In martial arts, there is yelling, sweating, kicking, and rolling around on the floor. We see this front and center, as well as top athletes being showcased, in the highly popular UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) matches and in the Olympics. Karate debuted in the 2020 Tokyo Games, joining judo and taekwondo. But martial arts also require focus, discipline, attention to detail and goal setting.
The Karate Kid movies and their current spin-off, Cobra Kai, demonstrate the more subtle, but supremely important (if less thrilling) ideas that focusing on what is important, ignoring the flashy noise, and mastering the basics are the secrets to success.
These latter attributes also apply to successful investing, yet don’t get equal airtime because they don’t make great headlines. The talking heads can’t do much with “Make sure you are contributing at least the amount needed to receive your full employer match into your 401(k),” or “Set your Roth IRA contributions on a monthly draft from your checking account, so you don’t forget to invest it before you spend it.” The financial media gives the world the investing equivalent of the UFC, but as advisors, we channel Mr. Miyagi to our client’s Daniel-san.
I am a life-long martial artist and have operated a part-time taekwondo school since 1995. In that time, hundreds of students of all ages have started their journey with me. Each one has a reason why they begin martial arts training (as an elementary school kid in the mid-1980s, mine was to become a ninja.) While many have the same or similar goals, they are all different in their own perspectives and life situations. I always require new students to write down what they would like to accomplish with their training, and we revisit this from time to time to check progress.
In taekwondo, progress is marked for all students by obtaining new color belts in a progression from white to black. Not everyone starts with the intention of getting a black belt, and that’s fine. Relatively few achieve black belt, but the vast majority do knock out (pun intended) at least the primary goal they started with. I tell my students that if they practice at home for just 10 minutes per day, it’s like having an extra class each week. This additional training time will allow them to reach whatever their desired goal is, faster. It also transfers some responsibility from the instructor to the student. It’s my duty to help each student meet whatever goals they have set for themselves, but if they are only working toward the goal during class, it’s going to be a tougher road. I can’t want it more than they do.
The Same Drivers
The martial arts mindset translates very well into the financial planning mindset. The desire to help people achieve their goals is what motivated me to continue my training and ultimately open my own studio. This same desire also drives us to become financial advisors. The financial planning process and our interactions with clients closely mirror the student-teacher relationship in martial arts.
“The martial arts mindset translates very well into the financial planning mindset. The desire to help people achieve their goals is what motivated me to continue my training and ultimately open my own studio.”
Our clients can be broadly grouped into segments such as Young Professional, Near Retirement or RMD Age. Clients in each segment will often have similar goals and situations, but no two stories are the same. We start with each family where they are today, discuss where they would like to be, timeframes, intermediate goals, etc., and map out a way forward. This always includes action items for both advisor and client. As time passes, goals are met, and new priorities established. We guide our clients through this process, but it’s ultimately up to them to make necessary changes and implement our advice.
It’s Never Too Late
Some time ago, I was speaking with a student who was about to turn 70. She started her taekwondo training in her early 60s with her grandson. She had achieved the rank of black belt and accomplished things she never would have dreamed she could do. I asked her if there was anything she would change about her time training and she said that her only regret was that she didn’t start 40 years earlier. She told me she often wondered how different she might be had she had a martial arts mindset for her entire adult life.
How many of your clients have you had that same conversation with? I bet it’s a lot. We can’t control what stage of life someone is in when they walk into our office for the first time, but in some respects it doesn’t matter. By applying the financial planning process, we can secure futures and maybe even help provide outcomes far beyond what our clients dreamed, no matter where our journey together starts from.
There is a saying in the martial arts community that “A black belt is a white belt who didn’t quit.” Translated to the financial planning and investing world, that phrase might sound like “A successful retiree is a someone who sought sound guidance and stuck to the plan.”
DJ Hunt, CFP is a fee-only financial advisor with Moisand Fitzgerald Tamayo, LLC. in Melbourne, Florida. His clients include working professionals, business owners and retirees. DJ can be reached at email@example.com.