Searching for meaning – destabilize a verbal attack.

There are so many highly subjective words out there that it’s quite surprising that we are able to understand each other at all! Fortunately, and because very few people have given deep thought to the meaning of most of the words they use, we can use this to our advantage in the process of destabilizing an attacker. Ernest Hemingway is quoted as saying “All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time”, and it’s this humble yet curious view of words that the Aikidoist can use to destabilize an attack. This technique is called a meaning prod, and here’s an example:

Attacker: “You really should do something about your weight; you’ll never get a boyfriend if you look like that!”

Aikidoist:[…] How do you mean?”

Attacker: “I mean, it just shows a total lack of self-discipline and there’s nothing more off-putting than that!”

Aikidoist:[…] What do you mean by self-discipline?”

Attacker: “I mean, uh… [***]

As you may observe, meaning prods are a more elaborate form of Irimi, entering into the point of view of the attacker and quickly determining from their attack, the words that are either the most subjective or the most difficult to explain, i.e. a possible weakness. In many martial arts too, to escape a wristlock, if you press against the weakest part of the hold by twisting your arm toward the thumb, you are liberated quite easily.

The Aikidoist must be actively listening to the words the attacker is using in order to determine which one or ones would be appropriate for a meaning prod. This illustrates again how using Irimi can provide the Aikidoist something to ‘grab on to’ for destabilization purposes. Once the Aikidoist has taken the lead of the exchange this way, he may continue to find the weaknesses in the attacker’s comments.

Attacker: “That’s the last time I’m going anywhere with you!”

Aikidoist:[…] What makes you say that?”

Attacker: “For a start you spent the whole night talking to everyone about your new job!”

Aikidoist:[…] It sounds like there’s something else that bothered you… (silence)”

Attacker: “Well of course, I mean you just totally ignored me until it was time to go, it’s like you don’t respect me at all!”

Aikidoist: “[…] Hmm, I can see why you might feel that way. […] Look, it sounds like it’s time for us to have a good chat about ‘respect’, what do you think?”

Attacker:[***] Well, yes…”

You may observe from this exchange how the Aikidoist:

  • uses pausing and silence to avoid entering into conflict and calm the attack,
  • uses active listening centering on certain phrases (‘for a start’) or words (‘respect’) to further accompany the attack and understand the attacker’s point of view,
  • covers the attackers senses globally in the third ‘move’ by using key words: ‘feel’, ‘look’, ‘sound’ and ‘think’ collectively.

There is a specifically-designed exercise (N°4) to help develop this capacity in chapter 7. Essentially, using responses such as the ones above, and “I’m not sure I understand what you mean by ‘X’ yet…”, or “I’m trying to understand what you’re getting at when you say ‘X’…” enables the Aikidoist to perform Irimi with a meaning prod and opens the attacker up to a destabilization. (from the book “Verbal Aikido – Green Belt”)

Reminder – the difference between an attack and a destabilisation is the deliberate and measured intention to re-establish a balanced energy.

Recommended articles:

Managing conflict with The Three Steps

Can we protect ourselves through/with/thanks to empathy ?

Verbal accompaniment with the principles of aikido – “Irimi” (Step 2)

Verbal stretching – Is everybody a selfish hypocrytical manipulator?


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