Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” Interpreted For Business:
Applying Budo Lessons To Your Martial Arts Business
By Jason Armstrong
Editors’s Note: This article presents
some of the ideas and concepts that Jason Armstrong presents in more
detail in a
video course available for download at DownloadKarate.com.
The download video covers many of the concepts, and uses business examples
to apply the principles from the “Art of War”.
The most famous text on Budo strategy is Sun Tzu’s “Art
of War” which was written in China 2,500 years ago. Today it is
still considered the most complete text of strategy, partnering and success.
It is therefore commonly employed by top level executives around the
world, and taught in leading business schools.
Ironically, martial artists who run their own business (e.g. a commercial
dojo, or organization) often know little about this most famous body
of work on Budo, and how it is applied to the business setting. Business
interpretations from “The Art of War” apply to the following
areas at a minimum:
- business strategy
- partnering models for growth
- operational efficiency
- managing conflict in the workplace
- project management and planning
Sun Tzu’s approaches are all about achieving victory (business
growth) with minimal effort, minimal conflict and maximum operational
efficiency. A number of translations have put this classic Chinese text
into the business setting.
In our martial arts practice we daily explore our true nature, strengths,
and weaknesses, the book by Sun Tzu’s contains the following lead
“If you know yourself and know others you will be successful,
If you know others and not yourself you will win one and lose one,
If you do not know others and do not know yourself you are destined
for failure in every battle.”
In the business setting these words of wisdom are applied by one having
an annual business S.W.O.T (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities & threats
analysis), partnering models for marketing, sales & support, and
operational systems that track business activities and ensure efficiency
(project management & SOPs [standard operating procedures]).
Unfortunately, few martial arts dojo(s) operate with similar levels
of planning systems to that used by large corporate entities, but as
Sun Tzu says:
“Courage, desire, confidence & momentum are all based on the
mind …Take away order and you create disorder and all of the above
Therefore, Sun Tzu would argue that without the rigors of project management,
business plans, and defined goal systems for growth, a business will
not realize its full potential.
In one sense the “opposing armies” are your competitors.
You are fighting for market share already taken by other businesses,
or potential customers not engaged in your market. Your techniques are
your product make-up, price, distribution vehicle and promotional strategies.
Victory goes to the business that can not only gain territory from their
competitors, but hold onto it, and most importantly make it profitable.
Profitability is a key point which can be derived from Sun Tzu’s
teachings, as there is no point in fighting over something that proves
ultimately worthless, or is destroyed in the fight. An example of this
is “price wars”. The business world has proved time and time
again that “price wars” to gain customers usually end up
with all parties losing i.e. the market is destroyed for all. Value based
systems is what a martial arts business, like any business, should be
From a deeper view Sun Tzu teaches one to make competitors partners.
This is a seemingly contradictory statement but it is something we do
in our martial arts fighting all the time e.g. we do a leading technique
to set up an opponent drawing on the fact that a pre-determined response
will occur – we have made our “partner” co-operate.
Partnering is a key to success in all businesses (and war), and this
objective is stressed in great detail with many examples in the works
of Sun Tzu. Again this theme is consistent with the principles that involve
networking, peace and non-conflict as ways to success. Non-conflict in
business is emphasized through strategies which achieve objectives and
avoid overt competition with others reaching for the same customers.
Co-operating with other local dojo(s), organizations, and complimentary
businesses in innovative ways is what this all about.
Some other brief thoughts around Sun Tzu’s insights:
Open one’s mind to who your competitors really are. Your competitors
are not just those who sell the same product or service, but anything
else your customers could be buying instead of your product.
Open Architecture & Communication:
Are you running a closed system engaging in “knowledge secrets” as
they are thought to be a best approach? One of the best known multi-billion
dollars mistakes in this regard was the Apple vs. IBM PC computer battle
in the 1980s. At that time the PC world had a very difficult to use operating
system, while the Apple systems had the Windows interface which were
very similar to what all computers use today. However, 90% of the world
adopted the clunky and difficult to use PC system due to the IBM marketing
approach of an open architecture which allowed other businesses to partner
with them, add on software and hardware, and ultimately appeal the most
to customers. It was a networking model which allowed an inferior product
to win. Networking models which can be applied to Martial Arts businesses
are contained in the “Art of War for Business” video download.
Know the Enemy:
Knowing the enemy is an obvious rule that is re-enforced by Sun Tzu’s
principles. However, it is rarely followed by small businesses at a level
enabling true insight into one ‘s competition. Do you know what
elements one should study & how to break down the competition and
learn from them? This includes financial, marketing, partnering, intelligence
etc.. Often in the martial arts world sensei often “think” they
know what goes on in other organizations or dojo(s), but preconceptions
without true insight are a danger. Sun Tzu repeatedly warns against presuming
your insights are correct about competitors, their ability, and their
business operations. A solid and methodical intelligence effort and internal
S.W.O.T. program is what the modern business world uses as one aspect
of this component of Sun Tzu’s teachings.
In our martial arts training we spend countless hours/days/decades working
on our Kihon, Kata and knowledge to be able excel at the dynamic game
of fighting. The discipline behind the basics cultivate the ability we
need for the dynamic setting of what would be true combat. Without these
systems, their knowledge, and developed instincts, a fight against any
solid competition is destined for failure. When Sun Tzu’s budo
principles are applied to business they remind us that we should do no
less in the professional operation of our martial arts business schools
About The Author:
While in Japan Sensei Jason Armstrong worked in the corporate environment
and ultimately became the CEO of a company in Tokyo. He holds a Ph.D.,
and today is living back in the West and is the CEO of a Biotechnology
company listed on the stock exchange. He has a 5th degree black, and
has been training for more than 20 years which has included living in
Japan with a master. His training began in Australia, and then moved
to the USA in 1991. In 1995 he began regular travel to Japan and spent
time living in Japan for karate. In recent years he founded Applied Zen
which operates in the USA and Australia passing on Japanese karate
through dojo(s), and through a video e-learning site (DownloadKarate.com)
which includes such things Karate Business plans for download and other
business concepts for the karate world. Additionally, his organization
provides corporate seminars & videos on the integration of Budo Strategy,
the “Art of War”, and Zen into the corporate world and business.