Aikido as a Tool in Business Coaching and Training


I have been studying aikido for close on 35 years now and been training and coaching students for nearly 30 years. Over that time I have observed consistently how much of what goes on in the field of coaching and training relates to my practice on the mat. In fact when I hear the latest jargon, I think to myself, ‘but that’s just aikido’. That is because to progress on the mat, students have to learn how to:

  • Manage stress

  • Be positive

  • Respect themselves and others

  • Develop resilience and confidence

  • Be flexible

  • Persist and not give up, even when the going gets tough

  • Be mindful

  • Work harmoniously with others

  • Deal with conflict in a way where both parties walk away feeling good about the situation

Sounds like a list of aims for most business training courses, doesn’t it?

In many ways, the point of aikido is to help students fulfill their potential, and when employers spend significant sums on coaching and training that is exactly what they are hoping for too. Anyone scoring well on the above qualities would be an ideal employee and probably a great leader.

So there are two questions to ask here;

  1. How can a martial art possibly offer so much?

  2. Is it possible to extract the benefits without actually practicing the martial aspect?

How can a martial art possibly offer so much?

The thing that makes aikido stand out from most, if not all, other martial arts is that the founder’s goal was something far greater than teaching people the art of physical combat. He saw it as ‘a way to reconcile the world.’ He also had the wisdom to understand that true victory was victory over self. None of us have much control of what goes on in the world and the only thing we really have much choice about is who we are and making the most of what we have got. I am reminded of a story often attributed to famous golfer, Gary Player, who when interviewed once told the following story:

‘I was practicing in a bunker down in Texas and this good old boy with a big hat stopped to watch. The first shot he saw me hit went in the hole. He said,

“You got 50 bucks if you knock the next one in.”

I holed the next one. Then he says,

“You got $100 if you hole the next one.”

In it went for three in a row. As he peeled off the bills he said,

“Boy, I’ve never seen anyone so lucky in my life.”

And I shot back,

“Well, the harder I practice, the luckier I get.’

The important message here is that if you consistently work towards a goal, the better the results you get. Training with a specific purpose is incredibly helpful in improving results. In aikido terms, the harder you work at fulfilling your potential, the better able you become at not only dealing with what comes at you on the mat, but also what happens off the mat as well.

It’s the same in business, where the goal is also to maximise the potential. Working in a meaningful way to achieve this, actually makes it far more likely that the business will succeed. And just as students have to deal with conflict on the mat, so do businesses. Human beings are prone to it, and whether it’s employees, service providers or customers, there will be occasions when things don’t go as smoothly as they should. What separates the winners from the losers is how they deal with such situations. Cultivating the qualities listed at the beginning of this article will almost certainly ensure that your business is one of the winners.

Martial art’s training is necessarily stressful. When you step on the mat, you are accepting that people are going to push, pull and strike you, (possibly with weapons)? If you can stay calm in this environment, and you need to, then dealing with the daily rigours of life should become easier.

If you want optimal performance, then being able to stay calm under pressure is a key skill. Again we can look to golf to exemplify this, the difference between the greats and the also rans is the ability to deliver their game when it counts and that doesn’t usually come down to technique, (all professional golfers are great at that). The difference is what is going on between their ears!

To be calm on the mat, we need to develop other skills. The student of aikido has to learn not to anticipate as that’s when mistakes happen. (That doesn’t mean that you can’t initiate a situation) Instead they need to build their knowledge so that whatever is thrown at them they can provide the appropriate response. It’s vital that they are truly present, as only then are they able to take maximum advantage of all the information that is in front of them. Knowledge is literally power. Only under these circumstances are we able to deliver our best. Performing at your optimal level makes it far more likely that whatever you are doing will have an optimal outcome. When conflict arises the best outcome is when all the parties involved are able to walk away satisfied.

Is it possible to extract the benefits without actually practicing the martial aspect?

It could be said that aikido students learn the lessons the hard way, but the great news is that the study is based on core principles that work equally well in off-mat situations. These principles can be taught in ways that don’t involve getting involved with martial technique. It is still important to experience them through the body, but we can use simple and gentle exercises to feel and understand the power of what is being taught. Learning something through the body is a far more meaningful than something you see or are told about. Ask someone who has actually got burned compared to someone who has just been told that sticking your hand in a fire is a bad idea.

The principles fall into two categories; those that help you to perform optimally on a personal level:

  • Be centred

  • Be relaxed in mind and body

  • Be grounded

  • Be aware of how you feel and what is going on around you

And those that help you to engage effectively with others:

  • Start with a positive mind

  • Take on board all the information that is to hand

  • Respect people’s views and actions, even if you disagree with them

  • Place yourself in the shoes of your attacker to gain the best perspective of why they act and speak as they do

  • When you act, do so with confidence

Simple ideas maybe, but to understand their profundity and power, they need to be experienced through the body, as only then can you appreciate what a difference they might make to your life and those around you. They work on the mat, but what the founder of aikido understood was that they work off the mat too, and that is the reason why aikido can be used to make the world a better place. They can and should be used to make your business more effective.

Conflict comes in all shapes and sizes. Nearly everyone experiences some kind of internal conflict on almost a daily basis, and when it comes to conflict with others, it rarely involves someone wielding an axe. It is far more likely to be experienced verbally or just in someone’s body language. Applying the above principles allows you to disarm someone in these situations just as effectively as when students on the mat learn how to take a knife or sword away from an attacker, without having to hurt them.

These ideas aren’t really new. Some would say they are ancient wisdom, others would say they are just common sense, but who bothers to pay attention to the former and how often do you see the latter being practiced.

Intrigued? If so, then contact the Business Dojo and find out what a difference it can make for you and your business.

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