It was the summer of 1992 in the small town of Heber City, UT. I was the ripe age of 15 when I dropped my name into a drawing for 2 weeks of free martial arts lessons while strolling up and down the booths. The moment I walked away I forgot about it until I got a call that I had won free lessons! I had always dreamed about learning some form of Martial Arts … and by the end of the first lesson I knew this was supposed to be a big part of my life. That began my 20+ year love for the Martial Arts, a love that I still have.

Six years after I began I finally earned my first Black Belt and I officially took on the role of an instructor. I did this for a few years until I was offered a full-time position for the National Training Center. During this glorious period of my life I had the honor of meeting some of the greatest leaders of my life, the Masters and Grand Masters I met along my journey.  Here are some of the many lessons I learned from these incredible men and women.

Quiet Confidence

I believe that every great leader should have what I like to call “Quiet Confidence.” When a Grand Master walks into a room the energy in that room changes. Everyone’s spirits seem to be lifted with excitement, they performed better, and they felt safe being scrutinized by a superior. Quiet confidence is an elusive ability to demand a healthy respect without having to ask for it.

The power of this quality seems to be rooted in a genuine care for the people and a strong knowledge of the subject matter. There was a very real moment I had when we went to Santa Monica to visit Grand Master Han and perform a demonstration for him. I was running behind and was the last person in the changing room. I charged out the door and there before me was the Grand Master. At this point I only met him once briefly during a seminar, but he looked at me with a smile and said “Oh, Jason, It’s so good to see you.” I could not believe that he remembered me!

As a leader you need to take the time to learn about your team and show a genuine care about who they are instead of just what they can do for the project. You also need to understand the project or program you are responsible for and demonstrate that knowledge by being decisive and confident. Take the time to be a real person, kind but firm, and let that quiet confidence start to grow.

 Happiness & Gratitude Are Powerful Tools

In Salt Lake City my studio volunteered our black belts to help a Grand Master host his tournament. When we arrived, I was humbled by the level of gratitude and the huge smile we were greeted with. Our welcoming party was none other than the Grand Master responsible for the entire tournament. Throughout the day, I can’t remember a moment that he wasn’t smiling or laughing and his energy infected everyone around him.

Never underestimate the power of a smile, no matter how difficult the issues are that plague your projects. Your subordinates will follow your lead when you react to challenges, and some of the most amazing managers I’ve had the pleasure of working with have a very steady disposition in the face of adversity. It’s also important to demonstrate gratitude when things are going horribly wrong, even if the efforts of your team are not yielding positive results, say thank you for the effort so they know despite the results you see they are working hard.

 Don’t Be a Rug!

So far my advice seems to be full of warm fuzzies and I absolutely believe in everything I’ve said. However, it’s also important to maintain authority and avoid getting trampled on by rogue members of your team. Like children your subordinates might test boundaries and it’s your job to pull them back in line firmly but gently. You will gain more benefit from being a leader and a teacher than a tyrant. Take the emotions out and let discipline become a tool for improvement.

 Great Power Comes With Great Responsibility

While cliché it is true that the more power you have in your position, the heavier the burden is to avoid exercising that power as much as possible. Just because you have the ability to issue demerits, write people up, even terminate employment … that doesn’t mean you should do it. You will gain more productivity out of your team by demonstrating restraint versus flexing your muscles. This is what the greatest Black Belt Masters and Grand Masters understand is a core responsibility to their art and their authority.

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What Martial Arts Taught Me About Leadership
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What Martial Arts Taught Me About Leadership
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What 20 years of Martial Arts experience as a student and a teacher has taught me about leadership.
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