After playing my whole life football and a bit of tennis I thought about moving to another sport, which would cause less injuries and keep me fit. My son started to practise Kuk Sul Do, a Korean martial arts style and my wife also decided to join in. After she became pregnant, she had to pause and from then on, I brought my son to training and picked him up after. Often, I witnessed the last part of the training and I observed a few things that I really liked. Kuk Sul Do is practised by men, woman and children in the same group and despite the weight and height difference it seemed to work well. The entire body and all muscles, even the ones you do not know you have, are being trained. I also observed the passionate instructors Ivan and Matija who mastered Kuk Sul Do and I felt my son was in very good hands. That made me decide that if I was anyway going to bring and pick up my son, why not join in myself?

Ego under attack

The first few times I trained I still hoped that my muscles would remember my orange belt judo skills from childhood but soon I felt that I started something totally new, from rock bottom. I was excited but also anxious and after the first few trainings my ‘ego’ was heavily tested and the muscle ache was severe. I didn’t know anything and it felt it would be very difficult to succeed. I remembered some work challenges that made me feel the same, such as the first few days after I arrived on my own in Zagreb with the task to set up the first Croatian Heineken business, knowing literally nobody and starting from scratch. Or the first day in my office after I decided to start my own company: empty desk, alone, no clients, no income but with an idea how to do it. I was very excited to walk a new path with the desire to succeed and at the same time feeling the fear of failing.

Embrace failure

We were training twice a week, 90 minutes per session, learning proper stances, punches, kicks, exercises, stretches, blocks, safe falling techniques, body movements and physical escape techniques. It was physically and mentally overwhelming. My son was standing up-front on the mat and I tried hiding in the back copying him and absorbing every word and move of the instructors. Then, step-by-step, I made some progress and I contribute this to my fantastic instructors, my son and the other Kuk Sul Do training partners. After many years practising a team sport, I concluded that people that perform martial arts, which I previously saw as an individual sport, are also forming a supporting team. This is not about an individual, stealing the show, it’s about developing together, the same as in business. In martial arts there are endless details to learn and therefore we come to the point that we embrace failure and help each other to overcome the obstacles. We continuously learn what can be done better. Everyone starts with a white belt and in Kuk Sul Do you actually have to earn your white belt. Similar as a business owner or manager, you might face rejection, disappointments, and setbacks before you earn another belt colour. The earlier you learn to manage your physical abilities and emotions, the faster you will be successful. Practising martial arts develops stamina and emotional balance. You come across unfamiliar body and mental moves and over time, not giving up, you will master them. You will not succeed bringing your ego to the mat because everyone learns respectful from everyone. That is an attitude that helps you to be successful in martial arts and in business.

What else can we learn from practising martial arts?

Apart from being able to defend yourself at all times, looking good on the beach and stay fit, I experienced more skills that martial arts teaches.  Self-discipline is vital to be able to move constantly and develop your skills, coordination and condition. You will be taught to think, before you act and strike, after you defend yourself. In order to accomplish your long-term goals, you need perseverance. It takes a lot of effort to reach the skills and earning another belt colour. In business this will help you to see opportunities in challenges. It is not about how many times you fall down but how often you get up again and improve. I learned to focus on values like: respect for others, spirituality, self-determination, self-protection and service to others. These common martial arts values help establish strong connections between training partners and it will definitely support in agreeing on how to collaborate with colleagues or how you lead your team members. Martial arts excel at promoting self-confidence and self-esteem. By teaching respect for others, including your opponents, while instilling the importance of individual responsibility, martial arts promotes balance between humility and confidence.

Kuk Sul Do also taught me to keep balance and at the same time to be flexible. Especially, in times of set-backs or crisis as a leader you need to see the bigger picture of how to survive and move on. We may become off-balance as we only strive towards a single focused goal. The ability to recognize this and make necessary adjustments are important. Martial arts focus on the physical aspects of balance training but also the mental, psychological and spiritual aspects. If you are physically too focused on pushing forward, your opponent can deflect your energy, step sideways and you lose your balance. When in daily life you are mentally too focused on pushing forward in an argument, you may not be open to new information and therefore lose respect and constructive communication. Being flexible in your thinking reduces the chance of being affected by stress, depression or anger. To make progress in martial arts it is vital to work hard. Without ‘sweat, blood and tears’ you will not gain a new belt, neither be successful in your (new) job or start-up company. The longer we trained Kuk Sul Do the more we managed to beat fear with courage and move on to a next level. Finally, self-endurance is essential to ‘never give up’. We have seen a quite big number of training mates that couldn’t follow through, throwing (too) early the towel in the ring.

Kicking pads waiting on our outdoor training area

During COVID-19 and the earthquakes in Croatia we could not train anymore in our Kuk Sul Do gym but instead of going on a pause we moved outdoor in an open place in the woods and the training was extended to 2×2 hours a week. Again, a challenge but after the first discomfort, we were all happy and grateful being given the opportunity, to keep on training, learning and practising and get our bodies and minds used to bigger challenges, using nature as our new playground.

Concluding, Kuk Sul Do is a system of training for character development which instils confidence, self-discipline and concentration. By facing a regular training process, it prepares us for the struggles and hardships of life. Combine this with a physically fit body and we can achieve a clear mind to respond to our ever-changing environment. Especially, in today’s business challenges as transformation, digitalisation, pandemic and continuous improvement, training any martial arts will support you to handle it and enjoy the process.

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