035 – Kickass Martial Arts Lessons for Project Managers

035 – Kickass Martial Arts Lessons for Project Managers

This episode, Kim shares some lessons from his time studying martial arts with some amazing instructors which can apply to Project Management! And no, they do not include giving that troublesome stakeholder a spin-kick to the head 🙂 But they do include lessons on how to assert yourself, how to focus on the important things in the moment and how to approach mentorship. Join the journey from white belt to kickass PM black belt!

From the Filipino stick fighting art of Balintawak Eskrima to American Kenpo Karate, we talk through just a couple of life lessons you can apply to your projects. And maybe also to troublesome stakeholders. Ha!

This episode is humbly dedicated to the three great martial artists and amazing people that inspired it with their teaching and mentorship –

  • Manong Sam Buot
  • Mr. Scott Gonzalez
  • Coach Richard Cotterill



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Check out this episode!

Show Notes

Here are the lessons that Kim learned from several years of studying and practicing Kenpo and Buot Balintawak that you can use to become a more effective project manager.

Look Eye [8:16]

Like what Mr. Miyagi always says – Look eye, always look eye.
This was also the saying of Anciong Bacon, the Grand Master of Balintawak – and it’s a core part of training. He calls this skill as “Taking their power”. The idea is to make and maintain eye contact to assert yourself at a primal level. Doing so not only asserts yourself in their eyes (literally), but also helps you feel more assertive.
In a professional setting, you don’t need to give ‘daggers’ and try to stare them down, but simply asserting eye contact does a lot. It is a practiced skill that gives you a commanding power, and mastering it might make you feel uneasy in the beginning. If you want to learn this skill, our recommendation is for you to put a post-it on your monitor or a rubber band around your wrist to remind you to “Always Look Eye”, and to do it in your face-to-face interactions for a week.
Look eye, hold the gaze a bit longer than you are used to and when you do it, it both asserts yourself and adds further connection to the discussion. Don’t be creepy and weird about it, don’t have daggers shooting out of your eyes, and instead focus more on driving contact and asserting yourself through that action.

Don’t look at the stick [11:36]

When someone swings a stick at your head, you can’t “watch the stick” to try to avoid it, because the stick moves too fast. By the time you see it, you’ve already been hit on the face. Instead, you have to watch their eyes, their body, and the movement of their center of mass. You have to look at the forces that move the stick that can tell you what’s going to happen even before the stick moves.

This is parallel to listening skills- you can’t just listen verbatim to the words you’re hearing. You have to observe where the speaker is coming from- what’s his usual pattern of speech, do you notice silence or violence, what’s their motivation? If you just listen to the words, and not the tone or context you’ll miss the point – and get hit with the stick! Or you may also compare this to waiting for someone to report “% complete” or for a risk to happen or for a dashboard light to turn yellow. By the time you see those move, you’ve already been hit on the face. You have to be involved more deeply than that. Have conversations with the “core” team of your project, observe how it’s going, their mood, and how efficiently they are working together. Don’t just wait to see the stick to move. Sit next to your SME if you can. Sit in on the UAT testing. Don’t just wait for the results to come in.

Basics, Basics, Basics [13:53]

Basics are, by definition, foundational. The Basics are everything – and you are never too good to improve your basics. Projects don’t fail because you had 5 phase gates instead of 7, or because you didn’t have enough columns in your risk log, or because your detailed project schedule isn’t 10,000 lines long. Projects fail because of a failure in foundational basics. The project deliverables were not what the customer wanted. Your project sponsor changed and you didn’t take the time to make sure your new sponsor was aligned with the charter. Your resource availability changed and you weren’t aware or didn’t respond until there was an impact. It’s always the basics that make or break your project, so never underestimate them. Don’t get distracted with shiny new PM techniques, or having tons of letters after your name on LinkedIn. If you have sound project management basics, you can handle anything. Plus, you are never too old to improve your basics.

Teach to Learn, Learn to Teach [22:09]

This saying came from Kim’s Eskrima instructor in the UK, Coach Richard Cotterill. It is an encapsulation of an old adage that if you really want to learn or master something, you should try to teach it. Going through the explanation that help others understand in a way reaffirms your own knowledge.
The lesson here is simple – go be a mentor or help someone out. Not only is that just a good thing to do, but in doing so, you also improve your own skill set. And, if you think you aren’t good enough to teach someone, then you should teach two people. This is how you are going to both learn and get some confidence in yourself. Don’t pretend to be an expert,
just share what you know.

Cuentada [27:00]

This is a pretty advanced concept from Balintawak Eskrima that could be literally translated to ‘calculation,’ and it is the technique of thinking a couple moves ahead.
If you want to whack your opponent on the head, you’re not going to aim for his head- you’re going to aim for his knee. Then, when he drop his hands to block his knee, you’re going to pop him on the head. Except you’re not actually going to pop him on the head, you’re going to trap his stick, which is what you actually wanted to do from the beginning.
A couple ways this works is:
1. You need to know your opponent well enough to be able to calculate their reactions.
2. There is a counter-move for everything, Newton’s 3rd law.
So, act for the reaction, not the action.
Whenever something happens or when you do something, always think about what the reaction will be, and plan for that reaction as much or more than the action itself. If you are going to communicate to a team that you have to push out their go-live date, you have to think about their reaction, and how you can present the information in way that will produce the most favorable reaction.

Key Probing Questions

● When you are in a meeting, or even just shaking hands or talking to someone – are you looking at them in the eye?
● Are you just looking “at the stick” in your project, or are you really observing your team and what’s going on?
● What basics do you need to work on? If you think you don’t have any, then that’s a good place to start.
● When is the last time you showed someone how to do something?
● Whenever you do something on a project, what is the impact? What’s the reaction? Calculate and address that reaction as much as your action.

You may be in trouble if…

● You don’t spend any time refining your basics.

Principles for Success

● Be confident
● Remember to breathe
● Be flexible

Mentioned In This Episode:

● Buot Balintawak
● Sam Buot Sr.
● Mr. Scott Gonzalez
● Coach Richard Coterrill

Connect with Kim:
● LinkedIn
Connect with Kate:
● LinkedIn
Connect with PM Happy Hour:
● PMHappyHour.com

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