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Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” Interpreted For Business:

Applying Budo Lessons To Your Martial Arts Business

By Jason Armstrong

Editors’s Note: This article presents some of the ideas and concepts that Jason Armstrong presents in more detail in a video course available for download at The download video covers many of the concepts, and uses business examples of how to apply the principles from the “Art of War”.

The most famous text on Budo strategy is Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” which was written in China 2,500 years ago. Today it is still considered the most complete text of strategy, partnering and success. It is therefore commonly employed by top level executives around the world, and taught in leading business schools.

Ironically, martial artists who run their own business (e.g. a commercial dojo, or organization) often know little about this most famous body of work on Budo, and how it is applied to the business setting. Business interpretations from “The Art of War” apply to the following areas at a minimum:

- business strategy
- partnering models for growth
- operational efficiency
- managing conflict in the workplace
- project management and planning

Sun Tzu’s approaches are all about achieving victory (business growth) with minimal effort, minimal conflict and maximum operational efficiency. A number of translations have put this classic Chinese text into the business setting.

In our martial arts practice we daily explore our true nature, strengths, and weaknesses, the book by Sun Tzu’s contains the following lead in text:

“If you know yourself and know others you will be successful,

If you know others and not yourself you will win one and lose one,

If you do not know others and do not know yourself you are destined for failure in every battle.”

In the business setting these words of wisdom are applied by one having an annual business S.W.O.T (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities & threats analysis), partnering models for marketing, sales & support, and operational systems that track business activities and ensure efficiency (project management & SOPs [standard operating procedures]).

Unfortunately, few martial arts dojo(s) operate with similar levels of planning systems to that used by large corporate entities, but as Sun Tzu says:

“Courage, desire, confidence & momentum are all based on the mind …Take away order and you create disorder and all of the above fall apart…”

Therefore, Sun Tzu would argue that without the rigors of project management, business plans, and defined goal systems for growth, a business will not realize its full potential.

In one sense the “opposing armies” are your competitors. You are fighting for market share already taken by other businesses, or potential customers not engaged in your market. Your techniques are your product make-up, price, distribution vehicle and promotional strategies. Victory goes to the business that can not only gain territory from their competitors, but hold onto it, and most importantly make it profitable. Profitability is a key point which can be derived from Sun Tzu’s teachings, as there is no point in fighting over something that proves ultimately worthless, or is destroyed in the fight. An example of this is “price wars”. The business world has proved time and time again that “price wars” to gain customers usually end up with all parties losing i.e. the market is destroyed for all. Value based systems is what a martial arts business, like any business, should be about.

From a deeper view Sun Tzu teaches one to make competitors partners. This is a seemingly contradictory statement but it is something we do in our martial arts fighting all the time e.g. we do a leading technique to set up an opponent drawing on the fact that a pre-determined response will occur – we have made our “partner” co-operate. Partnering is a key to success in all businesses (and war), and this objective is stressed in great detail with many examples in the works of Sun Tzu. Again this theme is consistent with the principles that involve networking, peace and non-conflict as ways to success. Non-conflict in business is emphasized through strategies which achieve objectives and avoid overt competition with others reaching for the same customers. Co-operating with other local dojo(s), organizations, and complimentary businesses in innovative ways is what this all about.

Some other brief thoughts around Sun Tzu’s insights:


Open one’s mind to who your competitors really are. Your competitors are not just those who sell the same product or service, but anything else your customers could be buying instead of your product.

Open Architecture & Communication:

Are you running a closed system engaging in “knowledge secrets” as they are thought to be a best approach? One of the best known multi-billion dollars mistakes in this regard was the Apple vs. IBM PC computer battle in the 1980s. At that time the PC world had a very difficult to use operating system, while the Apple systems had the Windows interface which were very similar to what all computers use today. However, 90% of the world adopted the clunky and difficult to use PC system due to the IBM marketing approach of an open architecture which allowed other businesses to partner with them, add on software and hardware, and ultimately appeal the most to customers. It was a networking model which allowed an inferior product to win. Networking models which can be applied to Martial Arts businesses are contained in the “Art of War for Business” video download.

Know the Enemy:

Knowing the enemy is an obvious rule that is re-enforced by Sun Tzu’s principles. However, it is rarely followed by small businesses at a level enabling true insight into one ‘s competition. Do you know what elements one should study & how to break down the competition and learn from them? This includes financial, marketing, partnering, intelligence etc.. Often in the martial arts world sensei often “think” they know what goes on in other organizations or dojo(s), but preconceptions without true insight are a danger. Sun Tzu repeatedly warns against presuming your insights are correct about competitors, their ability, and their business operations. A solid and methodical intelligence effort and internal S.W.O.T. program is what the modern business world uses as one aspect of this component of Sun Tzu’s teachings.

In our martial arts training we spend countless hours/days/decades working on our Kihon, Kata and knowledge to be able excel at the dynamic game of fighting. The discipline behind the basics cultivate the ability we need for the dynamic setting of what would be true combat. Without these systems, their knowledge, and developed instincts, a fight against any solid competition is destined for failure. When Sun Tzu’s budo principles are applied to business they remind us that we should do no less in the professional operation of our martial arts business schools

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About The Author:

While in Japan Sensei Jason Armstrong worked in the corporate environment and ultimately became the CEO of a company in Tokyo. He holds a Ph.D., and today is living back in the West and is the CEO of a Biotechnology company listed on the stock exchange. He has a 5th degree black, and has been training for more than 20 years which has included living in Japan with a master. His training began in Australia, and then moved to the USA in 1991. In 1995 he began regular travel to Japan and spent time living in Japan for karate. In recent years he founded Applied Zen which operates in the USA and Australia passing on Japanese karate through dojo(s), and through a video e-learning site ( which includes such things Karate Business plans for download and other business concepts for the karate world. Additionally, his organization provides corporate seminars & videos on the integration of Budo Strategy, the “Art of War”, and Zen into the corporate world and business.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Sun Tsu, Martial arts business, business strategy, running a martial arts school

Read more articles by Jason Armstrong

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