Friday, September 11, 2009

Dealing with conflict

Wow! My initial reply and last post seem to have rubbed my semi-anonymous commenter, Zara, up the wrong way. See his extensive comments following my initial response and follow-up post to this older article. A sample:
Granted, blogs aren’t the best source of information in the first place (usually the content is rather mundane, one-sided and superficial) but to be told to buzz off and ‘do your homework’ is a first. So much for common courtesy and cooperation in spreading martial-knowledge. A simple refusal would have been enough, I don’t need your condescending attitude, nor your useless advice. -- Zara
While somewhat miffed, I'm a bit surprised that I haven't run into this kind of conflict as a blogger previously. I am somewhat averse to public forums because I've got sucked into flamewars in the dim and distant past, where relative anonymity, plus lack of verbal and visual cues often leads to a downward spiral into insults and baiting.

In this case, however, I clearly lit the match, albeit inadvertently.

Let me explain my side:

Zara's initial post asking for some advice on a specific problem was sincere, and definitely not trolling, but I was hesitant to give a detailed reply because I am reluctant to even try to teach techniques over the internet. I don't know anything about Zara besides what he has written in his initial comment, and -- unfortunately -- because there was no way to contact him directly I either had to respond publicly or ignore him.

So I posted a somewhat curt reply and a low-level follow-up post with the kind of general advice that I normally give on this blog: Ideas that will help people with a clue already, but not specific instruction.

I hoped that he might get a bit out of it, and respond with a more specific enquiry, providing details of what he had tried and where he was getting stuck, etc. I probably should have given less advice and invited him to email then and there, but there you go.

Then I went off to attend to my daily chores, and that evening played around in my jiu-jitsu class a bit with one of the scenarios that Zara described, using it as a theme for part of the class, and tested out what to do in a tricky situation. I'll write more on that in a later post.

Late that night I read Zara's responses and thought: Whoops! You can read my comments at the end inviting him to email me, and pointing him to one more post.

Conclusion: From my perspective, I was pleased to get the interest, but cautious about how I responded. With hindsight, I should have taken more time responding, and asked Zara to be patient, and started off with an offer to take the conversation to email straight-away.

So, on reflection, I want to thank Zara for:
  • Asking good questions, which will stimulate some more blog posts (once I figure out how to respond more usefully, without breaching my self-imposed boundaries)
  • Prompting me to reflect once again on the nature of conflict, and to work on my tone and clarity when responding to comments from the privileged position of blog-proprietor
My offer stands to get in touch with me by email:

By the way, a brilliant book about applying martial arts concepts to conflict resolution is Terry Dobson's Aikido in Everyday Life: Giving in to get your way. Clearly I still have a lot to learn.

[Edited following Zara's reply to refer to Zara as a he, not a she.]


Anonymous said...

I’ll take you up on your offer and mail you tomorrow, I have training this evening and I’d rather do this thoroughly instead of just jotting down some random thoughts and wasting your time. First of all I may have gone a bit overboard and let my temper get the best of me, this is not a habit of mine but I do not take kindly to people who take me for a total amateur (I’m not a master but I’m not a beginner either) or who basically think I’m too lazy to train properly. I didn’t comment on your blog to start an argument (I’ve got better things to do with my time) nor to troll or anything of that nature but to maybe learn something from someone more knowledgeable than me. Granted I could have chosen a different approach to this - for example by stating what I already know and what my specific problems are - and you are under no obligation to grant this request but your response was pretty arrogant and to be made an example of in public (more or less) like the dumbest kid in the class being called in front to showcase stupid mistakes did rub me the wrong way. I do not think this is entirely unreasonable.

Now I understand your motivation better we may get of on a better start, it’s easy to misunderstand someone over a highly impersonal medium like the internet and there’s enough conflict in the world out there as it is. Since we’re both fond of the same art and the peaceful ideal it serves there’s even less reason to start yelling at each other (which was in part my fault as well).

As to your advice: in itself it is sound but it’s something you’d tell a beginner, to me it’s kind of obvious and irrelevant; it sounded like you were trying to show-off in a pretty condescending way and to casually brush aside my request (toss the dog a bone) and I have too much self-esteem to just stand there and say thank you.

As to the technique shown and my critique on it: to me it looked fairly odd and even dangerous but then again it’s hard to judge from a photo (no movement) and you’d have to feel these things for yourself. There are many differences between styles and since you’re a second Dan and a teacher I assume you know what you’re doing. The comment was made more out of spite (temper again) than anything else. What we do is slice the muscle at the elbow (pressure-point) in an upward-downward fashion and then circle away from him (straightening the arms) for a takedown and to prevent him for rolling or falling onto you. I have seen the downward slice but standing more oblique to the uke, pulling him towards you as you move your feet backwards. Again: I may have judged this one too harshly and it’s not my place to judge anyway since I’m only a brown belt and never had the opportunity to train with you in person.

I hope this clarifies a few things and I propose we bury the hatchet.



PS: not that it matters much but I am in fact a guy. It’s understandable you’d think the opposite (not a lot of western masculine names end with ‘a’) but it’s an abbreviation from Zarathustra or the ancient Persian prophet and founder of Zoroastrianism, or alternatively the protagonist in Nietzsche’s Thus spoke Zarathustra’.

Dan Prager said...

Hi Zara

Let's bury the hatchet. I fully agree that the impersonality of the medium is a problem.

I look forward to your email. This may well be tricky anyway, and take a bit of back forth. I am happy to have a bit of a go, but maybe let's start with a description of what you've tried for the bringing your partner up from his back case, what works for you, and ask any questions you have. I may well need to ask some more things in return to clarify.

Issues of rank: The internet isn't a dojo, you're not my student and I'm not your Sensei, so please just call me Dan, and let's keep the polite tone and see how we go.


-- Dan