Dealing with a punch is no different than dealing with conflict—you can cower, escalate, block, redirect, or simply move out of the way.
By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here
Getting punched in the face is rather unpleasant. You should avoid it if at all possible. If you, however, have gotten punched in the face or train in a discipline where you're getting punched in the face frequently, get the most out of it. There are valuable life lessons there (and it would be a waste if all you got from the experience was head trauma).
Getting punched is really an education in conflict. As a wise dramatist once told me, "Conflict is drama, action is character." From a martial arts perspective, life is conflict, and your actions define your character. The martial artist believes you can have thoughts regarding yourself—write your memoir, have all the best intentions—but your actions are the lasting evidence of your character. A punch serves as a metaphor for life and your reactions—conflict management.
If you were to look into the origins of human conflict, it may stem from the first moment a human laid hands on another human. No matter the complexity of an issue, it still operates under the same rules of a physical fight. The "civilized" world uses financial domination rather than physical. Same struggle, different domain.
Fists have a way of finding cowards. Fighting is about choices, training is about learning the best choices: the least sacrifice for the most benefit. Dealing with a punch is no different than dealing with conflict—you can cower, escalate, block, redirect, or simply move out of the way.
Ways People React to a Punch:
Chip gets to the checkout of his supermarket, and there's a long line. Chip blames the world. Chip says to himself, "Of course there's a line. This always happens to me. My life sucks." In Chip's mental movie, he's the protagonist who's always getting kicked around. He has turned a long line at the supermarket into Doctor Zhivago, all in his own mind. Chip looks at his cart, and he has fewer items than lots of the other folks. He thinks, "Why aren't they going out of their way to let me go ahead of them?" The cruelty of it all. A minor, fleeting annoyance has become the worst possible thing that could ever happen to Chip. He can smell the kale rotting in his cart.
Fight promoters don't care if fighters win or lose as long as they give it all they've got. The fighters who try to win to the very end, even in a losing effort, are still rewarded. The fighters who mentally break, cower, and wait for the referee to save them, are unlikely to be brought back.
It's a fight; mercy is not guaranteed. Once a fighter wilts, their opponent will only turn up the intensity. Some people can't finish what they start, and some people are amazing finishers. Cowering doesn't lessen damage; it only increases it—the worst of all worlds. Sometimes people with inferior technique will win when they have more will to fight. A person who knows every technique but lacks the will to fight makes for a better victim than a person who knows nothing but will fight with every inch of their being. Forget about intent, your actions define your character.
Phil is given directions to a job site. It doesn't take Phil long to realize he's at the wrong place. Phil doesn't call his boss to check in or to see if there's a possible mistake since it's not his mistake. Phil is feeling righteous. The boss calls, he's understandably upset that Phil's not at the job site. Phil tells his boss where he is; his boss realizes he gave Phil the wrong address. Phil's boss apologizes for his mistake but is still upset that Phil didn't take responsibility to correct the situation when he became aware of the error first. Phil thinks, "How dare my boss be upset at me. He's not allowed to be upset. I'm the one who should be upset because I'm the one who waited around. It's my boss's fault, not mine. It's just another example of my boss trying to pass the blame to his employees." Phil keeps a mental ledger of all perceived slights against him.
It's smart to be hard but hard to be smart. In a professional fight, you'll have fighters who take a punch to give a punch. "How dare he punch me? I'll show him!" Do you want to be right or do you want to get the job done? Being easy to work with, getting the job done when situations aren't perfect are advantages when climbing the rungs of a company. It's the question amateur fighters need to ask themselves: Do you want to prove how tough you are or do you want to win the fight? Do you want to prove you're stronger than your opponent by taking a punch to give a harder punch, or do you want to be smart and walk away with the winner's purse—hit without being hit, and maintaining a long career? It's what separates the best from the tough.
Rita graduates college and starts her first job at a startup. She doesn't know much about finance but she remembers her high school economics teacher telling her, "Once you get a job, always keep at least three months worth of rent in the bank." Rita wants to spend like her friends but the words of her teacher linger. She lives conservatively and saves four months of rent. Like many startups, her company fails. Since everyone was a new hire, Rita's coworkers panic. Rita, however, shields herself from the full force of the damage. She looks for another job but doesn't have the desperation of some of her coworkers. Rita also has the luxury of not having to take the first job offered. With time, a strong resume, leveraging her network, and some luck—Rita procures a new job that is better than the one before. This time Rita promises herself to save six months rent.
Jackie learns of digital cameras and Photoshop in the 90s. Jackie could have listened to her ego and be "pure to her craft," or be a working photographer. Jackie can prove film is "higher culture" or she can remain relevant. Her clients don't care; they just want the best image possible. Jackie adopts digital media early and positions herself to be high in demand when digital takes over. Jackie intercepts a situation early on before it gets beyond her control. Instead of fighting its power, she uses its power to her advantage. Instead of being creatively stifled, the new medium opens her up to an infinite amount of artistic possibilities. Like many business opportunities, it pays to be a pioneer. Jackie first had to open her mind.
5. Move Out of the Way
You're at the supermarket, and there's a long line. It doesn't bother you. You knew living in a big city meant more people, more cars, and longer lines. It's a popular market with good produce and it's worth the wait. It's par for the course of living the life you choose to live. You're in the moment and not sulking. When another cashier opens, your ease makes you the quickest to react. But in your good mood, you allow an elderly customer who's been waiting much longer to proceed in front of you. You're smart and a good person.
What You Should Walk Away With
Instead of denying the punch: accept that the punch is coming, roll with it, and avoid damage. Here is the situation, this is the severity of the conflict—you can't control all the variables, but you can control your reactions. You can't avoid all the punches or all the bad things in your life, but you can still find meaning and purpose. You control that. Once you find meaning you can be happy even when you're sad.
Part of the paralysis of conflict is, you're not sure of what to do. You feel like there's an infinite amount of choices, which feels the same as having no choices. There may be an infinite amount of ways to punch, but only a few are effective. Don't focus your time and energy on all the possibilities; a master of strategy understands they aren't all equivalent. Focus on the ones that matter: the ones that work and the ones that improve your situation.
There are only so many limbs we can use to attack and only so many ways we can use them. The rest of journey is to find the connections between physical reality and abstract concepts. A punch after all is just a metaphor for objective reality trying to hit you in the face.
Getting punched in the face is a metaphor for conflict. Though possible reactions are infinite, there are only a handful that are useful. Will you cower, get hit, block, redirect, or move out of the way? Circumstances, we cannot always control; reactions, we can.
(If you enjoyed this essay, please consider supporting this site.)