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Unbeatable™ Podcast

Embodied leadership with Richard Strozzi-Heckler

By September 4, 2019 September 9th, 2019 One Comment

“I will take the next step forward for what you’re saying. I don’t know why, but there’s something in the way that you’re being that is compelling in that particular way.” – Richard Strozzi-Heckler

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Richard Strozzi-Heckler is the founder of the Strozzi institute and considered the “father of somatic (whole body) coaching.” He has spent over four decades researching, developing and teaching Somatics to business leaders, NGO’s, Fortune 500 Companies, U.S. Government and Military.  Richards also the author of eight books including; “The Anatomy of Change,” and the “Leadership Dojo.” Commander Divine recently took one of his courses, and in this interview you will learn:

  • Bringing attention to the body is a fundamental step in developing mindful awareness of life.
  • Life follows attention – so paying attention is a very human and willful choice.
  • Mindfulness needn’t be practiced in complete stillness

Listen to this episode to get an understanding of how the body and awareness of it can help to enhance leadership.

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Hello folks. Welcome back. This is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. So grateful you could join me today for this show with Dr. Richard Strozzi-Heckler, who is a really interesting fellow – we’re going to learn a ton from him about leadership and somatics and embodiment. And a lot of other things.

I know Dr. Strozzi-Heckler personally, having attended one of his trainings. And so we’re gonna have a really deep conversation about some interesting things. Like I said.

However, before we get started, let me remind you, if you haven’t heard, that we have this amazing online training program called Unbeatable Mind online. Which is a vertical leadership development program.

What does that mean? It means we’re trying to develop – or we endeavor to develop you as a leader, as a whole person. So to evolve your sense of self, evolve your consciousness, evolve your leadership capacity, evolve your ability to serve, evolve your ability to tap into greater potential. And to maintain peak performance and a flow state at all time.

So it’s covering a lot of territory by integrating what we call the five mountains of physical, mental, emotional, intuitional and Kokoro spirit. Which is a term and I think Dr. Strozzi-Heckler would be familiar with, because it comes from the martial traditions. And it means whole mind, or merging heart and mind into action, or embodiment.

Integration. So that’s the ultimate aim here at Unbeatable Mind. And we’ve revamped the online training program. It is really, really good – if I don’t say so myself.

We’ve had over 10,000 people do the training, and we’ve just launched a certification program around it. I think we have 60 or so who are enrolled now.

And so it’s very, very effective if you do the work. Check it out at to learn more. And you can see for yourself what we’re talking about here.

Alright. Enough on that. I never like plugging my own stuff very much, but it’s got to be done.

So the other thing is this podcast is available pretty much most places where podcasts are available. However, you can’t find it unless you go out and rate it. So if you listen to this podcast on a channel besides iTunes, such as Google Play or Stitcher, SoundCloud, Pandora – it really helps if you leave a review and rate it, because other people can find it if they’re interested in similar things. So appreciate that.



All right, folks. So my guest today as I mentioned is Richard Strozzi-Heckler. I met him recently at his farm up in Petaluma – I think I said that right – California.

It’s a beautiful, beautiful area. It was a little smoky when I was up there because of the California fires. But we made do.

And we did three days of really interesting training. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced except in my martial arts training. So it was really cool to do leadership training bringing a martial or eastern kind of bent to it. Something that we have a taste of in our Unbeatable Mind training.

Dr. Strozzi has a PhD in psychology. He is the founder of the Strozzi institute and – this is fascinating, we’re going to talk about this – but he’s the founder, or co-founder, of the mid-east Aikido project. Where he’s brought Palestinians and Israelis together through the practice of Aikido. It’s really interesting, when you train together and sweat and toss each other around on the mat, you’re less likely to do that out in the real world.

He’s authored eight books – some of them… I’ve read a few of them and they’re really, really good. So we’ll talk about some of those.

He’s a seventh degree black belt in Aikido. So he’s done a lot of different things. So let’s get right into it.

Dr. Strozzi-Heckler, thanks so much for your time today. I really appreciate it and this is a take two for us. The first time technology kicked our asses.

Richard: Good to be with you again, Mark.

Mark: Yeah, it’s great to hear your voice. And thanks for your time today. So you’re up in Petaluma right now, I understand.

Richard: Correct.

Mark: Okay. Well, I always like to start with just getting to know… Have my guests get to know a little bit about why and how you became who you are today? Like what got you into somatics and leadership and all that? And so give us a little, sort of brief background on where you came from, and why you ended up doing this type of work.

Dr. Strozzi. Yeah, here’s the brief… I basically come from the tradition of the bodily arts. I started martial arts between my 12th and 13th year. I started with judo. Migrated wherever I moved… Judo, jujitsu, karate… And taught in the Marine Corps hand-to-hand combat.

And really I’m married to Aikido. It’s been 47 years. But also studied Kali and Capoeira.

And I went to university on a track scholarship. And ran for the American team in the Central American games in the pre-Olympic meet.

So these traditions of bodily activity really, really influenced me in a number of ways.

Number one, to have a good teacher is indispensable. The joy of training with other people and really to see how you can improve, and you can improve everyone in that kind of improvement.

And I think most essentially, Mark, really if you practice something and you practice something sincerely – it’s taught me that you can improve. And so somatics that easily flowed into the notion of somatics which is… I think of the rough translation from the Greek soma‘s the living body in its wholeness. In other words – it’s not the medical body, it’s not just the biological body… It’s the, what I would call, that the body and the self are intimately linked together.

And that was a result of my PhD dissertation, which was called “the mind-body interface.” and I just always had this notion of how do people…? How do we learn, and not just simply learn skills? Although that’s important.

But actually how do we transform and change who we are as human beings? Both individually and in teams and collectively? And that ultimately took me to working in organizations, startups, technology organizations, the military, government… And how do we build a leadership culture that is not just knowledgeable about leadership in the cognitive way? But actually they embody these traits.

Mark: Yes, interesting. We have something in common in that I have used eastern traditions – both martial arts and yoga – tools from them anyways – to develop warriors. And then over time I stopped kind of differentiating between the characteristics of a warrior and the characteristics of a good leader.

And did you have a similar kind of insight? Because it’s interesting – probably for a lot of listeners – to think, how did you go from so much somatics and martial arts to embodied leadership? Are they the same thing? I mean what are we talking about here?

Richard: I think very similar to you, Mark, in the sense that in my study not just on the mat, but in reading and in scholarship about different warrior traditions. They seem to be these the same qualities – warriors would have the same qualities of what I would call being an exemplary citizen. And these go way back to a lot of the old texts – dharma and Buddhism and Bhagavad-Gita, etc. And then, of course, you look at these qualities and it’s very clear that this is also the place in which we would say “oh these are all the hallmarks of leadership as well.” So really that through-line between the ancient warrior cultures, what it means to be an exemplary citizen, to be an exemplary leader.

And those things all seem to show up over and over again.

Mark: Yeah, I love that. And I think you could almost say that leadership is just kind of a western term for exemplary behavior, right? And being an exemplary citizen means you have to be a leader and a follower at times. You need to know which time to be which, right? And that’s an interesting concept as well – and you mentioned this in your introduction – that team training… When you’re on the mat sometimes you’re leading, sometimes you’re the uke, and sometimes you’re following. And you’re getting attacked. And learning to deal with that balance between getting out of the way and letting other people take charge and lead.

And then when it’s your moment to step up and do your part. It’s really interesting and I think we don’t really get that quite as intimately in the western culture.

Richard: I think that is really the art of leadership. Know when can we just stop for a moment and be very still and be powerful listeners.

And when is it time to take that step forward and go into a different kind of action. And that comes from practices, and from my point of view – I know we share this – that those things can be learned numerous ways. And one fundamental way is through martial practices.

Mark: Mm-hmm. Yeah we’re very good in the action part right in the western, but not necessarily the stillness. And the listening, and cultivating kind of the presence for spontaneity. And maybe right action, right? Or a more powerful action to flow and I think you’re right Aikido – I think I mentioned to you last time, but I had studied Aikido you’ve got 47 years so that is… To me that’s extraordinary, because the patience and the amount of mat time is probably tens of thousands of hours.

So I’m just a baby when it comes to Aikido. I have a lot of practice with other arts, but I’m a white belt again.

And it’s been quite humbling. And I knew it would be and I gladly took it on. To put the Aikido gi back on. I studied it for one year maybe 25, 30 years ago when I was at SEAL team 3 – but hadn’t touched it really since. We dabbled with Aki Jiu-Jitsu and Ninjutsu but nothing really serious.

So now I’m a white belt again. And having to empty my cup every day and to get back on the mat. And those three things you said that I had kind of been missing as a solo practitioner, right? As someone who had kind of stepped off of or out of the dojo. And so I was missing a teacher, who could hold me accountable, and you know be like “hey, how come you didn’t come to class today, Mark?” That type of thing. And show me the nuances of what I was doing right or wrong.

And then the team training right? Just having a tribe or a team that you can get pretty intimate with in a way that you don’t normally get intimate with people in the western world. And you can… You really expose yourself when you’re on the mat.

And then that third part of that practice – just the daily doing – showing up every day and incrementally improving. So I got this back in my life. I mean, I had the daily improvement, but I was doing the same things over and over again for a while.

So anyways I went down a little rabbit hole there, so… Have you ever – I guess that’s kind of a lead-in to another question – have you ever stepped off the mat and had periods in your life where you stopped practicing and noticed a demonstrable effect in the quality of your life at the time?

Richard: Well I would say that – for example – that I took these periods of time when I took a walking trip through east Africa with the Masai. I can say that I stepped off the mat then. But even then I took a Jo you know, Japanese staff with me. And I would do the kata’s daily – which was to the great curiosity and I think amusement, but also interest of the Masai in the Hudsa.

So it was always with me in that way. And I have never really – aside from those things where I’m maybe on an adventure trip, and there’s not a mat nearby – I’ve really never stepped off the mat.

Mark: Mm-hmm.

Richard: And when I was younger and we moved around – we moved around once a year, sometimes twice a year – and the first thing that I would do after I studied – I was studying judo – was to look for the next dojo. And really it became an instant community. People saw that I was committed and dedicated, it was welcoming hands, and also rigorous hands. So we could really train and sweat together and learn together.

And I think for the listeners, too, I would really say that it’s a beautiful place to build community. And there are people who are definitely in the art for competing. All the best to them.

And then there’s many people in the art, who are going “no, I’m cultivating the self here.” And it produces a very strong and a strong spirited community this way.

Mark: Right. It’s interesting, I was in the arts for a third reason and that was to win in combat. Which is different than competing, right? And so one of the reasons that I stopped studying santsu kung-fu is because it’s just the nature of the art. It’s just incredibly violent. And at this stage in my life, I just didn’t need to learn violence or invest in violence anymore.

Whereas Aikido is the art of peace and understanding energy. And how to be in harmony with another person as opposed to in conflict.

Richard: Yeah, Aikido is a… I was drawn to Aikido when I heard the founder Morihei Ueshiba said that it’s not for defeating people, it’s for bringing people together. And this was from a man, who was a national living treasure of japan. Somebody who… Many people said after he said that they would come and challenge him. And ultimately stayed to learn from him.

And so it was somebody that didn’t just have the speaking philosophy, or that particular mindset, but actually embodied it. And embodied in the way that it became very compelling to people.

Mark: Mm-hmm. Now, you don’t have to put on an Aikido uniform and a white belt to learn embodiment or somatics. How does one begin to think of their life, without a martial art like Aikido, but with the similar principles right? Where they have that kind of daily practice?

I think the term is shugyo, right? Is that is that the term?

Richard: Yes. Shugyo in Japanese is really the… I think we could roughly translate it that is the cultivation of the self, right? And inside of that I will often quote and remember the words of a Zen priest – 16th century Japanese Zen priest Dogen – and he said “to be on a path, to be on a way, is to study the self. And to study the self is to forget the self. And to forget the self is to become one with all things.”

And to me, that really is the kernel and the summation of much of my philosophy and the philosophy at the dojos that I help run. Is it what really going…? How will this allow us to be able to have less and less interfaces between ourselves and reality? And come to this understanding of that we are all interdependent and interconnected?

Mark: Hmm. Yeah, I love that. And so through somatic, through understanding the body-mind connection one is cutting away layers that separate themselves from the unity of all things and the intimate connection that all human beings have? Is what you’re saying in some degree?

And so shugyo you don’t need – like I said – you don’t need to be part of a martial art. It’s very helpful these traditions go back thousands of years. And there’s a path that is mapped out for one.

So how does one… If you’re not interested or if you’re not drawn to let’s say an eastern martial art like Aikido or karate, how would one in your opinion develop a shugyo that still has a kind of a structured path to it that is not just like the common thing we see today people kind of chasing the next shiny thing? And getting nowhere fast.



Richard: You know my reflections there, Mark, is the really… The fundamental piece, is what we’re doing is we’re developing an observer of ourselves. Or some people would call that a witness. Or maybe somebody might call that the conscience, or the higher-self, of who we are and who we become. And one of the most direct ways to do that is to bring the attention to the life of the body.

And what I would say that means is then we begin to not just have ideas, or concepts, or cognitive structures about our life. But we actually begin to feel life.

So that’s the fundamental piece. How do we then begin to sense or feel ourselves? And feel life? And that starts with being with sensation. That starts with being with shape, temperatures, movement in our body.

And a person then can say “you know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna have a daily practice of walking for 45 minutes. But really what I’m doing is that I’m attending to the moods, the emotions, the thoughts and sensations that arise in my walk.”

Mark: Like a mindful walk…

Richard: And then I’m gonna have a place that when I find myself being taken away from the present moment, I’ll bring myself back to what we would call – as you know – a center where I’m present and open. I’m connected and I have a wider context to our livingness. Now if somebody already has a walking practice, you already have the practice. Or a running practice. This can be applied through yoga, qigong… You could do that through archery, for example. You can do that through equestrian or horseback riding.

And I would say an essential thing is to have somebody that has gone before you.

You know, in Japanese the word sensei means he or she who’s gone before. So to have a teacher who can relate to you with rigor and heart, I think really is immeasurable in continuing your growth and the cultivation of the self.

Mark: Right. So you describe kind of mindfulness practices. You’re suggesting that somatics and mindfulness have a lot in common.

One of the things though that puzzles me is a lot of mindfulness is taught as a kind of a seated practice – not moving. And I think a lot of times people tend to get stuck in their head and they’re not connecting with their body.

So what you described were actually moving mindfulness practices, as opposed to a seated practice, which is kind of more popular here and in America.

Richard: Yeah, I have to make the comment to is that in many places where you see… I mean, it’s mindfulness for investing, and mindfulness for better sex, and mindfulness for better gardening. It’s the late stage capitalism of creating a commodity in everything.

And what we forget is that this hasn’t been created in the second decade of the 21st century. And I remind people that this is what the hunter gatherers did. They were very attentive to how they moved through the world and how the world then moved through them.

And with so much emphasis on cognitive learning, learning concepts – and that’s good – we need those things for law and engineering and medicine, etc.

But to develop a presence that can build trust with other people, build integrity, accountability, and build really a leadership presence. It really requires – from my point of view – that we include the body.

And the caveat to that we can easily – you and I – talk about body. And what I found out over time is when I say “body” either people will think of the swimsuit edition of sports illustrated. Or “body” is the guy on the cover of men’s health. Who has an airbrushed body and a six-pack.

And I’ll say some of the most grounded people I know don’t have legs. Or some of the most seeing, perceptive people are blind. Or some of the people that can reach out in the most generous, kind way don’t have arms.

So we have to really examine when we say “body,” what we mean.

Mark: Right. It’s not necessarily the physical structure itself. It’s the felt experience of living in your embodiment as a human.

Richard: I love that. Yeah. What you said. Exactly.

Mark: (laughing) “What you said.”

Life of the Body


Mark: You said something earlier which really captured my attention. I wrote it down. I’m curious as to your response.

You said, “What we’re looking for is attention to the life of the body.” In your opinion – is life of the body the same as awareness? Or consciousness?

Richard: Yes.

Mark: Yeah that’s what I thought you’d say.

Richard: At the institute we talk about the basic map of we put our attention on something. So as human beings we have this quality of having agency. That we can move our attention.

And when people do that, then they begin to realize that energy, or life, follows attention. So for example we could have in this moment the quick exercise I would say to all the listeners bring your attention to your feet on the ground. Or your sit bones if you’re in a chair.

Now bring your attention to your breath. Don’t breathe any more deeply, but just notice where your breath is, or maybe where your breath isn’t.

And now bring your attention to listening. Just be quiet and listen.

So if you did that you could have the experience of when you’re listening, your feet are still in the ground, there’s still breath, but what you’re listening to is really amplified. That’s what we mean that energy follows attention.

You bring your attention to your sit bones. You go, “oh, I can feel the shape of that. The temperature of that. Where I need to adjust myself.”

So there’s attention and that brings awareness. And choice follows awareness. The more aware we are, the more choice we have. Once we are aware we make choices – we galvanize our volition or our will, and we make a choice.

That choice leads to action, and then that action is us to be accountable for the action that is taken.

Mark: I love that model and the problem is – where the breakdowns occur – is when people are disconnected from their body, then they have these reactionary patterns. Which are kind of infused into us – that’s not the best word to use – but kind of baked into us at a very young age. Even epigenetically, or in utero.

And so then these things tend to become blind spots or biases. And we just kind of react with those patterns. Which are bodily patterns. Psychosomatic patterns, right?

And so it’s through the practice of getting back in touch with your body/mind that you can begin to disassociate or disconnect from the reactionary patterns, and get your volition back.

Was I accurate somewhat in that kind of description of the problem solution set?

Richard: Yes. And you know what I would add to that is that we know that our nervous system – the human nervous system – is self-referring. In other words, that as you say we have these patterns and these neural pathways that we move in. Conditioning.

And through those we make up the reality that we live in. Of course, there’s always the social context that is supporting that.

But we see through those patterns that we have. And so it is self-referring therefore it makes it difficult to see those blind spots.

Now practices help us to illuminate those blind spots, and other people that we might practice with help illuminate them. And, I’ll just reiterate again, to have somebody who is a good teacher, coach, mentor, therapist, guide… To say, “You know, you’re going too far left or going too far right.”

It’s like I said with the word for sensei is he or she who has gone before. Even if they’ve traveled one or two steps ahead of you, they may be more familiar acquainted with the terrain.

Mark: Right.

Background of Obviousness


Mark: There was a book I read a long time ago, and I believe you referenced this individual in your work with regards to communication. I can’t remember his name. And it’s like a South American name? At any rate, the name of the book was “Computers and Cognition.”

Richard: Yes. Fernando Flores.

Mark: Fernando Flores, yes. And so for years… The one like extraordinary idea that I picked up from him, which I use in my program to help people understand what we’re talking about is “background of obviousness.” does that word ring a bell to you? Or that phrase?

Richard: Yes, that’s right.

Mark: Yeah, so I talk about that in the context of just subconscious, reactive patterning, biases, social conditioning, family conditioning, language… Culture… You know if you’re Chinese you’re gonna have a vastly different kind of paradigmatic worldview and kind of sense of self than you are if you’re an American.

And all of that is obvious to those outside of us, but completely blind to us. For the most part. Until you begin to objectify it and look at it.

And that’s the self-awareness we talked about. The self-cultivation actually is basically turning your eyes on yourself through that mindfulness practice. And saying “okay, what is it that makes me me? And just keep peeling the onion – the layers, until you get to that essential nature, deep inside.

Richard: Also I think that this… What you just connoted as the essential nature really is the wellspring of our authenticity. Our truth-telling, integrity, accountability – all of those things that we would attribute to exemplary leadership. And that it’s not just that people can quote from those things, but they’re actually acting from them.

Mark: Right. Getting back to the idea of somatic and embodiment – it’s like, not an intellectual thing, right? I have this… There’s several layers that my students go through and the first is this just generating awareness of these issues. Of these boo or what western psychology would call “shadow” of reactionary patterning.

I remember the work that you did with us. What happens to your body if someone grabs you? Or pulls you, or pushes you, or comes at you? There’s a genuine somatic response that if you’re unaware of it then you’re going to react in that pattern. But if you become aware of it, then you can begin to work with it.

But that doesn’t transform you. Awareness is just the first step of a long process of transformation, am I right?

Richard: Yes. In my book “The Anatomy of Change: Going Through Life’s Transitions,” I talk about people who… And I think it points a little bit to what you said about people using sitting only as a mindful practice. But people will start to collect awareness badges. “Oh, I’m aware of this, therefore that’s why I do this.”

And that’s distinct from “oh, I see that. I’m blind to that. And that’s keeping me from doing abc-123.

Mark: Mm-hmm. That’s fascinating. So when you work with leaders, you bring communication into it. You know, communication to me is basically how we relate, obviously. And it’s an expression – how effectively you communicate or how authentically you communicate, really is an expression of your character. Or your leadership capacity.

And so what a beautiful way to kind of unpack some of the patterns by starting to look at how you communicate, right? How you receive requests, or offers, or demands and things like that.

Did some of that work come from your work with Flores? Or I mean that’s… I just love that path of looking at communication as a way to kind of develop awareness and mindfulness about your reactive behaviors.

Richard: Yeah, you know often… Maybe in the course I told this story… But I’ll begin this talk around language with it. In the winter, when these storms come up in February… They hook up through the south and they’re pretty fierce. And there’s a lot of rain and wind.

And there’s this little ditch that will happen in the front pasture. The horses that were out there then they would get excited and they would run and they would jump over that ditch and go to the barn. And when they get there they don’t go “well, that was incredible. I’ll tell you what, let’s go back and do it again. But let’s do it in this particular kind of way.”

You know, they go “what’s to eat?”

And what humans do, we have this possibility of coordinating and saying “you know, as a team let’s give each other an assessment. And how can we do that with less effort, more maximum output, more elegantly? And etc., etc.

And this is really the power of language and also looking at language as just not the passing of information, but language is action. And most people say “yes, humans have language.”

And I would go as far as to say that we are language. Like, we don’t have bodies, we are our bodies. And we don’t have language, we are our language. And the way that we have our language will have people either want to be hostile to us, to be friendly to us, to come toward us, to be able to respond to our needs – or we’re able to respond to their needs.

So yes this work came from a number of European philosophers beginning of the 20th century, and then Fernando – who was chief of staff of Allende – was sent to prison, and then he came up and got his doctorate in Berkeley. He started to bring it into businesses. And so I was never a formal student of Fernando’s, but we worked together. Because he saw the power of language, he saw that I saw the power of body and in our interpretation of body. Body the shape of our experience.

We worked together for about a full decade and I attribute a lot to him and am grateful for him.

But there’s ways that – we can talk for gossip, or we can talk to poetry. And then as leaders we can talk for taking action together. And when I started to teach this, I noticed that people understood it academically, but they actually couldn’t do it. That takes us back to “okay we need to go into practices” so that they become embodied inside of us.

Mark: Right. And I think something you said is really important there, because if body is the shape of your experience, then communication will affect the shape of your body. And so you can reverse-engineer it and change the shape of your body to both experience the way that you communicate, or to try to identify a way you communicate.

Or you can change the shape your body to communicate in a different way. And that to me is profoundly valuable. And I can see how bringing somatic or embodied leadership training into the workplace could be so useful for people.

But having said that, can you give us an example of what that would look like? Let’s say for executive or leadership team?

What does that mean? I hear those words “changing the shape my body to affect my communication,” but what would that look like to you? If you were teaching my team?

Richard: I’m going to also just take us back maybe 25-30 years, when I first started to do this in organizations. And I would speak to people about embodied leadership, and they were looking for a lecture about it. I made distinctions, I did the best I could to make it relevant.

And then I would say “so now we’re going to practice. So I’d like you to step out in front of the table here, and let’s stand. And of course there was a lot of side-eyeing and going “well, what does standing have to do with me in my work?” or “what does moving with another person have to do with my work?”

In other words, there wasn’t that sensibility that wherever we are, our bodies are. The shape of our experience will be expressed.

And the other thing that I would run into is that I would show a move. I’d say let’s talk about being centered, present, open and connected. And this is how it can be felt and seen in practice. So it’s not just a bumper sticker or a magnet you put on your refrigerator – “be centered.”

And then we would move on to the next thing I’d say, “and we have to come back to being centered.” and they would say “but I already did that.” and I would have to remind them that after decades and decades of doing Aikido – for example – I would start my class or I would take my teacher’s class and we’d do a movement that I did on my very first day.

And it’s really busting through this notion that “oh, I understand it. Therefore I can do it.”

As opposed to understanding means that it’s something really that I can take action on. And when I was studying in japan the martial arts the westerners would get together – this was always a group of men – high testosterone – we’d have sake and maybe noodles together – or a beer or something. Tea.

People talking about what they could do. And ultimately you’d say, “Well let’s put it on the mat.” but there was a young man from New Guinea, who was studying at oxford. And he was studying in japan at that point and he said this beautiful thing that just reeled me, and it still does.

And he says “we have a proverb in our country, which is knowledge is only a rumor until it’s in the muscle.” don’t you love that?

Mark: I do love that.

Richard: “knowledge is only a rumor until it’s in the muscle.” in other words, he’s pointing out that how can we actually use this knowledge to affect behaviors. Our behaviors, our actions… Our way of even affecting not only ourselves, but influencing others as well.

Mark: Right. So you could almost – to relate that to leadership – wisdom is embodied knowledge, where you’ve experienced it. You’re able to teach it. You’re able to move with the knowledge. You can take the shape of that knowledge, in a sense.

Richard: Yes.

Mark: Everything else is conceptual or just data… Data or information, which are lower form. Not even knowledge yet. And a lot of people are working with data and information, and mistaking it for knowledge. And a lot of people mistake knowledge for wisdom. They’re all important.

Leadership Culture


Richard: Yeah, so in working with leaders – and I prefer really to talk about leadership culture too. So – as you said – that sometimes a follower can take leadership action. So really working with teams, so that everybody can have this possibility of contributing to the whole through leadership qualities. So it’s really showing the steps of a leadership presence – which I call the five steps – I call centering, facing, extending, entering, and blending. And if those are thought of like five keys and you play them all at the same time, that produces a certain embodiment that has a quality of magnetism in which people will say “I will take the next step forward in what you’re saying. Maybe I don’t know why, but there’s something the way that you’re being, that is compelling in that particular way.”

Mark: Wow. I love that. So I’m just kind of like visually going through these centering is how you are able to receive information. And centering is where that mindful presence is found.

And then facing is when you’re actually beginning or in a communicative relationship with another human being. Or your team, right? So you’re actually going to physically be facing them.

Richard: Yes.

Mark: And then extending would be like making a communication action. Like an offer or a request. Is that correct?

Richard: Extending is this notion that with my attention I can extend my attention out into the collective field, as well as the individual field. So I’m extending out. And that extension really is listening to the collective, or listening to the individual.

As you said earlier – like what Fernando had talked about the assumed listening. What is already the common sense there? What is the listening that is already in place?

Mark: Yeah, so that’s the willingness to take perspective, the intention to engage with other people’s awareness / energy. And now you’re in relationship as opposed to around a bunch of others.

Richard: Exactly. Yeah.

Mark: And then the entering is the communication act. Like you’re receiving or you’re offering some sort of support, or request, or help or…

Richard: That’s right. It’s really a difference of a kind. I always think of entering is where you would make the request, or make the offer – as you said. Maybe you would make a declaration or an assessment of somebody that actually starts to move things into action. And blending is that place in which you do it. Where you know what’s too much, and what’s too little. But it’s really in the bull’s eye.

Mark: Right, I mean, and that syncs up with what I have been working with my students is in that act of blending, to evolve a solution set that is a higher order solution set. It’s more integrated and whole than what any individual could come up with on their own.

And that is leadership right there, you know what I mean? Ultimately we’re talking about leadership power is to be effective in generating solutions that are of a higher order. Which moves your organization to achieve its mission.

But especially in today’s world, to achieve that mission so that it doesn’t have second or third or fourth order negative consequences. And I think only the collective consciousness can really evolve those high order kind of solution sets. No individual.

Richard: I like that notion of when you talk about a higher order. Because I think really fundamentally where we’re coming from is saying that human beings are evolving. There’s no fixed indwelling self.

We are evolving and moving towards a higher order. Sometimes I’ll use the word neuroscientists do “complexity,” but I think to a higher order is more digestible.

Mark: Yeah, I like that too. And I agree with you. And I think that it’s starting to happen in a cultural sense because of how connected we are. It used to be we were all in these little isolated pockets, and so culture was evolved very slowly. But now it’s starting to evolve very rapidly. And it’s jarring for individuals, because they’re used to – at least our generation – was used to the slow evolution marked by epochs, right?

As opposed to all of a sudden you have a hundred years of change in twenty years, and then it’s going to be five years, and then one year.

So the evolution of human consciousness at an individual collective level is to deal with the VUCA world. Which brings us back to why the military warrior leader training is so useful for corporate leaders, or business leaders, or organization leaders today. Because the warriors are… Once you get into that level of working out of the pure field of energy and your essential nature, then volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity aren’t as big a deal. Because you can act with spontaneity and intuition.

Richard: Right. I think also important for us to make the distinction between – there are absolutely warriors in the military, and you can be in the military and not have a warrior mindset.

Mark: That’s true.

Richard: You could be somebody like Mother Teresa, who you look at her shape and how she is, and was a tremendous warrior. So it can be open to all kinds of places.

But we can use that. Use those markers so we keep evolving.

Mark: Right. The warrior energy is an archetypal energy.

Richard: Yes.

Mark: It’s not a person or a profession, so to speak.

Strozzi Institute of Embodied Leadership


So you have the strozzi institute of embodied leadership. Is that how you characterize it or…?

Richard: Yes embodied leadership. Society to embody leadership.

Mark: And you bring your training into organizations, but people can also come to these public events. I went to your level one in body leadership. Then you have…

Richard: We have these tracks which is… We have a somatic coaching track where we teach people how to bring the body or the soma into their coaching practice. To do a lot of things we’re talking about here.

We have a leadership track in which individuals come to learn leadership qualities. And which is a public course.

And then we will go into organizations – like I say technological startups, government, fortune 500 companies, etc., etc. And work with their teams. And offer them coaching as well.

So it’s individual – like I say – public courses. And working in organizations.

Mark: And do you have any more projects going on now? Or that you see in the future similar to what you did with the Israeli/Palestinians? That are more of a nonprofit or kind of world-centric peace initiatives, or embodied peace initiatives?

Richard: We’re doing a very interesting project in Ethiopia. Ethiopia has like 150 tribes, pretty much ongoing, constant, civil strife – they’re in that now.

And what we’ve done is introduced Aikido there. Aikido as a martial art, but also as a way to begin a whole different track of how do we deal with conflict? What’s our alternatives to violence? And it has really caught the… I think over 60% of the population is under the age of 35.

And you know, Mark, it has really caught the imagination of these young people. And so now we have this… We started this about ten years ago… We have eleven dojos in Ethiopia now. We have a couple in Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania and the Congo too… Democratic Republic of the Congo.

And we get together for these big African summits. And not wanting to be the white savior industrial complex, I keep pushing all the work to the Africans, so that they will be the primary teachers. And a year and a half ago we had – for the very first time ever in Ethiopian history – we had five of the chiefs of the five major tribes together under the same roof. We said, “This is how we study conflict, and violence. And alternatives to it. Can this be a cultural exchange? You talk about yours.”

And the value of that was that these young people – we had about 200 – and they went to all the classes and watched them. We had conversations. They talked about what they did historically, but for the first time these young people had the image of these five chief elders being under the same roof at the same time.

So it was – as one of them said – it’s just a teaspoon in the ocean. But it’s a beginning.

Mark: Yeah, that’s beautiful.

Richard: Yeah, it’s just challenging and it’s unique. And if I think “well, we’re all just laying seeds here that’ll bloom in 800 years,” that’s fine.

Mark: Right. And it may not take 800 years.

Richard: And it may not. Inshallah.

Mark: Right. Exactly. Terrific.

So people can find out about the institute and about you best how?

Richard: Yeah, thank you. So you can get in touch with me individually that way. And then you can look at our website and see the multiple offers that we have. And the menu of offers that we have, that allow people to not only be intelligent and well-meaning about what they want to do, but actually to be able to change behavior and change actions. And take new actions for themselves.

Mark: Nice. And the last thing I have is earlier on when we started, you talked about the qualities of an exemplary citizen. And what would be your top three to five qualities of an exemplary citizen?

Richard: I would start with authenticity. I would then say integrity. And then I would say courage.

Mark: I love that. All of which are related to or require mind/body/spirit connection, right? Richard: That’s right.

Mark: And courage also meaning heart…

Richard: That you have the heart to have the hard conversation. You have the heart to be able to defend those that can’t defend themselves.

Mark: Right. Stand your ground… Have the heart stand your ground, which is integrity. And the authenticity to be yourself. Your true self.

Richard: Be your true self.

Mark: Beautiful.

Well, Dr. Strozzi-Heckler, thank you so much. This has been a fascinating conversation. I really appreciate the work that you’re doing and I personally look forward to training and working with you more closely in the future.

Richard: Well, Mark, it’s nice spending time with you. And it brings back the memory, the images of when we were together. Since you said “thank you Dr. Strozzi-Heckler,” I’ll say thank you Commander Mark Divine, okay?

Mark: Usually the titles don’t come out, but sometimes on the podcast…

Richard: I get it. And look forward to seeing you on the mat again. And I’m tracking use of your website and your great online course too.

Mark: Awesome. Well thanks again, and appreciate your time. Take care.

Richard: All right. Take it easy, but take it.

Mark: (laughing) Hooyah, as we would say in the SEALs.

Richard: Yeah.

Mark: All right, folks. That’s it for today. Thank you so much for your time. This is one to go listen to more than once. What a really interesting conversation. So many gems in there from Richard Strozzi-Heckler.

And check out his website And his books are great I really enjoyed “leadership dojo,” I think the first book I read was about the Trojan Horse and… Richard you still there? What was the name of that book? The Trojan Horse project?

Richard: “In Search of the Warrior Spirit.” It was a classified project there with the Army Special Forces – the green berets – and it was codenamed the “Trojan warrior project.”

Mark: Trojan warrior. Right. That’s fascinating.

And you’ve you recently updated that actually, right?

Richard: Yeah, I’m in my fourth edition and it takes in my time in Afghanistan and Iraq too with them.

Mark: Nice. Good stuff.

Alright folks that’s that. Or that’s a wrap, as we’ll say. Stay focused do the work develop a shugyo practice right? And you don’t need to be a seventh degree black belt to be an embodied leader. Just start where you’re at. Wherever you go, there you are. You bring your body with you, so you might as well get in touch with it.

See you next time.

Divine out.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Ron Gellis says:

    Another wonderful discussion. I appreciate your bringing together the rich variety of enlightened folks for these podcasts. Its all about the body-mind-spirit connection. Hooyah:)

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