When I started martial arts as a kid, because my parents made me, I thought it was pointless. Stretching = boring! Memorisation of movement = why? Mental toughness and fitness = It is soooo hard!
However, as the years’ progressed on I began to realise the importance of the various rituals and acts I had to do in class but I moved on to other things anyway.
After quite a few years off, I joined a local school I found. As I trained I started to have some of those childhood lessons come back to me. My body moved and adapted quicker than some of my fellow students. My understanding was quicker and more complete. After a short while, I was told I needed to spar and practice my fighting skills. A scary prospect for me.
In the beginning, every week I would lose. My instructor was better than me in every way. He was faster, fitter, stronger. I’d be lucky to land even a few kicks or punches while he seemed to simply float in and pummel my whole body in an instant.
Why keep doing it you ask? That’s easy, cos I LOVE IT!
Now if you go and ask any entrepreneur why they put up with all the abuse of a new startup: the long hours, the rejection, no salary, rations, etc and you will get the same answer. They LOVE IT.
There are many parallels between the martial arts and starting a new company that has made me a better entrepreneur overall. Four spring to the top of my mind straight away.
1. Embrace your failure
Every martial artist knows the feeling of failure. Having to go into situations knowing the odds are stacked against you builds a toughness of character. As we know 9 out of 10 startups fail. The most successful entrepreneurs are the ones that fail, again and again, learn why they failed and keep going against all odds. Just like in sparring, I literally got punched in the face. Which sucks. When I fail, it sucks. Not as much as getting punched in the face but it still sucks. However after getting punched in the face a few times I learned and now I don’t get punched in the face. Sound familiar? Failing is the foundation of success.
2. Control your emotions
When you are new to sparring and you get kicked hard in the stomach and put on the floor a common reaction is to get annoyed and angry. Flying back at a higher rank student in a rage is a sure-fire way of getting hit again with another combination.
Getting up from the floor angrier than before my instructor (sensei), sensing my uncontrolled rage stopped and asked me. “Ok, Chris. What did we learn from this?”
I responded, “We learned that he has no control and is an ass.”
“No, what we learned is that you are the ass. When you lost control of yourself and your emotions you turned into a terrible fighter with no regard for your opponent.” replied my instructor. “When you lose control of your emotions you just lose. End of.”
Since then I have found that getting all upset and out-of-control when things go wrong in the startup world just creates more problems than it solves. Don’t get me wrong. I still get annoyed and angry with disappointments, rejections and professionally embarrassing situations but maintaining control over emotional outbursts is crucial to avoid creating bad culture and environments of personal and interpersonal difficulty.
3. Stress Relief
There is nothing more satisfying than finding a punching bag and firing away with your fists of fury when things go a little off the rails. Believe me, it is a great stress reliever. Startups are hard! You have to report to customers, vendors, business partners, investors, family, etc. When things go wrong (which they will at some point), there is stress. The bigger the issue the bigger the stress. But finding healthy ways of relieving the stress is a critical factor in you managing your entrepreneur journey. Mine is sparring, what is yours?
4. Never stop learning to learn
Getting punched in the face forces you to learn how to block, how to move and anticipate/react to your opponent. You have to learn or keep getting punched in the face.
A startup is the same. We usually have a process we think will work until it doesn’t. But understanding why the process failed is to be seen as an opportunity to learn and improve. Not a negative outcome but a positive one as you will now be better than you were before the failure. Quantify your results. Understand the ‘why’ and develop the ‘how’ you overcome them. Question EVERYTHING.
So there you go. Being a ninja entrepreneur takes years of getting knocked down and getting back up again. Getting punched in the face and kicked in the stomach. But learning and adapting to be better every time. A little bit of “hong king fooie and kung fu fighting going all chuck norris bruce lee” might just be the ticket to you being a better entrepreneur.