“Please don’t throw me into the briar patch.” -Brer Rabbit
For about 35 years I have greatly admired the core principles and philosophies of the Japanese martial art of Aikido, although I’ve had only minimal training in the physical application of it. Aikido focuses on flowing or “dancing” with the opponent, as well as employing parsimony. Rather than opposing the adversary, the practitioner’s goal is to “go with” his energy, yet often introducing a distinct element of surprise. In the process of doing so, he/she exerts as little effort and force as possible or as necessary to physically and psychologically disarm the opponent.
I’d like to offer three true, classic illustrations of Aikido in action. In each instance, mastery is evidenced by the strong presence, spontaneity and lack of force on the protagonist, resulting in startling surprise to the antagonist.
- A guy crashes a party and seeks to pick a fight with the host, who he doesn’t realize is an Aikido master. The host sharply commands, “Step outside!” When the bully does so, the master simply closes and locks the door.
- The world-renowned hypnotist Milton Erickson was walking on a New York City street late one night when a menacing man accosted him, waving a pistol in his face and barking “Know what it is?!” Without skipping a beat, Milton confidently replied, “It’s 1:45,” and kept walking forward. The thug was frozen in his tracks.
- A would-be robber stuck a gun in the back of Samuel Avital, a highly proficient mime artist of slight build, as Samuel was opening the door to his apartment. Samuel whirled around, opened his arms, smiled broadly and exclaimed “I love you! Would you like to come in for dinner?”
Although I credit my wife Ruth for more consistently using Aikido-type tactics in her communication, I wish to relate two occasions in which I effectively used such an approach.
Firstly, in the midst of another in a series of trivial arguments with Ruth (in 1983), I took a bathroom break. Realizing that I was tired of our silly head-butting, I returned to the bedroom with the gentle question, “May I give you a foot massage?” Ruth’s jaw dropped, as she softly retorted, “OK.” I proceeded to massage her feet; our “trivial pursuit” ceased. About seven years ago, my family and I were serving as volunteers at a nursing home. Ruth suggested to a woman sitting in a wheelchair that she could make a difference. The lady shot back, “What kind of difference could I make?” I immediately wiggled my fingers at my ears and repeatedly stuck out my tongue, “bleh, bleh, bleh.” The disarmed woman broke out laughing.
Versions of Aikido are often skillfully used in counseling, especially via the technique of reflecting or paraphrasing a client’s feelings or needs. In the “motivational interviewing” approach, the counselor inquires about the client’s behavior rather than challenging it or offering advice. For example, an alcoholic may be asked to detail the benefits of drinking, in addition to what imbibing costs him/her. A sophisticated Aikido-like tactic called paradoxical intention entails the therapist prescribing an exaggeration or intensifying of a client’s attitude, habit, or emotional state with the common result of modifying or eliminating it. For example, I once instructed a young boy who annoyed his parents by consistently leaving one food item on his plate at dinner each night to nightly leave two items. He soon began clearing his plate.
This exquisite martial art, essentially oriented toward conflict-resolution, will be discussed and demonstrated by Edgar Johansson, head of the Denver Aikaiki school of Aikido on September 8, 2012 at Whole Man Expo in Denver.