Unlocking Success: Lessons from ‘Breaking Through’ for Business Executives

Breaking Through: The Secrets of Bassai Dai Kata is a book written by a Taekwondo instructor that delves into the intricacies of Bassai Dai kata, a traditional martial arts form.

While it seems focused on the one Karate kata, Breaking Through dismantles the boundaries of a stylistic approach to training. The book explores the concept of seeking efficiency, anticipating and circumventing the resistance from opponents, and preferencing modern training methodology to nurture individual practitioners. This shift in perspective expands our ability to extract value from fundamental techniques, and the deciphering of fixed pattern sets from their enduring but sometimes obfuscated method of oral transmission.

Goal Oriented v Process Oriented Thinking: In the context of business, goal-oriented thinking is often advocated, which sets organizations to verbalize specific objectives and work towards achieving them. However, “Breaking Through: The Secrets of Bassai Dai Kata” suggests that while goals are important, embracing a process-oriented approach can enhance the likelihood of achieving those goals.

Jeff, an affiliate Black Belt, works with our publisher GM Mike Swope. This doesn’t look like a ‘real’ attack, but if you don’t get the fundamentals correct, you’ll be eating more strikes than controlling them.

By adopting a process-oriented mindset, business executives can clear their minds and focus on the underlying principles, tactics, and actions that contribute to the desired outcomes. Rather than being solely fixated on the goal itself, they recognize the importance of understanding the journey and seek the flexibility involved in reaching their goals.

A process-oriented approach allows executives to take a deep dive into the intricacies of their tactics, look for operational support, and ensure quality interactions. It encourages them to examine the underlying processes, identify potential bottlenecks or areas for improvement, and develop effective systems and practices that support their goals.

This approach also promotes a mindset of continuous improvement and learning. Executives understand that goals need to adapt to evolving circumstances, and being process-oriented allows each of us to make these micro-adjustments accordingly. It enables us to be agile, responsive, and innovative in the face of challenges or unexpected changes.

Furthermore, by embracing process-oriented thinking, executives foster a culture of collaboration and teamwork. They recognize that achieving goals requires the collective effort and commitment of their teams. By focusing on the process and creating an environment that supports it, executives can empower their teams to take ownership, contribute their unique perspectives, and collectively work towards the shared goals.

Broadening Perspectives: A key lesson from the author’s journey is the value of exploring beyond the boundaries of one’s own discipline. Just as martial arts pioneers sought cross-training opportunities from various systems, business executives can benefit from broadening their perspectives and seeking knowledge outside of their immediate field. This openness allows for a more rarefied understanding of the business landscape, enabling executives to make informed decisions and identify new opportunities.

Seminar presenters at American Karate and Taekwondo Organization pose with renown instructor GM Keith Yates (March 2023). We all wear different uniforms as we represent different lineages. Yet we work together in order to rise together.

Broadening perspectives for business executives involves actively seeking knowledge, insights, and experiences from diverse fields and disciplines that may not immediately seem related to their own. This includes:

  1. Seeking information from multiple sources: Stay informed about industry trends, competitors’ activities, and emerging technologies. Consider viewpoints from customers, suppliers, employees, and other stakeholders to gain a comprehensive understanding of the business landscape.
  2. Embracing a diverse network: Engage with professionals from different backgrounds, industries, and disciplines. Connect with individuals who offer diverse perspectives to gain exposure to new ideas and alternative approaches.
  3. Encouraging cross-functional collaboration: Foster a culture of collaboration within the organization. Promote interactions and knowledge-sharing across different departments and teams to break down silos, foster innovation, and encourage the exchange of diverse perspectives.
  4. Developing mental flexibility: Challenge assumptions, question established norms, and embrace new ways of thinking. Engage in critical thinking, consider alternative viewpoints, and actively seek feedback and input from others.
  5. Fostering a learning culture: Create an environment that promotes continuous learning and growth. Encourage ongoing education, workshops, and exploration outside immediate expertise to foster curiosity, adaptability, and intellectual growth.

You can go around Obstacles: The concept of “breaking down the fortress” in Bassai Dai kata – a transliteration of its name – serves as a metaphor for breaking through barriers in business. Executives can apply this principle by anticipating resistance or critical failure and proactively seeking ways to circumvent these obstacles. This requires a proactive mindset, tactical thinking, and the ability to adapt swiftly to changing circumstances.

Martial arts training provides wonderful physical analogies for real word interactions. At a seminar with North Texas Karate Academy, the author presents an anaology of a virtual planar surface, which is used to shield ourselves from a strike. We defend against attacks and go around them.

In the context of aligning the vision and objectives of the business plan with operational reports and controls, executives can adopt the following approach:

  1. Regularly revisit and review the business plan: Executives should periodically revisit the overarching vision and objectives outlined in the business plan. This allows them to assess its relevance, make necessary updates, and ensure alignment with the current market conditions and organizational goals.
  2. Ingest updates and feedback: Stay informed about the progress and performance of various operational aspects through regular reports and feedback mechanisms. Actively gather data and insights from different departments and teams to have a comprehensive view of the organization’s operations.
  3. Identify potential points of failure: Analyze the operational reports and controls to identify areas that might be prone to resistance or critical failure. Look for patterns, trends, and potential bottlenecks that could hinder progress towards the defined objectives.
  4. Enable processes to circumvent obstacles: With the identified potential points of failure in mind, executives should develop contingency plans and alternative strategies to circumvent obstacles. This proactive approach involves anticipating challenges and having pre-defined processes in place to address them swiftly and effectively.
  5. Embrace a culture of continual improvement: Encourage a culture of continuous improvement within the organization. When obstacles are encountered, view them as opportunities for growth rather than as failures. Encourage teams to analyze and learn from setbacks, and implement necessary changes to enhance performance.

By adopting this approach, executives can bridge the gap between the vision and objectives of the business plan and the operational reports and controls. They can ensure that strategic goals are consistently evaluated, updated, and aligned with operational realities. This proactive mindset and agile approach enable executives to anticipate and address obstacles, promote resilience, and drive success.

Bring Mental Visualisation with You: Another valuable insight from the book is the emphasis on mental visualization. The author highlights the power of mental rehearsal and visualization for performance improvement in martial arts. Similarly, business executives can utilize mental visualization techniques to enhance their performance in various professional settings. Whether it’s preparing for a high-stakes presentation, envisioning successful negotiations, or visualizing effective leadership, mental visualization can help executives build confidence, focus, and enhance their overall effectiveness.

Physical rituals allow you to create a more tangible mental space. This mental space connects you across time if you provide an adequate link for your practice. And it travels with you wherever you need it. Here the author holds a pose whilst standing on a rocky promontory, willing himself to compartmentalise the fear of falling whilst calling for the calm that the mental dojo bequeths him.

Here are three takeaways on mental visualization that can help executives enhance their performance; taking the idea of the dojo as a mental space and allowing the transferability on this construct beyond its physical walls:

  1. Creating a mental dojo: Executives can harness the concept of the dojo, not just as a physical training and meditative space but as a mental sanctuary characterized by rituals, discipline, and focus. By cultivating a mental dojo, executives can establish a dedicated space within their minds for deep concentration, reflection, and personal growth. This mental space can serve as a retreat from distractions, allowing executives to engage in purposeful thinking and problem-solving.
  2. Rituals for focus and clarity: Just as martial artists perform rituals before training or competition to clear their minds and center themselves, executives can adopt rituals to enhance their focus and mental clarity in professional settings. These rituals could include practices such as mindful breathing exercises, internal scripting, visualization techniques, or even brief moments of solitude before important meetings or decisions. These rituals help executives establish a state of calm, enhance their ability to make informed decisions, and bring a sense of purpose to their actions.
  3. Practicing for performance: Mental visualization serves as a valuable tool for practicing and refining executive skills. Executives can mentally rehearse challenging scenarios, envisioning themselves successfully overcoming obstacles and demonstrating the desired behaviors. This mental practice helps to reinforce neural pathways, improve muscle memory, and enhance executive abilities. It also provides an opportunity to identify areas for improvement and develop strategies for addressing them.

By embracing the idea of the dojo as a mental space and incorporating its principles and rituals into their professional lives, executives can create a conducive environment for personal and organizational growth. This approach fosters focus, discipline, and clarity of mind, enabling executives to navigate challenges, make sound decisions, and cultivate a high-performance culture within their organizations.

Fundamentals improve with Continuous Learning: The author’s exploration of the historical context and origins of Bassai Dai kata sheds light on the importance of understanding the fundamentals while expanding one’s knowledge. In the business world, executives need to strike a balance between staying grounded in core business fundamentals and continuously seeking new knowledge. By combining a strong foundation with a willingness to explore new perspectives and industry trends, executives can navigate the complexities of the business landscape and make well-informed decisions.

Takeaway: Executives should prioritize a solid understanding of fundamental business concepts, which serve as the foundation for effective decision-making. However, they should also actively pursue new knowledge and insights, drawing from diverse sources and disciplines.

One valuable perspective to consider is Sun Tzu’s Art of War, a renowned strategic treatise. By studying Sun Tzu’s principles and logically comparing them with their existing business fundamentals, executives can gain new insights and approaches to strategy, leadership, and competitive advantage.

This pursuit of new knowledge, coupled with critical thinking and strategic analysis, empowers executives to adapt their business strategies and tactics to changing circumstances. It enables them to make well-informed decisions, seize opportunities, and outmaneuver competitors in the dynamic business landscape.

By embracing both the enduring wisdom of their core business fundamentals and the strategic thinking proposed by Sun Tzu, executives can develop a well-rounded perspective that drives their organizations towards sustainable success.

In conclusion, Breaking Through: The Secrets of Bassai Dai Kata while not a business book, offers business executives valuable lessons that are analogous to martial arts training. By embracing a process-oriented mindset, broadening perspectives, anticipating and overcoming obstacles, utilizing mental visualization, and balancing fundamentals with continuous learning, executives can unlock their full potential and drive success in their professional endeavors.”

NEW: We are thrilled to announce that The Breaking Through Blog has been recognized as one of Feedspot’s Top 50 Best Martial Arts Blogs on the Internet.

About: Colin Wee has practiced three martial arts systems over three continents in the past 40 years. Recently inducted into the Australasian Martial Arts Hall of Fame in 2020, Colin has a BBA (Hons) from Cox School of Business in Dallas, Texas, and an MBT from University New South Wales.

Etiquette for the Training Hall

Martial artists standing in formation

One valuable aspect of martial arts training is the practice of mental visualization. Mental visualization is the process of creating vivid mental images or scenarios in your mind. It involves imagining yourself performing techniques, strategies, or movements with precision and success. While etiquette rules may seem unfamiliar at first, they play a significant role in cultivating a mindset that complements your training and martial readiness, including the practice of mental visualization.

By adhering to etiquette guidelines, you learn to enter the training hall with intention and focus. As you bow upon entering, it serves as a physical and mental cue to leave behind your worldly concerns and distractions. The act of bowing signifies a transition from the outside world to the training space, creating a mental shift that helps you become present and ready for the challenges ahead.

Etiquette also creates an environment of respect and discipline, which is essential for mental visualization. When you enter a training hall with a sense of respect for the space, your instructors, and your fellow students, you create a positive and supportive atmosphere that encourages growth and learning. This mindset allows you to fully engage in mental visualization exercises.

In the training hall, etiquette helps establish a sense of safety and trust. When you know that everyone is following the same rules and guidelines, you can focus your energy on your training without worrying about unnecessary distractions or potential harm. This sense of safety enables you to open up mentally and visualize techniques and movements more effectively.

Furthermore, etiquette prepares you mentally for the training you will receive. The structure and rituals involved in following etiquette provide a framework that allows you to transition from one training phase to another smoothly. Each etiquette practice, such as bowing to the instructor or following specific sequences, helps you prepare your mind for the upcoming training session, and resets you from the previous exercise. Such physical rituals cultivate a mindset of readiness and receptiveness, allowing you to absorb instructions and feedback more effectively.

By practicing mental visualization in conjunction with etiquette, you can enhance your martial arts training in several ways. First, mental visualization allows you to reinforce your ‘muscle memory’ (your mind-body connection) and technique execution. By mentally rehearsing techniques and movements, you strengthen the neural connections associated with those actions, leading to improved physical performance.

Second, mental visualization helps develop focus and concentration. As you create vivid mental images of successful performances, you train your mind to remain focused on the task at hand. This enhanced mental focus can translate to improved performance during actual training or sparring situations.

Third, mental visualization aids in developing strategy and tactical awareness. By visualizing different scenarios and situations, you can explore different strategies, anticipate your opponent’s moves, and plan your own actions effectively. This mental rehearsal allows you to develop a strategic mindset and make more informed decisions during training and martial arts practice.

While etiquette guidelines in the training hall may initially feel unfamiliar, they play a vital role in fostering a mindset that complements your training and prepares you mentally. Mental visualization, complemented by the rituals associated with etiquette, allows you to enter the training space with intention, leave distractions behind, create a safe and supportive environment, and enhance your focus, technique, and strategic thinking. Embracing etiquette and practicing mental visualization can significantly benefit your martial arts journey, both on and off the mat.

Etiquette in the training hall is not meant to make you socially uncomfortable, change who you are, or confuse you on how to behave. Don’t let the extensive etiquette guidelines discourage you. Learn them to understand the lessons they teach.

Taekwondo Practitioners in the ITFHQ Tul Tour 2018 lead by Stuart Anslow practice Ge Baek
ITFHQ Tul Tour 2018 lead by Master Stuart Anslow practice Ge Baek

General Guidelines

  • Arrive early to warm up before class; inform your instructor in advance if you can’t come, disclose any pertinent issues to your instructor which might affect your performance or safety whilst practicing.
  • Review material from previous classes.
  • Wear a clean and presentable uniform.
  • Ensure your feet are clean.
  • Practice personal hygiene.
  • Prioritize safety by using controlled techniques, seeking collaborative exchanges with training partners, keeping your fingernails trimmed short, removing jewelry, regularly exercising for strength and flexibility, getting enough sleep, and staying hydrated.
  • Avoid attendance if you are unwell; do not spread your illness to fellow practitioners.

Greeting Instructors upon Entering the Training Hall:
Upon entering the training hall, practitioners should bow first to the highest-ranking instructor present, followed by bowing to each instructor in descending order of rank. When approaching your instructor, use formal greetings such as Mr./Mrs./Ms., their official organizational title, or the appropriate title for their specific martial art lineage (Sahbumnim for Korean arts, Sensei for Japanese arts, and Sifu for Chinese arts). When an instructor addresses you, respond promptly with “sir” or “ma’am,” avoiding informal language. If you don’t know the instructor’s name, use “Sir” or “Ma’am” until you can properly greet them by name.

Bowing Protocol:
Bowing is a form of greeting and respect, similar to a handshake. The angle and duration of a bow vary depending on the situation. In our dojang, the general bow is a 30-degree forward bow from the waist, lasting about 3 seconds. During the bow, men keep their hands flat on their sides, while women may place their palms on the front of their thighs. Avoid nodding your head and keep your eyes slightly lowered toward the angle of the bow while maintaining awareness of the person you’re bowing to. If someone from a different culture bows to you in acknowledgment or greeting, it’s customary to return the bow. This may lead to a series of bows, depending on the situation. A 5-degree bow is a simple greeting or acknowledgement, 15 degrees is a common salutation, 30 degrees is a respectful bow to show appreciation, 45 degrees signifies deep respect, extreme gratitude, or an apology, and a 90-degree bow is reserved for ceremonial occasions.

Approaching an Instructor in a Group:
If you approach an instructor while in a group, allow the highest-ranking member of your group to initiate the greeting or conversation unless you’re invited by that member or the instructor to speak.

Stepping onto the Training Area:
Before stepping onto the mat, place your footwear facing outward and off the mat. Bow before stepping onto the mat.

Regular Class Start:
After the regular class starts, it is important to follow the instructions and commands given by the instructor. When the instructor claps his hands to signal the start of class, all students should immediately stop what they are doing and move into a standing formation based on seniority. The highest ranking student will give the commands for the class, as instructed by the instructor.

ITF Tul Tour 2018 practising Ge Baek in front of the Ge Baek memorial temple in Korea
ITF Tul Tour 2018 with Master Stuart Anslow taking lead

Formal Class Start:
During formal class, the instructor will again clap his hands to gather the attention of all students. At this point, students should stop what they are doing and move into a kneeling formation based on seniority. Assistant instructors will position themselves on the left edge of the room, facing both the instructor and the students. Students will then wait for the commands to bow to the flags or kamidana, bow to the instructor, and bow to the assistant instructors.

To kneel properly, make sure there is a fist width between your knees and cross your right toe over your left. Keep your back upright and rest your palms on your thighs. When bowing, extend your left hand in front of you, followed by your right hand, forming a diamond shape on the floor. Lower your head to about a hand span above your hands. When sitting back up, pull your right hand up first, followed by your left hand.

Recitation of Tenets or Precepts:
During the class, there may be a recitation of precepts or tenets led by the instructor or assistants. Pay attention to these recitations and be aware that different schools may have variations in the specific wording.

On Lateness:
If you arrive late to class due to circumstances beyond your control, enter the dojang quietly and wait at the edge of the mat. Wait for an instructor to acknowledge you before bowing in and quietly joining the class. Being punctual is important, as habitual tardiness can disrupt the training environment and show disrespect to fellow students.

Talking in Class:
While in class, it is important to maintain a focused and serious attitude. Avoid extraneous talking, coaching, or commenting on other students’ techniques, unless it is necessary for safety or constructive feedback. If you have observations or difficulties, discuss them in a respectful manner that does not disrupt the class or interrupt the instructor.

On Having Fun:
Remember to enjoy yourself during class, but always work with dedication and effort. Follow the instructions given by your instructor and strive to repeat the techniques as demonstrated, without modifying them unless specifically encouraged to do so.

Following Training Instruction:
If you have any concerns about the training, do not request special treatment, challenge opponents, argue with the instructor, or compare different instructors. Instead, communicate with your partner about any safety issues or discuss the matter with the instructor when appropriate. Focus on your own training and support the progress of your fellow students.

Walking Around a Group:
When moving around the training area, be respectful and mindful of others. Choose to cross behind people who are practicing, seated, or waiting for instruction. Never cross between the instructor and the students he is teaching, unless you are physically unable to do so. In that case, apologize and cross while holding your right hand in front of you, palm facing left, and lowering your head.

Compliance with General Orders:
Compliance with general orders is essential. When asked to move into formation within the dojang, do so quickly without shouting any acknowledgments. Refrain from using language you are not familiar with and avoid swearing. Maintain a respectful and disciplined demeanor at all times.

Begin and End with a Bow:
Always begin and end any practice or interaction with a bow. Before engaging in practice with your partner, bow first. When finished, bow to conclude the session. If you are asked to assist the instructor with a demonstration or as a partner during the lesson, approach the instructor, bow, and stand ready for instruction. If the instructor turns away from you, drop to your left knee with your hands folded on your right. When the instructor turns back to you, quickly get up and assume the ready position until told otherwise. Remember to thank the instructor after the demonstration or practice session by bowing.

Working Collaboratively:
Throughout the class, maintain a respectful attitude towards your fellow students. Treat everyone with courtesy, regardless of their rank or skill level. If you are working with a partner, always show consideration for their safety and well-being. Avoid excessive force or aggressive behavior during training. Remember that martial arts are not about dominating others but about self-improvement and mutual growth.

Leaving the Training Area:
If you need to leave the training area during class for any reason, seek permission from an instructor before doing so, explaining the reason for your exit. If you need to use the restroom or take a break, do so in a timely manner, but try to minimize your absence, and do not disrupt the class on your return. If you are injured, please make sure to inform the instructor and communicate if you require medical attention.

End of Class:
At the end of the class, the instructor will again gather everyone’s attention. Follow the instructions given by the instructor for the closing formalities. This may include bowing to the flags or shomen or kamidana, bowing to the head instructor, and bowing to the assistant instructors. Pay attention to the specific commands and sequences and follow them accordingly.

After the class is officially dismissed, it is customary to thank the instructor and the assistant instructors for their guidance. You can do this by approaching them, bowing, and expressing your gratitude. It is also a good practice to show respect to your training partners by acknowledging their efforts and thanking them for their cooperation during the class. Additionally, if you are unable to make the following training session, this is a good time to advise your instructor and apologise for the lack of attendance.

When you return home, wash your uniform, air-dry equipment if needed, and revise your material before your next class.

ITF Tul Tour in front of the Yoosin Memorial
ITF Tul Tour 2018 In front of the Yoosin Memorial

Visiting External Schools or Seminars:
The principles and etiquette discussed here may vary slightly depending on the specific martial art style or school you are training in; it is important to ask ahead about the specific rules and customs of any martial arts school you visit and follow them accordingly. This extends to the insignias you use on your uniform, the grade you display, and the fees you might have to pay on the day. It might also be appropriate to bring a small gift or token of appreciation when visiting a school for the first time. Refrain from taking photos or videos until you have sought permission to do so.

By adhering to the guidelines and etiquette of the class, you will contribute to a positive and respectful training environment. Martial arts training is not only about physical techniques but also about developing discipline, respect, and character. Embrace the opportunity to learn and grow both as a martial artist and as an individual.