How many people have namecards that describe them as “business artists?” American-born William Reed is one. As a 7th-dan black belt aikido practitioner, licensed calligrapher, tap dancer, translator, bilingual trainer and speaker, published author and writer, blogger and entrepreneur, he brands his activities under the name Agili, after agility.
“I searched the thesaurus for words that reflected the ability to move easily and quickly, with both mental and physical awareness.”
Weeks into the new year, projects that have one of his feet firmly established in Japan and the other set down in the international community are lining up: serving as a judge at the All-Japan Memory Championships in Yamato-Koriyama on Feb. 5, and speaking to FEW (Foreign Executive Women) three days later, for example.
Especially exciting are his activities in 2007 paralleling the Year of Italy in Japan. With two one-day workshops planned at Tokyo’s International House, he celebrates the arrival here of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting “The Annunciation” in March — the first time it has been allowed to leave the Uffizi Gallery in Florence after being moved there from a local monastery in 1867.
“The first bilingual event on March 24 is a Da Vinci Drawing Workshop with professional instruction in Tokyo. The second, on the 25th, a Da Vinci Notebook Workshop, leads toward the creation of personal visual journals.”
It was aikido that first drew Reed to Japan at age 20 as an exchange student from St. Louis, Mo., in 1972.
“I know now that aikido builds the immune system and keeps you young. Originally it appealed because it was about philosophy rather than physical size. I began training while studying Japanese at Waseda (University).” When he returned here in 1983 — again aikido called — teaching English was not an option.
“Regarding an hour of earning as an hour of learning, I opted for translation.” When agents began asking him to specialize, with three options — the shrimp industry, women’s lingerie, and the auto industry — he chose the last.
Never one to do anything by halves, he took a course in car mechanics — in Japanese, naturally. He became an auto journalist to learn more about the industry. And after setting up an office in Japan for the American Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), found himself involved in high-level international negotiations. But this was not his chosen path; he had strayed off course.
Passing on the baton to an Australian colleague, he sought other ways to support his major hobbies: aikido, calligraphy, and tap dancing. Drawing on his knowledge and experience, he wrote books on ki (energy) and shodo (calligraphy).
In 2005, his book in Japanese on mind-mapping made No. 1 on Amazon Japan and sold 50,000 copies. This spring, Kodansha will publish his latest title (one in a series) on guerrilla marketing. “It’s about how with time and imagination you can gain leverage and create a platform.”
It’s also about empowering people to take charge of their own health and careers, not to be a slave to habits and bosses.
“I’m teaching people how to fish for themselves.” A secondary interest in contacting famous authors led Reed to be asked by American Michael Gelb to translate his self-help book “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius every Day.”
First time around in Japanese, reaction to this revolutionary approach to creativity and learning was muted. Now Reed will release it again in early March as a pocket-book edition.
As an extension of the book and the workshops, and with Gelb’s total support for how his original product is being branded here, Reed plans Renaissance tours of Japan, creating personal visual journals along the way. His goal? To expand into Italy and France.
“Japan is so ready for change, he believes, citing the upsurge of interest in traditional and alternative culture and proliferation of niche publications. Just recently he saw a feature on NHK with salarymen blending their own aromatherapy oils. Amazing, he thinks.
“People are asking, What was it in Edo culture that we have lost, a loss that we once took for granted? Often it is in the small things. Like making space on the train so someone can sit down, instead of slouching without consideration. It is the essence of bushido, the way.”
Reed has many heroes in the multitalented multitasking Renaissance mold — Da Vinci, Kukai (founder of Shingon Buddhism), and Nitobe Inazo (author of “Bushido”), who, in 1906, advocated doing the right thing, living in such a way that there is no need to ask what needs to be done.
“In the past, people cared about one another. They were mindful.” Claiming three pillars of support for a balanced life — energy, awareness and footwork — Reed spoke last year to a gathering of Japanese school teachers on: the true meaning and merit of bushido.
Organizers of the event have asked him to prepare a lecture tour of the whole country through the junior chamber of commerce.
Reed spent his 20s finding out what his interests were. In his 30s, he found ways to support his interests (as a freelance). During his 40s, he created connections between them.
“Now in my 50s I’m integrating, tying things together in ways that pay me to do what I love. What lies ahead? Creating sources of passive income, sharing wisdom and wealth.”
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5