Mirror, Mirror.

Photo by Beranger Zylla

(Part 5 of a Series)

I swore an oath, and I will protect you. Even if it means I must protect you from yourself. – Alexandre Dumas

I last left off with the act of choosing to give someone else control as a courageous and trustworthy act of intelligence as opposed to one full of recklessness and naivete. When I’m in control of myself, I am free to make choices based upon my beliefs and then evaluate their effects through a realistic perspective. However, I’ve always found it best to run my beliefs through the mirror of self and then through the lens of another – a trusted partner.

This philosophy of self-reflection and guided trust is constantly present throughout my everyday. Take the Dojo, for instance. When you walk into the White Tiger Dojo, you’ll find four identical posters placed in strategic locations that my students, their friends and family can see. Among the many guidelines that are focused on the art, you’ll see a statement: “A good student is a good partner.” The reflective statement is, “A good partner is a good student.”

The first stage of learning any technique requires that my partner and I intellectually understand the fundamentals of it before any physical implementation is conducted upon each other. It’s imperative to the success of the technique that my partner understands what I’m trying to accomplish so they may give me the feedback necessary to fix my mistakes. In a way, both of us are engaged in a compliant activity in order for us to both learn the opposing sides of a technique. This stage is similar to having a mutually agreeable conversation with a friend. We are openly and honestly communicating verbally and physically throughout the entire exchange.

The second stage of learning a technique requires that I ask my partner to be passively non-compliant. This state of non-compliance should feel like someone I know just touched me on the shoulder from my blind side. I’m alert and guarded, but I’m not actively trying to thwart the touch as I’m awaiting a visual or audible cue that will give way to some form of basic reasoning for their actions. This is where I begin working the kinks out of my technique with the feedback I have gained. This stage is similar to one person asking for clarification of another’s thought process.

The third stage of learning a technique requires that I ask my partner to be actively non-compliant. During this state of active non-compliance, my partner will actively stop me from executing the technique properly. Meaning, they will do what they can to push my physical and mental understanding of how the technique can be implemented. The more trust I have in my partner, the more I can push the technique through that layer of non-compliance. The more my partner trusts me, the more they can thwart the technique through non-compliance. We are both jockeying for control over our bodies while still maintaining a sense of trust. Reason being that the push and pull of the physical and emotional between my partner and I will provide an accurate assessment of each other’s abilities. This assessment will not only help us understand the multifaceted uses of the technique, but also strengthen the understanding of our relationship as trusted friends and rivals. In a sense, this stage is akin to two people having a heated, intellectual debate.

The last stage is the most realistic engagement that two partners can safely participate in. Here, both partners are being freely and actively non-compliant. For this example, let’s imagine that the exercise is geared towards both of us trying to execute the new technique successfully while not being caught-up in the mental intensity of the technique ourselves. This is the essence of being a good partner and student. This stage can get heated and emotions will leak out, but the bond of trust that has been forged between us from the previous stages will prevent either of us from sustaining any real injury. It is only because we have been consistently communicating openly and honestly with each other that a physical and mental exchange of this magnitude is possible.

As I’ve stated previously, if we do not extinguish the enemy within ourselves we will never know what our level of culpability is when we are faced with conflict. Knowing this and owning up to this is how I avoid “avoidable” conflict. Stepping onto the mat and going through these phases of “conversational combat” allows me to see the two sides of the same coin – violence and empathy. This is why trust and honesty are foundational elements to successful relationships. Once I learned the value of a good relationship, I also learned the habit of creating good relationships – especially my martial relationships, as we bare our most honest and vulnerable selves through physical exchanges. That being said, what kind of partner do you want in your life and what kind of partner do you want to be?

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