Neuro-Semantics provides the martial artist with an abundance of models to use, and martial artists provide modelers with an abundance of things to model. Here I cover examples for martial artists, modelers, and anyone who wants to liven up a party.

Mastering the martial arts is an ongoing, never ending process, which is a combination of mastering technique and mastering self. Both are essential, each helps the other. When you begin training in the martial arts the primary focus, although not explicitly stated, is “mastering technique to master self.” Suppose, for example, while walking down a quiet street, someone jumps in front of you from a side street and raises a knife toward you. For you, time slows, and you raise your right arm straight up, as if in a classroom in answer to a teacher’s question, and deflect the knife so it comes harmlessly down to the right side of your body. You have practiced this technique so many times the response is and automatic part of your behavior.

What about “mastering self to master technique”? To me it is about managing our states, which is a self-leadership role. If we are physically attacked, it is natural to feel fear. However, many times feeling fear alone can paralyze us in that critical moment when we need to act. What if we felt “calm fear” instead? Many years ago, I was in Colorado for a Neuro-Semantics conference. The fourth of July happened to occur during the conference and we all had the day off. It was a beautiful day, clear and sunny. Since I was one of the few people who had a car, I offered to take a group of people to a local park. Unbeknownst to me when I began the trip, I had to drive the car along the side of a high mountain in the lane closest to the edge. There was a flimsy guard rail next to a shear drop.

I may have failed to mention that I am afraid of heights. When we go on trips, my wife usually wants to climb to the top of a cathedral, and casually walk around looking at the sights. I recall one cathedral in Italy where we were very high up and there was a narrow path around the top of the cathedral tower. My body hugged the wall away from the non-substantial looking fence by the edge.

In Colorado, I could not hug the car to the side of the mountain. What I did was “texture my fear.” While driving along the edge of the mountain, I brought a state of calmness to my fear by imaging holding a sleeping child and not wanting to wake him. This led me to a state of “calm fear.” This process of bringing one state to bear on another is called “metastating” and is a process from Neuro-Semantics.

What is Neuro-Semantics and Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP)?

What is Neuro-Semantics? Michael Hall writes: “Neuro-Semantics is a communication model for exploring how the body gets programmed by the use of language (linguistics, symbols), and meaning (semantics). Neuro-Semantics is a model that models expertise and best practice.” He continues with the distinction between Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) and Neuro-Semantics: “NLP focuses on the how of human behavior. Its central question is, ‘How do you do that behavior?’ Neuro-Semantics adds another distinction – the why of behavior (its meaning). From a higher level of mind, meaning drives behavior.”

In what follows, I’ll summarize an example of how NLP techniques can manage our state. I’ll modify that example twice with increasingly surprising results, and show how the new versions can be re-purposed to teach modeling. All three exercises also provide interesting demonstrations in a martial arts class, or at a party.

An Aikido Exercise

During my first NLP training about thirty five years ago, Barbara Greig demonstrated the power of state management with what she called the Aikido exercise. At that time, trainers drew a simple pie chart to describe a person’s internal and external behavior. It had three sessions, labeled: internal state, internal computation (e.g., thinking), and external behavior.

These three labels and beliefs form four distinctions that we can use to model behavior. Let me illustrate this with an example from the martial arts. Suppose we need to break a board during a karate exam. Two or three people usually hold the board in place. The martial artist executes a perfect roundhouse kick and the board breaks. That’s how it looks, but what could really be happening? Here is a description in terms of those four distinctions on what might be happening.

  • External behavior. Executing a correct roundhouse kick aiming for a point well beyond the board.
  • Internal state. The feeling of confidence that the board will break. You may also create a state that you access in preparation to break the board. If you are fearful of getting hurt, it might be useful to feel curious about your fear or appreciate your fear.
  • Internal computation. You will probably break the board without thinking. However, before kicking the board, whether consciously or unconsciously, you might execute a strategy using your visual, auditory and kinesthetic sensory modes. For example, first, you look beyond the board for a place to kick. Next, you say to yourself “I will not be denied.” And finally, you will focus on your body prior to the kick.
  • Beliefs. What is a board, anyway? This is an important question for anyone who wants to break it. Is the board a solid surface, like a brick wall, or is it a brittle, fragile object, which is very weak along the grain. Reframing our belief about the board helps set a context more amenable to breaking it. Of course carpenters already know that wood is malleable.

In the NLP training, Barbara wanted to demonstrate that your internal state could affect your external behavior. She asked for a volunteer. A woman raised her hand and Barbara asked her to come to the front of the room and face the class. Here is an abbreviated version of how the exchange probably went (after all, it was a very long time ago):

Barbara: Is one of your arms weaker than the other?
Woman: My left arm.
Barbara: Keeping your left arm straight, raise it to your side so your arm is horizontal to the ground and your palm is facing down (like the arm of someone walking on a tight rope).

Barbara gently pushed down on the arm near the woman’s wrist, and with little effort it slowly went down to the woman’s side.

Barbara went on to elicit a state where the woman felt physically powerful. Barbara had the woman intensify the state, and then self-anchor it. I don’t recall exactly how Barbara did this. Here is what happened next:

Barbara: Raise your left arm from your side again. (The woman raised her arm). Use your anchor to access your powerful state. Now as the power courses through you and extends to your arm, your arm feels as strong as a steel girder extending and going through the wall to your left.

Barbara then pushed down on the woman’s arm, which held steady and did not move down as it did before.

The First Twist

In 1980, three years before I discovered the existence of NLP, I started taking Tae Kwon Do at the Studio of Korean Karate. Clif Brown was one of my first instructors. At one point he left the school and received extensive training in at least two other martial arts disciplines. A few years ago he came back to the Studio with Guy Philbin, a Kempo Instructor, to help me run a special black belt session each Thursday evening after the regular class. We meet with martial artists from other disciplines to practice and exchange techniques and stories.

Here is a twist on the Aikido demonstration that we explored at one of these sessions. Guy asked one of the black belts to raise her arm from her side (as Barbara had instructed in the previous exercise), except he did not say which arm. (I think people will naturally raise their stronger arm, especially in a martial arts class). She raised her right arm. He told her to resist as he pushed her arm down. Sure enough, pushing down on her arm encountered strong resistance, and it took an effort to move the arm down. He asked her to raise her arm again. This time he placed a book under her right foot. Pushing down on her arm encountered virtually no resistance and her arm moved down easily.

If you teach Neuro-Semantics or NLP, assume you did the same demonstration during Master Practitioner training, or a modeling training. After the demonstration you ask the group: “What is going on here?” Who can explain it?” Some people may say they have no idea; others may speak of skeletal imbalance. Still others may complain that the arm was weakened and the book had nothing to do with the arm going down the second time.

You tell them the effect is real and ask them break into groups of at least four people. Give them the following three exercises. Only give the instructions for a subsequent exercise after the previous one is completed and the results discussed with the whole group:

  • Demonstrate the Effect. Once the whole group comes to some consensus on how to define the effect, send the groups out again to create a clear demonstration of the effect for a group who has not seen it before. (Alternately, you can lead the entire class to accomplish this exercise.) Have them create a demonstration that avoids any criticism of how it was done. For example, maybe Guy weakened the arm the first time he pushed it down, so it was a weakened arm and not the book as the cause of the arm going down the second time
  • Define the Effect. What are the limits of the effect? When does it work and when does it fail? I would not give them any more information. Hopefully, they will see if works with a magazine, and a smaller stack of paper. Or, try it with book under the other left foot. Perhaps if they chose a really strong person it would not work. Maybe they need to test the effect on people who have never seen it demonstrated. The idea here is to get them to engage in exploratory questions and actions.
  • Create an Explanatory Model of the Effect. Ask them how they could create and validate a model that explains the effect? Can they propose a model? This might be an overnight exercise.

On the surface this is an exercise in modeling, e.g., understanding what to model, thinking in terms of causes and effects, exploring the unknown, and offering and validating explanatory models. At the debrief session you can discuss this. However, on a deeper level, I would ask if anyone had any problems doing this exercise. Many people have difficulty when placed in situations requiring them to deal with the unknown. It turns out this is also true for some people first learning about NLP. In the late 1980s, some of my NLP colleagues and I noticed some people had difficulty performing NLP exercises, and we wondered why. We discovered some things that contributed their success: self-trust, accepting feedback (versus failure), and multi-tracking (e.g., listening to content and structure at the same time). In contrast, some things that made them less successful: self-importance, the inability to elicit the structure of experience while listening for details, and the inability to separate self from behavior. These factors are also related to an individual’s success as a modeler.

The Second Twist

After Guy did his demonstration, Clif said he had another way to do the demonstration, which he got from Hapkido rather than Aikido. Clif asked another person to come up and raise his arm. Let’s call him Sam (since I don’t remember who it was). Asking Sam to resist, Clif tried to push Sam’s arm down. He could only do it using excessive strength. Clif then moved and stood directly in front of the Sam’s torso.

Clif raised his hand Sam’s to the level of Sam’s head, turned his palm down, and then slowly brought his hand down to Sam’s hip level while making a whooshing sound. Clif then moved to stand in front of Sam’s raised arm and used just two fingers to gently pushed Sam’s arm down, pretty much effortlessly.

Demonstrate this in front of the group and go through the same three exercises as before. I expect this may bewilder most people and provide a challenging modeling experience. I still would not give the participants many examples of how to test the limits of the effect. When they return from the first exercise some may talk of blindfolds, ear plugs, making a hard gruff sound instead of a soft whooshing sound (the latter was suggested by my son Daniel, who wondered if the whoosh hypnotically relaxed the subject), and starting with the neck level rather than the head level when bringing the hand down. After having Clif read this description, he said “It doesn’t matter whether the person sees me moving my hand down in front of them, and I don’t always make any sound.”

After I wrote about these examples and showed Clif what I wrote, we held another black belt session and Clif demonstrated these effects with someone, I’ll call Tom, who had not seen them before. Clif started with his hand at Tom’s neck level and slowly brought his hand down without making a sound. Then, Clif easily brought Tom’s hand down using just two fingers. We wondered what would happen if instead of bring his hand down, Clif brought his hand, palm up, from Tom’s hip level to Tom’s neck level. In this case, Clif felt more resistance when trying to push Tom’s hand down.

Does any of this pique anyone’s curiosity? Can anyone reproduce any of these effects? If so, do you have any models that explain them?

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