Verbal Jiu-jitsu: The Art of Yielding

There are many lessons that we can take from the mat and apply directly to our daily lives.  One of the most important of these is the art of yielding.  This applies not only in a self-defense scenario, but also in our daily interactions with friends, family members, and business associates.  I refer to this as "verbal Jiu-jitsu".

The term "Jiu-Jitsu, is comprised of two Japanese characters.  The first of these "Jiu" or more correctly spelled, "Ju", is generally translated as gentle.  But to anyone who's been on the receiving end of a good throw, armlock, or choke can tell you, it seems anything but gentle! The term is more accurately translated as flexible, pliable, or yielding.  This is really the essence of what Jiu-jitsu is all about.  This does not imply weakness in our position.  This means, when pushed we do not break, but rather, bend and adapt to the situation. 

A simple technical example of this philosophy in action would be when our opponent pushes us, we don't push back, often resulting in a stalemate in which the stronger person wins.  Rather, we pull, thereby using our opponents energy against them.  One can think of numerous examples of how this applies to our technical skills on the mat.  But, these principles can be applied outside of the mat as well, with any type of conflict.

From a self-defense perspective, we should always strive to avoid the fight, whenever possible.  Learning to remain calm under pressure and de-escalate a potentially hostile situation is a crucial skill.  There are many things that go into this, including correct posture, eye contact, distance management, and verbal skills.  We train to physically defend ourselves because sometimes the fight is unavoidable.  However, if you've ever seen a real street fight, it is rare for one person to be completely caught off-guard by another person in a complete surprise attack.  It is much more common for a fight to take place as a result of an argument.  Someones ego gets bruised, they get angry, and there is typically a lot of posturing and verbal interaction which inflames the situation ultimately leading to physical violence.  In these situation, most of the time each party involved has the opportunity to de-escalate the situation, but do not, simply because of their ego.  Those who train to fight understand the inherent risks and dangers of fighting, and have all likely been humbled on the mat at some point in their training.  It is for this reason that they avoid the fight whenever possible.

A good way to do this is by redirecting the persons hostile energy.  It is very natural for us to get upset and defensive when someone approaches us with hostility and anger, perhaps hurling insults or accusations our way.  However, through practice, we can learn to try to redirect that negative energy into a more positive outcome.  There are many books and articles on specific techniques for this which are beyond the scope of this blog, but perhaps one of the best ways is through developing empathy. 

Often times, people don't have a lot of control over their emotions.  When someone approaches us in a very aggressive or accusatory manner, rather than immediately being defensive and reactive, try to put yourself in their shoes and understand what the underlying cause of their hostility is.  We've all had a bad day.  We've all done and said things that we regretted later.  Maybe the person you are dealing with just received some bad news about their family, or job, or maybe they are dealing with some other type of personal crisis.  They are not really upset with you, but you are the closest target for their negative emotions.  Sometimes, simply and calmly acknowledging their point of view can begin to defuse the situation.  This is much more effective than the almost instinctive reaction to become hostile and defensive yourself. 

Having empathy doesn't necessarily mean giving ground, or admitting fault (although if you WERE wrong, it is best to admit to it and try to make it right).  You don't have to back down from your position.  Rather, just try to open your mind to see the situation from the other person's perspective for a moment before responding, and pay attention to your tone and posture when responding.  Sometimes, the best strategy is just to listen and let the other person vent for a bit.  You'd be surprised how effective this can be.  It is very difficult to argue with someone who isn't arguing back!  If you are quick witted, sometimes humor is a good way to soften a potentially tense situation.  Sometimes, there may be an opportunity to find common ground and form some type of compromise.  Other times, simply remaining calm and asking few non-acusatory questions can help correct what was just a simple misunderstanding.

These principles apply to a potentially violent altercation on the street, or to a tense situation in a business meeting, or an argument with a spouse or loved one.  Remember, we often have very little control over what happens to us in our lives.  However, we do have complete control over how we handle it!  The more you learn to apply the principles of redirecting someones hostile energy, the more you take power away from them.  Someone who is angry and emotionally out of control is very much like a brand new spazzy white belt grappling for the first time.  Their movements are very jerky and wild, leaving huge openings for you to capitalize on if you remain calm and deal with them logically and efficiently. 

There is one important point to remember when applying these principles, particularly in a potentially violent, self-defense scenario.  That is, even though you should make every effort to avoid a physical confrontation, you must always anticipate and be prepared for that eventuality.  That means, even though you are verbally trying to de-escalate, make sure you keep proper posture, distance management, and if necessary, keep your hands up in a non-threatening manner, so that you are prepared to react decisively IF your verbal de-escalation efforts fail. 

Applying verbal Jiu-jitsu is just another way that you can apply and incorporate the lessons  learned on the mat into your daily life.  Of course, just like everything else in Jiu-jitsu, it takes practice to master the technique.  But, try it next time you find yourself in a potentially tense situation, and see if you can create a more effective and positive outcome!



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