April 5, 2012

Transforming Combat into Love.

Photo: Edwin Lee

Connection, not combat, gets you what you want.

Twice in the past week, the idea of using martial arts in personal relationships was mentioned to me. Neither conversation was about how to use it as a way to fight, but rather as a way not to.

So many of us push against what we disagree with, getting louder and louder, upping the battle in an attempt to make the other side yield. In the end, there is no winner. How can there be a winner when both sides aren’t happy with the outcome?

My father studied T’ai Chi for a number of years when I was younger, often embarrassing me greatly by practicing the slow, meditative movements in public. One of the methods he practiced was a style of self defense called “Sticky Hand” or “Pushing Hands.” My husband, just before we were married, jokingly asked my father in an email to teach him this method as a way to help our marriage. Little did he realize how accurate his request was.

Photo: Jakub Hiavaty

My husband wrote:

“I have recently learned of your training and skill in the art of sticky hand, which I believe will be a useful tool in my marriage to your daughter. Perhaps we can retreat to some remote mountain location where you can pass on your knowledge of this most venerated art.”

To which my father replied:

“Well, here’s a verbal description: It’s essentially the art of yielding, granting one’s partner the full latitude of their push—which has a natural limit, so doesn’t need to be blocked with a counter-push—and all the while staying lightly, sensitively in touch. Basically it transforms combat into love.”

I’ve been thinking about this idea for the last few days. It makes complete sense. The more you push against something (or someone), the more you are met with resistance and defense. But to allow other people the full range of their emotion, to meet them where they are at and stay connected, can only result in those emotions being alleviated. If you don’t push back with aggression, there is nothing for the other party to rail against.

I love this description of students learning Pushing Hands when I frame it in the context of a power struggle with my children or my husband:

“These exchanges are characterized as ‘question and answer’ sessions between training partners; the person pushing is asking a question, the person receiving the push answers with their response. The answers should be “soft,” without resistance or stiffness.

The students hope to learn to not fight back when pushed nor retreat before anticipated force, but rather to allow the strength and direction of the push to determine their answer.

The intent thereby is for the students to condition themselves and their reflexes to the point that they can meet an incoming force in softness, move with it until they determine its intent and then allow it to exhaust itself or redirect it into a harmless direction. The degree to which students maintain their balance while observing these requirements determines the appropriateness of their ‘answers.'”

Photo: Greg Westfall

When I allow my children to be angry or frustrated without having a rigid response to those expressions, and am open to trying to understand where they are going with their emotions, I am able to stay connected to them. When I am connected that way, there is no struggle and they do not feel the need to battle me.

In this way of thinking, I remember that there is no need to control my children (or anyone) to get what I want. We all are able to express ourselves fully, we all feel heard and understood, and ultimately, we all win.


Prepared by Lorin Arnold / Brianna Bemel

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