition, over and over again until the moves become automatic reflex responses.


For first dan black belt status there are eight poomse, each more complicated than the last, with each new one being taught every three months. Each poomse consists of at least 12 unique moves, creating a total of close to 100 unique fighting moves you must muster. The result of the consistent effort is the grooving of the poomse patterns on your brain and deep in your subconscious mind, creating new fighting, balance and focus habits, which once learned will never be forgotten.


Then there is the free fighting which enables you to form your own combat combinations out of the basic poomse discipline. Again just as the poomse, free fighting has to be practised regularly as it enables you to create realistic fighting combinations out of the numerous poomse combinations. Ultimately you become a programmed fighting machine prepared and honed for battle.

In a real life situation that demands a physical response you automatically react out of the skills imbedded deep within you.


That is what makes highly graded practitioners lethal. But a true martial artist has the discipline of internal self-control and will never allow himself to enter a fight for any reason unless it is in unavoidable self-defensive. By the time you attain your black belt status the issue is not how many street fights you win but rather how many you walk away from. What is all this to do with leadership?


In the market place and in real life you are continually at battle against forces seen and unseen. In whatever situations you face, especially those that leave you no time to think and plan, the real question is whether you respond out of carefully programmed habits or haphazardly. Do you have highly developed mental and emotional responses that automatically trigger superior performance out of you or do you respond in sluggish uncontrollable ways that may or may not give you the result?


How much effort are you putting into personal development, working deep within the core of your human computer, the subconscious mind; all our responses in life are governed by the programmes we have stored there.

If you are unhappy about your behaviours and the results you are getting in your life then look no further than your mental programmes. What poomse have you forged into the depths of your subconscious mind, or are you running on programmes other people installed in you?


In order to succeed on this journey of life you need to create new mental disciplines (poomse) and prepare for the inevitable challenges through multiple role and scenario plays (free fights) built upon the base of the new habits. It takes time and consistent discipline, which is the real foundation of leadership.

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