3 Business Lessons I Learned from Karate

Not too many people know that I’m a black belt in Shorin-Ryu Karate. Actually, I was a black belt — I’m not sure I can still call myself that since it has been decades since I’ve practiced. But as a child, I took karate for a number of years and eventually earned a black belt. And yes, that’s really me in the picture.

Aside from learning how to defend myself, which came in handy growing up with three brothers, I learned these valuable lessons that I have applied to business ownership.

Never Underestimate Yourself

As a little girl taking karate with a bunch of boys (there was only one other girl in the dojo at the time), it’s hard to find your place. I struggled. My Sensei spent a lot of time encouraging me, motivating me and helping me develop a sense of self-confidence. And when it came time to spar, he continued to put me up against bigger kids who scared the heck out of me! His confidence in me and his constant reminders that I needed to trust in myself paid off … I eventually started to believe it.

This lesson translates to business so well because so much of business ownership is unknown and takes a good deal of risk. You don’t know if you will be successful or how long it will take to achieve your goals. The only way to make it through the challenges is by having confidence in yourself and your abilities, and going for it.

Don’t Skimp When It Comes to Proper Form

Kata is one of my favorite parts of karate. It’s a pattern of movements that create a dance-like routine. One of the most important parts of kata is using the proper form. If you don’t learn the basics first and take time to perfect them, you won’t have a solid foundation when you begin to add more advanced movements.

In business, if you don’t put in the work to create a solid foundation – by doing your research, taking the necessary actions to create processes for financial and legal elements, and creating policies for your business – everything can eventually come crashing down. Making sure you learn all you need to know and implementing those lessons into your business planning is key.

Respect Your Competition

Respect is a central element in karate – respect for your Sensei, respect for yourself, and respect for your competition. Before and after each sparring match, for example, you are expected to bow to your opponent and never show them your back in order to demonstrate your respect for them.

I am a firm believer in not only respecting my competitors in business, but exploring opportunities for collaboration. By fostering these relationships I have learned a tremendous amount about the industry, best practices and new ways to do things. You can certainly be aggressive in going after business, but never make it personal and embrace the value you can gain by making your biggest competition your closest colleagues.

Of course there were many other things I learned in karate (like how a “Kiai” yell can get you focused and distract your opponent, and how unrestrained emotion can really hurt you), but these lessons have been especially relevant during my entrepreneurial experiences.

Did you do anything in your childhood that taught you lessons you continue to apply today?

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Alyssa Gregory
Alyssa is a digital strategist, content marketer, freelance writer and founder of the Small Business Bonfire. She's a team player, a team builder and not a bad leader, either. You can often find her on various social networks looking for remarkable people to collaborate with.

9 comments

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  1. My daughter also earned her black belt at age 15 in Shorin-Ryu karate, and I learned some of the same lessons you learned – vicariously. Thank you for sharing these important points…brought back a lot of memories. I really enjoyed your post!

    • Thanks for your comment, Meredith. I am convinced the karate has many benefits beyond these, too. Actually, I started taking karate because our pediatrician wanted my older brother to improve the somewhat flat arches on his feet, and my parents decided I should take it, too. So, we should add arching flat feet to the list of karate benefits! :-)

  2. I was never much for sports growing up, but now as an adult I am seriously considering taking up Karate not only for its defensive properties but also for its discipline and centering values.

    However, as a child I was taught that if I wanted something I had to earn it. We had a plum tree in our backyard and every summer from ages nine to about 13 my brother, sister and I would climb that tree every morning, pick as many ripe plums as we could find and set up a fruit stand in our front yard. Each of those four to five years we earned our “big” vacation money which usually meant a trip to one of the local amusement parks. This taught me confidence, independence, focus, determination and customer service skills, which transitioned me nicely into the workforce and eventually entrepreneurship.

  3. Wow! this is a good one. As for me, growing up in a ghetto neighbourhood wasn’t really fun. The tough times back then contributed a great deal to my way of perception. I knew from a tender age that nothing comes on a platter of gold. if you wanted something, you have to work for it and earn it.

    One story I keep remembering till date is how I learnt to ride a bicycle. I feel off a couple of times but I never gave up till I got a hang of it. The interesting part – a girl taught me how to ride.

    This taught me never to give up in achieving whatever I wanted no matter the odds.

  4. I love how you relate karate to business success. I totally see and get it. Great correlation and kickin’ tips (pardon the pun!).

    Great article, Alyssa! I definitely am sharing this one on my morning Facebook wall.

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