Fists of Fury?

Everyone knows how to make a fist, right? It’s instinctive. When you get mad, your hand balls up. Even so, there is some skill to ye olde fist that they teach in basic kung fu class. Clasp your fingers tightly to protect them; keep your thumb on the outside, wrapped tightly around your second knuckle; and angle your hand downward and outward so that there is a straight line between your first two knuckles and your elbow.

It turns out I can’t make a good fist. My fingers are attached to the knuckles in such a way that my index finger sticks out too far. Even after years of martial arts training, I am likely to hurt my hand if I give a good strong punch. I have to be careful. It is not a major problem, though. As my studies progressed, I learned that there are dozens if not hundreds of different ways to hold your hand to strike or grab, with names that sound like they come from bad action movies: hammer fist, tiger claw, dragon claw, crane’s beak, snake punch, unicorn strike.  “Fist like an arrow,” or the straight punch, is only one of them.  Some of them work for me, like the styles they come from.  Others do not.

The same is true of negotiation. Some people take the first instinctive course that comes to mind, acting directly and with instant escalation of the argument. It can be easier to lash out at provocation than to step back and ask yourself, “How can I get what I need from this interaction?” How many times have you seen someone try to push his position across by force regardless of his relative bargaining power rather than appeal to whatever reason, emotion or externality will convince his counterparty?  It is like using a regular fist against a wall, or using your strength to try to block a linebacker.  Maybe you can do pull it off, maybe it is a legitimate response to the circumstances, but it does not always make sense.  It can be a strategic error.

The flip side is that many people fall back when faced with aggression. That can be a legitimate response, too, but is it the right one at the right time?

In a real physical interaction, you would respond to provocation with an appropriate level of reaction.  If you are under threat of horrible injury, your goal may be instant savage incapacitation. Most of us are better off crossing the street to avoid the threat. If you have to engage, then you may be best off with a quick incapacitating blow rather than the limb shattering moves of most kung fu street fighting forms.  Otherwise, you may be the one who ends up in jail.  In a verbal argument, there are also levels of response.  Consider an argument with your spouse.  “Another way to look at it might be …” may be a better way to make your point than, “Stop acting like your mother!” Take a step back.  Pause.  Then decide:  maybe deflect, maybe engage in a surgical strike, maybe walk away.  Think about the range of what you can do.

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About Jeffrey FInk

In my day job, I'm a lawyer, mediator, arbitrator and advisor in Wellesley, Massachusetts with clients locally and from around the world. I advise clients about general business matters, act as outside general counsel to several companies and counsel clients in more contentious situations. Wearing a different hat, as a mediator, Collaborative lawyer and ADR professional I help clients resolve a wide range of business and family disputes. I've also studied a number of styles of martial arts and have a second degree black belt in kung fu.

Posted on May 23, 2013, in General, Kung Fu Strategies and Tactics and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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