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Sparring Partners

Their faces were priceless as they gaped at me - the group of young people from around Southeast Asia finishing up their Global Leadership & Engagement Program organized by Volunteers in Asia (VIA). They thought they were going to learn something about peacebuilding and conflict resolution. They were at a complete loss as to why we were doing martial arts punches and blocks.

I’ve been practicing martial arts for some years now, and while I always knew there were connections between martial arts and peacebuilding, I could never have imagined how connected they truly are. On the surface they seem incongruous - peace and martial arts. I’m continually amused by the confusion and incredulity of many peacebuilding colleagues when they discover my martial arts practice and many fellow martial arts students when they discover my peacebuilding work. While they often struggle to grasp the duality, I revel in the synchronicity.

More recently I have been exploring using martial arts movement, activities, and lessons in teaching and facilitating peace and reflective practice. As a trainer and facilitator, it is natural to incorporate new learnings and perspectives into my work, yet there was a bit more trepidation than usual for me in bringing these two parts of my life together publicly. I have found what comes out of these sessions to be powerful for all involved. The reflections that come out of each session leave me with a deeper and more enriched understanding pointing to more elements to explore.

My trusty equipment for teaching peace.

One thought that surfaces regularly from participants is the importance of sparring partners for life and work. These are people who are in it with you. They are there for help and support and regularly push you past your limits. It is an intense connection and they see clearly that you are capable of more than you think. They know how to prod you on, challenging your self doubt with positive encouragement, until you find yourself in places they knew were waiting for you yet you never dreamed you could reach. And then they do it again.

At the end of the session with the Global Leadership Education Program participants, we sat with nothing more to say, simply holding the space within and between us. We thought about leading and following, empathy and focus, mindfulness and peace, connection and trust. And we thought about the sparring partners in our lives.

Who are those people for you? Are you that person for others? We all need sparring partners. And we all need to be on both sides of the pads.

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