Applying My Lessons In Martial Arts To Professional Selling


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About 6 months ago, I started taking lessons in a couple of martial arts, Tai Chi and Kung Fu.  It’s been a tremendously interesting and frustrating experience.  Progress seems very slow, I feel as though I am still in the “Wax-On, Wax-Off David-san” stage.  Can’t wait to get to the painting the fence part. 

A few things have really struck me (pardon the pun) through the lessons.  They strike me as important lessons to apply to sales–and indeed many aspects of business.

Being in the moment:  I’ve learned to clear my mind, focusing on being the moment.  The moment I waiver  even just a bit, everything crumbles.  Often, as we go through our exercises, I start to think about what’s next, my attention to what is happening in the moment is lost.  Inevitably, I find myself losing my way in the exercise, exposing myself to my opponent, getting myself off balance.  I see the same thing happening in sales.  To often, we are not focused on the moment, but thinking of what’s next.  It’s particularly critical to be in the moment in talking to customers, it’s our opportunity to learn, understand and really engage.  If we are not with our customers, in the moment, we miss cues and opportunities.  If we constantly are thinking about what’s next, we really don’t understand.  Like an opponent in martial arts, the customer can see that we are not with them.

The importance of balance:  Balance seems to be one of the most critical things.  We all know that in the martial arts, your opponent tries to get us off balance.  But what I’ve found, is that it is very easy to get off balance all by myself.  Being distracted, not being in the moment, not having sound fundamentals, not moving fluidly, all sorts of things contribute to throwing ourselves off balance.  The same applies in sales.  Our competition and sometimes customers throw us off balance.  However, more often, I think we throw ourselves off balance.  We do not have a plan, we aren’t prepared, we shoot from the lip, we don’t execute the fundamentals, we don’t listen, we make flawed assumptions, we don’t understand our customers, their industries, we don’t understand our companies or our products.  There are so many things that can throw us off balance in business, we always have to fight those, but until we are in balance ourselves, we cannot perform as effectively as possible. 

Mastery of the fundamentals:  Moves can be very complex, but I am beginning to recognize they are built from a small number of basic moves–the complex moves come from fluidly connecting a number of the basic moves together.  They must be linked in the right order and executed flawlessly to have the desired effect.  Everyone in my classes, from the instructor, through the most experienced, down to me practice the fundamentals.  Likewise in sales, we further we get away from the fundamentals, the less effective we are.  There are a few basics in high performance selling.  Executing these flawlessly, seamlessly and quickly are critical to success.  Regardless of how experienced, top performers always practice and master the fundamentals of professional selling.

Sharpness of execution can beat size and strength: I watched a sparring match between a young lady, barely 5 feet tall, with a guy over 6 feet and about 200 pounds.  You know the story, she beat him soundly.  Her form and technique were better than her opponent’s.  While he was bigger and stronger, her superior execution enabled her to beat her opponent.  The same seems to apply in sales, superior execution trumps size and strength.

Economy of motion:   Watching my Sifu perform is a thing of beauty.  There is never a wasted motion, he moves from step to step fluidly, seemingly effortlessly.  He knows how to achieve his goal with no wasted steps or motions.  Top performing sales people are similar.  There is an economy of motion and actions, no wasted efforts, no aimless wandering through the sales process, no purposeless meetings.  Top performers know how to achieve their goal without wasting time their or their customers’ time.

There’s a lot more that I am seeing in my lessons in martial arts.  Underlying philosophy, how you think, flexibility, adaptability all seem to be elements that separate the masters from the novices.  While I have a long way to go in my lessons, I am learning a lot that makes me a higher performing sales professional.

I’d be interested in the views of readers much more experienced in the martial arts.  How do you apply those lessons to business, leadership, and professional sales?

I’m off to do my exercises, wax on, wax off, wax on…….

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


  1. Dave: my oldest just achieved her black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Her martial arts school proudly displays these affirmations, which transfer to sales:

    1. strong spirit
    2. effort
    3. patience
    4. self confidence
    5. attitude
    6. respect for the national flag
    7. respect for parents and instructors
    8. respect for higher-ranking belts
    9. never misuse Tae Kwon Do techniques
    10. there is no defeat–only victory

    The protocol is to recite these prior to every tournament or belt test. It’s great to hear the kids shout these at the top of their voice. We should too!

  2. Andrew, first, congratulations to your daughter, it’s a fantastic accomplishment (also remind me never to run up against her in a dark alley).

    Thanks for the added thoughts. They bridge to the Sales and Business worlds nicely. Regards, Dave

  3. Thanks, Dave. Yes, with Tae Kwon Do, she can take care of herself! I once commented to the Grand Master at her school, “Mr. Kim, with your skills, you probably don’t worry about where you walk, or when.” He responded, “no, I really don’t.”

    Imagine if salespeople had the same confidence. Would it eliminate much of the negativity I read about “manipulative sales practices,” “sleazy sales practices,” “not being ‘salesy’ (whatever that means), etc? I believe these come from weakness.

    Tae Kwon Do and other martial arts aren’t about deception or trickery, or powerful strength. They’re about effective form, focus, finding opportunities, and capitalizing on ones’s innate strengths. What better model for salespeople could anyone find? I think I’ll go out and get my white belt! Oh–and congratulations on your achievement as well!


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