Home > Uncategorized > Balance Part 2 – The Tsugi Ashi of Management and Discipline

“Well, you know when you’re rocking in a rocking chair, and you go so far that you almost fall over backwards, but at the last instant you catch yourself? That’s how I feel all the time.”

Steven Wright


Anytime we feel tension in our lives… an uneasiness, it’s because in some way we’re challenging balance.  The last blog discussed bringing the other foot with us. When you step, your feet are apart and your weight shifts, you’re no longer balanced over your two feet. In order to restore balance, you have to step with the other foot to maintain their relative position and maintain balance.  Right after I posted that blog, I stepped on the mat with Sensei Shawn Flanagan (as I’m privileged to do every week.) He had us work the tsugi ashi drill, which is a fundamental drill in our Yoshitsune and many other systems.  Here is video of tsugi ashi as done by some Judo student’s. This is just the very basic of the footwork and does not account for angles. Note how they maintain the relative position of the two feet in order to stay balanced.




As we interact with people we must also think of balance. Especially if they are people we are responsible for. Many of us are faced daily with the responsibility of management. For some, this comes as mentoring and disciplining children. For others, they are responsible for people at work. For all of us we must interact with people through the course of our day.  When we interact with other people we’re constantly providing feedback. Within this feedback, whether we realize it or not, we’re giving reinforcement. Reinforcement comes in many flavors, but for now let just think of it as positive and negative.


Bad Feelings, Good People


I work in an open environment for a technology company. I and a group of newer employees sit in a lower room where we’re closed off from the rest of the employees.  The room is divided into cubicles effectively creating a modern day labyrinth.  A consequence of this environment is a lack of privacy. Therefore, I am a witness to how they are managed.  I, however, don’t have the same job function as this group and am part of a more senior and independent group. I am in a unique position to see inside each group. What strikes me is that tenor of each group is polar opposite.  The group I sit with is largely frustrated and can become critical of management. The group I’m part of is very content and praises management. So, why the big difference?


Seductive Negative Feedback


While there are a few reasons the newer employees are frustrated, it largely comes down to balance. It is a trap that management and parents alike fall into easily. When directing people, it’s much easier to dole out negative feedback – “don’t do it this way, do it that way, we’re going to do things my way.” It gets quick, short term results. It also builds long term frustration. Essentially, constant negative feedback and direction is like building a time bomb, built with your own hands, that will eventually blow up in your face. Most of the time, people realize on some level that the tension is building and it will blow up but they continue. The short term results are too seductive to resist – like a drug.


The other thing that keeps us doling out the negative feedback is that it is necessary.  A lump of clay has to be pushed, pulled and cut to shape the right way.  Employees and children need to be corrected and given direction. You have to tell people when they’re doing something you don’t like or that is harmful.  So how do we raise above all this?


The answer is balance. Here is the rub – the balance starts in how we handle ourselves. Many people are in a position of management based on circumstance. In other words, they are in a management position therefore they manage. It doesn’t mean they know how. Think of this in terms of parents. Many people are in this position to “manage” their children but there is a wide range in skill. Moreover, they don’t have to be in a management position to have the need to manage. I would argue that employees are working daily to manage their managers just as the managers are managing them. The only difference is in who holds the power (not necessarily the skill.)


Tsugi Ashi of Management


So when we manage people how do we maintain balance? Tsugi ashi of course. Move both feet. There are two ways to tsugi ashi when interacting with other people. In order to understand them we must define our feet.


The reinforcement tsugi ahi:


  • Foot one – positivie
  • Foot two – negative


The knowledge tsugi ashi:


  • Foot one – understanding your motivation
  • Foot two – understanding their motivation


Knowledge Tsugi ashi


Let’s look at the “knowledge tsugi ashi” first. Sun Tzu writes in The Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” This is the “knowledge tsugi ashi” in a nut shell.


The other day I read an email that one co-worker had written to another.  Fundamentally, the email was accusing the co-worker of stealing an account. It stepped deep with this accusation and even took on a condescending tone at times. Just in case the commitment in the email wasn’t deep enough, their boss was copied in. The worker that sent the email understood himself. Everything in the email was in line with what he knew, what his needs were and how he felt.  He had zero knowledge of his co-worker or his co-workers reasons. Off the email went.  As I’m sure you guessed, it blew up in his face upsetting both his boss and the co-worker. As it turns out, the co-worker was acting on orders from the boss following up on a certain aspect of this and many other of the company’s clients. Had the first co-worker done due diligence and taken the time to find out why this person was talking to his client, he would have had a full understanding of the situation and acted accordingly. He still may have had issue with the situation, but his tenor and approach would have been different. He would have moved with both feet. As it was he stepped with just one foot – his understanding- and was caught way off balance.


It’s a place we’ve all been in – committing to a position then coming out with egg on our face when everything comes to light. The beauty comes when we realize our imbalance of knowledge and move gently into full understanding before we react.


Reinforcement Tsugi Ashi


When reacting to people we have an opportunity to reinforce their actions by the way we provide feedback. In the opening example the frustrated group is largely frustrated because the majority of the feedback they receive is of a negative nature. That is not to say they are being told they are bad or wrong all the time. More than that, they are constantly being told what to do, that they need to do more and yes often enough told they are wrong and corrected. All these things may be necessary but without being balanced by positive feedback they start doubting their worth.  Their day becomes as filled with worry as it does with productive work. It has a negative impact on self-esteem.


This is a trap that is easy to fall into with children as well. By nature they need guidance and correction but without the balance of positive reinforcement they become wanton for self-esteem. Unfortunately, a lack of self-esteem leads to several other problems including more negative behavior.


So, the challenge becomes balancing out the feedback that is negative in nature with the positive. The analogy of the tsugi ashi can help. The next time you have the need to correct someone – step with the negative foot – step also with the positive foot. Maintain their relative position…  maybe even step with the positive foot first.  When faced with a difficult circumstance, seek to understand the other side before reacting (put yourself in their shoes first.) Take small steps, always bring the other foot with you and you will always maintain balance.

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