'Taught me' series
Posted By Matthew

What PowerPoint Taught Me About Martial Arts

The other day I was watching a presentation by Garr Reynolds. Garr currently resides in Japan and is a big exponent of Zen Buddhism. During his presentation he provided a bunch of really eloquent and insightful quotes from artists of all different backgrounds. These quotes really spoke to me and made strong connections in my mind to the martial arts.

Here is the catch though…

His presentation was about Powerpoint! More specifically, how to conduct great presentations using Powerpoint, handouts, etc as tools.

Amazingly, the principles he was sharing with his audience to make them better speakers would have been equally valuable if he had wanted to make them better martial artists.

Who is Garr Reynolds?

Garr is the best selling author of Presentation Zen, a book about increasing simplicity and effectiveness in presentations. He was also a guest speaker at Google’s impressive Authors@Google series, which can be found on youtube. For anyone who does presenting/teaching/powerpoints in their day-to-day lives, I highly recommend watching the full thing.

Garr is also an American living in Japan. He is Associate Professor of Management at Kansai Gaidai University located in Osaka.

So What Were the Quotes Used By Garr?

There are three quotes that Garr used that I would like to share with you. I’ll provide the quote, the context with which he was using it, and my opinion as to how it relates to the martial arts.

Quote #1: “Simplicity means the achievement of maximum effect with minimum means.” – Dr. Koichi Kawana (Architect of Zen and Tea Gardens).

Garr’s Context: This quote was used to define simplicity. Garr was trying to explain how simple slides in powerpoint can be much more effective than clutter filled ones.

Simple doesn’t just mean ‘less’ though. In order to achieve the kind of simplicity Dr. Kawana is referring to, one has to increase the impact of the message while decreasing the information given.

Martial Arts Implications: Aikido practitioners should be spitting coffee out of their mouths at this point. As I have come to understand it, Dr. Kawana’s theory is almost word for word the desired effect of aikido technique. But it isn’t just aikidoka who can benefit from this wisdom.

Karate technique often espouses ‘one punch, one kill’, which suggests eliminating an opponent as quickly and efficiently as possible. As such classical karate often does not translate well into tournaments and movies because the desired action of the karateka is sharp, quick, simple, and over.

Quote #2: “In the Beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, In the experts mind there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki (Soto Zen Priest)

Garr’s Context: With this quote Garr wanted to break people out of their box. The normal, ‘expected’ way to do powerpoint is by utilizing the 1:7:7 rule (one slide, seven bullets, seven words per bullet). Reynold’s suggests that this is speedy passport to snoozeville and in order to keep a captive audience you have to give them something unexpected. To achieve the unexpected, you have to keep an open mind to new possibilities.

A child’s mind (which of course is a beginner’s mind) is not afraid of failure or judgment. A child will do silly, strange things simply because they want to try it and see what happens. Garr suggests that this same mindset can result in amazing presentation material.

Martial Arts Implications: Has anyone here not been told a hundred times to keep a beginner’s mind? It’s a fairly classic martial arts admonishment. This advice becomes particularly poignant as a person approaches black belt and beyond.

Even though a person must stay true to his/her style and pass it down as it was taught to them, they must also be free to explore their techniques and find what works for them. Until a practitioner opens themselves up to experimentation and failure, all they can ever be is a style robot.

Quote #3: “Master your instrument. Master your music. And then forget all that bullshit and just play.” – Charlie Parker (Jazz Saxophonist and Composer)

Garr’s Context: What Garr wanted to express here is the proper way to perform a presentation. All too often presenters are well prepared with good information, but they simply read that information off of slides or cue cards. The result is a boring, slavish dictation of facts and stats that has no emotion or power.

Garr wants you to master your story and statistics so that you can be free to rif on your subject matter, take tangents, and engage your audience in a completely original and provocative way.

Martial Arts Implications: A martial artist must figure out his/her body. They must also study their style vehemently. But when it comes time to become a martial artist all of that has to be loosened for self expression.

Technique must come from instinct, sincerity, and right reason. Everything that makes an artist what they are should be expressed in every technique. A kata, when done with meaning, should be unique and unrepeatable.

Two Analogies: The Mountain and the Tree

There are two major takeaways from the connection between Garr’s speech and the martial ways, and both have a natural analogy that can be used to explain them.

The Tree – The different martial art styles are often said to be different branches of the same tree. Bruce Lee used this analogy from time to time and I am a big fan of it. However, we can also use this to visualize ‘art’ as a whole.

Artists, no matter how they express themselves, are branches of the same tree. Furthermore, practitioners of Jazz, Zen, Ichibana, Tea Ceremony, Painting, Jujitsu, etc can all benefit from the wisdom of masters like the ones cited above.

The Mountain Even if all art is connected, why is it that masters always seem to draw similar conclusions? After all, Shunryu Suzuki sounds a lot like Morihei Ueshiba, who sounds a lot like Jigoro Kano.

The explanation for that lies in ‘the mountain’. No matter where you start at the base of a mountain, there is only one location to ultimately arrive at – the top. The top is a single point of enlightenment. Needless to say, very very few people make it there (arguably none). But, as you get closer, the territory one covers gets smaller. As things get smaller, there is bound to be some crossover for those who are traveling.

It’s quite possible that Suzuki, Ueshiba, and Kano all tread on the same ground, and would likely have much to discuss given the chance to sit down and enjoy some tea. Perhaps one day we can join in on the conversation too, but until then, let’s enjoy the journey!