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Book Review: Research of Martial Arts, by Jonathan Bluestein

Cover of Research of Martial Arts by Jonathan Bluesmen

I’m a sucker for martial arts books. My shelves are full of guidelines for systems I will never have the chance to study, by masters past and present whom I will never have the chance, or sometimes the desire, to meet. There’s even a book about using taiji to run better.

Martial arts books fall into a few categories. The ones most people look for are the ones I think of as “How To Wave Your Hands Around” books. They describe the motions of forms and styles, often finishing up with short bios of famous teachers and cryptic translations of old sayings. The more interesting ones go into the mechanics: “How to Wave Your Hands Around With Intention.” It is endlessly fascinating to see how two movements can mean and do such different things with different intentions behind them. Is it a strike or a throw? However, lists of this kind of jing and that kind of jing are not always interesting reading since you really need an in-person teacher to show you how to unlock meaning and hidden moves within a form. The third category is philosophy, which is the difference between martial arts and fighting. You probably have these books on your shelves, too. Each of them has its place. I’ve quoted from one or another of them extensively in the Kung Fu Mediation blog, since each can be the source of great inspiration.

I’ve recently had the pleasure of reading a book that reaches multiple categories and beyond, Research of Martial Arts by Sifu Jonathan Bluestein. Mr. Bluestein is an exponent of two traditional Chinese martial arts, Xing Yi (internal) and Piguachang (mostly external) and uses his understanding of them to launch into an expansive, thoughtful exploration of the “why” behind traditional East Asian martial arts. Waving hands? A little, although it is not the main focus. Intention? Yes. Internal and external power? Yes, although he thoughtfully disagrees with the traditional classifications. Open hand forms and weapons? Yes. History and philosophy and interviews with masters? Yes. More than that, he touches on what most martial artists are secretly looking for: the keys to unlock hidden aspects within our systems through deep and authentic practice. That kind of serious practice can be reflected in our lives off the mat, too. Mr. Bluestein understands that martial arts are not only about fighting.

For those who are looking for more than the “how to” of martial arts or negotiating strategy, Research of Martial Arts is worth the read.

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Putting the Pieces Together

scattered dominoes

Kung fu masters have come up with many teachings that sound poetic but are extremely practical. For instance, people who practice Chen style tai chi say, “Don’t hit. Kick with your hands”: have a complete connection between your sole and your fist. It goes along with a Yang style tai chi saying that is a bit more explanatory: “All movement is rooted in the feet, controlled through the waist and expressed in the hands,” or one of the core principles of every style of tai chi, “If one part of me is moving, all parts of me are moving. If one part of me is still, all parts of me are still.” The endless hours of horse stance practice from external martial arts styles and standing qigong (zhan zhuang) from internal styles are not just to make one’s legs stronger and alignment better, but also to teach students to feel the connection between all parts of their bodies, how extra tension in the calves translates to imbalance that makes them hold their shoulders more tightly and painfully. The training even reaches further inside the student’s body, teaching him to breathe with more coordination, as in the “microcosmic orbit” breathing from the external styles or “back breathing” from the internal styles. Some Ba Gua students even claim to be able to control the operation of their internal organs. To these students, everything must work together, even, ultimately, autonomic function.

If you are negotiating with someone and your mind is spinning in a million directions, your distraction provides an opening for your counterparty to step in. Your arguments are not cogent. You do not project calm confidence. You forget facts and mix up conversations. Your constant retreats to your phone screen signal disrespect. While it is wrong to see the outcome of every discussion as either win or lose, if you are scattered, you are setting yourself up to lose. Do not be like the tai chi student who merely waves her hands around without the internal connections, whom the masters describe as “scattered and confused.” It is not a new age concept to learn to focus better!

Similarly, if you are speaking on behalf of someone else – whether it is your company, your employer or a client – it is your responsibility to make sure that the chain of communication and decision making reaches as far back as it has to. That way, you speak with the strength of the whole rather than just for yourself.  If a company can say, “We hear you, but after consideration this is how the Board has decided to go,” it has much more strength than, “I’m not sure, but I don’t think we can do that.” All the parts of the organization should work together, or else, like the student struggling in a horse stance, some part is going to start complaining.

Realistically, this sort of integration and coordination is more an aspiration than a requirement. No person is focused all the time and no organizations work coherently all the time. As calm and grounded as you may feel on Tuesday, by Wednesday things may change. However, if you mirror the kung fu master, who finds something to improve every time he practices, the effort will pay off. In the meantime, like the student holding an uncomfortable position, find ways to strengthen the situation. Work on communications within your company and lobby your boss to get buy-in at all levels on your issue. Learn to use interpersonal cues to look like you are focused and attentive, and it will strengthen your connections. Take up yoga, tai chi, other martial arts or something that connects your movements. These small steps add up.

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.

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.

14 Principles of Kung Fu Negotiation

Kung fu master, golden rooster stands on one leg

People respond to verbal conflict the same way they do to physical conflict. The same adrenaline starts to flow and our minds even adopt some of the same strategies. Being aware of these strategies is one of the essences of Kung Fu Negotiation. Whether you are sparring with your fists or with words, there a handful of basic principles:

1. To the extent you can, pick your battles.

2. Know your goals: why are you fighting?

3. Do not get hit. Block, avoid or redirect.

4. Learn to take some punches since you can never be sure you will be able to follow Rule #3. For instance, in external kung fu styles, there is “iron body” training, and in internal styles there is “iron bell.” In life, there is learning to be more thick-skinned.

5. Simultaneously block and strike. Every time someone comes after you, they leave themselves open, somewhere, somehow. This is one of the first things that beginning kung fu students are taught: it is dangerous just to block because eventually a punch will get through. In a difficult conversation, even if you are not always on the offensive, you should be prepared to be.

6. Create an opening. If someone’s guard is up, take it down. If someone punches at you, reach around the punch to hit him in the ribs. If you want to persuade people, think about whether to engage their objections directly or find a way to work around them.

7. Pick your target. In a physical fight, there are a number of spots that are good to aim for, and a number that are not. It may be better to aim for the stomach than the shoulder. In a really nasty argument, it may be better to slap your counterpart down than to engage on his terms.

8. Don’t overextend. You leave yourself off-balance if you punch too hard in a fight and exposed if you put too much on the table at the wrong time in a negotiation. It is even true for disclosing information.

9. Take care with your anger or other strong emotion. If it motivates you, it can be your friend. If it blinds you, it can be your enemy. Acknowledge it but be careful before embracing it.

10. Always be aware of your adversary. Do not look away. Anticipate his moves. Stay connected. In a negotiation, look for his actions and reactions. Be aware of when to be persuasive, when to push, when to connect, when to take a step back.

11. Always be aware of yourself. In a physical fight, know your strengths, weaknesses, body position and balance. In a difficult conversation, know your flash points and honestly evaluate your ability to be persuasive under pressure.

12. Decide how much damage you need to inflict to achieve your ends. Do not exceed that amount. For instance, if you are talking to an employee, you probably do not need to crush her. In most conversations, de-motivation is not your goal.

13. It is best to live to fight again another day. If you cannot win, find a way to withdraw safely. Gracefully concede the point. Restrain your ego.

14. Remember that withdrawal can be a strategic prelude to an attack. If your adversary sees weakness, it may draw her in, giving you the space and time to set up the right attack. It is OK to lead with a question.

Dit Da Jow Recipe

The Kung Fu Mediation blog has three groups of readers:  martial arts people, negotiation/dispute resolution people and those who do both.  This post is aimed at martial arts readers.

Woman throwing punch

I’ve received e-mails from all over the world in response to a post from a few months ago on How to Make and Use Dit Da Jow, which in turn was a follow-up to a post on Kung Fu Negotiation: The Iron Palm. People have been asking for more information on how to make Dit Da Jow, an herbal compound that is supposed to toughen the skin and reduce injury from repeated strikes.

My English handwriting is bad and Chinese handwriting is even worse. However, if you don’t mind squiggles, please click on the link for a PDF of a Dit Da Jow Recipe that you can print out and take to a Chinese herbalist. The herbs should cost less than $10. The prior post explains what to do once you’ve acquired the ingredients.

In addition to the disclaimers in the earlier post, please be aware that:

  • It takes at least 6 months of infusing in alcohol to get really powerful, but you can start using it after 3-4 months.
  • Dit Da Jow becomes a strong smelling potion. My wife complains when I use it.
  • This recipe creates a powerful vasoconstrictor. In other words, it causes the small blood vessels to contract to help control bruising. However, it also makes your hands cold. It’s really important to run your hands under hot water before applying, both to improve absorption and to keep your hands warm. The masters say that the warmth is important for qi development. I say it makes the training less uncomfortable.
  • Because of the smell, because the herbalists tell me some of the herbs are poisonous if ingested and because it feels better to limit the vasoconstriction, I always wash the stuff off in hot water after it sits for a few minutes.
  • The shelf life should be at least several years. I have received mixed messages on whether to strain the herbs out after a period of time.
  • The original source of this recipe was a commercial distributor that is now out of business. They told me that it is specifically designed for use on the hands, but I’ve used it on my arms and elbows too.

Finally, please, please remember that while Dit Da Jow helps, it’s not magic. It is easy to break your hand or wrist when you are trying to break too many boards (at higher levels, coconuts are a traditional target, too – but not for old guys like me). Train safely!

Negotiation Like a Kung Fu Master: Duck!

duck

It is good not to get hit.

If someone punches at a kung fu master, the master has many choices.  He can block the punch, redirect it so its energy is harmlessly dissipated, strike back at the same time he is protecting himself, trap the punch momentarily while he lashes out with a kick, lock the puncher’s elbow, wrist or shoulder joint in order to immobilize and control him or even use the energy of the punch to throw the puncher across the room.  He can also be somewhere else when the punch arrives, a so-called “yin” block. There is no shame or cowardice in not taking a blow.  It is OK to duck if you know your next step.  As long as the punch does not reach you, you are safe.

For the negotiator, the situation dictates the nature and level of your response. Sometimes it is better not to engage.  For instance:

  • Faced with a situation in which you are eventually going to lose, it may be better to postpone conflict for as long as possible.
  • When someone is trying to bait you by engaging in personal attacks or otherwise pushing your personal or organizational buttons, it may be better to ignore the behavior than to ramp things up.
  • When your counterparty is agitated, it may be better to let him tire himself out or become more annoyed rather than trying to negotiate with him in that state.
  • When your counterparty is a moving target, it may be better to let him settle into a position before you respond.
  • When your counterparty is not in a strong enough position to do damage or merit a response, it may be the best use of resources just to keep an eye on the situation.
  • When you are waiting for external circumstances to turn more favorable, it may be better for you to postpone an exchange.

So, where does that leave our fearless negotiator? After avoiding conflict, does he stand his ground? Does he strike angrily at his counterparty?  Does he do like Sir Robin in the movie Monte Python and the Holy Grail:

“Brave, brave Sir Robin/Bravely ran away/Away, away, away he ran/Oh, brave Sir Robin!/When danger reared its ugly head/He bravely turned his tail and fled/Yes, brave Sir Robin turned about/And gallantly he chickened out ….”

The answer is easy.  Use the time in which you have not engaged to position yourself to respond.  Whether you are thinking about the best response, marshaling organizational assets, dealing with internal organizational politics, letting your counterparty dig himself a hole or even preparing a better escape hatch, you may be able to improve your negotiating position for the next round of talks.

It is a mistake to confuse doing nothing with being ineffectual.  Sometimes, stepping out of the way is the best thing you can do.

Shamanism, Martial Arts And Negotiation?

Sorry, this is a strange post, even for an offbeat blog like this one!

I’ve recently come across a couple of articles suggesting that the origin of martial arts lies in ancient shamanistic practices rather than the practical need for self-defense. For instance, there’s this article on “Shamanism and the Origins of Martial Arts,” and this article on “The Shamanic Origins of Tai Chi.” The latter article begins by describing how much a “spirit dance” by a shaman of the Ka-ren tribe in Thailand reminded the author of tai chi.

Figurine of unknown origin doing exercise similar to Chi Gong

These ideas are interesting, particularly since the shamanic roots of Daoism are well-accepted in academic literature. As all you kung fu masters and other readers know, Daoism has played a key role in the development of tai chi and other martial arts. The way most of us practice, though, the ideas are a bit of a stretch – but if you feel like you are channeling a noncorporeal snake during training, who am I to argue? Teachers have been telling me for years to figure out how to BE a leopard, so I hope somebody gets it even if it eludes me! The fact that this is an often-used teaching method suggests that there is something to it, even if you are not a member of an animist tribe.

As an armchair anthropologist (who actually spent some time among the Ka-ren, a long time ago), I wonder how this carries over to daily life. If a modern person negotiates with the intense, quiet focus of a snake, is he engaging in the contemporary equivalent of a shamanistic spirit dance? Does the answer vary culturally, depending on whether that person is a woman in Boston or a man in the Philippines? It would make a nice research paper for someone.

With some mediators I know, the answer is clearly closer to yes! The Wikipedia definition of shamanism states, “Shamans act as mediators in their culture” (mediating between the living and the spiritual world). The Association for Conflict Resolution has a Spirituality section. Many mediators are explicitly motivated by religious ideas – I can name half a dozen people who have expressed this to me in terms their own backgrounds, as pastoral obligation, doing God’s will on earth, healing the world, etc. Some of these people are incredibly effective.

If this sense is a motivation for your work as an advocate, negotiator, mediator or even arbitrator – whether you want to BE the tiger or BE the balancing point – you can take it to the next level. Try adding in some physical elements, like those the shamans use.  Kung fu training may give you an archetypal boost.

Kung Fu Negotiation: Staying Centered With the Art of Ba Gua Chang

Translated literally as “Eight Trigrams Palm,” the martial art of Ba Gua Chang is traditionally only taught to students who have first achieved a black belt in another discipline.  It is said that anyone can learn the art of Taiji; one in 50 can learn the art of Xing Yi, another internal style; and only one in 100 can learn Ba Gua. It can be that complicated.

Ba Gua or Eight Trigrams Symbol

Ba Gua is a mashup of Zen circle walking, aspects of the Yi Jing (I Ching) and many different internal and external martial arts forms. People in China even attribute semi-magical qualities to it, like rebuilding qi to recapture youth.  Some say that Ba Gua is one of the root practices of aikido, and the expert practitioner indeed moves like the aikido master, smoothly and effortlessly floating from one movement to the next. If you want to learn more about Ba Gua, check out masters Bruce Frantzis at http://www.energyarts.com and Jerry Cook at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0na1tpjkh1Y.

What does it have to do with negotiation, mediation or arbitration? If we look to the foundational exercise of this system, it becomes clearer.  The root of Ba Gua is walking in a circle like the Zen masters. Pick a clear area 3-5 feet across. Raise your arms up into a guard position, with your right hand at shoulder level, slightly higher and further extended than the left. Start walking in a circle toward your right (clockwise), always keeping your shoulder and hand pointed toward the center of the circle. Step with your feet flat. Keep going.  After a couple of times around, switch to your left hand, left shoulder, left direction.  Do it again, then switch back. If you want to take it to the next level, always keep your eyes on the tip of your finger as the blade of your hand faces the center. Start circle walking just a few minutes at a time before you build up to more.

The key word here is “center.” You are circling the center, which when you get to applications will enable you to circle around the person attacking you. You are moving around the circle, which will enable you to move smoothly into some nasty joint locks and throws. Your focus is always on the center, not directly forward or on yourself, so you are always able to be flexible with your tactics.

Likewise, in a negotiation, your eyes need to be on the center: the reason you are in the negotiation. If your eyes are directly forward, you may get locked into a path without realizing why, or maybe even confuse that path with your real goals. If your eyes are on yourself, you may be too protective, and in your concern about being hit you will lose sight of your goals. If your strategies do not revolve around your real goals, you may be too easily deflected.

In a mediation, be prepared to circle behind the other party or even the mediator. You can do that if your attention stays on your goals, and if you are prepared to be flexible in the way you reach those goals. During this type of intensive negotiation, the circumstances are constantly shifting, and you need to be able to adapt.

In an arbitration, keep your focus on the center, the core of your argument. Try to move smoothly from one presentation of evidence to another, creating as even a flow as possible with no breaks in the argument.  Take charge of the room like the Ba Gua master who looks like he is doing a solo ballroom dance even though each of his small movements can be devastating.

Ba Gua is designed so that one can fight eight people at once!  It has major application in multiparty negotiations, settlement discussions or arbitration.  When there are so many agendas on the table and so much complexity of competing demands, personalities and information flow, it is easy to be distracted and overwhelmed. Keep your focus on the center so you are prepared to ward off or attack each one of the other participants.  The number of possible responses multiplies like the number eight in Ba Gua applications, Daoist thought or Chinese superstition, but unless you keep that focus you will get lost in the detail and have no power behind your implementation.

If there is one thing to remember about Ba Gua, it is this: if you focus on your goal despite chaos and try not to get locked in to a particular solution, you will be ready for whatever conflict your situation throws at you. It is another way of looking at interest-based negotiation.

Dit Da Jow in World of Warcraft

A reader has shared the following screen shot from World of Warcraft – dit da jow in his backpack.

Screenshot of World of Warcraft backpack showing dit da jow

“A special linament of several different herbs combined in a secret formula. Guaranteed [in the game] to instantly heal bruises and fight injuries.”

Thanks to Master Alden Ludlow, a musician, historian, Renaissance man and holder of advanced degree black belts in kempo and kung fu.