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Assertiveness, Compassion & the Martial Arts Mindset

Assertiveness Compassion and the Martial Arts MindsetIn the martial arts, we often talk about the mental benefits of our training. This is not just about developing courage to face a self-defense situation and fight back if necessary. Nor is it only about building the confidence required to learn the physical skills involved in one’s training. The mindset learned through martial arts training also has practical applications for dealing with the wide variety of personal challenges and conflicts we face in daily life.

A Hairy Situation

A couple of weeks ago I went to get my hair cut at a local hair dresser. I had bought a discount offer through one of those daily deal websites. The hair dresser seemed a little stressed and withdrawn, but she did her job. At the end, she said she had to put through an additional charge, which I assumed was for the taxes that were not included with the deal. I gave her my credit card and punched all the buttons on the machine not paying close attention to the transaction. When she handed me the receipt I noticed the charge was for $10 (10x more than the taxes should have cost). I asked her about this and she said it was because I had long hair. I hadn’t seen any mention of the extra charge on the coupon so I asked her to show it to me in case I missed it. She angrily insisted it was there, but couldn’t point it out to me on the print-out, becoming increasingly agitated. She then claimed that it was the same as the $10 charge for extra foils for the partial highlights included with the deal, a service I had declined completely. I asked her to refund the charge because I said there was no justification on the written offer for the charge. She then started yelling at me at the top of her voice saying I was ripping her off and that I wasn’t even going to leave a tip (I had planned to leave a cash tip but hadn’t had the chance yet). She said it wasn’t her fault I declined the highlights. She said she was never doing these website deals ever again. Basically, she was raging and no longer able to talk reasonably or have a coherent conversation. I spoke to her clearly and assertively, “You can’t just charge people for something that isn’t accounted for in the written deal. Please refund the charge. Otherwise I’m going to have to report this to the deal website.”

She looked at me angrily but relented, “Fine, it’s really not worth it for $10,” she spat and proceeded to do the refund. She then got really quiet and slumped down her chair, looking really upset and despondent. She looked like she was going to cry.

I then asked her how much the charge was for the taxes. She looked startled. “Thank you for paying that. I figured you’d just leave,” she said, her demeanour softening.

I paid her the amount then handed her a $5 bill telling her it was her tip. “I know those deal sites don’t always work out the way you expect,” I told her. “I hope this helps.”

She looked up at me half in tears, and thanked me. I put my arm around her to comfort her, telling her, “It’s okay, we all have rough days.” I then walked out the door.

When you have a choice to be right or kind, choose kindness and watch your suffering disappear.” ~Dr. Wayne Dyer

While many people might agree with the spirit behind this quote, some still look at what I did in my situation and say that I rewarded unjust behaviour, encouraging the woman to repeat it. Like in any self-defense situation, we all have to choose what we think the best course of action is for the hand that we’re dealt. All I can say is that when I saw the look in her eyes as I handed her the tip, she realized that I wasn’t the person she thought I was and she regretted her earlier behaviour. My hope is that she had the realization that
everyone isn’t out to get her, influencing her future dealings with customers. If I had self-righteously stormed out of there after getting what I wanted, she would have more likely looked at me with contempt, satisfied that she had been right to treat me as she had, which I think would only perpetuate the negative attitude that had caused the situation in the first place.

Why Choose Kindness

Sometimes choosing to be kind to someone who has wronged you can help turn someone around. Your unexpected reaction has the power to help them re-analyze the situation. When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change, or so the expression goes. If your kindness makes an impact on that person, it can have a ripple
effect in the people that they come in contact with, which can ripple further and further to still more people. All this being said, it doesn’t mean there aren’t occasions in which it makes sense to stand up for yourself or others. I was still assertive with the hair dresser  in the beginning, having kept enough composure that I was able to firmly explain my position without losing my head, no matter how much she yelled. This type of composure is also something I attribute to my years of martial arts training.

The Martial Mindset for a More Peaceful World

The above kind of thinking is part of the martial arts mindset in the modern world. We train ourselves to have the courage and compassion to choose actions that have a positive impact on the world despite the increasing doom and gloom that is riddled throughout the news. It’s not simply about learning to fight for self-defense or sport (depending on the emphasis of the martial art), it’s also developing the confidence to know when not to fight, for our own safety and peace of mind, but also for the good of the world around us. The video below is a perfect example of this mindset.


Do you have any examples in which the martial arts mindset has helped you handle a conflict or challenge in your daily life? If so, please feel free to share your experience in the comments. 🙂

Comments (2)

2 thoughts on “Assertiveness, Compassion & the Martial Arts Mindset

  1. Hi Lori,

    Great article. I don’t know whether kindness is typical for martial artists but it’s certainly an admirable quality we should all strive for. Naturally you don’t train to employ violence at the first opportunity so there should always be a minimum of morality behind your actions but the foundation of (traditional) martial arts has always been spirituality and this should be much more than simply obeying the law and not seeking trouble. In the east it was taoism, confucianism, buddhism and/or shintoism, in the west christianity with very similar moral precepts. Of course whether all these soldiers really learned something about it and it wasn’t just window-dressing (appearing morally elevated while leading a completely selfish life)is doubtful but at least the potential is there.

    As to the situation you described: I believe you did the right thing, both for yourself as for that woman. Treating others badly because they did the same to us is counterproductive and will not only sour your own mood but lead to encouragement and perpetuating of the wrong behaviour. Some people really do lead rotten lives (oftentimes not even through any fault of their own) and we should always be mindful of the suffering in the world: I believe a person’s worth should primarely be measured through their behaviour towards others and the contributions they make to others’ well-being. If you’ve made a difference in others’ lives (however small) your life has meaning and by doing something for others you not only help them but yourself too.

    “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love: this is the eternal rule.” (Gautama Buddha)

    As to the question: one day I was going out with a friend and when we left a bar in the town square we noticed a black man being barred entrance by the bouncer: he was well dressed, well spoken and not making trouble yet he couldn’t get in so we intervened and asked the bouncer why he was refusing him entrance. After a lot of bullshit he admitted he got orders from his boss not to let in coloured people and since there really wasn’t much we could do about it we took the man with us to another bar where we apologised for the bouncer’s behaviour and I bought him a pint of beer. He was quite grateful and hopefully he realised that we weren’t all (or even the majority) mindless racist pigs so his image of our country (he was a doctoral student in the natural sciences from an African country, Ghana if I remember correctly) wasn’t marred by a single, stupid incident.

    If there’s one thing I can’t abide it’s racism since it’s so obviously foolish and has no basis in science whatsoever. A racist in my mind is someone who has so few personal qualities to be proud of he has to rely on the colour of his skin to feel like a worthwhile human-being.

    Of course it’s much easier to forgive or do something for strangers, in one’s personal life and relationships it tends to be much harder. It’s been years since I’ve last seen my father: he cheated on my mother during their marriage, cheated her out of her fair share of the finances afterwards (taking advantage of her emotional vulnerability) and lets just say our upbringing was somewhat less than ideal. I believe him to be a pathological narcisist: he only cares about himself, puts up a front to the world to hide what he really is and treats others like crap or with disdain unless they fit into his plans. I tried to reason with him many times and each time it backfired so ultimately I gave up and decided I wanted nothing to do with him anymore. I don’t even go the yearly family feast anymore to avoid having to look at him. Personally I think people like him don’t deserve to live since they make little positive contributions and make others miserable to further their own goals. Should I really foregive such a dreadful human-being who hasn’t expressed a single word of regret for what he’s done to those who should matter most to him? I don’t hate him as such (as Nietzsche said we only hate when we judge the other party to be equal or greater than ourselves and since I’m not a completely selfish pig I do believe my moral worth is far greater than his) but I dispise him greatly and I really can’t bring myself to make ammends with him, be it for a moral principle or for future financial gain. Last year I contacted him and explained I was going to be attending law school: since this costs quite a lot of money I inquired whether he wanted to contribute (something any normal parent would gladly do for his child and it’s not like he’s not swimming in money) and he flatly refused. This to me was the final straw: if you bring children into this world it’s your moral duty to take care of them and support them every step of the way, if you don’t do that your value as a human-being is 0 and you deserve nothing but contempt. I hope his karma will catch up with him and he’ll finally realises what a complete failure he is: as a parent, a man and a human-being in general. I’ve sworn I’ll never be like him and if I ever have children (very doubtful) they’ll never be lacking for love or material support as I did.

  2. Thank you for your comments, Zara, and for sharing your stories. I think it’s wonderful that you stood up for that man from Ghana. I’m sure he appreciated it.

    Most people would totally relate to your thoughts about it being more difficult to forgive people who are closest to you. While I have never had a situation as extreme such as yours with your father, I do have some thoughts. Forgiveness doesn’t have to be for the benefit of the person forgiven. It is just as much for your own peace of mind. Watch this youtube video of Patrick Stewart talking about his own situation with his mother and father: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=TqFaiVNuy1k. Sometimes it’s impossible to know all the reasons people do bad things. You can always forgive a person on this basis even if you don’t know the reasons. That doesn’t mean you have to keep them in your life though if they are unable/unwilling to take responsibility for their own part in the bad situation they have created. But if you forgive the person, you can at least take the weight off your own heart and move on without being marred with resentment. Just my thoughts based on my own meandering experience. It has helped me in a few situations in my life. Either way, I hope you make peace with your situation, in whatever form that takes.

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