When Josh asked me to write an article for his website I was excited to contribute. From what I’ve seen, Josh is a talented martial artist and a fine instructor. For decades, he has been both practicing and sharing skills that not only save lives, but also make life more enjoyable to live. The physical preparation that is involved in learning martial arts or any type of tactical training is only one facet of a broader and deeper subject. I often say that physical defensive tactics are the alpha and omega of conflict management. In other words, the beginning and end.

The beginning, meaning that conflict resides within each of us and physical training can help us to manage that battle while keeping us healthy psychologically, emotionally and physically. The end; because physical defense should be a last resort, used only after all other options have been exhausted.

You see, conflict is in each of us. If we don’t address our own inner battles, we will have an increasingly difficult time managing the conflicts outside of us. Further, our inner battles will create external conflict. We can both attract it as well as create it from seemingly nowhere. I don’t know anyone who is a mess on the inside, yet deals exceptionally well with their external conflicts. Often times these people are the ones who create the conflict in the first place, only they don’t realize it. It’s simple really, the better we manage the conflict within us; the more effective we will be able to manage conflict outside of us.

Here’s an old Zen “Tie In” story that illustrates one of the facets that I am talking about:

The Gift of Insults

There once lived a great warrior. Though quite old, he still was able to defeat any challenger. His reputation extended far and wide throughout the land and many students gathered to study under him.

One day an infamous young warrior arrived at the village. He was determined to be the first man to defeat the great master. Along with his strength, he had an uncanny ability to spot and exploit any weakness in an opponent. He would wait for his opponent to make the first move, thus revealing a weakness, and then would strike with merciless force and lightning speed. No one had ever lasted with him in a match beyond the first move.

Much against the advice of his concerned students, the old master gladly accepted the young warrior’s challenge. As the two squared off for battle, the young warrior began to hurl insults at the old master. He threw dirt and spit in his face. For hours he verbally assaulted him with every curse and insult known to mankind. But the old warrior merely stood there motionless and calm. Finally, the young warrior exhausted himself. Knowing he was defeated, he left feeling shamed.

Somewhat disappointed that he did not fight the insolent youth, the students gathered around the old master and questioned him. “How could you endure such an indignity? How did you drive him away?”

“If someone comes to give you a gift and you do not accept it,” the master replied, “to whom does the gift belong?”

~Author Unknown

Now I would like to clear one thing up before we continue: I think duels are ridicules and, in my opinion, an even more enlightened master warrior might not have accepted a duel of this nature in the first place. However, overall I do like the story and think that it has a good intention and lesson.

Although there are many morals to this story, one of them is that the master had honed his internal management skills by learning and mastering physical martial arts. It is the physical training taught in the right way that brings the ethic from a mere philosophy to something usable in real life. In this way the physical nature of training martial arts when done with the right intent can act as The Alpha & Omega.

The Alpha: The Start

When taught with the right ethic, learning the physical aspects of defense creates a strong foundation of confidence and stability for effective conflict management on all of the other levels. It is important to feel safe at a foundational level; if you do, then dealing with conflict on other levels can become clearer and more easily navigated.

Think about Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. The foundation of our needs begins at a physiological level: eating, breathing, sleeping, etc. Just above that are our safety needs. If we don’t feel safe it is difficult to concentrate on other things: we begin to justify the situational need to defend ourselves (emotionally, verbally, physically, socially, etc) even when the perceived threat may not be true.

People make emotional decisions first and then justify those decisions with logic. So, once we feel that we have to defend ourselves we will then begin to logically justify what we believe we have to do in order to once again feel safe. We don’t want to feel like the “bad guy,” so we will rationalize our actions to make sure we aren’t…  at least in our minds. This rationalization can lead to dehumanizing, social stereotypes and stratification, bigotry, prejudice and many more unhealthy perceptions that our psyche and society will do to keep things in “order” and feel good about itself.

Don’t just take my word for it; look at our country’s not so distant past: Jim Crow Laws, immigration policies, red-lining, etc. Look at the justification involved in rationalizing the inequality among people with different ethnic backgrounds within our own country. On a personal level try to remember back when you had an argument with someone that resulted in you losing your temper. Did you say some things that you didn’t mean? If you did, you probably rationalized those comments in the moment, however after you calmed down you may have regretted some of the things that you said even though it felt good at the time.

The more confidence we have (not to be confused with arrogance or aggressiveness) the more accurately we can discern a true threat from a bluff, a joke or a shadow of our own insecurities. Not to mention, when it comes to training in the martial arts or (any sort of) physical tactical training; working out releases endorphins which calm our mind and emotions helping us to keep our emotions under control and be the eye of the storm so to speak.

The Omega: The Finish

As a last resort, if all other methods of conflict management are ineffective, then having physical management skills are not only useful but essential to protect yourself and others. As a matter of fact, the more effective the tactical defensive skills are, the better the odds at being able to subdue an attacker with less force and violence. Remember, we don’t train to be thugs; we train so we don’t have to be. The ethic is to protect life, all life if we can. Try to find the space where everyone can be safe. By space I don’t just mean the physical space, I am talking about emotional, psychological and even verbal space as well as the physical space to be safe.

So what now? We talked about physical tactics as being the beginning and end; the alpha and omega, but we didn’t really talk about how. The answer is simple but not necessarily easy: Training. Find a qualified teacher such as Josh, Jon Haas or Jack Hoban and train. If you are in my neck of the woods or if I am visiting your area, you are welcome to train with me as well. There are many resources out there to help you clarify, activate and sustain your conflict management skills; I would suggest that you explore those options as much as you can.

Here are four things that you can do right now to start your path:

  1. See conflict as an opportunity.
  2. Embrace the Universal Life Value that all life is to be protected and respected.
  3. Work toward most good, least harm for everyone.
  4. Lead through inspiration not intimidation.

All the best to you on your journey to a life filled with more safety, success and fulfillment.