in Conflict Resolution, Peacemaking and the Martial Arts
For the general public, the impression of martial arts often involves a physical conflict between two or more people. That conflict exists in a time-space continuum and in order to make contact, those people choose to intersect. * If we use the analogy of firing a gun for conflict – Ready, Aim, Fire – Ready is at Point A, Aim is at Point B and Fire occurs at Point C. Most martial arts are based on acting at Point C – when an opponent is already upon us. Timing is everything in the martial arts, yet C timing is very late and of limited effectiveness. Although many martial arts experts are skillful enough to use early C timing, it is still self-defense and involves physical contact.
If you think about it, timing is also critical in international relations. On the world stage, responses most often happen post-conflict – at Point C or later. How many times have we heard about violence breaking out somewhere in the world, and wondered why it couldn’t have been stopped sooner? A late response inevitably involves a violent counterattack and often exacerbates the original problem.
When faced with conflict, our job is first to yield and avoid a catastrophic or dangerous outcome. This may even involve “losing ground.” When we find ourselves in a potential conflict situation, we should not try to change or re-direct our counterpart at all. We need to respect their view and even their aggression toward us. This allows them to pursue their original vision/aspiration even if it is at odds to ours. If someone attacks us we can use the encounter as an opportunity to examine our own ego attachment to winning. And throughout it is important to stay in close proximity to our opponent and in engagement.
The decision to back off or back down at this point requires an understanding of the timing continuum and the overall intention to gain understanding – not to win. Deciding we don’t need to win gives us both space and options that would otherwise be unavailable. This is the first step in improving our timing, so conflict can eventually be avoided.
C Timing B Timing A Timing
conflict—>self-defense—>conflict avoidance—>conflict resolution—>peacemaking—>peace
The point is to keep working the situation toward the peace end of the continuum. Through the process of engagement, we need to move from C Timing to B and, if we can, to A Timing. Presuming an interaction involves several comments or encounters, we need to improve our timing as quickly as possible.
After our opponent is in motion but not yet coming at us again, we need to try engaging at Point B. Rather than coming at one another, we begin moving around one another. If we’re successful, we can avoid a clash, though there may still be a difference of opinion. In the martial arts, we naturally shift our position to face in the same direction as our counterpart – and see the world from their perspective. We can begin to study their world view.
In everyday life, this can take the form of stepping back from a disagreement and asking questions, seeing if we understand our counterpart’s statements and trying to probe beyond their stated position to an emerging sense of their true needs. We need to invest in studying and listening to our counterpart with our bodies and minds. We also need to remain flexible and let go of our own agenda.
The actualization of Peace must occur at Point A – catching our opponent before they are in motion, which in a physical movement looks more like dancing than martial arts. Without intending to change our counterpart’s trajectory, we listen with our ears or our whole bodies with love and acceptance. The dynamic can begin shifting when we see there is something of value in someone hurtling literally or figuratively toward us.
The encounter described above could take place within two minutes or it could unfold over hours, days, weeks or months. The essential dynamic is the same.
As with many things in life, the essential shift must happen within us. It is easy to describe the ideal and very, very difficult to practice in real life. It means giving up some fondly held ideas about ourselves and how the world works, and a good deal of discomfort. For the vast majority of us, it will take a lifetime of practice if we decide to take it on this kind of peace-making.
Ultimately, acting at Point A requires us to practice peace making pro-actively (without an opponent). This means meditating to prepare ourselves for what we will encounter during the day, and increasing the chance that we can engage rather than collide. It means giving up some of our small-minded agendas, and spending time being authentically curious about those who push our buttons. It means setting a clear intention of love and compassion especially in our darkest moments.
Martial arts are helpful because they offer a clear and tangible example. If one gets too attached to one’s view (i.e. stance or strategy) the encounter devolves very quickly. On the other hand, a successful approach leads to a rich and illuminating exchange. In every day life it isn’t so simple. Unfortunately, it’s easier to use C Timing and clash with others without catastrophic consequences.
Conflict can be an opportunity to grow and bring our relationships closer to A timing and to peace. All the encounters in our lives and on the world stage are driven by the deeper consciousness and intention we bring – which can be the foundation of peace. The only ingredient missing is our commitment to set out on the journey.
* The philosophical roots of the martial arts rest on the ability to live at the edge of life and death, which places the focus on one’s own consciousness (“self”) rather than the conflict (with the “other”). Our purpose is not to vanquish, win or overcome an aggressive opponent but rather to engage with, study, and become aware of their world view. Our ultimate goal is to grow, learn and develop deeper relationships – perhaps one definition of “peace.”
Copyright 2010 H.F. Ito and Tomi Nagai-Rothe – Please do not reproduce without permission from the authors.