Using Softness to Overcome Adversity - A Life Lesson Learned from Gung-Fu
Training in martial arts teaches us many paradoxical lessons about dealing with conflict and even life in general. One of the more paradoxical lessons is the concept of using softness to overcome hardness. From an emotional standpoint, this isn't too difficult to grasp such as when a parent is using a calm, soothing voice to comfort a child that is angry or upset. The softness of a parent's voice often overcomes the negative emotions their child is going through. Even though most of us have seen and/or experienced this we still tend to rely on using "force" when we are angry during conflict, whether it be a difference of opinion at work, or even between spouses. It has been proven that in most cases, an angry response during conflict only serves to make things worse and build resentment. In fact, it often escalates the conflict until it is out of any rational control.
When used properly, softness can often overcome adversity while not allowing any unnecessary collateral damage in the process. There are three main types of softness that can be utilized in the face of adversity.
1. Emotional Softness - Emotional softness means choosing to not allow yourself to respond to circumstances or even other people with anger, annoyance, or any other negative emotion. It is okay to feel these emotions, but it is not okay to act on them in a way that harms you, others, or makes the situation worse. You will gain more respect from others when they see you are able to deal with situations that would normally upset others in a calm, non-reactionary way. This is very hard to do, but with practice it will become easier as you flex those self-control muscles more and more. Another interesting side effect of emotional softness is the effect it can have on those trying to physically harm you. A person that does not allow others to affect their calm is very disconcerting to people trying to take advantage of you, or even harm you mentally or physically.
2. Mental - Mental softness means to be able to adapt to your situation and not be stuck in a fixed way of thinking. Different problems require different way of thinking. Believing that your way of thinking is always right is extremely limiting in life and also when dealing with adversity. Every bit of adversity, and every type of opponent require a different answer. Think of every opponent and situation as a unique combination lock. In order to find the right combination, your mind must be adaptable and willing to think in different ways than you are used to. Not having mental flexibility ensnares us in a trap that keeps us limited in life and often blinds us from finding answers to our problems.
3. Physical - Physical softness means to make sure that your body itself is not too rigid or forceful. There are moments in martial arts when the body needs to be rigid and forceful, but those moments are few and should be set up with a relaxed mind and body. There are no good boxers that are stiff when they box. All good boxers are loose, relaxed, and ready to move at their peak speeds. A loose muscle will always be faster and have more endurance than any tense muscle out there. This idea can even be applied to working on things at home. Most problems that require some amount of force to correct, requires a controlled set amount. Any mechanic can tell stories about how awful it is to use too much force on a screw or bolt and strip them out. That kind of incident can turn any simple job into a nightmare!
It is fascinating to me that most of a person's instinctive reactions to adversity is counter-productive. We have all responded to problems by being stressed, angry, physically tense, or all of the above. Martial arts training is a great way to unlearn these natural responses. Life is a balancing act. Most of us make the mistake of focusing on going harder and putting out more effort without ever asking ourselves if we are actually making progress with what we are doing. Responding with softness in our approach to conflicts can make us more successful in martial arts and in life. It won't happen for you all at once, but over time you will find yourself learning to respond with a softer approach as you begin to stack up more and more wins in life!