Mediation and the Aikido Mindset

By Douglas Katz – 10/25/2022

Conflict is part of the human condition.  Be it due to limited resources, different view points or both, we humans like to fight and we seem to always be able to find new ways to do so.  Whether in our relationships, work lives or our daily interaction with the world around us, conflict is everywhere.  The good news is that as rational beings we try to find new and better ways to reduce conflict.  One which has gained a lot of momentum in the world of alternative dispute resolution is mediation.  In a nutshell, mediation is about using a disinterested 3rd party to help parties in conflict to work together to create and agree upon an outcome which is acceptable to all parties and which, most importantly, ends the conflict.  While generally associated with divorce, mediation is a broad field that covers resolution of all types of conflict.

This is the first in a series of articles that I am writing about considerations while selecting a mediator.  I see too many people neglect this most important part of a mediation and all too often this can hinder outcomes.  Not all mediators are created equal and that is actually a GOOD thing.  Every mediation is different and the parties are different which definitely shapes the best selection.  I recommend deciding what kind of mediation experience that you want and interviewing/selecting a mediator based on their personality as well as a set of skills that match your needs, wants and preferences.  Hopefully my insight on some characteristics and mindsets will help you make the right selection.

Mediators are people and as individuals with diverse and varied backgrounds and, as a result, they approach mediations differently.  The process in generally the same, but each mediator brings their experiences, training, personalities and wisdom to their clients.  I look at my own life before mediation and by understanding myself, I am much more able to effectively assist my clients.  One huge part of my past that has heavily influenced my approach to conflict resolution is my time as a practitioner of Aikido and the life lessons that it taught me and because it is actually a martial art, it was created to deal with the most dangerous conflict, the physical one.  Because of this, it is absolutely applicable and helpful for all types of conflict.

For the uninitiated, Aikido is a martial art rooted in minimizing conflict and, if forced into conflict, resolving it with the minimal damage.  Philosophically, this is because fighting is destructive and pointless.  Even if you are victorious, it is a Pyrrhic victory because anything that you do to willfully hurt another person actually reduces your humanity and hurts you.  It might feel good at the time, but there is an echo to your actions.  If you use more force than was necessary or act in a matter to intentionally to hurt, your actions are no longer about shutting down the conflict but about causing harm.  This sounds a bit crazy, especially if someone is coming at you with violent or harmful intent, but it actually is a right mindset when you step outside of the arena and see the big picture.

The art was developed by Morihei Ueshiba, a master in many other traditional martial arts, after a series of epiphanies that altered his path from one of violence to one of peace.  As odd as it sounds, Ueshiba, or Osensie as Aikidoka call him, took his knowledge of martial arts and a philosophy of peace to create a system that enables practitioners to defend them selves, maintain their humanity and, if needed, apply appropriate force to end the situation in a more traditional manner.  If you are thinking, how hard balancing these seemingly mutually exclusive concepts, you’d be right, but the value is exceptional in life, on the mat or on the street.

The art itself is purely defensive and is based upon use of leverage and redirection to unbalance an attacker to execute a throw or joint lock.  That is an over-simplification, but hopefully you get the general idea.  The name even means power through harmony and the movements and techniques are meant to achieve that harmony.  Success is dependent upon fluidity of movement and economy of effort with proficient practitioners being able to be seemingly ethereal.  Even as Nidan or 2nd degree blackbelt, I have found myself on my back as a result of a well executed technique when training.  Since these techniques are rooted in more damaging or lethal ones, however, a trained practitioner can modulate where they need to be on this continuum to only use enough force to protect themselves with as little permanent impact on their attacker.  The goal is a win-win even in a physical struggle.  You win by defending yourself effectively with minimal harm to you assailant and they win by not getting harmed and maybe learning a lesson.

You can likely see how and why Aikido has become a cornerstone of my mediation style, but what does having an aikido trained mediator do for you.  If you think of the mediator as the guide, referee and coach, the benefit of someone whose guiding principles are rooted in harmonious conflict resolution with the skills and wisdom to manage the process.  Everyone will come to the table with the points of view that created the conflict in the first place, so the overall skills and capabilities of the mediator will help to move the process to best negotiated alternatives and outcome.  While the mediator won’t determine the best resolution, it will be their skills that accomplish a productive process.  Who better than someone who devoted at least a portion of their life to the philosophy and practice of effectively and efficiently reducing or minimizing the negative impact and collateral damage of the conflict on resolution.  I can tell you in my own experiences dealing with clients, service providers and even family my own path as an aikidoka has transformed my approach to one of solution based from imposing my will, wants, needs and desires upon whomever I am in conflict with.  The is a virtuous center and a little aikido, the way of harmony through power, can add immense value to your mediation.

If you want to know more about mediation, divorce or otherwise, please feel free to contact me.  We also offer discounts for veterans, law enforcement and first responders, so please let me know how I can help.