Interview: Rodney King

Rodney King
Name: Rodney King

Where do you live: Johannesburg, South Africa

Known for:
For most of my career I have been known for teaching functional, dynamic martial arts. While I am still prominent in that field, my  personal focus has shifted to what I have termed Embodied-Growth Hacking. In this sense, it is about achieving scalable growth, by investing in inner management tools — achieved by ‘hacking’ ones embodied interface.

Currently actual with: Coach Rodney King (Brands)

When did you realize that you were going to work with this?
I grew up in government housing on the dicey South Side of Johannesburg. I was kicked out of the house at 17 by an abusive alcoholic mother, and never finished high school. I was told both by Mother and my teachers that I would never amount to anything. But I proved them all wrong. Through rigorous martial arts training and applying the inner game principles I discovered in my journey, I paved a new path for myself.

I’ve seen my fair share of mental and physical turmoil over the years, and it was only through years of regular martial art practice and conditioning that I was able to grasp the significance of engaging a concerted mind-body approach. The mind and body are more intertwined than we fully realise. And it’s through actively engaging the two as one that we can effectively tune out the noise and focus on the present with clarity and purpose. It’s why I’m so passionate about helping people embrace an embodied approach to overcome the challenges they face in life and work — it worked for me; and I know it will work for them.

Over the years I have worked with Army Special Forces to develop high-performance mindsets for intense engagement scenarios. I’ve also instructed law enforcement officers in the United States, Canada and Germany on how to protect themselves when all else fails. I regularly work with corporate executives, CEOs and entrepreneurs, whom I help gain the winning edge mentally and emotionally through coaching to overcome their self-limiting beliefs.

I offer an action learning process — a road map to success for effective inner management. Through an accessible modern martial art experience, I teach my clients how to hack their embodied interface, and in doing so they learn to actively engage their natural intelligence in concert with their body in action. Learning the Art of Inner Management is essential to be the best you can be, in your life and career.

If you could choose one place only to live, where would that be and why?
In the mountains. Solitude and walking in nature is really appealing. There is something really special about being in nature and its potential for unlocking creativity.

How would you describe your creativity?
In two words, “Challenge play”.

Words like creativity and innovation are thrown around liberally in the work environment. I hear ‘bosses’ telling their staff to be creative and to innovate — but in the next breath they are told, “Don’t make any mistakes”. In other words don’t take any risks. The paradox is that risk is inherently built into the fabric of creativity and innovation. I will argue that without risk, creativity and innovation no longer exist.

In order for people to take risk, the environment they are asked to do this in must be a place where risk is not only allowed, but the consequences or payback of taking that risk shouldn’t be so high that a person can never come back and try again. In order to facilitate risk, one requires a shift in mindset, one from competition to challenge play. In competition one person, or group of people have to lose in order for another to win. In a challenge play environment, people are encouraged to shift from playing within boundaries (i.e., rules of winning) to playing with the boundaries (i.e., finding ways to continue to play). Bottom line the seriousness needs to be taken out, the focus on winning, not looking bad, or the fear of making mistakes needs to be removed, and instead a sense of play should be instilled.

What emerges are people who are no longer seeking to dominate with power, but rather play with strength. Much of the reason people fail is because they are never allowed to fail. Often as pointed out earlier the consequences of failing are to high. If you cannot fail, then you can never explore your full potential because you are simply to afraid too. In my experience environments that don’t allow people to fail, become the exclusive domain of the tough, the alpha’s, the bullies — and we can argue that it is this outmoded way of being, that continues to be prevalent and a source of disappear in our modern world and organisations.

Playing is the antidote to severe consequences of taking risk. Taking risk shouldn’t be about keeping score, or time, rather it should be about finding ways to generate time. It should be an experience that anyone, regardless of experience or status should be able to engage in. In this environment everyone will meet someone who can play with exceptional skill and offer the necessary challenge for personal growth and development to take place. But here winning and losing take on a different definition and role, rather than being seen as the end of the game, they are simply seen as moments in the continuation of play itself. The ultimate objective is not for the game to end — be that in martial arts or in business — but rather for the play to continue. This is making ART. Art is the final byproduct that we see when there has been successful implementation of creativity and innovation.

How and when did you start to work with this in a serious manner?
Much of my current creative expression started firstly because I wanted to be a better martial artist. I wanted to be excellent at the performance aspect of martial arts, especially in sparring. I realised however that I wasn’t really being creative, but rather competitive. The more I competed both with myself and others, the less creative I became. Part of this was also as Suzuki pointed out — I lost my Beginners Mind, and became bogged down with an Experts Mind – simply I became too afraid to try anything new in case I lost, or looked bad. My ego became my biggest obstacle to creative success.

When I suspended the need to compete with others on the mat, and instead focused on being better than I was yesterday, allowing myself to play, to experience and experiment with the fullness of my self through movement — without worrying about an outcome — creativity sprung forth into all areas of my life.

What do you do at the moment?
At this present moment I am focusing on building a somatic movement expression, inspired by martial arts, that will allow a person to learn inner management skills, that will then enable them to perform at their optimal in life and career.

A recommendation for those who think about starting and running a creative business?
Know that only when you take risk can you be creative, and only through that risk, can you be innovative. What this also means is that perfection is an illusion. If you are waiting for perfect before you launch that idea, product, or service, you are going to be waiting a long time. In fact you likely will never get started. Get your idea to 70% and then get it out there. Learn the rest, how to make it work, through the actual process of being there, and doing it.

Tell us how it all started.
Who would have thought you can go from sleeping on a park bench, to becoming a world renowned modern martial artist, super successful entrepreneur and author? Well that’s exactly what I did.

On that day I decided that I would change my future. As Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search For Meaning, reminds us, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” In other words, there is nothing more powerful than  changed mind. I changed my mind that day. Many people reside themselves to their fate, I could have done that too, but I chose to create my own path. I chose to rewrite my story.

What is the most important thing in a workplace/studio for you?
The environment has to be conducive to creativity. In this sense, it is important that each person I work with, either client or trainer has the same intention that I have. If a client for example comes in to compete, but I want to play, explore, and grow, then it is no longer possible for us to have a creative experience together. However, if we both are on the mat with the same intention, to play, to grow, and explore, the outcome, and what we are able to achieve is no longer restrained by boundaries. This kind of environment encourages participants to shift from playing within boundaries (i.e., rules of winning) to playing with the boundaries (i.e., finding ways to continue the play). What emerges are people who are no longer seeking to dominate with power, but rather play with strength.

What is your favorite film?
Being In The World (documentary)

Who would you like to invite for a dinner and why?
Seth Godin. I am fascinated by how he is able to bring what seems like incompatible ideas and disciplines together, into a whole new way that makes sense. I think it would be an amazing evening to pick his brain.

How do you like to spoil yourself?
Taking time out to me alone! I think you are truly happy when you enjoy your own company.

What is luxury for you?
Being completely with my family, without any distractions.

What is the nicest compliment you’ve received for your creative work, and from whom?
There have been many. This one from Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener, the Indiana Jones of Positive Psychology stands out,

“As a positive psychology researcher I am impressed with Rodney King’s intuitive grasp of people’s strengths and hopes. Rather than building a martial art around fear of attack, testosterone-based competition, or external rewards King introduces the best aspects of performance psychology to help people achieve their own goals.

In a field steeped in tradition, King artfully re-imagines both the dojo and the martial arts business mentality. At long last, we have a perfect union of proven martial arts techniques with cutting edge approaches to teaching and personal development. As a martial artist myself, King’s methods are a breath of fresh air.”

What do you fear most?
Not having enough time on this planet to fully explore what it means to be human.

What is a happy life to you?
Being able to be creative, do the work I love, and being successful at it (money is secondary).

What does a regular day look like for you?
I hate routine. I don’t really have a regular day. I go with the ebb and flow. I like to take my own advice, taking risk each day, putting myself out there even if it scares me, and even if I don’t know how to do something. I believe you can learn anything if you willing to play more with the experiences you have.

Tell us about your dream project.
To elevate my martial art practice to something people want to do for achieving personal mastery of the mat in their life and career. Most people go into martial arts simply to learn how to fight, or to get fit, but in my experience this is such a narrow view of the potential of martial art practice. Combining martial arts, and embodied growth hacking, can allow a person to master their inner game, so that they can more successfully take on the martial arts of everyday life.

Who is your professional role model/inspiration?
I don’t have role models. I don’t believe you can model anyone. You have to find what makes you, uniquely you, and use that to succeed in your life and career. With that said, I gain inspiration from from people like Seth Godin, who I see as someone who takes risk, challenges the status quo, in order to bring creative thought to his audience. His audience then has the opportunity to take those creative expressions and innovate them into their own experiences.

How would you describe your work style (academic field or fashion style, or both, or something entirely different)?
I am at my core pragmatic. While I acknowledge intuition as a viable source of knowledge, if it can be backed up by research even better. Maybe its also because I am a PhD student, so the research to back up what I teach matters.

Which is the one thing you can’t live without?
My body. Without the body, there is no creative expression in my life.

What inspires you?
Working on myself each and every day. I always try to be better than I was yesterday. To me, I am my own canvas. A canvas that constantly evolves, adapts, and becomes a new each day.

A book that has changed/made the most impression in your life?
Freedom From The Known” by J. Krishnamurti

Connect with Rodney via LinkedIn & Facebook
Follow him on Twitter @coachrodneyking
Check out his website & get access to his free course right over here

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