The Gentle Art of Business: Drawing Inspiration from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

By Matt Huttner
President, WorldStrides PTY. LTD.
YPO member from Melbourne, Australia since 2016

Adapted from Japanese Jiu-jitsu and judo in early 20th-century Brazil, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (BJJ) is a grappling martial art and self-defense system that uses throws, holds and locks to incapacitate an opponent. Many of you may be familiar with BJJ thanks to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and other mixed martial arts organizations. Or you may have heard of martial arts masters such as Royce Gracie who helped catapult BJJ into the mainstream in the 90s due to winning many of the early UFC tournaments by submitting significantly larger opponents via chokehold or joint lock.

What you may not know is that Gracie was the smallest and weakest of his brothers and cousins. He was chosen as the prolific Gracie clan’s representative in the first UFC to demonstrate the awesome power of leverage and technique over size and strength.

As a black belt and practitioner for over 11 years, I have dedicated thousands of hours to studying and training BJJ and have applied its principles in my personal relationships and business career. I would like to share with you three principles that I find particularly useful.

Don’t worry — for those who find BJJ a bit esoteric and confusing, I will also provide additional references to more mainstream sports as well.


Protect Yourself at All Times

First and foremost, BJJ is about survival; it emphasizes defending against larger and stronger opponents, and ensuring that you take minimal damage before launching your own attack.

However, many beginning students are initially captivated by the range of chokes and joint locks. They are in such a rush to submit their opponent in stunning fashion that they leave themselves open to defeat.

A corresponding example would be the boxer so focused on winding up for the devastating knockout punch that he drops his hands and leaves his own chin exposed, resulting in getting knocked out himself.

In business, I therefore always seek to protect my downside risk and try not to overextend my team’s resources to the point where the entire organization is weakened. For example, when considering an acquisition, I first think whether or not the team has the resources and capacity to integrate. If facing a difficult negotiation, one of my primary goals is to minimize negative outcomes rather than chase the huge win.


Make a Frame

Everyone intuitively understands the power of a frame. If you drop down into a squat position, your leg muscles will burn out in a matter of minutes. However, you can stand straight for hours because your leg bones align to create a skeletal frame that can support your entire body weight with ease.

The same is true in BJJ. If I need to push a larger and heavier opponent, I can’t rely on my muscular strength, which will quickly be exhausted. Rather, I need to try and make strategic frames that will move my opponent without expending energy.

The parallel in the business world is relying upon individual people versus processes and systems. People are like muscles; they can be extremely effective but are also prone to getting tired or strained. Processes and systems are akin to frames; when properly aligned, they can function well for far longer with minimal effort.

I constantly strive to create redundancy and build processes that can be run by multiple people in our organization. We document procedures and make sure that key knowledge is not locked inside the head of individuals.


Definition of a Black Belt

When I first started training, I thought of a BJJ black belt as an effortless master of grace and violence, an invincible warrior. As I got further involved into the community, I instead learned the true definition: “A black belt is simply a white belt who never gave up.”

When the day of my own black belt promotion arrived, I was suffering from a stomach virus and high fever. The promotion ceremony included teaching a class and sparring with several opponents in a row, but I was so sick and weak that I had to quit halfway through. This failure is still enormously painful to me.

After receiving the belt, I approached my professor, Chet Quint, and actually tried to give it back to him; there was no way that I deserved the promotion after such a poor performance. But Professor Quint replied, “You are earning your black belt because of who you are and your commitment over the last 10 years, not today.”

YPO members are undoubtedly the “black belts” of the business world. Yet after joining myself, I have realized that the same definition applies — most YPO members have repeatedly persevered through a wide array of personal and professional challenges and simply been determined to succeed. It is the unyielding desire to seek solutions and start again that makes one truly invincible, in business or in life, not any one incident.

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu has had a profoundly positive effect on me, and I’m looking forward to a similarly enriching journey of growth and self-discovery with YPO. I would also highly encourage YPO members to start learning BJJ themselves as it is the quintessential stress reliever — nothing takes your mind off business concerns faster than fighting for your life!

With more than 26,000 members in more than 130 countries, members of YPO are peers who share in common the achievement of success at an early age; a commitment to learning as a lifelong adventure; and a desire to connect authentically in an environment of trust and confidentiality. If you are a member interested in contributing, please email blog@ypo.org.