Guest Post: Anger, Aikido and Clean Language

Judy Rees writes: I love innovations that use Clean Language, and this one by my friend Mark Shraga sounded extra special. So I asked him to tell the story… 

I was at Sue Knight’s NLP Trainers’ Training, in her home in France. The materials for the course largely consisted of her own book NLP at Work and some peripheral texts on Provocative change and Clean Language. My background at the time was largely in NLP and psychology. So, whilst I had a good grasp of NLP and had a natural affinity for the Provocative change work, I had completely blanked Clean Language.

This wasn’t a problem… until halfway through the course, when Sue decided that she would like to see me present on Clean Language the next day. The upshot was not exactly a classic Clean demonstration, and rather more of an innovation that utilised Clean.

I spent a frantic evening studying the material that I had with me on Clean Language and the use and nature of Clean questions as best I could. The gears started to shift for me when I tried out the patterns from Clean for myself, roleplaying internally different scenarios. In some ways it reminded me of some of the sensations I had from training in Aikido. So, I decided to use the Aikido format of two partners training, one as an attacker and the other as the one who uses the methodology of Aikido (blending with and then developing movements away from you) to neutralise an attack, as opposed to aiming to beat the other person.

The structure of the exercise was as follows: Person A was asked to remember a time that someone had made them very angry, perhaps in an argument, and they were encouraged to really vent their issues at Person B. Person B was given a card with David Grove’s Clean questions on it and the only way they could respond to Person A was by asking a Clean question. The results were profound and quickly became quite humorous.

Whilst initially watching someone publicly relive a heated argument was uncomfortable, the energy committed to the exercise really made the impact of the Clean questions even more powerful.

Example from the exercise:
Person A: Argh you just always do that, you always push push push!
Person B: and when push push push is there anything else about that push push push?
Person A: yeah! I just really hate being pushed on things when I’m not ready!
Person B: and really hate being pushed on things and not ready.. ready.. that’s like what?
Person A: well ready is when I’m doing things, it’s when I’m making them happen..

What I observed in this and subsequently numerous other examples was that the clean questions had the effect of moving the angry party (Person A) from within a trapped and low comprehension
state to a freer and more rational one. As Clean questions do not project assumptions the chances of further inflaming the angry party are reduced as:

  1. they will not feel misunderstood or negatively labelled
  2. Person B’s fears and insecurities are not adding to the conflict
  3. Clean questions enable the angry party to shed light on the unconscious drivers that are stuck, causing and exacerbating their frustration and insecurity.

This was a useful exercise in another way in that it helped me to develop a better understanding of anger and its function. Anger revealed itself to be at least three things

  1. a stuck emotional state
  2. a pattern-interrupt designed to force change in a situation
  3. a high-intensity focusing lens for our attention, with a side-effect that it also cuts one off from additional resources or new information.

The upshot being that anger can have a great practical function, in that it releases a lot of focused energy in the service of breaking an unwanted pattern/situation. On the other hand, as the stuck
emotional state is cut off from new information it is a bad state from which to make judgements or decisions. Invariably decisions from an angry state will lead to regrettable outcomes as the causal
chain of outcomes is hidden from the perceiver whilst in that state.

About Mark Shraga

After completing an NLP Practitioner training in 2008 Mark focused on developing an integrated approach to Coaching and training business executives. Following on from an NLP Master Practitioner qualification on 2010 and an NLP Trainers Training in 2012 Mark embarked on a MA degree in Applied Coaching with the University of Derby (Corporate). Mark Qualified as a Level 1 Coach with the British Aikido Board in November 2015 and was graded to 1 Dan on the 9th June 2016 at Shodokan Hombu, Osaka, Japan by Nariyama Shihan 9th Dan and Sakai Sensei 6th Dan. He recently opened Shodokan West London club. Click here for more information on Shodokan West London club.

The focus of Mark’s MA degree was the design of a new and exciting Coaching methodology which works with the clients’ entire neurology, body, mind and emotions, to awaken them to consciousness choice. This exciting new generative approach is Neuro-Somatic Coaching TM and is only available from Brighter Lives. Mark is also a telecoms entrepreneur with business interests in the UK and South Africa and lives in West London with his wife and daughter.

Contact Mark Shraga by email:  firststep at brighterlives dot co dot uk

2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Anger, Aikido and Clean Language”

  1. Rooken Podesta

    Hi Mark,

    Great article. Thank you. I find the Akido distiction very useful.

    Neurologically I believe,

    1. It’s a toward, not away; with all the positive aspects of dopamine, oxytocin.

    2. The questions, require some reflection, attention, focus and discernment, which moves activity from the emotional system to the prefrontal cortex and restoring vagal regulation.

    Anger is a limbic expression, it is by definition irrational it is also associated with elevated levels cortisol, adrenaline, and testosterone which prepare the individual physically to fight, flight, or freeze by moving blood away from the gut, brain and other organs to the periferal arms and legs and heightened, hyper alert nervious system.

    Asking meaning making questions pulls finite resources held in the limbic system and the body back to the neo-cortex, prefrontal cortex and more thoughtful expression and resourceful behaviour.

    Your thoughts?

  2. Hi Rooken,

    Thank you for your kind and insightful feedback!
    Basically yes, you have a clear understanding of how this is working, however there is a little more in the details around the impact that anger as a state has on our attention and active memory. I am currently researching both of these areas and it’s looking promising!

    All the best,


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