Kiryoku - Direct Unwavering Focus

Life Lessons From the Martial Arts #3

By Paul 'Batman' O'Brien
B.A., N.C.E.H.S., Dip. Acu., Adv. Dip. OBB, Cert Clin. Med. Pn1, PN-SSR, PN-NCA, M.AFPA, M.ETCMA, M.C.Th.A.

Kiryoku - Direct Unwavering Focus is one of the most important skills developed through the martial arts. In this episode and this article, I'll share with you how to develop this focus, how to set up systems to make sure you are not interrupted and elevate everyday drudgery to the level of art. 

In this article series, part of the Fighting Tengu Podcast series, I'll introduce you to some key concepts from the martial arts I and Stephen Milton, my co-host practice, and share with you practical tips on how to implement these ideas into your daily life. 

Kiryoku - Direct Unwavering Focus

Being the busy bee and the ever imaginative person that you are, it is quite impossible not to entertain a lot of thoughts about what you want to do and how you would want things done. Even ambition and the drive to be successful at everything can definitely keep you preoccupied and distracted from getting one thing finished.

Although it is not entirely wrong to plan things ahead and to want several things to happen all at once, it wouldn’t hurt if you focus or stick to one plan at a time to avoid overlapping of goals or confusion. A lot of people fall victim to the belief that the more you accomplish in the shortest time possible, the more successful they become in their lives. Yes, this notion might work for some, but for those who are not that good at multi tasking, it is highly unlikely that they will reap positive results from this. It is far better to focus on one thing and one thing alone.

Perhaps the best example of this is one of the key principles of Iaido and Budo - direct unwavering focus. This is Kiryoku - perhaps it can be best explained as will. Kiryoku is the force of your will, determined and unstoppable. Your opponent cannot resist it. It is the resolve to complete the task before you. This is a key concept in both Iai, reality based combat and for life to be honest. It's one of the principles of Budo that I apply to nearly every aspect of my life and the results are spectacular.


In Iaido the forms start slowly, but once the blade is drawn the pressure is maintained on the opponent focusing on direct straight line attacks, until the opponent is dead. The major focus is on taking centre. Doing so deflects the opponents attack - this is extremely subtle and requires great control - it also takes great courage. To cut through an opponent's sword as it's rapidly slicing towards your head takes both commitment and guts.

Similarly one of 3 fundamental principles of effective hand to hand combat is this same sense of commitment and unwavering focus on destroying a target. This is the hallmark of one of the most effective combat methods I've trained - Tim Larkin's Target Focus Training. You recognize a target and you put your whole weight and commitment into penetrating and destroying that target. From there a new one presents itself and you repeat until the threat is neutralized.

You focus on a series of single moments. 

Likewise in life, and I have found this with myself, my patients and my coaching clients - the key to succeeding in nearly any endeavor is direct unwavering focus on one specific goal. If you try to do too many things at once your attention is split, your focus diminished and your productivity undermined. There is NO greater sabotage of productivity then multi-tasking.

The Dangers of Multi-tasking

Multi-tasking is not a principle of Budo. You can certainly do many things, achieve great skill in multiple area's be it in combat or business - but you cannot do it all at the same time. With focused unflinching resolve however you can accomplish a specific goal quickly and then move on to the next one. To those outside it may seem you were doing many things at once, but that's not what's happening. It's simply a rapid and efficient succession of multiple targets selected uniquely and attacked and achieved individually with full vigour and commitment. It is through doing this that success is found.

Today I own, run and manage multiple businesses. Each in a different field and all successful. It appears to many that I am doing multiple things at once. I run a very busy private TCM practice, work with my personal training clients, my coaching clients and yet that same week I can write and upload 4 new articles to each of my sites, send out 3 newsletters, release and launch a new book, (a full time job in itself), write another book and outline the releases. In that time I also run and teach at a dojo, I'm currently taking 4 additional courses in a variety of fields from plant-based nutrition to behavioral psychology and spend huge amounts of time with my wife and family, train myself for about 2 hours a day and enjoy my many hobbies.

If I tried to do all that at once I'd fall completely flat on my face and have a nervous breakdown. The trick to that is the same technique and principle found within the koryu and the Budo and effective reality based combat. I take one thing at a time and approach it with complete focus and commitment. Then I don't have to waste time going back to it. It's done, be it opponent, article, book or launch. And I can move swiftly on to the next goal.

This is just one example of just one principles of the true Budo and how it can have a major impact not just on your martial arts practice but on your life.

Within the koryu bujutsu there are many such principles found in dojo and that is its purpose - to prepare and train you for life. I can think of no greater practical application than that.

Multi tasking does not mean that you are productive

If you are someone who seems to find multi tasking a challenge or maybe you would want to find a fool proof plan when it comes to planning and putting them into action, then focusing on one thing or task at a time would most probably help you out.

What is focusing on one task and how could this really help you? Focusing on one plan or job means that there is an opportunity for a person to succeed in business or in any aspect of his life without multi tasking and scrambling to get things done right away. This also pertains to the practice of the “one task at a time” belief – thinking that as long as you focus on one thing that concerns the success of your business or any plan for that matter, you will have a higher chance of succeeding and of getting what you want.

Veering away from multi tasking can definitely help you, especially when it comes to your online marketing business. You have to admit, you are willing to do or try anything just to keep your business afloat – this includes promotional or marketing strategies, getting more online customers or clients and of course advertising. And by that, it means that you might have thousands, if not, hundreds of ideas in mind that you would like to set in motion, without prior study or even analysis. And if you start considering and working on each of these ideas at the same time, you can bet a hundred bucks that 90 percent of your strategies are bound to fail.

So get ready and remove all those clutter out of your system and learn to focus on one major business plan or strategy and see yourself rise to the top of the business ladder.

Consider this phrase: “Multi tasking does not mean that you are productive.” Is there any truth to this saying? While many people may answer no, since they believe that doing and focusing on several plans at the same time would definitely get them to where they want to be: that being successful in everything that they do.

On the other hand, this phrase may be applicable to those who are not yet accustomed to the fast paced world of business where you have to start and come up with bright ideas in a snap. And for those who are just starting their own business or project for the first time, focusing on one thing can most certainly help them.

Actually this statement is subject to a lot of interpretations. One of which tells you that being productive is not measured by the number or the amount of things that you have accomplished in short amount of time. The other, do one thing with all your strength and with all your heart and you will succeed. You know, both interpretations are true.

But now, let's look at some practical steps you can implement to improve your focus. 

1. Clear Your Mental Desk

This is a technique developed by Jerry Ballinger that I've had great success in using and it's a first step I take with my patients in clinic and my personal fitness clients. It's simple and remarkably effective.

We all know it's hard to find things on a cluttered and messy desk. Important documents are buried and hidden under junk mail and scribbled notes, trash and more. You cannot find relevant information quickly. Thus you cannot take definitive action.

The same is true of the mind. Now I won't tell you to "clear your mind", or "empty your thoughts", that is a concept called Mushin that we'll look at in a later podcast. Instead here is a practical method to ensure you mental focus.

  1. Take out a blank sheet of paper and write down everything you think about, worry about etc.
  2. This takes about 15 minutes.
  3. Tick the ones you can't control, for example you can't change the weather.
  4. Draw a star besides the things which you can control, eg diet, your personal time, your reactions and decisions etc
  5. Then prioritize the things you can control.
  6. Take another blank sheet.
  7. Write out the TOP 10 items that you can take immediate action on and resolve.

That Top 10 List is something to work on and give you structure over the next 90 days. These are things you directly control and take positive action on.

Incidentally you make this exercise even more efficient by consciously letting go of the items you ticked off as outside your control. When you've completed this exercise, you'll have released the things that are not critically important and those outside your control and you'll have a clear concise list of the most important things that you can take action on.

I re-do this every month. It's excellent for maintaining my productivity and ensuring I stay on track to success.

Once you have your blueprint it's time to free up some time and energy to accomplish them. Developing our On Ramp and Off Ramp is the key to applying this. 

2. Time Blocking - The Pomodoro Technique

A few years ago, several health experts have conducted a study on people or subjects to prove that multi tasking affects people’s brain and brain activity in a very bad way. This is why the Pomodoro Technique was developed: to help people focus more on doing one thing and at the same time produce top class work in the end.

The concept of this technique is pretty simple, with only a few steps to do and observe to make this work for you or for anyone who would like to get things done, one job at a time. As a matter of fact, there are 5 easy steps to complete that’s included in the Pomodoro technique:

Step 1. You must select or choose the task that you really want to accomplish. You can do so by listing down all the tasks that you need done for the week and identify which one is of greater importance. The rest of the tasks should be saved for another time or day.

Step 2. Using your alarm clock or stop watch, set it for 50 minutes and you may begin your task. Focus on accomplishing as much as you can for fifty minutes; until the alarm goes off.

Step 3. After your 50 minutes are up, make sure to take a break for about ten (10) minutes. Taking breaks in between work can refresh your mind and keep your focus and concentration going for many hours. Aside from this, you will not easily feel burnt out. During this time it is best to focus on something emotional/spiritual (hug a pet, meditate, text a friend etc) or physical (now is a great time to do one of my isometric workouts or a kata). 

Step 4. Now repeat steps 2 and 3 for another 50 minutes of focused work and 10 minutes in another mode. Scheduling your tasks will work perfectly, especially if your task is a bit draining or heavy.

Step 5. Take a 30 minute break. Now is a great time to have a healthy snack or meal, catch up on email, check in on messages, do some reading, meditation, short walk outdoors or any of the stress busting techniques I teach. 

These steps are indeed simple, easy to follow but those people who have tried using the technique can attest that the it really works, especially for those who keep getting distracted by outside forces such as time, people and extra work.

Aside from this the Pomodoro technique is easy to memorize, and the more your follow the steps, the more each part of the technique becomes a part of you. Soon, you will notice that you are getting more things done compared to when you are cramming and swamped with work and extracurricular activities at home or in the office. And soon, the technique will be completely part of your daily work routine.

3. How to Prevent Interruptions

Crucial to applying focus and the Pomodoro technique is to make sure you aren't interrupted. In the podcast i share with you how I organise my email and phone messages to prevent being interrupted and manage expectations.

Here is how I do it. 

1. Set an email autoresponder stating something along the lines of: 


This is an automated response to let you know I've received your mail. In the interests of efficiency my emails are checked twice a day between 11-11.30 am and 4-4.30 pm. Usually I respond to most requests within 48 hours.

If you require a more urgent response please call me on - INSERT PHONE NUMBER"

(Hey, dd you notice those 3o minutes slots from the Pomodoro Technique above?)

2. Never answer that phone. Set a voicemail message stating something along the lines of: 


You've reached X. I can't take your call right now. Please leave a message. Messages are checked once a day between 3-3.30pm. If you need an immediate response please text me on this number" 

This way, you haven't been interrupted in your 50 minutes focus sessions, and you've managed to take a long email to short text message.  

What to Do Next

So there you go - lots to work on to develop your focus in 3 keys steps.  

  1. Clear your Mental Desk
  2. Implement the the Pomodoro Technique
  3. Set up defenses to interruption.

And speaking of next actions, make sure you follow and subscribe to the Fighting Tengu Podcast for more awesome insights. Then read the next article packed with more tips taken from the martial arts to help you battle the demons of daily life. 

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