Here’s What 3 Decades Of Studying Martial Arts Has Taught Me About Business Growth
Mike Agugliaro, Founder, CEO Warrior
When I first started studying martial arts in my teens, it was the focus, physicality, and rigorous discipline that attracted me to it. I liked that practicing martial arts was all about harnessing my raw inner power into a devastating punch or a kick.
Now, three decades later, and having just successfully exited one of my companies (a $32 million per year service company—one of the leading home services companies in the state), I’ve realized a valuable lesson: all those years of exhausting martial arts practice didn’t just provide me with a high level Black Belt, it also taught me powerful lessons about business growth.
Here are five of the many lessons I’ve learned from martial arts that had a direct impact on the growth of my businesses:
#1. Repetition Isn’t Boring; It’s A Profit Opportunity
In martial arts, you practice a kata—which is a series of steps (including punches, kicks, and blocks)—over and over. It looks like a dance but it’s practice. I’ve performed many katas over the years, thousands upon thousands of times. The newbies think it’s boring but after every kata I ask myself, “Was that the best I can do? Can I do better next time?”
In business, your company might perform the same service over and over again, for hundreds or even thousands of clients year after year. And, while it’s easy to fall into a mindless pattern to the point where your team can “phone in” the delivery, your company will see greater growth and a surprising number of opportunities if you train every team member to pause after the project is completed and ask the same question that I did after each kata: “Was that the best I can do? Can I do better next time?”
#2. Gain Expertise By Training Others Fast
In martial arts, and indeed in many skills, a student can accelerate their learning by teaching someone else. As a martial artist, I could only learn so quickly by showing up and performing the moves that my Sensei taught me. But one day my Sensei told me: “You’re going to teach the group today.” I stepped up, nervous because it was my first time teaching, and something happened: not only did I successfully teach others, my own skills were stretched and locked down! I became a better student, a better teacher, and a better martial arts practitioner because I taught others.
In business, you want your team to grow—to become as proficient as possible. Although it might seem counter-intuitive and even a little scary to get your newest employees to teach others, you’ll discover (as I did) that they’ll become even better. In my company, we had employees learn something, do what they learned, and then immediately teach it to someone else. It was a game-changer in terms of leveling up the skillset of my employees.
#3. Focused Specialization Wins
I wasn’t awarded my Black Belt levels because I knew more moves than anyone else. I was awarded them because I could perform just a few select moves with finesse yet unstoppable power. When martial artists are tested in the real world, it’s not variety that wins; it’s focus.
There are many businesses that try to do everything for everyone. That’s a losing game because you get stretched too thin, too quickly, while you try to pile on the options to please everyone who seems like they could be a customer. The better approach is to focus on what you do well and become a “Black Belt” at that for the very best customers. And if you get a customer who isn’t the best, or a request for a service that you don’t do well? Refer them to someone else. As an expert, you’ll earn more respect, loyalty, market share (for the right customers!), and revenue because you have a master’s focus on just one thing.
#4. Level Up Beyond Others By Destroying Your Limitations
In the early years I attended a local dojo and practiced whenever it was open. But one day I drove to the dojo and it was closed; I missed getting there in time. That’s when I ended up building a dojo in my home, complete with mats and weapons and a human-sized dummy to practice on. Most people will only reach a certain level in their martial art because they are limited by the amount of times they can practice; I erased that limitation and can practice as often as I want.
Business growth occurs when you do the same thing. Identify what the limits are that holds the industry back and then find ways to break those limits. There are so many examples of companies that looked at the existing model and made a game-changing shift; sure, like my dojo, they took a risk and made an investment, but it allowed them to play at a level that no one else is playing at. Most of the growth in my recently-sold service business were the result of me asking, “Why is everyone else doing it that way? What if I did it differently?”
#5. Create Something New To Achieve What Few Ever Will
I remember those first days after signing up to study martial arts. I was a thirsty student, soaking up all the knowledge and skills I could learn. And I still am thirsty student, even after three decades of practice. The difference, though, is that I’ve started my own martial art. There are many others studying Karate, Taekwondo, or Jujitsu, and can be excellent martial arts. But I wanted to go a step further so I created Jinsei Ryu Budo (which means "Warrior’s Way Through Life"). This opened up a new world of study, practice, and mastery that most people will never experience.
Businesses that play in the same industry as everyone else usually only ever excel to the degree that everyone else is. It’s only when you step out to create something new that you discover unexplored territory. That new thing could be a marketing strategy, a way to serve your customers, a way to sell more products, a way to create recurring income (in fact, those are four ways that I innovated in my service company). You push into a new area, measure your progress, test your strategy, and keep pushing.
When most people think of martial arts, they probably think of an entertaining movie full of punches and kicks. But after 33 years in martial arts, and practicing this art form while also growing and running businesses, I’ve learned that martial arts and business growth are closely connected. If you want to grow your business, it’s time to step up and approach the challenge like a master martial artist!
About the Author
Mike Agugliaro is the “Business Warrior” and founder of CEO Warrior, a business consulting, training and mentoring firm, providing tested and proven methods to defeat the roadblocks that prevent small to mid-sized businesses from achieving their ultimate success. He has played a key role in building and selling Gold Medal Service, New Jersey’s largest and most respected home service company. For more information about CEO Warrior, visit www.CEOWARRIOR.com.