Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Four Flavors of Respect

[This one comes from a reader’s request and written with the martial artist in mind.]

The dictionary defines “respect” as being esteemed or honored.  Why is one esteemed or honored?  Because of some personal quality or achievement.

1.  Fear is Not the Same as Respect.  Too many people confuse fear with respect.  When I was eight years old, my first martial arts teacher, a former Green Beret, described to us the popping noise it made when he cut the throats of Viet Cong soldiers with piano wire.  His senior students were creepy, too, all big fans of choke holds and neck throws.  I was scared of them – eight years old! – and quit after a year.  They were not what I wanted to become. If you are a bully of a teacher, your students will fear you and you will attract students who want others to fear them. They will never hold you in high esteem, only your fighting skills. The same holds true for people in leadership roles in any walk of life.

woman holding up palm

You want respect?

2. Personal Integrity.  On the other hand, if you have personal integrity, you will attract those who respect you, not just your skill set.  As Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit writes about kung fu masters:

“The most important quality, however, the quality that distinguishes true masters, is that they teach and practice high moral values.  Some people may be very competent in their art, and may even teach well, but if they swear and curse, seldom keep their word, glorify aggressive fighting or are fond of sleeping with other people’s wives, it is best to stay clear of them.”

3.  Acknowledging Limits.  You demonstrate a third kind of respect every time you practice with your fellow students: respecting each others’ limits.  Although different schools have different expectations, each of you has consented to the engagement and agreed that neither of you will do serious injury to the other. You have to learn control of your body, behavior and emotions in order to be an effective student, or else your fellow students will want nothing to do with you. You are one cracked rib or bloody nose away from being shunned.  When we slip up (which happens), the better among us apologize, acknowledging that we have crossed a line, in order to defuse the anger that might result.  What if we are the subject of the slip-up?  We learn to accept the apology without letting the anger bubble up.  Our own self-control and respect for our opponents is a major source of others’ true respect for us.

It is this third kind of respect that serves us well off the mat.  Kung fu philosophy disfavors mercilessness when it is not needed.  Do the minimum damage to achieve your goal – like the tai chi master brushing an opponent away like a fly, or a master of joint locks immobilizing without shattering limbs.  That is respect for your art and even the humanity of your opponent.  If you show that kind of respect for your opponent, you are likely to de-escalate the conflict.  After all, if he is afraid you will injure him, he is likely to lash out in self-preservation.  He is likely to respond to your disrespect with his own.

4. Respect the Consequences. On the other hand, at some time in our lives all of us have to fight hard for something off the mat.  If the situation is so bad you cannot fight with respect for your opponent, at least respect the consequences. If you seriously injure someone you may face jail time. If you act viciously it invites revenge.  If you develop a reputation for amoral ruthlessness it makes people wary of you, not respectful.  Although you may have to take a tough line, do it carefully and with forethought.

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Aikido and Conflict Resolution

At a conference on Collaborative Law last week, I had the pleasure of attending a session on Aikido and Conflict Resolution by Judy Ringer, a consultant and practitioner from Portsmouth, New Hampshire (www.judyringer.com). It was great to see someone else picking up on some of the same connections I’ve been writing about here. Even though her approach was different than mine, some of her core lessons, like centering and redirection, were the same. Keep up the good work, Judy!

water drop

I knew one or two of the other participants who had studied martial arts. Most had not, so it was interesting to see what appealed to them:

  • First was the “secret ninja” aspect. People thought it was cool to be learning anything about martial arts. Truth be told, most of us had that before we started training! I hope it whet some people’s appetites. A couple of people said to me afterwards that they had always wanted to learn an Asian fighting system.
  • Redirection is the essence of Aikido and plays a large role in many of the Chinese internal martial arts.  It is a hard skill to learn in pure martial arts training and it is really hard to teach in an hour to people with no background. Talking to other participants afterwards, some felt enough of an internal connection to start to relate it to dispute resolution techniques. Others not so much, although all were impressed with the Aikido demonstration and philosophy.
  • Being centered seemed lost on many. I think they were confusing the concept of physical centering with its new-agey equivalent. The reality, as all martial artists know, is that physical centering (perfect physical alignment) can lead to psychological centering. See my posts on Listening and Standing, Part 1 and Part 2.
  • Being rooted was something people grasped immediately. Can I push you over or not? This crowd, experienced in conflict resolution, felt in their bodies what it meant to be rooted. I may add that to my repertoire when it comes to my own conflict resolution practice. Is there an ethical way to have people in conflict do something like Tai Ji push hands? What if they already have a relationship that might provide some built-in limits?
  • People didn’t want to just have the experience. They needed to talk about it. One of the other participants, Prof. Robert Kubacki, who co-chairs the Civil Committee of the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council with me (www.massclc.org/civilcollaborative), thought it might have to do with the distribution of Meyers-Briggs “S” and “N” types in the room. This crowd was over-weighted in the “ST” department, which suggests that a mix of concepts and hands-on experience was the best way to teach them.

I’m thinking about following in Judy’s footsteps and offering presentations on Kung Fu Mediation – making sure to allow time for a facilitated discussion about it afterwards! Please back-channel me if you have any thoughts on the topic.

Moosin?

No, it has nothing to do with moose. It’s the journal of the International Taekwon-do Federation, and it’s going to be republishing articles from the Kung Fu Mediation blog! Pretty cool.

 

Woman throwing punch

With RSS feeds, other followers, Internet readers and a few other places these articles land, the Kung Fu Mediation blog has grown to 600-1000 readers per month. Moosin gets 50,000+ online (www.moosin.net). Since we can all learn to be better martial artists AND better negotiators, I’m looking forward to spreading the word even more widely: don’t neglect those hard-wired cognitive systems we use for all kinds of conflict.  Thanks for reading!