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When I was in training, I often spoke about sparring with different students and utilizing a different strategy depending upon my opponent’s approach to the match. When you first start training in martial arts, you learn the basic rules for sparring and you start applying those rules when faced off with another student. Experience, as time goes on, normally shows the the student which attacks and defenses are useful against certain opponents, and which ones to avoid. Eventually, your sorting strategy develops a personality of its own, which can bed both good and bad if you’re not careful. 

I have very distinct memories of watching seasoned (and I mean 2 or more years of training) students that would consistently attempt to apply the same strategic principles to opponents if varying abilities and skill levels. More often than not, it resulted in that person losing the match. Let’s examine this a bit.  If you are an intermediate student that had become quite proficient in throwing rear-leg side kick, what good will that kick do against an opponent that quickly closes the distance and wants to fight at close quarters? If it’s not valuable against that particular opponent then you may have to shelve that tool until you can use it where it’s effective. Unfortunately, not everyone learns this “evolution of strategy”, and the result is a one-dimensional fighter. 

You know there’s an easier way to do this, right?

I chose sparring as an example because human interaction often works the same way. Depending upon who are communicating with, there are certain strategies you can use to make forward progress, and certain strategies to avoid, resulting in pitfalls. Like sparring, everyone is slightly different. I may, for example, tell two different people the exact same thing; but, having learned how they communicate by careful observation, my approach with each person may be completely different. Pulling something like that off takes multi-dimensional communication skills, which is something we get better at with practice. 

In martial arts, I was taught to believe that the best fighters after never overly aggressive or defensive. I think communication works the same way, particularly at work. You don’t want to dominate the conversation, not do you want it to be one sided from the other person either. There’s give and take in each “match”. While we want to “win” when we spar (communicate), each student should come away from the match having learned a little more about one another, but with no hard feelings.

There really is a lot more to explore on this subject, cause I’m only scratching the surface here. Still, if you train, take time out to observe the parallels between a sparring match and communication. Sometimes you teach. Sometimes you learn. Sometimes you’re the aggressor. Sometimes you take your lumps. Resolve yourself to learn both on multi-dimensional levels. 

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