Talk the Talk Before You Walk the Walk

Training in self defence is so often focused on the acquisition of technique - If the attacker does this, you should do that, and so forth. But often there is little emphasis on what you can do to avoid fighting in the first place, and having good de-escalation skills, or 'Verbal Judo', is critical to doing that successfully. One of my favourite instrutors, Mannie de Matos, always says that "self protection is 90% about controlling your environment, and 10% about controlling techniques". 

This blog is a summary of notes from a university lecture I delivered last year on personal safety. It is greatly influeced by the works of George J Thompson, who was a major proponent of the term 'Verbal Judo'. So how can you use this?

First we must understand what verbal Judo is. Verbal Judo is an umbrella term for verbal self-defence techniques that focus on preventing, de-escalating or ending an attempted assault. The term refers to the Japanese martial art of Judo. Judo translates as ‘the gentle way’, and refers to redirecting energy rather than meeting force with force. This is what you do when you deal with angry people, be it at work at home or on the street.
Using the wrong words can get you fired or sued; in a self-defence situation it can get you assaulted or even killed.
Self-defence experts identify 3 key components to successful verbal self-defence:
1. ‘Everyone is under the influence’…
Of alcohol or drugs… or emotions – ego, stress, tiredness, anger, fear, shame, etc. We must be able to identify the causes (such as people behaviours, environmental factors, situations, etc.) for hurtful or negative feelings.
2. Controlling the mental and emotional responses of a person to conflict.
3. Training and experience play a key role. In other words, having some ‘ready-made’ phrases for possible occurrences for your ‘self-defence reality’, much like techniques to use in physical altercations.

But what are the realities of self-defence? They are different for each person. Consider for example the self defence realities for:
1. An elderly couple walking down the street in a quiet small town?
2. A drunk 18-year-old girl on her own at a rave in a nightclub?
3. A 21-year old male travelling overseas for the first time for a Holiday in South Africa with friends?

All three examples represent different situations with different risks that may require different solutions.

There is one universal reality for self defence though – adrenal dump. This is why we must we be calm and rehearse the situation. Under adrenal stress, we will not be able to think!

How do we address these 3 components?

This requires adaptation, and understanding that each situation calls for a unique solution. The Samurai referred to this as ‘mastery through adaptation’. This is the ability to be calm and be who you have to be to handle the person or event in front of you, regardless of how you feel inside.
Ego is often the main culprit. Assaults and violence are caused by two main reasons: Ego and survival. But what starts as one may change very quickly to another. Examples:

- Two guys doing ‘the monkey dance’ in a club, and start fighting when all of a sudden one of them pulls out a knife. What started as an ego fight ends up as a survival fight.

- Sexual assault – what might be an ego-based assault for the perpetrator is a survival fight for the victim.


I will discuss only one principal here, - that of natural as opposed to tactical language.
It's important to remember that this is only a very, very brief introduction into a very complex topic, but hopefully it will give you some thoughts and ideas!

Natural language is what comes readily to the lips; it is often offensive and without thought, but is the cause of much conflict and verbal abuse.

Tactical language is words used to achieve the goal in front of you. It is a performance

So... It’s all in the delivery!

Your appearance and demeanour are your first line of defence. Scared, angry, or emotional body language will only aggravate a situation. Confident, calm and relaxed body language is the way to go.
A large proportion of the message we send is communicated through non-verbal means, such as our body language and things like tone, pitch and volume. Control yourself!

But what do we say?

The right words at the right time. Your words must be reinforced by body language. Your face and demeanour must look like you care about and mean what you are saying.


'Natural Language' Verbal Judo - 'Tactical Language'
Unprofessional Professional
Expresses personal feelings Uses words to achieve professional objectives
Not in contact with audience In contact with audience
Off-target reactions Skillful communication that is on-target
Uses self referential language - 'I' and 'me' Separates the person from the behaviour







Much like in martial arts, deflection and redirection always work better than meeting force with force. What do I mean?

Much like in applications for self-defence:
• Path of least resistance yields best results
• Technique is everything

Think of a basic Jujutsu wrist-grab escape. By trying to pull away and resisting the person holding you, you meet force with force and if they hold on hard you are unlikely to break the hold. But, when you use proper technique and leverage you can release even very strong grabs with very little effort!

The technique for doing this in conversation is called a 'springboard phrase'. These phrases allow you to use redirection rather than meet an argument head on:

'Natural Language' Verbal Judo - 'Tactical Language' - Springboard Phrases
"Calm down" "I appreciate that, but..."
"Be reasonable" "I can see you're upset, but..."
"What's your problem?!" "I'm sorry you feel that way, but"
"Do... or else!" "I understand that, but..."
"Don't make me tell you again!" "I would feel the same in your shoes, but..."








When you insult people, put people down or use ‘natural language’, the focus shifts from the real issue to the delivery. Much like in business management, it is imperative to separate the behaviour from the person.

Here is an example:

Someone calls you a fucking idiot in an argument.

How would you react?

'Natural Language' Verbal Judo - 'Tactical Language' - Defelctors
"Who are you calling a fucking idiot?!" "I'm sorry you feel that way, but listen to me..."
"F$&% you!!" "My wife would agree with you..."
"Oh yeah? Come here and say that!" "I didn't mean to offend you. How can we fix the problem?"


It's often better to use two or more deflectors together in order to make them less abrupt:

‘I can see you’re upset, and I would be too if I were in this situation, but…’

People only insult you if it works. They may even be persistent. Don’t give in!

So... a quick summary:

- Be the person the situation calls you to be
- A calm face and a calm sentence
- ‘To know and to act are one and the same’
- Suit the word to the deed and the deed to the word
- ‘Control your emotion or it will control you’
- ‘He who gets upset loses’
- 'The angry man will defeat himself in battle, as well as in life’

- Use redirection rather than meet force head on


Stay safe, stay tuned. 



Last modified on Sunday, 01 May 2016 21:14
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Ron Amram

Co-Founder and Co-Director of Combat Arts Institute of Australia. Nidan Gendai Ryu Krav Maga & Jujitsu, Shodan Danzan Ryu Jujutsu, Brown Belt Dennis Hisardut, Krav Maga Instructor, Cert IV Training & Assessment

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