Spirit Defence Website

Spirit Defence Website
The smallest and best martial arts gym in Canberra!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Overcoming resistance

"Martial arts is the art of overcoming resistance" (Burton Richardson, JKDU)

I really like this idea as resistance is something that I take careful note of when I'm talking to people. For a psychologist, resistance is sometimes a sign of something deeper - and I don't necessarily mean the cliche of childhood memories or parental relationships. I mean resistance is sometimes a sign that you have "hit a nerve" (how's that for a martial arts image)

So when we "hit a nerve" what do most people do? Well... they say something like "wow you are really defensive" (more martial arts imagery) or "gee I really hit a nerve there didn't I?" And then they wonder why the conversation pretty much ends there with awkward silence or perhaps an argument.

A more effective way is to make a mental note of that point of resistance and move gently around it.

Resistance to change is something I will write about more fully at a future date, but for now I just want to introduce some interesting ideas.

I believe that people are inherently good and, more often than not, they will help others. There is probably some cultural (and evolutionary) benefit in helping others. On the other hand, as martial arts practitioners, we face the interesting reflex of resistance. BJJ/Jujutsu and judo rely on the principle that people seem to react in a fairly predictable way: they resist. If pushed or pulled the vast majority of people will instinctively resist and this instinct helps judoka set up throws and takedowns.

So if people are inherently helpful, how can they also be inherently resistant?

One answer could be that helping behaviour is a choice and a person has the opportunity to weigh up the pros and cons of helping before making a decision. Resistance seems to be more of a reflex. Of course, the overall answer is revealed in the preceding two sentences: people are initially resistant unless/until you give them a reason to comply or change - then they can choose.

How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb has to want to change. Hilarious aren't I?

This "joke" also provides some clues about all this - if you set up the conditions whereby a person makes the decision to change - and not resist - then the rest is easy. There is a process in psychology which I am a little hooked on called Motivational Interviewing and I'll discuss it some other time in relation to martial arts, but the general idea is that you make people want to change and you overcome resistance by helping them to make a good decision for themselves - all over a series of stages. The series of stages is necessary because it's just too hard for most people to go from A to Z in one hit. Resistance is overcome by making small steps in the right direction.

In martial arts we do this by setting up conditions whereby our "opponent" wants to change (ie react in a way that is better for us). More often than not, we do this via technique combinations or set ups. Boxers want a clear shot at their opponent's head but they can't do that against a raised guard (of course "raising you guard" is yet another term we use in relationships). In  order to get the other person to lower his guard, the boxer might do a low, high combination - one to the stomach and one to the head.

In judo and BJJ, we might pull against a person's gi in order to to make them react by shifting their weight backwards in order for us to set up O-Soto Gari. It's all a series of small stages that get us closer to our goal. Kuzushi (unbalancing) is a way to change the environment for a person to make them want to change - in this case they "decide" to change in an attempt to regain their balance.

Meeting resistance head on is futile. Making small steps is a good start. But setting up the conditions whereby a person wants to change and the decision to change is internally motivated is gold. In life, this can take.... well.... a long time.... but in martial arts, it might take a second. In essence we are seeking to make our opponent more predictable.

The beauty of all this is that, in the end, you are both working towards a common goal - the opponent throws him/herself and you just provide happy assistance where required. If only it were all so easy!


  1. Brilliant! We need more of this sort of thoughtful, knowledgable, insightful writings in the martial arts. I am truly humbled by your posting. If I have inspired you to write, and you inspire another like minded soul ...

    The issue of resistance is intriguing. Sometimes people refer to judo/jujutsu/aikido tactics as 'non-resistance' but it's more accurately conceieved as being the 'addition of forces'. The tactics and techniques are all about force and the application of force ... when force is defined in biomechanical terms. And force is simply defined as a push or a pull. As you say, if only it were all that easy.

  2. Thanks for your very kind words, John - always great to get feedback from someone so much further up The Path.

    I also think the idea of non-resistance is somewhat of a misnomer when applied to martial arts - and many other areas. I completely agree with you about the application of force. By changing the conditions to make change possible, we then have the opportunity to apply force to achieve our desired outcome.

    Spirit Defence