When most people talk about Kung Fu, they think of Chinese martial arts composed of furious fists and gravity defying kicks. Yet I found that built into this powerful martial art are philosophies that have so much to impart outside of just combat.
Here are the most valuable teachings I picked up:
1 – Be Agile
Agility means being light on one’s feet, reacting quickly to attack or defend depending on what the situation calls for. Kung fu training allows one to act without hesitation.
Likewise, agility is also desirable for any business. One needs to be agile to rapidly respond to changes in the market or one’s industry. Enterprises must have the ability to identify market trends and quickly decide on a course of action.
There are several ways to do this. For instance, leveraging on cloud technology can give you a cost-effective means to build an agile business. It lets co-workers communicate and collaborate across long distances and time zones, while facilitating infrastructure elasticity, software innovation, and a rapid turnaround for solutions.
2 – Train your Sensitivity
Kung fu thrives on listening. In martial arts terms, listening isn’t merely hearing what your opponent is saying, but being aware of what they’re doing at any given time. It means checking for signals of an imminent attack: a tensed leg, a dip in the shoulder, a sudden push of the hands. Kung fu requires a high level of sensitivity to one’s environment.
Businesses, too, must be experts at listening. They should pay attention not just to what their competitors are doing, but also to how their target market responds to their products and services. They must be adept at mining customer data for useful insights.
Fortunately, there is a lot to listen to in the Digital Age, and all one needs is the means to make sense of all that information. Again, technology provides leverage through big data analytics. Online surveys and enquiries are also effective ways of listening to your market.
3 – Maintain Forward Momentum
It’s essential in kung fu to press your advantage. A good kung fu man knows that no opponent can punch or kick effectively while rapidly backpedalling, so they push forward and keep the pressure on their opponent.
Great companies know what to do with momentum; they understand that sitting on one’s laurels does nothing but flatten them. So once they achieve their targets, they quickly move on to a newer, more audacious goal. That’s how great companies like Johnson & Johnson and Disney have sustained their profitability through the years.
4 – Stay Focused
Kung fu is as much a mental discipline as it is a physical one. Kung fu requires mental focus on one’s actions—even if these actions are just small steps.
Hence the emphasis on doing forms. These drills bring the student into the present task of taking small steps towards mastery. As Wing Chun practitioner Robert Downey Jr. puts it, the art makes you “concentrate on your own thing.” Eventually, these small steps build up to incredible power.
Businesses are always eager to grow big and gobble up market share. But remember that achieving great things can only be done by taking the small steps first—conceiving of a business plan, setting up the right infrastructure, watching your expenses, and so on. Concentrate on your own thing, take the small but incremental steps, and the goals will take care of themselves.
5 – Apply Secrecy and Discretion
In any martial art, the trick is to find out your opponent’s next move without revealing your own. Information is the name of the game, and that requires the aforementioned sensitivity as well as strategic thinking. In soft kung fu, strikes are not telegraphed; they are executed in a single explosive motion without warning or “tell”.
Likewise, companies need to maintain their own form of secrecy and discretion if they want to stay ahead of the game. They must employ secure data practices and comply with strict standards to protect customer information from loss, theft, or damage. They also partner with organizations that employ the same level of security.
A business must protect its data, otherwise it has no business.
6 – Build Good Balance and Structure
Balance is essential to kung fu. With good balance and structure, you can block a blow and return one of your own at full strength. With them, even a single weak punch can send you to the floor. By rooting yourself and protecting your center line, you may be able to recover from overwhelming attacks.
Companies, too, must be prepared for the worst. When disaster strikes, they must have contingencies in place to recover quickly and completely. Data must be restored from a secure backup, secondary power sources must be in place, and people must be on call to oversee recovery.
7 – Stay Relaxed
Relaxed energy may seem counterintuitive in a combat situation, but it forms the cornerstone of all soft kung fu. A martial artist cannot successfully perform the previously mentioned lessons without relaxing. Tensed muscles waste energy, slow down action, disrupt balance and structure, and robs the martial artist of their focus and sensitivity.
Good kung fu practitioners know to apply their energy only for important actions. They do not act when there is no gain nor move when there is no advantage. They conserve their energy for the right opportunity, and when it comes, they grab it.
Likewise, companies must also find it in themselves to relax. This doesn’t mean anything like slacking off—it simply means to refrain from spending effort and capital on things that provide little gain. If they can find a way to cut costs through automation or outsourcing, they do so. For example, one can reduce upfront expenses by moving their data center online, freeing up capital and allowing them to focus on vital things such as research and experimentation.
In its original Chinese definition, kung fu simply means any art or skill that requires time, hard work, and patience. In short, kung fu can be anything we do—cooking, painting a house, or running a tech firm. That’s why it has so much it can teach us beyond just self-defense: it’s all about building the mind.
It seems like Martial Artist and Tech Entrepreneur Scott Cundill applied these principles into his work process as well, check out this fascinating short interview below.