Oct. 12-18, 2001
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Tae kwon-do can be good for business
Tae kwon-do can be good for business
Tae kwon-do participants
Photo by Katherine Kayser
Cutting up after a tae kwon-do demonstration are, left to right: Darden professors Andrea Larson, Sankaran Venkataraman, Jim Freeland; tae kwon-do instructor Bobby Parmar, who is a second-year U.Va. student; professors Ed Freeman and James Clawson.

By Matt Kelly

Submitted for your consideration: Tae kwon-do as a business strategy.

R. Edward Freeman, who teaches business ethics at Darden and is a student of the Korean defensive art of tae kwon-do, thinks the ancient art is a good metaphor for today’s business, and applying the principles can prepare his students for their careers.

Business is not about war, it’s about making value.

Ed Freeman
Darden business ethics professor

Freeman, the Olsson Professor of Business Administration and a member of the Institute for Practical Ethics, was drawn into tae kwon-do by his children. He thought it a good exercise for them and a way to work out energy, but it held no attraction for him at first — there was no ball and no one kept score. But as he watched his children, and looked at the slogans posted around the dojang, promoting a strong mind, courtesy and perseverance, he was drawn in.

“They were blending ethics and a physical side,” he said.

While he eschews the idea that business is war, Freeman said that a properly applied defensive system can lead to success. He takes martial arts ideas of cooperation, defensive thinking and avoiding combat and translates them into guidance for his students.

• Never assume there is just one attacker. Freeman said that in making a defensive move on one side, assume there is a second attacker coming from behind. He said from a business stand point, people should be open to new ideas that come from the side or from behind. Freeman cited IBM, which was watching other large business machine companies as their competition, instead of smaller, newer companies like Apple and Dell, which became major competition.

• Do not attack, but always be prepared to defend. Freeman said it is always a mistake to attack.

“We spend too much time worrying about the other guy,” Freeman said of its business application. “This shows there is another way. If you are prepared to defend, then no offense will work. You need to be vigilant, strong. Make yourself invincible, so no one will attack you. The victory is in not fighting.”

• Improve yourself all the time. Tae kwon-do is a collaborative sport, depending on working together instead of on competing to achieve goals.

“You train with other people, because someone has to attack,” Freeman said. “But if someone gets hit, then two people made a mistake.”

“Business is not about war, it’s about making value,” Freeman said, rejecting the notion abroad in the land that business is about getting the other guy. Business, he said, is the art of cooperation. Businesses should be competing with themselves, striving for improvement.

“We can work together” instead of worrying about the other guy, Freeman said. “This is the heart of capitalism.”

Freeman said that many teachers are emphasizing the conflict aspects of martial arts in business. “I think they are all wrong. Martial arts are not about war, but lessons of life. They [other teachers] are promoting conflict, not self-improvement.”

Freeman stressed that business should be about the joy of creating and pursuing that which a person has a passion about. “You have to make a profit to stay in business, but making a profit is not the spurpose of business,” he said.

After he became a student, with his wife and children, he spread the word and brought in friends, including Jim Freeland, dean of faculty at Darden. At the beginning of the semester, Freeman, Freeland, Andrea Larson, James Clawson and Sankaran Venkataraman participated in a demonstration at Darden with 13 other students from the International Black Belt Center. Freeman said many colleagues know about their practice of tae kwon-do, and this event offered an opportunity to show them what was involved.

“Those who practice tae kwon-do think it’s the best thing in the world and that everybody should do it,” he said.

Freeman, who has been taking tae kwon-do for five years, said it relieves stress and helps him clarify what is important, which he said makes him more effective in the classroom. It was six months before he could tell the difference, he said.

“It took a couple of years to see how it made me a better teacher,” he said. “And I don’t yet understand the full extent of the power I am dealing with here.”
One change in his teaching style was a shift from shaping the students into developing what is already there.

“It allows me to take the students from where they are to where they could be rather than where I would like them to be,” he said.

“A teacher understands where the student is, both physically and mentally,” Freeman said, adding that most students cannot push as hard on a subject on their own as they can with a teacher.

“It’s a lot like a mentor relationship in a company,” Freeman said. “A mentor pushes you to make yourself better. This is the lesson for business. It is not about competition, but about making yourself better.”

As is important in any discipline, it helps to trust the instructor.

Over time tae kwon-do has become a part of who he is, said Freeman. He talks with his students about it, in many cases overturning the notion of a “testosterone-filled guy screaming and jumping around.”

He acknowledges that martial arts are not for everybody and said that it is a way of life, not just a point of view. Tae kwon-do is great exercise, he said, and stresses the act is its own reward, as in business, where the joy should be in creating.

He said it is also a discipline that forces brutal honesty. “It makes you take a hard look at yourself, both strengths and weaknesses,” he said.


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