What can today’s businessperson learn from the ancient martial arts masters? Plenty, according to a fascinating new book, The Warrior Mind: Ancient Wisdom from the Martial Arts for Living a More Powerful Life. Author Jim Pritchard holds black belts in several martial arts and has received advanced training in the Ninjitsu ways of the Shadow Warrior. He is also a Special Forces veteran. Now Pritchard teaches the rest of us how to live more successful and fulfilling personal and professional lives by following in the path of the Shadow Warrior.
AMA’s Shari Lifland spoke to Pritchard about what it means to be a Shadow Warrior and how anyone can learn to incorporate these age-old principles into 21st-century life.
AMA: You’ve practiced various martial arts for many years. How did you first make the connection that the principles you learned in Ninjitsu and Taijitsu can be applied to other aspects of life, especially to the business world?
Jim Pritchard: The martial arts incorporate psychological and spiritual principles along with the physical aspects. Indeed, many practitioners insist that mastery of the psychological, spiritual and ethical principles of the martial arts is more important than learning the physical mechanics. A martial artist learns an entire philosophy concerning how to conduct one’s life in a moral, ethical and peaceful manner. The physical moves should be used only for the defense of yourself, your loved ones, your community and, finally, your country.
Over the course of my life, I’ve realized that many of the philosophical principles within the martial arts prove very useful in various areas of my life. In the business world, in particular, many people experience their work lives—whether as employee or executive, manager or entrepreneur—as taking place on a type of battlefield within the context of a competitive marketplace. Martial arts can help them achieve a better understanding of conflict, its causes and what to do about it. They also enable people to feel more confident, to avoid projecting a “victim” persona and to function in a self-empowering and self-enabling way.
AMA: Your book focuses on the ways of the Shadow Warrior. What exactly is a Shadow Warrior and how does one become one?
JP: Here’s a poetic view of the Shadow Warrior:
We come unseen, unheard with our intentions hidden and leave no footprints in the sand.
Our hearts are full of the love of life and our minds conditioned to focus on the silence of our intentions.
The Shadow Warrior is one who can be aware of and master the unseen parts of life, who has the ability to be calmly aware of thoughts, feelings, verbal and body language cues—small details that can easily go unnoticed and yet have a huge impact on the outcome of a situation. Living as a Shadow Warrior is about knowing how to stay safe both inwardly and outwardly when faced with a challenge, how to defuse conflict and how to understand and use personal power. The phrase “awake, aware, attentive” describes the mental mindset of a Shadow Warrior, and we are all capable of cultivating these three qualities.
AMA: In your book you describe the six energies of the martial arts. The sixth, the Whirlwind, is described as the element of last resort. Why? What are the consequences of misuse of the whirlwind?
JP: Whirlwind is the energy of pulling out all the stops, of total onslaught toward a problem or situation. If you use this energy prematurely, you create unneeded drama, an overreaction that will not solve the problem effectively. There’s a saying “Don’t use a cannon to shoot a fly.” Here’s an example of using whirlwind inappropriately. Let’s say a couple of neighborhood kids are tramping across your lawn as a shortcut coming home from school. You don’t want them doing that because you’ve just sewn new lawn seed and planted a new flowerbed. The most logical first step would be to speak to the kids and ask them not to cut through your yard. If that didn’t work, you would then speak to their parents. If they still persisted in running across your lawn, then you could call the cops and have them charged with trespassing. But what if you didn’t talk to the kids or to their parents? What if you just immediately called the police and had the kids charged with trespassing? That’s the whirlwind, used prematurely. Sure you might succeed in scaring the kids and protecting your flowerbeds, but you may have also destroyed your good relations with your neighbors. You may also gain a reputation for being melodramatic or uptight. You lose credibility. The same thing can happen in business situations, if you respond to every little glitch in your work day as if it is a major crisis. Whirlwind is a very targeted and very strong energy. Use it as the last resort to help you get what you want in a situation. If you use it too soon, it morphs into a Chicken Little “the sky is falling” mentality, which reflects badly on you and your company.
AMA: How can people apply the Buddhist principle of mindfulness that you describe as “Just looking at what is there, letting it be there and being curious about it” to improve their everyday lives?
JP: We tend to spend so much of our time worrying about circumstances and things, over-analyzing the dynamics of what these events mean, who said what to whom, fussing over outcomes, brooding about the past or forward-casting into the future to the extent that we lose touch with the “now.” As a young student, I was asked the following question by one of my teachers: “When one removes space and time, what is it that is left?” The answer: When space and time are removed, what remains is the Here and Now.
Mindfulness helps us step back for a time from the cacophony of thoughts rushing through our heads. I think it was Dale Carnegie who once said that 99 percent of the stuff we worry about never happens. A few minutes of quiet mindfulness time every day where you just sit and breathe and watch your thoughts without reacting or attaching to them can bring you back to your center and help you live your life in a calmer mind space. This practice literally gives you breathing room to let the circumstances of your daily life unfold without fear and apprehension.
AMA: In the book you write, “Remember that the most effective place from which to fight a battle often is from down on the mat.” Can you elaborate on how to win from what appears to be a submissive position?
JP: That statement refers to the energy of grappling. If you look closely at a martial arts sparring match, you’ll often see that one person will drop to the mat and fight from there. It puts the person in a position to kick, grab or strike at two of the most vulnerable areas of the body—the knees and the groin. There are also many nerve centers along the meridian lines of the legs and many nerve clusters on the crown, heal and soles of the feet. There is nothing submissive about a grappler down on the mat, for the striking targets for defensive purposes are many and for the skilled grappler, easily accessible.
To apply the analogy of grappling to business situations, remember that grappling means really engaging with an issue. Sometimes this means gaining an understanding of what lies beneath the issue you’re looking at and working to address that dynamic, not just what appears on the surface. Or it could mean a process of “managing from below.” For example, in business, if there is a serious conflict or issue that needs to be addressed and upper management fails to do something about it, employees or clients take it upon themselves to force the issue into the open. They grapple with it. They’re the ones down on the mat. And in doing so, they compel upper management to pay attention to a problem that needs their attention in the here and now.
AMA: The Shadow Warrior’s motto is “Pray for peace, but be prepared for war.” How does this credo apply to the workplace?
JP: If you project the attitude of wanting to work harmoniously with others as much as possible, if you’re the kind of person who seeks input and collegiality and you’re not reluctant to give recognition to others, you’re promoting a sense of peacefulness in your workplace. The “be prepared for war” part means that you need to be ready to respond in self-defense mode if you have to. You don’t promote peace by pretending that conflict isn’t ever there or by candy-coating it. You accept the fact that there will be times when you will have to deal with conflict. In some workplaces everyone always seems to be looking for some kind of fight. Those environments are very stressful and unproductive. Your focus should be on keeping the “peace,” in making the workplace as positive as possible, while keeping in mind that some conflict is inevitable.
An officer returning from a tour of duty with the U.S. Army’s Delta Force stated: “When our nation’s conflicts end, we’re supposed to embrace the peace, and that’s all fine and good. The reality, however, is that while we’re in between wars, we’re busily preparing for the next one.” Interesting observation, no?
AMA: What is warrior confidence? Can it be learned without studying the martial arts?
JP: Warrior confidence is feeling safe in your own skin. It’s having faith in yourself that you’ll be able to handle any situation that comes your way. Even if you lose some battles, you’ll have warrior confidence if you can walk away from the situation having learned something important that you can use to fight a better battle later on. Warrior confidence is about not projecting yourself as a victim; it’s accepting responsibility for your own life and caring about the people and situations that matter most to you.
Warrior confidence can most definitely be learned without formal study of the martial arts. That’s why I wrote The Warrior Mind. Warrior confidence is first and foremost a mindset. Studying martial arts is one way you can begin to understand the connection between your physical actions, the state of your body and the state of your mind. But you can also focus on the mental and psychological aspects of “warrior mind” by understanding how your energies and attitudes affect you and the environment around you. Just as it’s possible to learn mindful meditation without converting to Buddhism, you can learn some of the martial arts principles and strategies involved in gaining increased self-confidence and effectiveness without joining a dojo.
Be of good faith and a hearty spirit. And may the six elements challenge you to move ever forward to the here and now.
Jim Pritchard can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]