As a practitioner of both, martial arts and design, I perceived throughout the years how my practice in one has positively influenced my practice of the other and I hope to give you some insights derived from this congruence.
Working as a strategic designer, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in projects of different scopes. Designing services, shaping and transforming products, building new business models, defining future strategies, establishing a design-driven organizational culture — and more — made me see Design as a wide and diversified path. Here, when I talk about Design I talk about this broader and deeper view.
My experience with martial arts is not so different. Due to my ‘since always’ passion for it, I navigated through several, like Judo, Capoeira, Kung Fu Shaolin, Wing Chun, Aikido [the one I practiced the most] and more. They all are incredible. For those who did not have any contact with martial arts, I might point out that it is not fighting. Fighting, the deliberate practice of combat, is an important part of the training for most of the martial arts. However, these forms of art are also wide and diversified paths, encompassing further philosophical and intellectual layers. Here, when I talk about Martial Art, I also talk about this broader and deeper view.
Both are highly complex
The playgrounds of Design and Martial Arts are always changing. Their challenges never sit still and do not accept repetitive answers, at least not for long. They require physical and intellectual engagement where there is no ‘right solution’, where a way out needs to be created, and not found [like it was there already just waiting for us].
Intuition is crucial
Martial Arts, in particular, help you to understand this truth pretty quickly. Think too much and soon you will be on the ground. When designing or practicing martial arts, you will often face situations where you do not have a clear view or certainty about the outcomes of possible courses of action. Letting intuition play a role in decision-making is fundamental to leveraging momentum or taking a leap into a creative idea.
No respect, no way
Design and Martial Arts are essentially based on social interactions. Even if sometimes arguments may seem harsh and combats may seem violent, these practices positively thrive if guided by an absolute purpose of growth, whether aiming a better concept or polishing the practitioners’ skills. It is simple: truly care about people around you.
A path of models to reach shapelessness
Knowing how to apply a research technique, a design process, a specific material is equally important as knowing how to properly land a punch, to fall softly on the ground or to hold someone’s arm. These skills are developed through theory and lots of practice. Learning through existing models, frameworks and instructions is extremely valuable but not enough. Master them all and do not let yourself be enslaved by any. The ultimate goal is to develop an adaptive body, an adaptive mind, an adaptive attitude; applying models when they make sense, adapting them if needed and creating new ones.
Keeping a beginner’s mind
Few things were common among the great Design and Martial Art masters I met. One among them is: they never stop evolving. They know, as beginners do, that there is a lot to learn and to develop. Their mountains grow higher as they climb.
A path to self-mastery and self-expression
Each designer and Martial Artist follow her/his individual concepts of perfection, of how things could or should be better. By putting their physical and mental energy into such pursuit, they gradually master themselves. They develop a deeper comprehension about who they are and channel this awareness through their practice. By being true masters of themselves, they let themselves go.
“Art reaches its greatest peak when devoid of self-consciousness. Freedom discovers man the moment he loses concern over what impression he is making or about to make.” Bruce Lee
And by the way, they are powerful ways for positive change.