Monday, March 5, 2018

Lean, Agile and the Martial Arts

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

Fall down seven times, get up eight times
Aikido proverb

I first stumbled onto the martial arts when I fifteen years old. I was shooting baskets at the YMCA with my pal, Pete Stathakos, when we a series of loud slams followed by raucous applause emanating from the large wrestling room.

We hurried over and what we encountered there has informed my life ever since. The newly launched Toronto Aikikai club was giving a demonstration for an enthusiastic audience.

What did I see that day that made such a lasting impression?

Power, movement, discipline, intense focus, and an obvious consideration and respect between the participants. Everybody on the mat seemed powerful, tireless and respectful.

I joined the club, of course, and for the next fifteen years would attend 3 or 4 times a week. I learned the Seven Virtues of bushido: Yuki = courage; Jin = charity; Gi = justice; Rei = courtesy; Makoto = honesty; Chugi = fidelity; Meiyo = honor.

These lined up well with the Cardinal Virtues I learned at St. George’s Greek Orthodox Sunday School. Aikido helped me through Engineering school and Business school and with the ups & downs of life.

Then I heard Toyota was opening a major factory in the Waterloo region about 90 minutes from my home. My application was accepted and after a series of preliminary interviews, I met the President, Mr. Watanabe.

After a few perfunctory questions about my training and experience, he said, “Tell me about aikido.”

Mr. Watanabe closed his eyes as I described my senseis, training and dojo. “You are a serious student, Pascal-san – good! Toyota is also like a dojo…” Turns out he had studied both judo and aikido. I got the job and my apprenticeship began in earnest.

Mr. Watanabe was right. Toyota felt very much like a martial arts dojo. In fact, before stepping onto the shop floor, I felt like bowing, as a sign of respect to my team members, and to the art of management.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because it’s all the same. Lean, and its close cousin, Agile, are a ‘do’, in other words, a ‘path’, very similar to aikido, judo, karate-do and other martial arts.

A set of techniques becomes a path when they connect to your deeper being and purpose. A path provides constancy of purpose. The great senseis, whether in the martial arts or in management tend to be extraordinarily long-lived.

Peter Drucker, W. Edwards Deming, Joe Juran, Eiji Toyoda were all active well into their 90’s!

The single most important quality in life, leadership and the martial arts is tenacity, which the ancients called Fortitude. Great senseis, and great organizations have it in spades. Decades later, I’m still practicing Aikido and hope to continue till they lower me down (or shoot what’s left of me out of a cannon =)

Last thing. Despite all my failings, I’ve just been promoted to Ni-Dan. My deep thanks & respect to Nakamura-sensei and Barnes-sensei of Aikido Hokuryukai


Fall down seven times, get up eight times.

Best regards,


1 comment:

  1. Great Pascal san, looking forward to see your aikido presentation....I mean: your Lean presentation (!!) in Brazil soon!