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The importance of being tough as nails along with being compassionate

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Not long after I posted yesterday’s blog entry on the persuasive power of treating the battlefield as a playground, I benefitted again from keeping those principles in mind when maintaining equanimity when an unanticipated arrow was sent my way, disintegrating the arrow into a spot of dust.

Court first and foremost is a battleground. No matter how many rules and procedures are set up to make court — and any other aspects of life — fair, we always will encounter people doing things that might derail us, whether or not that happens while playing within the rules or not, and whether or not they are actually trying to derail us.

For better or worse, by the time I was eight, I was always ready to fight. I had my first fistfight by that age. I sharpened my tongue to deal with peers and teachers who taunted me or tested my limits, or who judged me for my being one of the less accomplished athletes. For so many years, much of life was less than a joy than a bunch of ups and downs,  being ready to pounce at perceived threats even when in my otherwise most happy and blissful moments. I kept a coat of armor on at most times that, until my early thirties, I did not shed for anyone other than a handful of people I trusted the most.

Therefore, when I speak of persuading and living by being compassionate to myself and others, I am not speaking of some sort of syrupy Barry Manilow or Tony Orlando approach to life, but instead an essential approach to life. At my best, I apply the power of mindful compassion and joyfulness in tandem with being as tough as nails in a taijiquan martial arts sense, A key aspect of taijiquan achievement is to be so powerfully soft in the way that water can be at once powerfully soft (punching water gets one nowhere) and deadly if in a tidalwave, and that wind can be powerfully soft by nothing being able to overcome the wind, which can cause mass disaster in the forms of hurricanes and tornadoes.

As taijiquan master Ben Lo reminds us, taijiquan relaxation is about active relaxation, not collapsing, and certainly not being stiff nor brittle. Therefore, when an opponent in court tries to blindside me, or an opposing witness tries throwing sand in my eyes, I cannot simply stand there like a deer caught in the headlights (collapsed). Nor can I react merely to react (stiff and brittle). Nor can I let myself get angry (stiff and brittle). Taijiquan is about getting to and staying in harmony (active relaxation), whether that mean keeping a harmonious status quo, or inflicting damage of varying degrees on opponents to get to harmony. The more fine tuned that approach, the better.

When people act rotten, sometimes that is an expression of their suffering. Regardless of their motivation for being rotten, I have no obligation to let their rotten actions take me and my clients into disharmony any more than I have an obligation to deal with a burning building by staying there rather than putting out the flames from a safer position. If my response needs to cause suffering to my opponent, so be it, so long as I do not inflict suffering for the mere sake of inflicting suffering, do not revel in inflicting suffering on my opponent, but instead revel in getting me and my client to harmony.

The late John Johnson, who lived the power of softness, reminded me to have my bows and arrows at the ready when kindness alone does not cut it. Those arms will always be with me, along with softness. Softness does not preclude being well armed, and being ready to use those proverbial and/or actual arms. None other than television’s Kung Fu underlines such an approach to trial battle and all other battle, through Master Kan: "Perceive the way of nature and no force of man can harm you. Do not meet a wave head on: avoid it. You do not have to stop force: it is easier to redirect it. Learn more ways to preserve than destroy. Avoid rather than check. Check rather than hurt. Hurt rather than maim. Maim rather than kill. For all life is precious nor can any be replaced."  (Emphasis added.)

An achieved fighter does not get rattled by other people, by forces of nature, nor by the fighter’s not yet having reached a higher level of achievement, so long as s/he continues on the path of achievement. S/he does not obsess over baring fangs to scare off possible attackers but remains prepared for effective battle, and insodoing makes the opponent think twice about whether to attack at all. The achieved warrior revels in life, and has no anger, even when an opponent smashes a proverbial beer bottle and tries to cut the fighter’s neck with it. The achieved fighter can smile at opponents and even joke around with them, but must always remember that the opponent is out for the opponent’s self, and might be an opponent who will even resort to underhanded efforts in the battle. The achieved fighter prefers the olive branch, but will not hesitate to fight when necessary. The achieved fighter is fearless and effective.