"The fighter is to be always single-minded with one object in view: to fight, looking neither backward nor sidewise. To go straight forward in order to crush the enemy is all that is necessary for him."
Quick Action in Kyoto and Washington, D.C.
Samurai Musashi Miyamoto had already defeated two of the finest swordsmen of the Yoshioka family ryu (school of swordsmanship) in a field outside Kyoto when a duel with a third champion was arranged for the following morning.
Suspecting treachery, Musashi arrived at the designated site hours early and climbed a tree to wait in hiding. Soon the Yoshioka master arrived and took his place. However, as Musashi had suspected, the master had not come alone. With him were ninety swordsmen of the ryu. They formed a protective circle around the master.
Musashi immediately jumped down from the tree, drew his long and short swords and attacked the ninety-one Yoshioka. He cut his way through to the master and finished him with a single lightning-fast strike. In one swift motion Musashi turned, and as quickly as he had entered the circle, he fought his way out unharmed.
On January 13, 1982, millions of television viewers watched Martin "Lenny" Skutnik dive into the icy Potomac River to rescue Kelly Duncan, flight attendant of the Air Florida 737 that crashed shortly after takeoff from Washington's National Airport.
You might recall the scene: the rescue helicopter hovering over the frigid waters, a life preserver dangling from a rope and bobbing between the broken ice floes, the vain attempts of the exhausted woman to hold tight to the preserver that would carry her to safety. Suddenly Skutnik plunges into the river, swims to her and as she sinks below the surface pulls her up and brings her safely to shore.
Later that evening Skutnik was interviewed on national television. When asked how the rescue came about he said that he was on his way home, saw that the woman needed help and so threw off his overcoat, kicked off his boots and dove into the river. It didn't matter to him that hundreds of people were standing around doing nothing but watching. Skutnik saw what needed to be done and he did it. That was all there was to it, he said.
The news interviewer, unable to comprehend that in fact for Skutnik that was all there was to it, asked such questions as "Why did you do it?" "Would you do it again?" "Are you sorry you did it?" I recall commenting to my wife that the interviewer didn't understand the Way of the samurai. For the person of action like Skutnik, second-guessing is totally irrelevant. There is something to be done and you do it—right away and without hesitation.
Mo Chih Ch 'u Action
"If you walk, just walk. If you sit, just sit. But whatever you do, don't wobble." <
Master Ummort ;
When there was a battle to be fought the samurai always did two things. It made no difference to him if he was up against one man or ten. First he drew his sword without delay, and then he leaped into battle.
When you leap against ten men, or into a problem, or toward your goals, you feel an exhilaration and a commitment that you don't experience if you merely walk into battle. The more you fear your opponent, the greater should be your leap in that direction.
Like the samurai's world, yours is the world of action. It is right there in front of you, perfectly ripe for you to win. Business is just another word for action—presenting a report, conferring with a co-worker, attending a meeting, or making a sales presentation. Or it may be internal, mental action—sifting through information or solving a problem.
The action ability of the samurai is captured best in the Chinese term mo chih ch 'u. It has a very simple meaning, but an extremely important one: It means "going ahead without hesitation." It's not looking back once you have decided on your course of action. Do your deliberating, mulling over, planning and preparing for the action beforehand; and if you feel you must sprinkle in some fretting and worrying, do that beforehand, too. But once you can say to yourself "This is what I want to do," then be on your way immediately, mo chih ch u.
Keep your eyes open and you'll see mo chih ch 'u action all around you. The master of kyudo (the Way of the archer) doesn't consciously say to himself, "Okay, hand, release the arrow now." Instead, the arrow seems to release itself. One of the secret texts of kyudo says, "The release of the arrow should be done without thought, like a drop of dew falling from a leaf or a fruit falling when it's ripe."
O. J. Simpson was a wonderful mo chih ch'u athlete. The all-star running back didn't stop to think things over before deciding when and which way to cut. Instead, he was conditioned to spot open spaces and run through them without hesitation. "I just try to clear myself and relax my body," he said. "I can't be thinking about one element of it."
Anyone with little children has to be prepared for mo chih ch 'u action. Watch a mother snatch up a glass of milk just as her baby's arm is about to hit it.
A friend and I were sitting on the side of a kiddie swimming pool in which my two-year-old daughter was wading. Suddenly she slipped and went under. I was in the pool and pulling her up before my friend, who had no children, had even moved a muscle. Being a father had conditioned me to be alert to possible dangers to my child and to act with lightning speed and without hesitation when she was in trouble. That's precisely the type of immediate, no-hesitation reaction that the samurai was trained to make a practice of at all times.
Mo chih ch 'u is what the real pro in any field does. Think of the real pros in your company, or think of yourself if you're one. Pros say, "I did it because it just seemed right." They have simply developed an instinct, a knack for the right action and do it without stopping to ask, "Well now, how the hell should I do this?" Once they've decided what's to be done they do it mo chih ch 'u. Their acts are as spontaneous as the release of the arrow by the archer.
Asking your boss for a raise, trying to solve a problem, looking for another job, or making a sales presentation to an important prospect who's been known to chew up salespeople and spit them out—actions range from the very simple to the extremely complex, but the principles guiding effective action are always the same, and leaping forward mo chih ch 'u is one of them.
Four Main Blocks to Effective Fighting Action
"Man is created for movement." Shissai
There are countless blocks to direct mo chih ch 'u action in everyday and business life. The following four are the most common and serious ones. Saying they are serious is not the same as saying you can't overcome them if you want to. No block is a fate. It's only an indication that you have some work ahead of you if you wish to become a more highly skilled fighter.
Block 1: Being afraid to take risks.
The one constant factor in warfare is uncertainty. Three quarters of the things on which action is based are obscured by it. It's the same in your personal and business life, too. If you're not leaping right into action because you're afraid of taking chances you've got a block on your hands.
Block 2: Thinking too much. The Chinese character for "cowardice" is composed of two symbols,
"meaning" and "mind." The coward is one who finds too much meaning in things—he or she thinks too much. Many individuals and whole businesses do the same thing. If you believe you're thinking too much and that it's driving you away from instead of to action, this could be a block you'll want to overcome.
Block 3: Doubting yourself.
The easiest quality for a fighter to spot in an opponent is self-doubt. Certainly the experienced businessman can spot it. If your inner voice is constantly muttering, "Who am I, little old me, to attempt that?"you're up against the self-doubt block.
Block 4: Hesitating.
Respond to your opponent by waiting and you become a hesitater. It's easy for even an unskilled fighter to keep the hesitater in check, even if the latter possesses superior technical skill. If you often find yourself waiting (for your lover to call you up, for those orders to come pouring in, for that "just right" feeling before you act or for the "right" moment to start your life's big enterprise) instead of leaping into action, you might be on the way to becoming a hesitater.
Guidelines to Effective Mo Chih Ch 'u Action
"Go to the battlefield firmly confident of victory and you will come home with no wounds whatsoever."
Samurai general Kenshin Uesugi (1530-78)
If you've seen yourself in the description of any of the four main blocks to fighting action, you will be interested in the following guidelines. They are designed to help you develop direct mo chih ch 'u, going-ahead-without-hesitation action in any area of your life.
Risk Injury—Risk Defeat
When I first met Bill, he was second in command of an organization with a work force of approximately three thousand people. His boss told me that Bill actually ran things. I felt it would certainly help my consulting with the organization if I learned what decisions Bill was contemplating. But when I asked him he snapped, "Decisions! I'm not making any decisions. I made that mistake last year." Here was a man three thousand employees looked to for direction and job security, and he didn't intend to make any decisions!
One of the more powerful blocks to committed action in personal life and business is the desire for certainty, the sure thing. I had run across another Bill years before. His name was Herman. I had one season of high school track under my belt when Herman tried out for the team and made it as a quarter-miler. He was a decent runner who worked very hard. The day of his first meet came and since the quarter mile was coming up, the coach looked around for Herman, but he was nowhere in sight. Eventually, though, the coach found him hiding in a washroom, his legs shaking, his face pale with fright. I'll never forget coach putting his arm around Herman's shoulder and walking him to the track, then saying only one short sentence, very softly, very kindly: "Herman, it's time to get your feet wet."
Let's not be too hard on Bill and Herman. They're just extremes of what is in fact the most popular approach to living and doing business: trying to reduce risks as much as possible. Don't run and you can't lose the race; don't make decisions and you can't make bad ones.
It could be that right now you too are hanging back from making a decision or taking decisive action in your own business or personal life.
You might be shying away from potentially rewarding, exciting and incredibly gratifying experiences because you want to avoid the injury or pain that might occur if things don't work out. You want to keep your feet bone-dry.
If hurt in a personal relationship, you may believe that the best way to avoid being hurt again is not to become seriously involved in the future.
Perhaps you would like to start your own business, but avoid doing it because you fear failure.
Or, you don't call a sales prospect because you can't stand the possibility of hearing another "No!"
In making corporate decisions, too, we try to factor out risk. We use our brains, mathematical decision models, decision trees, computers and gut experience. We try like the dickens to avoid taking any chances at all. We want guarantees that we—ourselves or our companies—will not be injured or defeated. Yet, this is a very wrong way of looking at business and living.
The samurai motto "Expect nothing; be prepared for anything" means you can never know with certainty that conditions are as you think they are or that events will work out the way you expect them to.
• You might be healthy now, and I hope you continue to be, but can you count on being healthy in the future?
• Maybe you have an excellent job now—responsible, high-paying, highly respected. But who is to say at this very moment someone "upstairs" isn't estimating the dollars that could be saved by eliminating your position?
• Your company reached record profits last year and its future looks rosy. Sure, the buggy industry was big too before the automobile was invented.
Searching for guarantees in life and business is looking at them from the wrong end of the telescope, looking at them ass-backwards. The purpose of business and everyday life is not to avoid risk but to maximize opportunity. And where do the richest opportunities lie? Exactly where the dangers are greatest. The best chances for total victory are always to be found where your chances of losing are also great. Knowing this warrior's principle, Sonshi advised generals to look for danger and put their troops dead-center in the middle of it: "Place your army in peril and it will survive; plunge it into dire straits and it will come out safely. It is precisely when your force has fallen into harm's way that it is capable of striking the victorious blow."
The samurai swordsmen who roamed Japan seeking out other masters to challenge saw exactly the same thing—victory is found close to your opponent's sword. They were not stupid or reckless, they simply realized that the greatest rewards lie one inch from the foe's blade. The truly successful businessman realizes precisely the same thing.
Early in his career, insurance tycoon W. Clement Stone sold exclusively to small accounts—a few dollars here, a few there. The turning point came when he faced the fact that what kept him from real success was his fear of contacting big companies. As soon as he approached the large accounts in spite of his fear, the big money started rolling in.
The samurai, Sonshi and Stone each came to the same conclusion: it is only by edging yourself in close to defeat that you approach great success. Whenever you encounter your "deadly peril" situations, tell yourself, "I've got to edge in. I've got to play it closer to the sword blade."
2. Think Less, Act More
You're thinking too much when you spend an inordinate amount of time anticipating what could go wrong. The awful "what-ifs" (What if I blow it? What if I lose? What if something awful happens?) will drive you into inaction—and maybe crazy to boot—if you let them. Constantly thinking that what you're doing is not the right thing to do, that you should be doing something else; or that it is right but you're doing it all wrong and should be able to do it better—are serious signs of thinking too much.
Try to make it a point to remember the term tomaranu kokoro. No small thing in samurai fighting, it has been called "the secret essence" of the samurai Way. More important, it's relevant to you in your Way, whatever that might be. It means "a mind that knows no stopping."
If you have ever seen a master swordsman in action, you've witnessed tomaranu kokoro. Without once stopping he attacks, feints, cuts, slashes, turns, leaps, spins and thrusts in a whirlwind of action. The reason he is able to move so smoothly, effortlessly and quickly is that he is doing the same thing in his head. His body moves without stopping because his mind is tomaranu kokoro. His mind doesn't stop to worry, to ask "what if" or, as in the coward's case, to attach too much meaning to things. It doesn't stop for anything. It keeps moving and facilitates the movement of his body.
Toraware means "caught," and tomaru. means "stopping" or "abiding." You might want to remember them too, because they help explain why an awful lot of people and whole businesses are not as successful as they have the potential and the right to be.
It's when your thoughts get caught (toraware) or stopped (tomaru.) that you have trouble executing an action. It's when your mind doesn't flow from one thought to another but gets hooked or snagged that you are prevented from fully functioning in business or life.
Recall the last time you were upset or troubled. It was because your thoughts were caught or stopped; they didn't flow. They kept returning again and again to the bastard who screwed you up, for example, or that tough task ahead of you at the office, or the fear that you might not meet a deadline.
The art of swordsmanship lies in not having one's mind "stopped" with any object, according to shogun advisor Takuan (1573-1645). It's also the art of business; and the art of living, too. When your mind stops when you're in battle, Takuan adds, you're sure to be beaten. That goes for business and living as well.
Whenever you find your thoughts getting caught or stopped, tell yourself to remember toraware, "caught," and tomaru, "stopping." More important, tell yourself to get back to tomaranu kokoro, the mind that knows no stopping, and return to action.
Self-doubt is a thinking-too-much, cowardice-creating problem. It begins the moment that nagging little inner voice starts whispering in your ear: "I'm not prepared"; "He's got me by the short hairs"; "I wish to hell I was somewhere else"; or the thousand other scary statements you make to yourself. Self-doubt is a scavenger, a jackal feeding on your sense of limitations; "He's more powerful than I am," "He's smarter than me," "He's a better businessman," "A better fighter," and on and on.
You're thinking too much and getting caught, toraware fashion, when you hang back from action because of credentialism—your own rigid, self-doubting belief that you can't accomplish something because you lack the formal credentials or qualifications. In this country, in and out of business, we are simply credential-crazy. There are credentials of:
• Age—"You're too old for the job," or "You're too young."
• Sex—"A woman can't do that kind of work."
• Race—"You want to go into competitive swimming? You know there are no great black swimmers."
• Diplomas and degrees—"Only a Ph.D. can handle this job. Where's your sheepskin?"
• Experience—"Who the hell are you to tell me? This isn't your field."
• Size—"All our men are tall sales types."
A credential is supposed to serve as a certification of knowledge and ability. If you've got the credential, you know and can do X; if you lack the credential, you don't know and can't do it. You and I both know this is sheer nonsense.
It isn't widely known, but new discoveries in many fields are often made by credential-lacking newcomers or outsiders. Edwin Land quit college after just one year. He devoted himself to inventing and eventually took out over two hundred patents, including Polaroid and the Polaroid camera.
A young clerk in a Swiss patent office, working alone in his spare time, wrote the "Special Theory of
Relativity." He was not a scientist. He worked in no laboratory. Yet his article would change the entire field of science and the history of the world. His name? Albert Einstein.
Thomas Edison was the greatest inventor of all time. He had 1,093 patents to his credit and a large business empire. But having had.virtually no formal education, he lacked the credential of even a grammar school diploma.
Samuel F. B. Morse was one of the most famous American painters of the first half of the nineteenth century. He was also disturbed about how slow the U.S. mail service was. Without any previous credentials in the field, he invented the telegraph and the Morse code.
Michael J. Owens, of Owens-Illinois fame, left school at ten, never learned to read blueprints, never understood the decimal system, never mastered the idea of the scientific method and had no knowledge of chemistry or physics. Yet he invented the first automatic bottlemaking machine, without which the bottling of anything on a mass-production basis would be impossible.
King C. Gillette was a traveling salesman who knew little about razors and practically nothing about steel. One morning while shaving with a dull straight razor he paused to think that there ought to be something better, something the public would buy. He went to a hardware store, bought pieces of brass, steel ribbon used for clock springs, files and a vice, and with them made the first safety razor for disposable blades. A product, a personal fortune, a company, and a new industry were started.
Land, Einstein, Edison, Morse, Owens and Gillette—they were all yaburu. A yaburu is a fighter who really shouldn't win because he lacks technique, but who destroys the enemy anyway. Look at a yaburu and you say, "No way." Take another look and he's won. Why? Because for what he lacks in technical skill he more than compensates in guts and courage. Every yaburu knows but one thing—to rush forward.
It's sad enough that others block your way because you lack credentials. It's sadder still when you internalize these blocks and limit yourself. If others prejudge you that's their problem. But don't prejudge yourself.
The key to all victories is to be found in one place, and only one place —your own mind. What you choose to think determines your success or failure in all your battles. If your opponents have control of your thoughts they've got you, whether they're outer opponents or inner enemies. "In combat, one must never be controlled by the enemy." That advice comes from sodo, the Way of the spear. So always be leery of thinking too much about "Who am I to attempt this?"
4. Don't Hesitate, Just Move
Having once decided on your course of action—in life generally and at each moment—all that is necessary is to execute the action . . . without hesitation and with makoto.
Makoto is the samurai precept of precepts and a concept of action that the Japanese of today value above all others. It is usually translated into English as "sincerity," but it does not mean sincerity in the sense of "I'm sincerely pleased with the meeting we had."
Makoto means putting absolutely everything you have, everything you are into an act—all of your heart, spirit, mind, and all of your physical strength (chikara). To hold anything back in reserve or to hesitate in any way whatsoever is to act . . . insincerely.
Any samurai watching Lenny Skutnik dive without hesitating into the icy waters of the Potomac to save a drowning woman would have muttered one word in admiration: "Makoto."
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