Team Samurai is the brainchild of Team Builders Plus co-founder, president, and chief learning officer, Merrick Rosenberg. Along with more than two decades of experience in the world of team building, Merrick has been practicing and teaching karate since 1987. “The martial arts are the perfect metaphor through which to build teamwork, trust and respect,” said Merrick. “From the moment that a practitioner bows into the dojo to the way in which people work together as partners, not competitors, the martial arts teaches people how to move as one in harmony.”
The martial arts often conjures images of fighting, tournaments and self-defense, but that’s only because many schools focus on the martial, not the art. Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of modern day karate said, “The ultimate aim of the martial arts is the perfection of character.”
Team Samurai is the synthesis of team building and the martial arts into a unique and transformative experience for all.
With the sounds of a flute and kodo drums filling the air, the team entered the conference room…or make that, the martial arts dojo, unsure of what to expect. They are greeted by the instructor wearing a traditional black gi (uniform). The room is mostly empty, except for chairs that line one of the walls. “We asked for something different, and I can tell, this is going to be different,” commented one of the participants.
All of the members of the pharmaceutical marketing team finally arrived and the session was about to begin. The team asked to divide and stand in two rows of eight facing the front of the room. None of the team members had any previous martial arts experience, but that doesn’t matter. And some of them, were a bit concerned that they were not in physical condition to practice the martial arts.
Their concerns were put at ease when they discovered that the physical component would be quite light and nobody will be punching or kicking at each other. “Bummer,” explained one of the team members as he jokingly glared at someone else.
The team building session, or should we say, karate class, began with everyone learning how to bow and then practicing bowing to each other. The team learned that the bow is a sign of respect. The group laughed when one of the team members commented, “Hey, you have really blue eyes.” Everyone knew the significance of this statement. Here were two people who worked together for years, but had never made eye contact in a meaningful way.
Next, the group learned about the three states of mind achieved by martial artists: Mind of moon, Mind of mirror, and Mind of water. The first, Mind of moon, is strategic and likened to how the moon sees everything. Mind of mirror is tactical and enables the martial artist to mirror in on a single-pointed focus. Mind of water, the group learned, is attained when the mind is still like a calm mountain lake. Each mind set was practiced through a different karate technique and the group had their first taste of how a martial artist thinks and acts.
Following the mind states, the team learned about the yin and yang, which was described as, “the dynamic balance between the universal polarities.” The team learned that yin is the black part of the ancient symbol, while yang is represented by white. Team members lined themselves on a continuum based upon personal preferences for a series of topics that symbolized the yin-yang dynamic, such as listening vs. talking, big picture vs. detail-oriented, calm vs. excitable and several others. This lead to an interesting discussion of team dynamics, which one team member noting, “We have a good mix of people all along the continuum. This helps to explain why we work together so well. We balance each other out.”
The next series of exercises were based on the Chinese concept of chi or universal energy. Participants worked with partners to discover and experience this powerful life force first-hand. In the debrief of the exercises based on chi, the instructor explained, “Each of us is either a fountain or a drain and we all must take ownership for the energy that we either add to or take away from the team environment.”
To further experience the power of chi in the workplace, the team learned about the five fighting styles through an understanding of the elements of fire, earth, metal, water, and wood. The team discovered that each person embodies each of the elements to varying degrees, but we tend to primarily exhibit behaviors associated with one or two elements.
With foam boppers in-hand, partners practiced techniques for each of the five elements. “Finally!” one of the team members exclaimed. “I get to bop my manager.” Everyone laughed.
The martial arts component of Team Samurai ended on a high note, as team members learned about each other and had fun in the process. But the program was not over yet…
Given the high stress that the team has been operating under, they opted for an additional aspect of the program. The group was about to discover why they were asked to bring a cushion with them to their team building event.
The team arranged the cushions in a circle and everyone is asked to close their eyes. With the gentle ring of a bell, the group began the second part of their program – an introduction to meditation.
For the next hour and a half, they learned that meditation is the process of being present. They practiced deep breathing and learned that meditation can be practiced anywhere. At the end of the session, the participants are asked, “Besides beginning a practice of meditation at home, how can you use this at work?”
Team members enthusiastically answered, “We could use these simple breathing techniques to re-center in mid-afternoon.” Another person added, “I could use this after a mind-draining staff meeting,” to which everyone chuckled, though they did so knowing that a little truth had been spoken in jest. Someone else said, “I could see using this to prepare for a difficult conversation,” to which someone else added, “Or recover from one.”
All in all, the team experienced many aspects of the martial arts and in the process, they had a fun, bonding experience, while cultivating respect for each other.