While financial services organisation talk about the important of resilience in their employees, there’s one pastime that puts work pressures into perspective.
“When you’ve endured a big guy trying to punch you in the face, moving numbers around a spreadsheet doesn’t seem quite as high-pressure,” says Cailey Barker, a mining analyst at Blackrock.
Barker spends his days analysing mining companies at Blackrock, but is also the founder of a London-based centre for Bushin – a martial art he invented himself, which means ‘spirit of the warrior’ – and is increasingly training finance professionals seeking more focus and discipline at work.
“The benefits are enormous. Aside from the physical training, it provides the mental discipline to perform under pressure,” he says. “We throw people in at the deep end – they’re in a controlled fighting situation from their first session – it helps you learn to keep your head.”
Look around and the number of bankers who practice martial arts at an elite level is surprisingly high.
Steven Leppard, head of EMEA strats at Noble Group and a former J.P. Morgan managing director, is also a kung-fu ‘sifu’ at Kings College London. Carsten Kengeter, current Deutsche Börse CEO and former Goldman Sachs and UBS banker, practices nei gong – a martial art that teaches “inner strength”.
RBS banker Brian Fish is a blackbelt in Chinese Kickboxing, Linda Merchant – a 7th Dan Black Belt in Okinawan Goju-Ryu – quit her banking job to teach karate and Claire Mendoca left HSBC in 2012 to teach Thai kickboxing.
If this all seems a bit white collar boxing for the new generation of finance professionals, Barker insists that it most – although competitive – are not doing it just to purge some aggression.
“You get some people coming who think they’re going into UFC, but most people seeking brutal combat soon change their tune when they get hit in the face,” he says. “This is about commitment and discipline. This transports across to your daily life and gives you more confidence both in your career and elsewhere.”
If you learn Bushin, it’s not just about self-defence. It’s a “street fighting style”, which gives you the techniques for proactive attack – if it’s needed.
After a few years “kicking rocks around by myself” as a geologist, Barker decided it wasn’t for him and travelled to Japan to teach English – and develop his skills in Shorinji Kempo, a Japanese version of Shaolin kung-fu.
He admits he was inspired by Bruce Lee and later adapted the mantra of “absorb what is useful, discard what is useless,” mentality to his martial arts. Crossing styles is frowned upon in traditional kung-fu circles, so Barker was breaking with tradition by developing his own style.
Even with a front office banking job that, while largely desk-bound, requires travel for around 30% of his time, Barker continues to practice martial arts every day.
Unlike bankers’ fascination with cycling and ultra-marathons, there’s little opportunity to indulge in expensive kit. All you need is a pair of boxing gloves and even an expensive pair costs around £45.
“Finance professionals are more driven to achieve what they want than most people, so we find that they tend to stick with it,” says Barker. “They become more confident and better able to handle themselves in work situations they previously found stressful.”