“Do you really want to learn how to fight or do you want to go home and forget this ever happened?”
That’s what I was told when I left Mark Mikita’s Dojo in the middle of Venice Beach, California. Years of martial arts training and I got the shit kicked out of me by a witty French dude and the son of a famous actor. I felt like crap and a bit of a wanna-be. I wasn’t sure I was going to come back to this hell ever again.
But what makes Mark Mikita such a brilliant and inspiring martial artist? The first and most obvious thing that springs to mind is the years of training and experience. But I think there’s much more to it. He explored the world of combat in search of what he calls ‘science in a world of hurt.’ It sounds pretty damned painful but, by studying the history and roots of the arts and using statistics and research done by the police and armed forces to assess which techniques to apply when, Mark hand-picks all the techniques and insights that are valuable. In a nutshell, he is multifaceted and flexible of mind with an eagerness to explore every nook and cranny of his art.
Mark is familiar with the vascular system, human anatomy and the range of motion of joints and limbs. As part of Mark’s short lecture on the habits of the brain when learning new techniques and movements, he explained, “If a child doesn’t learn to throw a ball before a certain age, the child will never learn how to throw properly for the rest of its life. This will affect all ball games.”
For obvious reasons, I think many of us can be happy that Mark chose martial arts and not advertising. But he does possess the uncanny ability to explore adjacent fields of interest. Developing a way of creatively applying these findings so that both he and his students could benefit from them became a second nature to him. In short, he created a lethal toolbox that is constantly replenished and expanded upon.
If you read last month’s column by my esteemed colleague, Stein Jansen, you’ll have noticed a fondness for sports analogies. Well, it must be a thing with BSUR, because here comes another one.
When grandmasters like Bill Bernbach created the art & copy duo and the first planners were born either at BMP or JWT, the classical silos of an ad agency were created. A model that was highly successful for decades. But the remnants of these silos now restrict the grooming of both new and old talent. And this is despite the fact that these silos have partly given way to more diverse teams and disciplines.
Advertising didn’t change, not the art itself, but the different techniques and media at our disposal did. And quickly. Therefore, the required skill set these days is much closer to Mark Mikita’s adaptable school of thought than that of the old grandmasters. Furthermore, I have seen in Mark’s students that expanding your abilities alongside your core capabilities makes you mentally agile. That agility will ease the way into new fields of knowledge and tools. A must in times of rapid digital development.
The days of a single classical skill-set are numbered. At every level or discipline there should be a basic understanding of statistics, analytics and human behavior. No matter if you are agency or client-side you should look out for these agile learners. These young professionals are familiar with exploring new techniques and making them their own without losing core strength. Enhancing their toolbox and honing their classical weapons in the progress.
With flexible thinkers it doesn’t matter if they are in the art, planning, account or production department. They will display an eagerness to explore and absorb knowledge naturally. Some call them T-Shaped, some call them cross-dressers. Nevertheless, these marketing and advertising professionals are the weapons of the future.
Who knows? They might be a little zen, too.
I ended up training at Mark Mikita’s Dojo after that first encounter. I left with more than just a renewed focus, but with the inspiration to apply Mark’s lessons to more arts than those of just the martial variety.