Basic Verbal Conflict Management
Conflict Artists approach any conflict, verbal or physical, as simply another form of communication. The philosopher Pascel once said that, “Man is neither angel nor beast, and the misfortune is that he who would act the angel acts the beast.” Just as we are capable of acting either as angels or as beasts, so too may we, often inadvertently, communicate on the levels that they do as well. At our most sublimely rational, we are as the angels, girded by truth and fairness, with malice towards none. Yet the human heart is fickle, torn between such lofty ideals above and the selfish needs of the body below. So, at those unfortunate times when we are pulled down to the most physical levels of conflict, we are often lost to the bestial sides of our nature. Yet the voice of reason may still penetrate such darkness if one is skilled in the transcending powers of diplomacy which our school is intended to help unleash.
As we've learned from the ball shield technique, the total circle of influence that can be maintained by the limbs alone is very small. Although a gun can extend our reach, it’s an ugly tool which can only do harm. For this reason, the most important skill that one can develop to best disarm an opponent is the martial use of words and expressive postures. The physical conflict arts are designed to support the dialectic technologies of crisis management and conflict resolution, skills which will be drilled and developed by students from day one. The mastery of such verbal violence, which we call Verbal Conflict Management, is an integral and unique part of this martial art, one that is both practical and rewarding.
Verbal Conflict Management is essentially the diplomatic art of persuasion, particularly when employed to avert or control intense conflict. Adapted in part from the tradition of the ancient Greek orators, it is a rhetorical science that approaches persuasion with the aid of logical, psychological and ethical knowledge, yet our school’s approach to Verbal Conflict Management is not merely a resurrection of the rhetoric of the ancients. First, although the science of basic argumentative logic remains much today as it has been for thousands of years, there are non-Aristotelian rules of logic that can shed needed light on our most common logical oversights. The modern science of Verbal Conflict Management also has the benefit of many great advances in current psychological research, and, again distinguishing itself from traditional rhetoric, Verbal Conflict Management concerns itself with actual ethical questions and commonsense legal issues. This helps to deepen the practices focus far beyond the superficial issues of credibility that once consumed the full attentions of politically motivated Greek statesmen.
The martial conflict arts practices exist only to ensure that these important skills, which you will develop to greater and greater depths during your studies of Verbal Conflict Management, will never be silenced with the merely animal threat of physical violence, because, in any conflict, your most important weapon is your voice.
When we shift from the merely kinesthetic understanding of martial exchanges to a much deeper awareness of these intense human interactions, so as to view them instead in terms of communication, then we can more effectively engage in such conflicts as if each of them was nothing more than a persuasive exchange of various messages, our bodies simply another medium for the essential act of self expression. As we participate in these apparently physical conversations, we must be careful that we pay attention and respond to not only the more obvious violent messages that are being sent and received on the surface, but to all of that which is being communicated between the various participants in the conflict. Only with such an understanding will all of our battles be reveled as being much more mental events than they are physical ones, because it is our minds that will ultimately dictate and control our participation in, and our initiation of, all possible action, and therefore all possible outcomes as well. In other words, fighting is much less a matter of physics and much more a matter of psychology than most people realize.
The ultimate meaning of any message must be judged by the response that it elicits. This is the first rule of good communication. It means that we must be willing to be both adaptive to and aware of others in order to communicate to them precisely that which we’ve intended, but also that we are ultimately in control of what every message that we receive from them is going to mean in the end. This point cannot be overemphasized, as there is a tremendous degree of power available to those who can understand and employ this principle effectively.
As stated above, to a Conflict Artist all conflict is simply another form of communication. Every action is understood as being simply another statement, one which is both a response to the other persons “statements,” as well as something to which the other person must then respond. You cannot not respond, because everything counts as a response. As in any conversation, there are various levels of meaning to each statement, from the most literal to the merely inferred, as well as various levels of communication, from the most divine to the merely animal, on which one may be communicating. Whatever the level of communication, which may also be called the frame, it is something that a good communicator must learn to be aware of at all times, as it is the very thing through which all incoming communications will be filtered and given their ultimate meaning. Again, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to understand that the ultimate meaning of any statement, or, in this case, action, will be defined not by how it was intended to be taken, but by how it is received. Allow me to give an example.
Our school focuses primarily on a defensive and neutralizing approach to all violence, on mastering violence as to be able to transcend it. So, by avoiding an attackers attempt to do you harm by blocking his or her attack, one might hope to send only the message that one does not wish to either do harm or to be harmed. Yet, in the moment that the Diplomat fails to respond to an act of violence with a counter attack of their own, those who are filtering all communication though the mindset of a predator may not perceive such an act as an expression of mercy, but rather as an act of cowardice, and an invitation to renew their attack with greater vigor. The higher level of humane motivation is rarely the sort of frame that any attacker is naturally going to be operating within, especially if they are truly attempting to harm you. At such a purely animal level of communication, you should at least be aware of the fact that such mercy, offered to an attacker without any qualification or explanation, will very naturally be perceived as weakness and vulnerability. If one wishes to change that fact, then one must learn how to affect and change an attacker's mind.
This is why skillful Verbal Conflict Management is crucial to the shifting and reframing of the attacker’s mental outlook. You must attempt to be conscious of the meanings of your communication on all levels and at all times; at the bestial level, the human level, and the angelic as well, and learn what might be done to lift you opponent to a higher frame. Our words and our body language are the two most benevolent weapons we can use to destroy the root of the aggression, to directly strike at the bestial mind frame of violence itself. By learning to communicate more forcefully and effectively, we can attack the erring spirit directly, and leave behind our wasteful and misguided efforts to subdue mere flesh. If the higher angelic level of rational communication is abandoned, we too will have descended to the subhuman level of the beast. If a conflict is allowed to end there, even if one's opponent has been overwhelmed physically without harm to one's self or one's allies, then the fight has been lost.
Martin Luther King once said, "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
These concepts and many more are all crucial to the study of the conflict arts because the achievement of true martial proficiency is a simple matter of mastering the art of this specific manner of communication. More importantly, one must establish a strong commitment to the highest aspects of the human condition, such as kindness, benevolence, and mercy, so as to become the message that one will then hopefully be able to express through one's words and actions.