How to Improve Relationships…with Ring Fighting Tactics

June 6th, 2011By Category: Uncategorized

A Young Couple `Sparring`. Photo supplied by PhotoStock

Several years ago, I was having a conversation with my Taekwondo teacher, and he told me something that I will never forget. He said, ‘Relationships are just like sparring. Oftentimes success comes down to timing.’ The more I’ve grown however (as both a martial artist and a person) the more I’ve come to realize that the correlations don’t stop there. In actuality, a lot of the same tactics that can be used for success in ring fighting, can also be effective in creating successful personal relationships. Listed below are just a few.

1. Never Enter the Ring Without Doing your Homework
In both matters of the ring and matters of the heart, success or failure can be a very high stakes game. As such, the last thing you want to do is go in without having done your homework. In the same way that knowing your opponent’s history, strengths, weakness and general personality can make a big difference in how successful you are fighting them, taking the time to know and understand the same traits in someone you care about (or are interested in) can make all the difference in relational success as well. In both cases, the more you know about them, the easier it will be to make sense of their behavior. In the same way that it’s usually a good idea to play a conservative game in the early stages of a match, it is also a good idea to keep a cool and objective head while you are ‘figuring out’ your potential partner in the early rounds as well. Speaking from experience on both fronts, I can attest to the fact that assuming you ‘know enough’ early on is a great way to get ‘KOed’.

2. Stay Self-Aware
If you are like most people, then you are probably fairly confident in your ability to read people’s faces or body language. While some of us are better at it than others, everyone (minus those with conditions like Asperger’s Syndrome) can do it to some degree. The funny thing about this however, is that while we all are perfectly aware that we are reading the faces of those around us, most of us forget that those around us are constantly reading our face as well.

As such, as a fighter, and as a lover it is important to keep in mind that regardless of how you fake, your face and body language can still betray you. As body language and facial expression usually don’t lie, 9 times out of 10, that is what your opponent or partner will respond to. In the ring, letting things like exhaustion and fear come through in your face or body can be ruinous, but in relationships, things like inattentiveness, anger or contempt are the dangerous ones. Always remain aware of thngs like body posture, tone of voice and facial expression, and remember that much like the ring fighter, you are always being read.

3. Commit to your Movements
In addition to being aware of what your face and body may be conveying, another important aspect of success is committing to your movements. In the same way that an intelligent opponent will learn to read your fakes, see through half-hearted movements, and no longer take you seriously, so will a partner. Conversely however, as this Capoeira knockout clearly shows, committing yourself completely to each of your movements can produce incredible results. In the case of relationships, this means taking the time to do things right, whether they be as small as doing the dishes, or as large as going the extra mile for holidays like Valentine’s Day.

4. Carefully Pick your Sparring Partner
The fact of the matter is challenge is a good thing. In the same way that pushing your muscles to their limit makes them stronger, or immersing yourself in foreign languages facilitates better brain function, having a challenging partner will only make you better as well- both as a fighter and a person. There are some battles however that simply aren’t worth fighting. In order to find ‘flow’ and maximize your learning curve (or personal growth) you need to find someone who challenges you enough to keep you engaged, but not so much that you are always getting hurt or exhausted. As with anything, there is always a need for balance.

5. Realize That There’s a Risk of Injury
Nothing worth doing is ever easy. That goes for being both a good fighter, and a good partner. Unfortunately, as a function of that, even when you find a great partner, regardless of whether you are trying to build a great fighting career or just have a great relationship, statistically speaking, chances are, you are going to get hurt eventually. Very very very few professional athletes in any sport achieve greatness without sacrificing their bodies to some degree, and very few people who are in great relationships build them without getting hurt at least once (if not multiple times). In both cases, in order to do things right, you have to commit to your movements, but paradoxically, it’s also the act of complete commitment that opens you up to the chance of getting hurt.

The important thing to realize however is that even when it happens it’s not the end of the world. Injuries heal and with time, so do emotional wounds. In my own case, the pursuit of greatness in martial arts has landed me in the ER before, but that pales in comparison to some of the trails and tribulations I’ve been through in developing a strong and meaningful relationship with my current partner. In both cases though, overcoming the difficulties and learning from my mistakes has not just made me stronger, but considerably wiser as well.  

6. Give Injuries Time to Heal
While injury alone should not be a reason to give up entirely (unless it’s repeatedly severe), in both the ring and in relationsips, it is most certainly something that needs to be minded. The cause should always be properly examined. Furthermore, in both fighting and in relationships, things that really really hurt should never be ignored.

After an injury occurs, steps need to be taken immediately to take care of it, and the longer you wait, the less effective the treatment is going to be. Even if it seems like a royal pain or inconvenience, not letting your wounds heal will ultimately only slow you down in the long run. In the case that the injury keeps repeating and isn’t healing, then perhaps it is a good idea to find a new fighting style (or partner) that is a bit easier to deal with.

Even if they may seem like completely different ballgames, in actuality, the process of becoming a good fighter isn’t so different from the process of becoming a good partner. As with success in anything, both require awareness of self, a willingness to admit to your mistakes and learn from them, and a continual commitment to success. In the same way that blaming your loses on unfair opponents and/or bad judges will get you nowhere, continually seeing the faults in your partner while ignoring your own will do you no good either. As martial artists, we always strive for perfection in our crafts, but perhaps it is just as important (if not more so) to always remember that those principles apply to our relationships as well.

Author of this article

Chuck Johnson

Chuck Johnson is a Martial Arts Instructor/ Action Film Actor based in Tokyo, Japan, and Michigan, USA. He has been teaching for 16 years, holds ranks in Taekwondo, Judo, Capoeira, and Karate, and is an experienced bodyguard. He is also a member of the Screen Action Stunt Association, and Society of American Fight Directors. Additionally, he has 10 years of ELT experience, and is the developer of Phat English, a system that uses specialized hip-hop music to teach the subtle nuances of GAm English pronunciation. For more information, visit or follow Chuck on twitter at chuck_n_action

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