Work, Business and the Martial Arts

Fear is a liar

Business: American Deity

How can we realistically impact our workplace with concepts like deeper consciousness?

  • Can, or even should, work be considered fair game for bettering humanity’s awareness and sense of responsibility?
  • There are many sacred prohibitions in place to keep the workplace a holy shrine to capitalism’s goals.

The business sanctuary generally shirks anything which takes the focus off of profit and success. Are the ideals of human betterment in conflict with business’s raw goals? Not if they are ideas that make money. And that’s fair enough.

But what about environmental responsibility, human health and dignity, more reasonable worker’s rights? Are certain subjects not necessarily forbidden, but not necessarily all that sanctified by the unspoken holy writ of corporate dogma?

Business as a sacred shrine to duality

Aside from the obvious need to bring value to those who are paying us, there are a few problems with work as a strictly functional activity. For example, we all recognize that work is viewed as a separate activity from home, family and other interests. Business sometimes conveys the importance of work/life balance but this message is often insincere, they don’t necessarily mean it.

By keeping things divided, the powerful notions of separateness and duality are perpetuated. In a more immediate sense, by keeping things partitioned business can keep the entire congregation focused on its sacred twin flames: productivity and profit.

Milton Friedman’s dominating 1970 theory that “a business is solely responsible to its shareholders and that its “one and only one social responsibility [is] to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits,” has been the operating creed for decades.

It’s clearly not working, as we are seeing played out in a society increasingly staggering from the topsy-turvy accumulation of vast piles of money by big business and the wealthy at the expense of diminishing incomes and the consequent suppression of upward mobility by the middle and lower classes… Jamie Dimon’s suspicious redefining of Friedman notwithstanding.

“The American dream is alive, but fraying,” he said in a press release. “Major employers are investing in their workers and communities because they know it is the only way to be successful over the long term. These modernized principles reflect the business community’s unwavering commitment to continue to push for an economy that serves all Americans.”

But just because business views our roles in the workplace as separate doesn’t mean that we have to view things the same way. Having said that, I’m not suggesting that we saunter into the workplace wearing our beliefs or spirituality on our sleeves. But how do we integrate our spirituality into our work without becoming offensive, obnoxious or presumptuous? The Religious Right asked some of these same questions and developed a plan to ‘infiltrate’ government. From their perspective, the forays paid off. But not everyone agrees with their adventures. So how does business convert to a more integrated way of being, one that is more inclusive than the Religious Right’s adventures have been into government?

Most of the people I interact with are struggling. I recognize that living standards are higher than compared to the majority of world history. I also recognize that the powerful have always leveraged their wealth on the broken backs of the poor. But despite a healthy stock market, I know many people who can’t afford health insurance and can barely make rent, despite working 2–4 jobs. We can’t deny the unfairness that can occur in a ‘gig economy’ where it’s every man/woman for him/herself.

What makes this period stand out in the long, age-old run of Class Warfare is the availability of information and the speed of communication - primarily because of the internet.

So how do we leverage this historic human event?

Historic context

The nuns and monks of the past were often cloistered within the protected world of the convent or monastery. Their isolation was an expectation in the sense that society was not at all surprised that spiritual seekers withdrew into conclaves and abbeys. Even their garments betrayed their spirituality, clearly identifying their members through austere dress and strict habits.

Today’s monks and nuns aren’t necessarily so overt, as demonstrated by this monastery and others.


“To be calm and relaxed, maintaining one point — on behalf of ourselves and all that we affect.”

A seeker in The Little Creek Monastery aspires to live and express the spirit of mushin, is willing to stand up for the place inside themselves that is calm and still, and endeavors to allow the eternal to effortlessly flow through them and into the world.

The monastery encourages kindness, inclusiveness, forgiveness, responsibility, compassion and concern.

In some fashion, today’s everyday-life nuns and monks have it harder because they have no garments to set them apart (business would certainly not tolerate that) and their more integrated form of isolation can, in some ways, seem far more solitary than a recluse’s cave. Today’s seeker is immersed in and surrounded by the frenetic energy of traffic, business, goals, meetings, vacations, and the many responsibilities of caring for a home or family.

We are invisible. For all of my decades of study there are very few people who have any knowledge of my involvement in these pursuits, and only a handful or so that are aware that I am some kind of sensei. In business, those insights into me simply don’t exist. People don’t care. The perspectives I might offer are not encouraged because they generally make no sense within the context of a business solely focused on the limited worldview of shareholder values.

Ambivalence toward a so-called higher perspective is due, at least in part, to utterly successful mass programming/brainwashing about the dominating worldview: business. It’s also due to conditioning people to not care — by creating a certain numbness imposed by the din of constant media onslaught, the promotion of social platform ‘values’, the aspirational model of accumulating possessions, and the oppressive neutering of free-thinking.

Business contributes to divisiveness because it approaches the world through the lens of us versus them.

In some ways business is a singularly focused dominatrix, that for all its benefits can also become twisted into a stealthy virus. A bit more benignly stated, business (intentionally or not) can contribute to divisiveness because it sees the world through the lens of us versus them.

Martial Arts in Business

Martial arts are not all the same. There are the obvious differences between various arts exemplified by ‘hard’ arts such as karate with its focus on power, and ‘soft’ arts such as Kung Fu with its focus on grace and exaggerated movement.

There are arts developed for sport (Judo), for exercise (Tai Chi), for spiritual studies (Aikido), for the military (Krav Maga) and for self defense (Jiu Jitsu).

Some schools place an intense focus on training children because most adults believe it’s the kids that need the help but they (the adults) not so much. Some adult schools make the adults train next to children or teens. Adult-only schools generally tend to focus on teaching Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

Most schools are competitive in the sense that they hold competitions and award trophies. Women can be at the mercy of snide comments or undisciplined hands-without-borders.

Many schools that promote teaching Jiu Jitsu are actually either Judo schools or maybe they’re Karate schools where an instructor has perhaps attended a Jiu Jitsu seminar or two.

It’s important to point out these differences and inconsistencies before attempting to describe or to bring some perspective to the ‘Way’ of the martial arts.

Most martial arts schools are in existence to make money, at least for the owner. Not all schools pay their junior or even senior instructors. Aikido schools near me are 100% volunteer. In their case, student fees help pay the rent/utilities/insurance for the dojo (studio, training hall), and sometimes send some modest stipends ‘back home’ to help support a headquarters, which might be located in Japan or South Korea. My own instructorship was volunteer.

With all of this as context, what is the ‘way’ of the martial arts? Is it defined as a financially viable enterprise? Is it measured by membership growth metrics? Is it measured by how many students are advancing through the ranks? Or by how many black belts the school turns out? Does it teach anything other than techniques? Are counseling, healing or other therapies offered? (Typically not.) Do opportunities exist that teach students how to integrate martial arts training into everyday life? (Typically not.) Because depending on how these questions are answered, we can at least partially assess what kind of ‘way of living’ is being taught or not taught.

When former General Electric CEO Jack Welch talked, Wall Street listened. So when, in 1995, he deeply embraced the quality control program called Six Sigma, everyone quickly followed GE’s example. Six Sigma adopted martial arts lingo, initially rolling out training levels signified as Green Belt and Black Belt. Other belts have subsequently been added including the term ‘Master’. All this for what is essentially a statistical analysis regime measuring and identifying assembly line and product defects. The goal is to reduce defects to below 3.4 per million.

Unfortunately, were we to somehow able to interject actual martial arts lingo back into the current business mainstream, essential aspects of the basic language have long-since been co-opted by business titans, who have generally abandoned Six Sigma and moved onto the next flavor of the month or decade.

Where are we?

Perhaps what is called for is the deployment of martial arts strategies that do not clearly identify themselves as such. While we don’t all need to rush out and study the martial arts, there are some examples of how martial arts have positively influenced business.

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War has been studied by generations of non-martial artist business leaders. It’s a short, succinct, straight-to-the-point book. These are key qualities when you are looking to turn a business or turn a nation. The Art of War gives people ideas they can bite into:

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

“Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win”

“Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern that confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate.”

I’ve written about some of these things in the sense of championing the need for strong but simple ideas such as:

Are Principles the Key?

It took me many years of often intense study to get the hang of the principles I was being taught in Jiu Jitsu. Most people don’t have the time or inclination to do that. I think we need things that are easier to grasp, goalposts or philosophical ideals that are more quickly digestible. That’s the beauty of some of those simple sayings in The Art of War.

Going back to my simple keywords argument, I believe that it’s easier in a business situation to say something like, “I don’t think that’s very Fair,” than to say, “I think we should sidebar for a few minutes, and focus on some arm bars or maybe on some Love and Truth.”

An example of this kind of simplicity is when I summarize the ‘Way’ of the martial arts by saying, “It teaches you to be calm in the face of adversity.” Now, that’s very true of course. But if there is a fire in a building and people are burning, a fireman’s job is not to simply stand there and exemplify calmness. While his ability to stay calm empowers him to stay clear-headed and focused, he has to put his calmness into action.

Mirroring the attacker

Here is how I view an attack from the perspective of Jiu Jitsu: I mirror the attack. Let’s first look at what this isn’t.

Mirroring is not copying someone throwing a right roundhouse strike by countering with a right roundhouse punch. Rather, the concept is to meet the incoming force with a similar force. So if someone is being aggressive toward me with a level 3 force, I respond with level 3 force. If they come at me with level 10, I respond with level 10.

From this point of view, we can see I’m bringing Balance to the situation by counterbalancing the attacker’s efforts with a matched response. This is true whether it’s a physical attack or some kind of personal or business attack. In this example, I am not using the word Balance at all when I counter my attacker. It may be done in total silence. Yet, mute as I may be, I am attempting to bring a degree of better balance to the situation.

The Transformative Experience

I seem to prefer using the word consciousness instead of spirituality. Both of these words, however, can be off-putting to many people, although one of them seems quite a bit more worn out than the other. ‘Spirituality’ is quite a loaded word. But even the word ‘consciousness’ is a term for which most people have little framework. I believe we need to think in terms and words that make better sense to a wider range of people, words that are more readily identifiable, perhaps even by using current idioms.

I studied Universal Principles for years. They take time, dedication and study. Most people don’t have the time or the opportunity to make that kind of commitment. So, I’ve come to see my role as less about teaching Universal Principles and more about using them to help develop concepts and initiatives that are simpler and easier to grasp and do.

Once we put aside the more complex notions of what deeper spirituality or consciousness might mean, then it seems to me that bringing some form of consciousness transformation into the workplace is probably much easier than we have imagined it to be. That is because our goal is to transform from something higher into a lower resolution or energy. A lower form of energy is much more practical for most of us. 110 volts in homes is far more useful and safe than the 13,000 volts that’s zinging through transmission lines.

Many people reading this might ask, “Well, what am I to make of all this? What should I do? How could I envision my role?” Perhaps we could borrow from the software industry, which may help us imagine that we are a back-end developer, a middle-ware coder, a software engineer or a user interface designer. Perhaps we are analogous to the book industry composed of writers, editors, publishers, printers, distributors and resellers.

In any case, the goal here embraces the concept of stepping down energy versus having to increase the energy. So, at least philosophically but also energetically, a step down is easier than a step up. Walking down 10 flights of stairs is easier than walking up 10 flights of stairs. Spilling water over a dam is obviously much easier than pumping water up a mountain. The transformative process is about bringing something higher (spiritual) into something lower (business). Why over-complicate this?

Transcendental migration

We don’t have to be religious to recognize the fundamental human desire to aspire to something greater and higher. We often unite, with hands in air at concerts, at sporting events and during religious services. We seek to elevate, to transcend. Can business stand this kind of experience?

Human nature is to aspire. There can be no doubt that humans have a deep and abiding need to express the inexpressible.

Finding ways to do this in the workplace is not as hard as we are making it out to be. Fear is a liar.



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Mark Walter

Construction worker and philosopher: “When I forget my ways, I am in The Way”