Kickboxing Provides a Lesson for Mediators

Written by Denise Evans

A few weeks ago, I spent the afternoon driving around the Coromandel with an exponent of kickboxing. My friend is a very kind, gentle woman who is married to a kickboxing instructor. As she talked, I found myself seeing the analogy between the process used to teach kickboxing and the skills we need to learn as mediators.

The first likeness is the need for mediators to get fit. Mediation takes a lot of energy and it is very important that mediators have both physical and emotional stamina to do the job. This means looking after our bodies and minds; being strong and balanced and ready to pull from our reserve so that when the going gets tough, we mediators can keep going. Supervision, knowing ourselves, and being aware when we are triggered by fact scenarios or people are some of the other things we need to keep doing and be aware of.

In martial arts the student is taught through repetitive drills to train their body for strength, endurance, flexibility and equilibrium. There are three aspects of being, which the martial arts aim to develop: Body, Mind and Spirit.

The first aspect, Body, is developed through the physical exercises which are repeatedly practised until the student can do the drills without even thinking about it. The student also learns the “power of the pause” – which he or she uses to wait for the opponent to “come back up”, and this pause allows the student to be in control of the next action.

For a mediator, the drills that need to be learned and repeatedly practised are active listening, open questioning, reframing and grasping the golden information which is given (often carelessly) by the parties – leading to options and ultimately agreement.  A great mediator mediates as a way of being, and the highly skilled mediator is an unconscious problem solver, creator of possibility and encourager of others.

The physical preparation for a kickboxer also involves training the Mind where the student is taught how to focus and concentrate from a relaxed state. The relaxed state enables the fighter to generate a game plan, maintain eye contact and use psychological power to get the better of the opponent.

These are the skills of a great mediator also. The ability to be still and relaxed, maintain concentration and be present completely with the parties are essential skills for mediators. This is an active state where the mediator is using all their senses to read how the parties are feeling and coping with the process, as well as being aware of the place where the mediator wants to take the conversation next.

The third aspect of a kickboxers training is the development of Spirit. This is the willpower that gets the student from being good at the drills and working in the dojo, to getting into the ring and actually fighting. Listening to the stories told to me, some trainees are excellent at drills, however they have such a level of fear about entering into the fight that they cannot become kickboxing fighters. To be real fighter, they have to use that fear and their willpower to act counter intuitively by putting themselves in the ring. Fear is the thing that gives the fighter an edge, puts them on high alert and gets the adrenaline flowing.

It struck me that I have seen many students of mediation who are very afraid to get started and do mediation with real people. It is also how I feel every time I do a mediation. I must overcome the fear that the parties will not come to an agreement, that they might not like me and that I will not succeed in my role as mediator. That fear gives me the edge and as I start the meeting with my opening statement, I realise that calming process is as much as for me as it is for them. It is also the way that I bring order into the process and create safety for myself and the parties.

Just like the kickboxer, a mediator needs to be light on their feet. They must assess the situation, be ready to create opportunity for resolution and keep the process moving.

The final thing I learned is how much care is given to the kickboxer by his or her trainer after the fight is over. The trainer is responsible not only for dealing with cuts and bruises, they must also ensure the psychological wellbeing of the fighter. Win or lose – they must help the fighter cool down, deal with the chemical changes that have occurred in the fighter’s body, ensure hydration and that no harm has been done to the fighter.   

This made me think how important it is for mediators to have a way of debriefing after a mediation has been completed and the need for self-care to allow the mediator to recover from the enormous effort that has been expended during the mediation. 

The overall message that came to me through talking to my friend is there are many analogies between the training and  the art of kickboxing are akin to the art and training that mediators must have. Both require learning, practise and discipline. This training and discipline is all focussed on helping the student develop the ability to use their willpower to achieve a result. As Mr Miyagi told the Karate Kid “There is one person you need to learn how to control. YOU.”

The beautiful Coromandel was a great place to have this conversation and I am always grateful for the knowledge my friends share with me.

About the author

Denise Evans is Principal, Dispute Resolution at FairWay. As part of this role, Denise provides Dispute Resolution leadership within FairWay and champions the use of Dispute Resolution services in New Zealand and internationally.

Denise has over 30 years’ experience as a lawyer, mediator and arbitrator. If you would like to get in touch with Denise, please contact her by email at denise.evans@fairwayresolution.com

About FairWay

FairWay is New Zealand’s largest specialist conflict management and dispute resolution organisation. Our purpose is to lead the prevention and resolution of disputes.

For more information visit www.fairwayresolution.com or phone 0800 77 44 22.