A friend of mine who used to be a corporate consultant blew my mind one day when he told me how his Wing Chun Kung Fu practice helped him succeed and thrive in that high-paced, high-pressure world. Not that he was fighting his way through board rooms, of course, but he was consistently applying the fundamental principles of Wing Chun Kung Fu to dominate a profession that had shipwrecked many men on the high seas of high stress and high stakes.
If you’re not familiar with the world of corporate consulting (I wasn’t), here’s a snapshot: some big corporation or international bank or other largescale organization has a problem. Maybe they know what the problem is, maybe they don’t, but what they definitely know is they’ve done everything they can to fix it, and whatever they’ve done hasn’t worked. So, they call up a consulting firm and get a team to come in, examine the problem, and present a solution.
It’s as broad and general as it is high-stakes, and it takes a lot of mental flexibility. When my friend was called in with his team, he didn’t know what to expect, just that he had to come up with a solution. And in case you’re wondering, he worked for McKinsey, one of the most respected corporate consulting firms on the planet. This was the major leagues.
Most of his colleagues approached their projects with pure energy and will power. They would stay up all hours of the night, pushing their teams to do the same, working numbers and following out a plan they had set at the beginning. The idea was that you form a plan, and then you work as hard as you can carrying it out. The more and harder you work, the better—in theory, anyway.
The problem was, this approach only sometimes worked, and left the consultants completely burned out. They were often unable to see new and creative solutions, having committed so fully to a preconceived plan, and their energy was being so severely taxed by the stress and intensity of it that their performance would degrade over time.
But my friend had a reputation as a maverick who got consistently better results with less effort, and according to him, it all came from an epiphany he had while training Wing Chun Kung Fu.
Like many beginners, when he started out, he had a lot of trouble with fundamentals. Something as simple as throwing a punch proved unusually difficult. He could do the basic form properly, but every time he’d punch, he would tense his entire arm, shoulder, and fist. His teacher kept telling him to relax, but that instruction didn’t make any sense to him. After all, he thought, I’m punching; how can a punch be relaxed? Like his colleagues at McKinsey—and most people in our stress-afflicted modern society—he was trying to force an impact instead of allowing it to occur, and applying way more tension than was necessary.
Finally, one day it clicked. Instead of tensing during the punch, he was able to keep his arm and hand relaxed until the moment of impact—to genuinely “throw” the punch. As anyone who has had a similar breakthrough knows, this relaxed punch is far more powerful than the forced, tense punch. Not only are you exerting less energy by staying relaxed, that relaxation allows the force of your whole body to move through the arm like a shock wave, instead of blocking it with unneeded muscular tension. As long as you’re tense, you’re always pulling your punches, whether you realize it or not.
How did this apply to his consulting work? Instead of grinding away, hour after hour, he’d work hard, and then go for long walks, letting his mind relax fully. In that relaxed and flowing state, creative solutions would come to him that wouldn’t have come if he were trying to force it. He didn’t push himself so hard that he burned out, so there was always gas in the tank. With this basic approach, he developed a reputation as one of the best performing team leaders by doing less and accomplishing more.
My friend’s breakthrough occurred not just because he learned it in his martial arts practice and then consciously decided to apply it to his professional work. The whole thing goes deeper: by training the reflex of relaxed strength on the level of the body, that reflex spontaneously overflowed into all of his functioning. That’s one of the huge powers of martial arts. It’s not merely a belief system or a laundry list of affirmations you try to apply or force into your life. It’s a transformation on the deepest level of who you are that cannot help but transform your life as a whole.