Bloodsport is the 1988 action movie that is actually a biography of the real-life Frank W Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme). Dux has gone AWOL from the military to travel to Hong Kong for the Kumite, the ultimate martial arts competition. (Pick it up on Amazon)
The Kumite is a brutal, violent event. It is a full-contact fight to the bitter end. Sometimes, a Kumite fight may end in death.
Dux goes to the Kumite to fight for his Shidoshi, Senzo Tanaka (Roy Chiao). Senzo’s son, Shingo Tanaka (Sean Ward), had passed away. Senzo no longer had an heir to represent his family in the Kumite. Dux wanted to take up the Tanaka mantle and fight for them.
There are brutal battles in Bloodsport. There are also plenty of leadership lessons in Bloodsport. I took 3 full pages of notes. Not all of them will make it into this Reel Leadership article but I hope you’re ready.
You’re in for a treat. You will see how Bloodsport can teach you to become a better leader.
Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Bloodsport
1. Great leaders constantly practice leadership:
Bloodsport opens with multiple fighters honing their martial arts skills. They’re battling themselves and physical objects.
You see various fighters breaking huge blocks of hanging ice, wooden boards, and hitting the punching bag. These fighters never stopped training. They never stopped practicing.
They knew the value of practice.
Great leaders know the value in practicing leadership. They know they cannot sit on their laurels and hope their leadership stays up to snuff.
Rather, they’re looking for ways to use their leadership skills. They want to practice leading so they can continue to improve.
2. Own up to your failures:
Dux had a plan to leave for Hong Kong. His commanding officer heard about this and sent another soldier to bring him in.
Dux asked to take a shower before seeing the commander. While in the shower, Dux snuck off and left the soldier waiting. The soldier eventually realized Dux was gone and had to go to the commander.
The soldier didn’t hide his failure. He owned up to it and let the commander know he had lost Dux.
We all fail. Some failures are bigger than others but they’re still failures. As a leader, we have to be willing to own up to our failures. We can’t hide them.
Be willing to openly admitting when you’ve failed or made a mistake. Your team will not hate you for it. Rather, they will respect you more because they can see your humanity.
3. Peer pressure is dangerous:
We see a young Dux with two friends. They’re at Senzo’s home and ogling the katana blade sitting above the fireplace mantel. They want to take it but Dux is hesitant.
The other two boys begin to pressure Dux. They make fun of him and Dux finally gives in. They decide to enter the house and take the sword.
Bad decision, Dux…
We all know the power of peer pressure. Our peers, friends, and even coworkers can encourage us to do the wrong thing.
Be careful when listening to those around you. Make sure what they’re encouraging you to do is the right thing and not the wrong thing.
Peer pressure can be dangerous. It can encourage you to do the wrong thing.
4. Senzo Tanaka:
You cannot steal katana sword. You must earn it.
The boys break into the house and take the sword. Before they can leave with it, Senzo and Shingo show up. The two boys run, leaving Dux alone, with the sword.
Dux is taken to the ground by Shingo. Senzo tells Dux he cannot take the sword. To possess the sword, you must earn it.
I believe the same is true in leadership. Leadership is earned. You cannot take leadership from someone. You work hard, prove yourself, and then you earn the right to lead.
Don’t think you can take leadership by force. You cannot. Leadership is earned.
5. Frank Dux:
But you have so much to teach.
Dux visits with Senzo after Shingo passes away. Senzo tells Dux he is no longer going to teach. He’s hanging up his teaching hat.
This dismays Dux. Dux knows how wise Senzo is. He tells Senzo he has to continue to teach the martial arts. He has so much he can teach others.
As time goes by, we can begin to feel fatigued by the weight of leadership. We see so much, we experience so much… we may no longer have the desire or drive to continue leading or to pass on what we’ve learned.
Stop this line of thinking. You have value. You have something to teach potential leaders.
Be willing to teach the next generation. They need you.
6. Learn to lead through leadership pain:
One of the things Senzo taught Dux was to fight through the pain he was feeling. Dux was meditating and Senzo would hit him with a stick. He also hung Dux by his hands and feet tied to bamboo plants.
These were painful moments. They were also moments where Dux could show he had self-control and could fight through the pain.
Every leader faces pain. Whether it is letting down a team member by laying them off or losing a major customer, leaders face pain points.
What leaders cannot do is give up when they face pain. They have to lead through the pain until they come out the other side.
7. Senzo Tanaka:
I have pour all my knowledge into you. When you fight, my spirit fights with you.
Senzo was aging and knew he wouldn’t be able to fight in the Kumite. He knew Dux was going to fight and he encouraged Dux with the above Bloodsport quote.
Through training, Senzo taught Dux all he knew. He prepared Dux for the fight to come. Even though Senzo would not be there, he would be there in spirit. His knowledge lived on through Dux.
This is what happens when leaders mentor younger leaders. We pour our knowledge, our energy, our efforts into those coming up behind us.
This leaves a legacy.
Your legacy lives on through those you’ve taken the time to mentor. Be willing to mentor others.
8. Leadership looks (and is) painful at times:
Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb) was another fighter in the Kumite. He also became friends with Dux.
Ray walked into Dux’s room and sees Dux doing something crazy. He was doing full-on splits with his feet resting on two chairs. He was off the ground!
Ray’s first thought was “I’m in pain just looking at you!”
Leadership is the same way. People will walk in and see you leading. The things you are leading through will put them in pain just by seeing it.
Leadership isn’t for the faint of heart. Leadership is full of pain and sorrow. Yet it is also full of joy, happiness, excitement.
Don’t let the prospect of leadership pain keep you from leading. You can lead well through the pain.
9. There are different leadership styles out there:
The fighters in Bloodsport all used various fighting styles. Ray Jackson was a brawler, using street fighting techniques. There was a fighter who used a monkey-style martial arts technique. And Dux used Shotokan Karate and Kickboxing (though the real Dux practiced Ninjitsu).
Every fighter had their own technique and their technique brought them to the elite fighting arena of the Kumite. They were alike but different. Still, they were all fighters.
Leaders lead in different ways. Some are empathetic leaders. Others try to lead through force. And some lead through servant leadership.
You have to discover your own way to lead. You can’t rely on the leadership styles you’ve seen.
Discover what works for you. Lead that way.
10. Don’t celebrate too soon:
Ray stepped into the ring against Chong Li (Bolo Yeung). Chong Li was the top-rated fighter in the Kumite. He was expected to win.
The fight looked good to Ray. He began to pummel Chong Li. Chong Li went to the mat and Ray began to celebrate. He thought he’d killed Chong Li.
He was wrong.
Chong Li sprung to his feet. He began to beat the once-celebrating Ray. He beat Ray so bad he almost killed him.
Ray’s early celebration cost him the win.
We all love to celebrate our wins. We love to look at what we’ve done or how far we’ve come.
However, we have to be careful not to celebrate too early.
We can begin to celebrate and then realize a key piece of our project wasn’t completed. Or maybe a small detail was missed that caused the whole organization to come to a screeching halt.
We need to celebrate. We also need to make sure we celebrate at the right time.
11. Frank Dux:
Why did you want to become a reporter?
Janice Kent (Leah Ayres) was a reporter. She was trying to get a scope on the Kumite event. When she discovered how violent the event was, she wondered why people would enter the event.
Dux answered her question with another question. He asked her why she would want to become a reporter. She answered she wanted to become one of the best and to honor her father.
Dux then replied with something similar. He entered the tournament to become the best fighter and to honor Senzo.
Can I ask you a question? Why did you want to become a leader of people?
The answer should be along the lines of Dux’s or Janice’s answer. You should want to become the best leader possible and that is why you lead.
12. Experts can make the difficult look easy:
Dux was headed to the Kumite battleground. Standing in his way were two men from the military: Helmer (Norman Burton) and Rawlins (Forest Whitaker). Along with these two men, a police officer was with them.
Dux talked to them and wouldn’t relent. He wanted to finish his fight. This is when the police officer signaled to his men waiting in the dark corners of the alley.
Dux made quick work out of the police officers. He made it look easy.
When you’re doing what you excel at, you can make it look so easy. People will look at you and think “How does he do this? He makes it look effortless.”
That’s what experts do. They work hard, they train, and then they perform. Their performance will look easy… even if it is not.
13. Victor (Kenneth Siu):
You can make history here today.
Victor was the manager for the United States fighters. He showed them around and helped them understand the rules of the Kumite.
During the last day of the Kumite tournament, he told Dux something. He told Dux he could make history.
I am here to tell you something today. I am here to tell you that you can make history today.
You can lead well. You can change the lives of those you lead. And, in doing so, you will change history.
14. Leaders stand on the blood, sweat, and tears of the leaders before them:
The fighters in the Kumite tournament all fought on the same mat. Throughout the tournament, the mat became bloodied, covered in sweat, and soaked with tears of the competitors.
They fought on. They knew what was beneath them and still they battled.
Do you know what you’re standing on while you lead? You may not realize it but you’re standing on the blood, sweat, and tears of the leaders who came before you.
The men and women who led the organization or the church before you… Their blood, sweat, and tears are there. You’re standing on them.
That’s not a bad thing. That means someone has helped you to get to where you’re at.
Honor the men and women who came before you. If it weren’t for them, you wouldn’t be leading now.
15. Dirty tactics will only get you so far:
Chong Li was the expected victor of the Kumite tournament. Yet he lost…
He lost after breaking a powdered pill and throwing it in Dux’s eyes. He thought this would be the key to his victory. It wasn’t.
Dux had been trained to fight without his sight. He was ready for this dirty tactic. And he won.
You may see other leaders leading dirty. They may be cheating their way through the ranks.
DON’T JOIN THEM.
Dirty tactics won’t make you a great leader. It won’t make you a desired leader. What it will make you is a disgraced leader.
Lead with integrity. Lead with honor. Lead with dignity.
Haven’t seen Bloodsport yet? You can purchase it on Amazon.
Question: If you’ve watched Bloodsport, what leadership lessons did you take away from the movie? If you haven’t seen the movie, what Reel Leadership lessons from Bloodsport that I shared resonated with you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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