Transforming Combat into Love.

Via Gina Osher
on Apr 5, 2012
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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


About Gina Osher

Gina Osher, the daughter of world-wandering hippies, is a former holistic healer turned parenting coach and mother of boy/girl twins. She is also the author of the blog, The Twin Coach in which she offers advice, bares her soul, works though her imperfect parenting moments and continues on her journey to be a more joyful parent. Gina is dedicated to helping others find both a deeper understanding of themselves and a stronger connection to the children they love.


17 Responses to “Transforming Combat into Love.”

  1. Gina — love this post. It's GREAT advice — now to go out and try to use it! I know I suffer from PUSH BACK … Thanks for the insight.

  2. My dad did yoga when I was growing up. So embarrassing!! But, Tai Chi would be even worse:) Wonderful post, I really identify with trying to really hear our kids.

  3. Yes, I occasionally suffer from "push back", too. 🙂 It's all a work in progress!

  4. Thanks so much, Christina. Funny how my dad embarrassed me so much as a kid & now here I am embracing so much of what he knew 40 years ago! 🙂

  5. Sarah says:

    Unlearning the drive to push back is a difficult but important task not only because it gets us what we want but also frees us of what we don't need. For example, there may be times we stay connected instead of raising our voice to make our point heard but we still don't come out of the disagreement with the child, friend, or partner feeling like our needs were met; however, we still kept our mental and emotional space free of the toxic baggage and debris (e.g., stress, negative thinking) that clouds our way.

  6. That is so true, Sarah. And there are times when I have gotten what I wanted, but the manner in which I had to behave in order to get there left me feeling so depleted and disconnected from my kids that it ultimately wasn't worth it! It's such a fine line to stay in touch without pushing back and, as you say, a difficult skill to master.
    – Gina

  7. Great advice! Always working on doing the best I can as a mom… Not easy!!!!

  8. Missy says:

    You are so right. It never helps to fight back – especially with children. It only makes the situation worse. I know that from experience!! Deep breath. That is what I tell myself when I feel myself starting to push back. Thanks for the post!

  9. Katie Hurley says:

    I love this, Gina! Yes, we have to let them get through their emotions and then deal with it. We get angry sometimes, why shouldn’t they get angry too?

  10. Jordan says:

    Gina- I really agree with what you are saying here. Funny how clear it all sounds but seems so hard to remember during times of conflicts. Thanks for the reminder. So well written! -Jordan

  11. You're so right, Katie! I think we get so focused on wanting kids to "behave" that we often try shut them down when their emotions are inconvenient for us.

  12. I know what you mean, Jordan. In the heat of the moment I have been known not to be quite so logical. 😉 But writing about it really helps cement it in my brain. And the more I practice it, the better I get at remaining calm and connected. Thank you for your note!

  13. Thanks Missy. And yes! Deep breathing cures myriad ills! 🙂 Deep breath, count to to 10, reminding myself of the things I love about my child…all those things help me calm down and keep connected. It can be tough though.

  14. Thank you, Donna! I'm in the same boat. 🙂

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