Samurai Sense: 13 Ancient Martial Arts Principles to Transform Your Business

Does becoming a successful professional imply participating in office politics? And just how do we minimize political behaviour in our own business?

When internet emerged, it changed business life for good. Adding social media on top, it amplified consumer influence, leaving traces of sometimes devastating opinions about brands, products and services all over the web that could not be ignored. Businesses relying on power, control or low ethical standards cannot get away with it like they used to.

The problem is that most businesses lack the core integrity necessary to build sustainable success while withstanding this new digital world demanding transparency.

Integrity has become the most important source of success. It cannot be faked, it must come from the sincere will to understand clients and the ability to place yourself in the shoes of the consumer: usually a skill most women are better at than men.

“Integrity is the most important source for sustainable success in this digital century.”

To build sustainable success with integrity and minimize unhealthy office culture, we professionals can best learn from a few very fundamental principles used by, believe it or not, ancient Samurai. The Samurai were successful fighters, especially because they distanced themselves from any need of power and victory. The Samurai combine power and integrity by focusing on self development.

 “It is time to put the art back in the business and the Samurai back in the professional.”

ABCD of Samurai Leadership

If you´re attacked on the street without any knowledge of self defence techniques, your only option is to defeat your opponent by sheer force and inflict maximum damage. Skilled fighters like the Samurai however, can neutralize opponents with the least amount of damage and force. Business competition and office politics can be dealt with by applying the ABCD of Samurai Leadership.

 A-Awareness: Everything starts with internal and external awareness. Awareness is the ability to know what to pay attention to and what not to. Without internal awareness, there is no alignment with the continuously changing environment and without internal awareness there is no self evaluation of performance and therefore no learning curve. Monitor both simultaneously and listen to others, but don’t get trapped in their opinions. Serve others but not in a way that harms fundaments of who you are or harms the long term success of your company.

B-Balance: Balance can be mental or physical and it applies both to yourself and your environment. Balance is related to risk taking. People who take too much risk can be compared with fighters trying to unbalance the opponent, while forgetting to maintain their own balance. People who take too little risk can be compared with fighters remaining very well balanced, however forgetting to challenge the balance of the opponent. Take risks but monitor potential setbacks and make sure you feel comfortable while standing outside of your comfort zone.

C-Centre control: Centre control is the principle of alignment with your environment initiated from the core of your strength. Imagine opening a jar, full power. While opening a stuck lid, you will automatically bring your hands to your lower abdomen. This is the centre of your power, where you can generate most strength. This is also true for a business situation.

Companies or professionals with too much focus on external awareness tend to become copycats losing connection to their sustainable advantages.

Centre control also applies to people. If you tune in on the energy of others and understand the way they tick, their behaviours and decisions, you can steer that person with very little effort. If you deeply understand what motivates your employees, you will lead with less effort. Work from your centre and you'll learn to exert power without force.

D-Distance control: Distance control is knowing what you can deliver and managing expectations accordingly. If you set expectations too high, you may not be able to deliver or cause too high workload for your company. If you set them too low, you won’t be competitive. The optimal distance is related to your reaction speed. A foreseeing eye helps prevent the distance closing in on you and ensures you maintain many options to keep the lead.

The principle of leadership in 'totality'

In a world of exponential change, sheer force won't do the job anymore. Companies and professionals need to make monitoring of the Samurai leadership ABCD an 'always on' activity. If one of the four slacks, all others collapse at the same time. If all are in place you'll harness a power through cooperation, perfect timing and alert judgment that is called 'totality'. Achieve this and you'll be surprised of your own results.

13 Samurai principles for sustainable success based on integrity

Live according to these principles and you will be surprised.

1 – Dedicate yourself to a purpose beyond power, control or earning money, because success is a logical outcome of your focus on content and development. Success is not an objective in itself.

2 – Develop yourself to the benefit of the world around you. Continuous self-development forms a powerful long term chain reaction, bringing you to unimaginable heights.

3 - Problems? Change, accept or leave them. If you cannot choose one, you will continue to complain about them.


4 – Stay connected to yourself and your environment under any kind of pressure. Train yourself to keep your internal and external consciousness open under any type of pressure.

5 – Take a close view of distant things and a distant view of close things. Change your perspective regularly. Many things will look less heavy and others will become more important.

 6 – Balance secure planning with creative and flexible execution. Planning must be precise enough to score out options, but must not restrict responding to unexpected problems or opportunities.

 7 – Don’t fight inevitable developments. Spending time resisting inevitable developments, cannot be spent adapting.

 8 – Be respectful, yet clear and sharp. Integrity and power don´t exclude each other.

 9 – Reflect without judging. Always look for improvements, but don´t condemn yourself or others for imperfections.

 10 – Look fear in the eye while doing what you think is right and necessary. Small fears will become big if you suppress them.

Allowing yourself to feel fear does not have to get in the way of your vigour.

 11 – Inspire people and celebrate successes with gratitude, not arrogance. It is good to be proud of success, but always remain thankful. This takes away any arrogant edges.

12 – Be helpful and generous, yet choose the people around you wisely. Helpfulness is a virtue, but don’t allow other people to have you do their dirty work for them.

13 – Take care of yourself and those around you. Fun, relaxation and health are good priorities in the light of any long term objective.

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Joris Merks is author of the new book Samurai Business which he wrote with the purpose to stimulate self development among professionals and improve business culture and leadership. This year he will publish a follow up of Samurai Business called Rat Business. He also wrote the books Schizophrenic Marketing and Instinctive Groundfighting. He is a full time Research Manager at Google, recently won the award of Dialogue Marketer of the year 2012, is a public speaker, European Champion and Open German Champion Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (ground fighting).


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