Thread: Verbal Aikido
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Old 02-09-2009, 05:36 PM   #21
Carol Shifflett
Location: PA
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 53
Re: Verbal Aikido

Dexter Thomas wrote: View Post
During my very first class I was introduced to yokemenuchi. To explain yokemenuchi to me sensei used the example of two swordsmen simultaneously attacking each other with a shomenuchi strike, resulting in a double kill. A double loss if you will.
I've noticed this same scenario verbally. Two people will argue and swear to get nowhere. Just blunt actions that result in a double loss.

Would any of you like to share your pearls of wisdom on verbal aikido?
For actual pearls, I suggest looking over material by Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, Suzette Elgin. You can find excerpts of several of her books online at

For Randy and Emergency Medicine folk, see which includes a brilliant presentation of "The Aunt Grace Syndrome."

Elgin wrote an essay on "The Martial Art of Verbal Self-Defense" in "Aikido Exercises for Teaching and Training." Here's an excerpt.

Verbal self-defense has an advantage that no physical martial art is blessed with: its core tactics and techniques and strategies, even its principles, are already known by the students. They are included in the grammar of the students' language, already stored in the students' long-term memories. They don't have to be learned the way kicks and holds and throws must be learned. All students must learn is new ways of indexing and organizing those elements plus the strategy of making conscious decisions in verbal conflict just as they would in physical conflict. The basic principles of verbal self-defense are identical to the basic principles used in physical self-defense and in Aikido.

--Know that you are under attack.
--Know what kind of attack you're facing.
--Know how to make your defense fit the attack.
--Know how to follow through.
--Know that anything you feed will grow.

But wouldn't you know if you were under attack? Not necessarily. The attacker may not fit your image of an attacker: a small child, a frail elderly relative, or someone who is ill. The attacker is often someone that you are in a close relationship with. As on the mat, you must judge intensity, strength, the degree of violence that you are actually facing in order to adapt your defense to use just enough force, no more and no less, in response to the attack. Don't go after butterflies with a machine gun.

The Language and Grammar of Verbal Attack

Just as there is an English grammar for questions and commands, there's a grammar for verbal attacks. In English they are not so much in the words as in the music. If you hear language with the abnormal stresses indicated below, you are under attack. But an attack isn't the shouting, curses, or epithets people usually think of. Yelling of garbage is just part of a bigger physical abuse pattern. Verbal Abusers are more subtle. The English verbal attack has a two-part pattern:

--Bait. The part that gets your attention, the part you're expected to fall for (equivalent to a feint or atemi in Aikido), and

--Presupposition. Something that a native speaker knows is part of the meaning of a sequence of words, even if it isn't there on the surface. For example:

Even JOHN could pass THAT class.

As a native speaker of English, you already know that two other sentences are included here. You know that John is no great shakes and that the class isn't worth much either. You don't have to say that "Even John whom everybody knows can hardly reason his way out of a paper bag . . . " The pattern alone says there's something wrong with both John and the class.

A common example of baiting is: "If you REALLY loved me . . ." For example:

If you REALLY loved me, you wouldn't waste MONey the way you do.

Bait: "Wasting money."
Presupposition: "You don't love me."
Response: Ignore the bait.
Respond to the presupposition rather than to the bait as the attacker intends and expects you to do.

When you take the bait, you feed the pattern.
All the stuff we always thought was just random stuff coming at us actually has a very organized, identifiable pattern. Response?

-- Identify the attack via Satir Modes (Blaming, Placating, Distracting, or Computer)

-- Realize that what you feed will grow.

Alex, I think your bus experience was a brilliant example of Miller's Law -- Let's assume that it's True that the guy was going to knock out the bus driver. What situation would this be true of? What would be the result?

I first saw Elgin's books in the late 80's and I can say that they provided brilliant tools for dealing with an abusive fellow who suddenly became amazingly UNscary. It was like watching a balloon deflate. Tools per Elgin were:

-- Recognizing the attack: "Ah! He's using Blaming mode." Ah! He's switched to Distractor Mode!" and

-- Realizing how to NOT feed it, how to recognize my actual goal, and how to control the situation. Verbal Aikido.

For how NOT to do it, I suggest you rent "Tatie Danielle" a French "comedy" in which a truly horrible old woman (who does "not fit your image of an attacker. . . a frail elderly relative, or someone who is ill") who terrorizes her kindly family until she's done in by the irimi of a no-nonsense caretaker. Reminds me of Ellis Amdur's wonderful story in (I think) "Dueling With O'Sensei" in which, faced with a violent opponent they tenkan tenkan tenkan but the apartment manager slices through all that and does a very appropriate and very effective irimi. BLAM!!! Meet Mat.

This is not a trivial issue. Both Elgin and Gavin de Becker ("Gift of Fear") are very clear on this point: Verbal violence is the PRELUDE to physical violence. It may even serve as an "interview," a testing of the waters, to gauge just how successful actual physical violence might be, in muggings, in domestic violence, or as Hirigoyen puts it, in "Stalking the Soul."

Here's how to recognize it for what it is, and how to deal with it.
And, as O-Sensei said, "The Way of the Warrior is to stop trouble before it starts."

Carol Shifflett
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