Business lessons you can learn from MMA

Several months ago my daughter announced to my wife and I that she wanted to take karate classes.  We were a little surprised because she definitely isn’t the most assertive personality in the world.  During soccer she would chase after the ball and kick it, but only as long as there wasn’t someone else who wanted it more…  She continued to bring up karate over the next few weeks, so I reached out to a long-time friend who happened to be a program director at a mixed martial arts school.

No, I wasn’t intentionally trying to scare my daughter by taking her to a MMA gym instead of a regular karate school.  As with all things we discuss in this blog, there’s an old way to do things and there is a millennial way.  Gen X parents may have thought Cobra Kai karate was cool in the movies, but today’s millennial parents are teaching our sons and daughters about muay thai and ju jitsu.  (Daniel-son wouldn’t have had to learn the crane kick if he had just known how to put the dude in a rear-naked choke!)

Over the last few months my view of mixed martial arts as a sport has not only changed, but also in how I view the business world that I’m in everyday.  If a company was run like this MMA school, here are some lessons you would probably see:

Before anyone can officially sign-up at my daughter’s MMA school, they are taught a handful of moves and several lines of the school’s creed.  Students must know it by the second lesson to earn a spot in the school.

What would your team look like, and what would your company culture be, if new employees had to learn daily tasks and the company’s mission before they could be hired?

Once someone has earned a spot in the school, they still have commit to a term of one year, or longer.

Are your people with the company for the long-haul, or are they just passing through?  What are you doing to get people to voluntarily give their best for years at a time?

Students are required to say “yes ma’am” or “yes sir” to their instructors.  (We noticed it followed her home when we got a “yes sir” after asking about a second helping of mac and chesse… Ok, so that might be a bad example…)

Companies that have high productivity and great employee retention, are ones that also have an environment of respect, where people feel encouraged and appreciated.


Sooner or later everyone is going to fail at something.  In all martial arts having to “get back up” is a literal statement.  Having to “learn from it” is just as literal.  If someone doesn’t understand what punch or kick knocked their ass to the ground, they’ll end up there again very quickly!

Are you and example of how failing often leads to success when you learn from it?  What kind of growth could you experience if your team has a culture of “failing forward”?

Conor McGregor is a mixed martial artist in the UFC.  Whether you know of him or not, or even like watching MMA, what’s important to know is that he recently accomplished something that no one else in the UFC had ever done.  He held the championship title in two different weight classes, at the same time.  Many fighters had come before him; some had held titles in different weight classes at different times and some were said more talented, but he did something that no else did.  And he did it because he made a decision that he could.

How often in the business world have you heard someone say “That can’t be done.” or “You can’t do it that way.”?  Some of the greatest accomplishments in history were those that were made when most people around them said it couldn’t be done.

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