Conflict Resolution Lessons from my Karate Training

I’m training for a black belt in Shotokan karate. It’s true – and these challenging martial arts lessons are not only making me physically and mentally stronger, but also sharpening my skills as a professional mediator.

Did you know there are striking parallels between karate techniques and (non-violent) conflict resolution? I’ll explain briefly:

Part of our time each karate class is spent performing self defense drills with a partner. Each person takes turns being the aggressor and the defender. When defending yourself, the natural tendency is to try to get away from your aggressor.

Yet you can almost always defend yourself more effectively by getting closer.

This is how it works in conflict resolution too.

We tend to distance ourselves from people with whom we’re in conflict. This is a mistake. The closer we can get to our aggressors – in order to understand their viewpoint and position – the better poised we are to successfully defend ourselves against them — and ultimately end the conflict on our terms.

Here are some ways to do this – outside of karate class:

  1. Ask questions. In particular, ask the other person why the subject of your conflict matters to them.
  2. Listen more than you talk. And when you listen, really listen. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk.
  3. Repeat back what the other person says to be sure that you really understand what they’re saying. This will also let the other person know that you’re listening and help them feel understood.
  4. Try to understand their perspective. Do you find the other person’s position completely absurd? It makes sense to them. Find out why.

About the image: At my brown belt graduation with Shihan Ricky Bonaparte of Northern Karate.

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