Conflict Resolution with Aikido and NVC

The episode described below is a clear example of the overlapping principles between Aikido and non-violent communication. I’ve been thinking for a while now to write about that connection and this was the little push I needed.

A few days ago I was at the changing room after my Aikido practice. There were two older men (probably in their sixties or even seventies) chatting beside me when a third man, about my age, came to us and right away I could see he was really upset. He pointed his finger to one of the older gentlemen and said in a very accusatory tone “I sue you. You ashame my son. You no do this. Not bare. Can’t do this!”

Clearly, he was from another country, his English was broken and the fact he was upset didn’t help much to understand what he was saying. The two gentlemen beside me seemed puzzled and concerned, so did I. One of the two older guys – not the one with a finger pointed to his face – finally understood that the man was complaining about the fact that one of them was naked at the changing room while his 8-year-old son was there. According to the father’s beliefs, this was very disrespectful and insulting and a traumatizing experience to his child.

The old man seemed genuinely worried and tried a few times to say something but the offended father didn’t give him any chance. Finally, the old man switched from a conciliatory tone to a reactive one and I could see that things were starting to escalate. My whole body was pulsing with an Aikido mindset and my muscle memory must have made its way to my words.

First, I looked the upset father in the eyes and said “You must feel really bad knowing your kid had a traumatic experience. I have three kids and yeah… that really sucks.” (musubi) I’m not even sure he completely understood what I said but something in the way I said made him stop for a moment. Then I continued “My name is Luis, what is yours?” (tenkan) and I extended my hand from a slightly further distance than usual (maai). He told me his name, took my hand and shook it. I continued “How is he, your son, is he ok?” (osae) My attempt to control the situation didn’t work, he got upset again, but now he had a different target, he started saying that Canadians don’t respect him and his family, that life is really hard and that is why he lost his job. I told him that he was a good father because I could see he wanted the best to his son.

Then I noticed the old man frowning (randori), he thought I was taking sides and now he would have two against him. After all, I was supporting the father and I do have an accent too, but I reached out to the father first only because he was the most aggressive one. So I turned to the old man and before he could say something (omote) I said “Kids are super important. Do you have kids, sir?” Realizing that he was a bit too old for having young children at home I added “or grandchildren?” I think he didn’t expect me to say that or maybe my English is not as good as I think, but he seemed a little disoriented for a second and said “Of course. I have grandchildren, they are at pool.” I asked “I’m sure you love them very much, don’t you? What is your name, sorry?”

There!! Now we all had names, families and at least one shared value. (aiki)

I don’t remember exactly what I said after that, since I was feeling a little overwhelmed myself, but I think I said something about different cultures doing different things… The father grunted and asked the old guys to keep their pants on while in the washroom. The two older men didn’t seem happy either but they were definitely more relaxed. In my head, I still wished that we had a happier ending. I was picturing them shaking hands and perhaps the old man would even offer the father a job in his company. Silly me! Even though that didn’t happen and the father was still upset, now he wasn’t blind anymore, he could see the old man as a human being and the possibility of resolving the conflict in a different way.

While I was biking home, I thought about how I could have done things differently or said different things, but hey, it all happened really fast, the whole episode was probably just a few minutes.

I see Aikido as the physical expression of NVC, learning with your body through movement that there is an alternative to fighting back and that all human beings have the capacity for compassion. Interestingly, according to Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophical model of twelve senses, movement is directly connected to speech:

What lies concealed in the sense of movement is revealed in the sense of word.

Rudolf Steiner

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