From the September 2002 issue of Entrepreneur

Ever since I can remember, I've been fascinated with the martial arts. I recently received my black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and I now realize that I've learned much more than a martial art-I've also learned a way of thinking that applies to every other area of life, including selling.

Here are four components of martial arts that parallel the art of selling:

  • Forms: A form is a sequence of fundamental moves (such as blocks, strikes and kicks) you practice daily until you can do it without faltering. They provide the foundation you need to be effective, and you must rely on them when sparring. When you're selling, you also rely on basic sales techniques, such as cold-calling. If you pick up the phone only when you're losing business, you'll be on shaky ground. Practicing fundamentals daily keeps you in shape.
  • The counter: When someone is about to strike you, he shifts his eyes toward his target, pulls his shoulders back, twists at the waist and gets ready to kick. You can pick up on these signs and counter the kick as the opponent is lifting his leg and is off balance. That's the opening where your strength-and his weakness-is.

    Where is your real strength in selling? It's not in trying to bowl prospects over. It's in listening to them, uncovering their goals and challenges, picking up their signals and finding your opening. Then you can counter your prospects' concerns by saying, "I understand your problem, and here's how we can address it."

  • Mushin: This means "no mind." In martial arts, strength comes from the ability to counter in a split second, based upon your training. You automatically react to what your opponent does.

    In a sales call, you must rely on your training as well. The greatest sales-people and entrepreneurs go into meetings with quiet confidence because they have the experience and have done the research. They react naturally because they trust their instincts and abilities.

  • Belief: The most important lesson from martial arts is that you have to be able to envision yourself winning. Belief in yourself is your greatest weapon; it can easily intimidate an opponent. In selling, you've got to believe you'll win the account before even meeting the customer. When you believe in yourself, people want to believe in you.

As Zen master Shunryu Suzuki once said, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few." You're never too old or too experienced to become a beginner again, to see what you can learn from new activities-whether it's beginning a networking club or venturing into new markets. You don't have to be a black belt to take advantage of the wisdom of martial arts. An open mind is guaranteed to bring a richer experience in your business and in your life.