Get Close to the Problem

The toughest Aikido martial arts class I ever taught was a bunch of teenage girls. I’d been brought in to teach at one of the most exclusive, private all-girl prep schools in Washington, DC. The kids in this school were straight out of the movie Mean Girls — privileged, entitled, ruling their own corner of the world.

I’m used to teaching high-achieving adults.  We tend to share a similar outlook on life. This class was very different. This was a room full of teenage girls, ages 15 to 18, who were basically there to get gym credit.  Soon, these girls were showing up in inappropriate outfits, talking on their cellphones during class, and worst of all, horsing around trying out dangerous martial arts moves on their friends and “frenemies”.  This was a completely different challenge, and I wasn’t prepared for it.  I found myself unsure, hesitating.  Dreading even dealing with these teenage brats.  Yet if I didn’t do something quickly, these kids were going to hurt themselves.

Have you ever been in a situation like that?  You’re swamped with work, but you don’t want to admit it, so you stretch yourself to the breaking point to get everything done instead of going to your boss and telling her you’re overburdened. Your relationship has hit the rocks, but the holidays are coming up, so you put off doing anything about it for a while. Your neighbor is driving you crazy playing loud music late at night, but instead of talking to him directly about it, you drop hints about it, or you leave a passive-aggressive note.

As easy as it is to avoid direct confrontation, it’s also easy to confront the wrong part of a problem. Maybe instead of talking to your boss about your workload, you snap at your colleague who didn’t finish his part of the project. Maybe instead of having a real talk about the health of your relationship, you snap at your partner for leaving dirty dishes in the sink. Maybe you call the cops on your neighbor and make a noise complaint. You take action — you force a confrontation — but it’s the wrong action. It’s a distraction from the heart of the issue.

The Mushin Way shows us a more elegant path. This path requires courage. And it’s the only way to actually solve a problem — move closer. Get to the heart of the matter. In the Japanese martial art of Aikido, this is called Irimi — to enter.  Aikido is based on centripetal force. It’s a grappling art, and that means to execute any of the moves you’ve learned, you have to get close enough to your opponent to touch them. When you are challenged, you are asked to move closer to that challenge, to confront the problem directly. Even if you’re facing a stronger, larger opponent, you’re asked to move in, to get close, to enter.  Irimi.

And without getting close to the problem, any problem, you won’t successfully overcome it.  What happens when you try to avoid a problem?  Does it go away?  Nope.  Once you are close though — close enough to see it clearly, touch it, feel it — you can start working on how to successfully solve it.  How?  Well, stay tuned.  I promise to share some strategies with you real soon.

In the meantime, practice getting close to your problems right away to see them clearly — don’t avoid them or put off dealing with them.  Then get into relevant action to start solving your problem.  Like I did with those rowdy teenage girls by bringing in two of my top-notch female blackbelts to help me instill discipline and finally get the class back under control.

What do you do or have done when faced with a problem you don’t want to deal with?  Post a comment below or Tweet me @mpveltri to let me know or to ask me a question.  I promise to get back to you right away.