Lessons on learning from inside the dojo

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking to the state coaches and team managers of Karate Victoria.  Invited by head coach Bruce Hyland to speak, it was both an honour and pleasure to share with the group some of what I have learned about influencing performance and developing talent.   It was especially satisfying to share the parallels I have come to see between the approaches of a successful Sensei (karate teacher) and those of an effective leader in business.





Preparing for the session I was forced to reflect on how my karate experiences have shaped the approach I take to developing myself and other people.  What I realised is that among the most significant lessons I learned is the importance of a targeted and disciplined approach. At every step along the way a Sensei must be aware of their students development needs; those relating to physical capabilities as well as the strength of the student’s mind and spirit.

As a karate student progresses up through the ranks, their Sensei is expected to guide them to the next level of development.  To do this they must understand the unique strengths and weaknesses of each individual they teach.  While in karate a highly structure approach is taken a Sensei must also adapt to their approach to get the best from each person they work with.




All too often however I observe an absence of a deliberate and planned approach to developing people in business.  Many of the leaders I work with can learn from the approaches taken in a traditional karate school that include:


  1. Application of a structured competency framework: Reflecting both the skills a student must learn and strength of spirit they must develop
  2. A well-considered and developed training curriculum: Every lesson is planned and aimed at developing both capabilities and spirit
  3. Disciplined and consistently applied standards: People don’t advance through the ranks of a traditional karate school unless they have mastered the skills they need to.  They are especially unlikely to advance if they fail to demonstrate the strength of spirit and honourable behaviours expected


While a Sensei is expected to take responsibility for their student’s development, accountability also rests with the individual. Among the most important lesson that can be taken from Karate about developing your own capabilities are:

  • Take ownership; strive to learn through every experience.  Look for opportunities to grow both personally and professionally.Focus
  • Focus:  on the specific knowledge, skills or experience you need in order to achieve your immediate and longer-term career goals. Engage in development activities that support these learning objectives.
  • Be open: to learning new things from lots of people. A closed mind never learns and a closed spirit never evolves.   Reserve judgement and keep challenging yourself to consider alternative perspectives.
  • Seek out Teachers: look for and connect with people you can learn from. Choose those who are willing and able to share their wisdom including lessons learned.
  • Choose Wisely:  make deliberate choices about the roles you decide to take on.  Look for opportunities to build upon your capabilities and grow to the next level of achievement.

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