Fight Like a Girl: Strategic Lessons from Wing Chun Kung Fu
In the spirit of Women's History Month, I felt that an appropriate way to honor great women past and present was to celebrate the lessons I've learned from my practice of Wing Chun Kung Fu, which happened to be created by a woman. Abbess Ng Mui, a Shaolin nun, is the founder of this highly respected martial art, popularized throughout the Western World by Bruce Lee.
A few years back I began sporadic training in Wing Chun Kung Fu at the RDU Wing Chun School in Raleigh, NC. It was there that I would learn how to fight like a girl. Unlike its stylistic counterparts invented by men, Wing Chun leaves much to be desired when it comes to fancy kicks, wide swinging punches, and supernatural flight through bamboo forests.
Instead, Wing Chun is designed to use the least amount of energy while delivering the most efficient and effective blow to the opponent. Also referred to as "inside fighting," Wing Chun is most effective at incredibly close range.
As an aspiring practitioner, I have found several business parallels with the foundational principles of Wing Chun.
- Wing Chun looks for the quickest and shortest distance to achieve its objective.
- Wing Chun is a very opportunistic (rather than dogmatic) form of combat. Practitioners are taught to constantly find new opportunity in every situation.
- The premise of Wing Chun reinforces the fact that the practitioner is safer the closer they are to their opponent.
This last point seems counterintuitive because our natural instinct is to keep as much distance as possible to that which we believe can cause us harm. However, the closer we are to an object or person, the better we can anticipate their movement. The further away we are, the more uncertainty we create.
The same can be said about how we view the future and all the uncertainty we face as individuals and organizations. The key to navigating uncertainty is to get as close as we can to the subject matter. Much of my work with clients is designed to get them as "close" to the future as possible so they can better anticipate and adapt to multiple future possibilities. That's it. Simple right? Not exactly.
As in every new discipline there are building stages, conditioning, and an overall re-training of your body, so you are able to successfully implement that which you've learned. For instance, in most if not all martial arts there is a process for strengthening the bones, ligaments, and tendons so they can endure the stress present in a real life situation. I can personally attest to the fact that this experience is very unpleasant. However, I can also attest to the fact that when I train with my instructor who's far more conditioned than I, I see and understand why we condition that way. Albeit, I usually have to put the arm pads and shin guards on before the end of practice.
We see the same thing happening in business today. Many organizations run through the motions of strategy creation only to find that when the rubber meets the road they are more vulnerable than when they started. Just as in Wing Chun Kung Fu, it's easy to learn the motions for the sake of appearance, but a body that is not conditioned properly is virtually useless. The same can be said for long-term planning. There are more strategy manuals and methodologies available than I care to acknowledge. Many of these are theoretically solid and.... that is usually where it stops.
The subject matter that my clients and I deal with can be both exciting and uncomfortable at times and the temptation is always there to default to a more comfortable and traditional approach to strategy. In the midst of uncertainty we as individuals become more nostalgic for the familiar. However, in the midst of uncertainty, familiarity breeds stagnation and our nostalgia moves us backward into the past rather than forward.
Although your organization may not be facing immediate danger right now, it is important to take steps today that enable you to anticipate and adapt to unexpected events. Take my situation for example. I am not in imminent danger (as far as I know) and I am not faced with bodily attacks on a daily basis. I also hope that I am never in a situation where I have to defend myself or my family, but I am far more confident in my ability to perform in such a situation because of the actions I am taking today.
Just as my instructor, Curtis Franz, taught me that in a real life fight situation the key is to "eat up" the space, i.e. "close the gap of uncertainty," between you and your opponent, the same applies in our everyday lives, both personally and professionally.
We as individuals and organizations must close the gap of uncertainty in order to be more effective and efficient in completing our objectives. By doing so, we are able to dramatically decrease our vulnerability and significantly increase our opportunity.
Just as in Wing Chun Kung Fu, the key to future success lies in our ability to anticipate change, adapt to the unexpected, and create and seize new opportunities.
And that is how you fight like a girl.