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E.I. Part 8 | Emotional Judo | The Old Man On The Train

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

Guiding Questions: How often do your emotions or the emotions of those around you affect your decision-making, relationships, and life? How good/skilled are you at managing your emotions and the emotions of those around you?

Key Takeaways: Emotional brilliance is the ability to manage the most extreme emotions of those around us, and help them reset without fighting with them, embarrassing them, or causing more harm.

One of my best friends is the new head coach of a division one program. He is in the beginning stages of creating and building his own culture, and in this phase of the process, he is constantly putting out fires and de-escalating those around him as he defines the expectations he has for everyone.

An important part of coaching and leadership is your ability to put out fires and solve problems while managing emotions. Great coaches and leaders know that the culture of the team can be seen in the face of the coach or leader, and remaining calm in the middle of the storm is a skill that should be practiced and modeled for others.

Emotional Intelligence is our ability to manage our emotions and the emotions of others.

The best of the best leaders are self-aware of their emotions and able to manage them. They are also aware of the feelings and emotions of others and can help manage them as well.

In chapter 8 of his book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman writes:

“If the test of social skill is the ability to calm distressing emotions in others, then handling someone at the peak of rage is perhaps the ultimate measure of mastery.”

One effective strategy for de-escalating someone is to engage in what he calls ‘Emotional Judo.”

- First, you distract them.

- Second, you disarm them by empathizing with their feelings and perspective,

- And third, you draw them into an alternative focus that attunes them with a more positive range of feelings.

Daniel tells the story of a guy named Terry. Terry was one of the first Americans ever to study the martial art aikido in Japan. Aikido is the art of reconciliation. Terry was taught:

"Whoever has the mind to fight has broken his connection with the universe. If you try to dominate people you are already defeated. We study how to resolve conflict, not how to start it.”

But like many people who train 8 hours a day on how to beat people up, Terry was ready to test his skills.

While riding home one day on a train in Tokyo, Terry almost got his chance. A big, belligerently drunk man got on the train and began terrorizing the passengers: he was screaming and cursing at people, he took a swing at a woman holding a baby, and he grabbed the metal pole in the middle of the car with a roar and tried to tear it out of its socket.

Terry stood up to confront the drunk man, and the drunk man began to approach Terry when they both heard an old man shout, “Hey,” in an oddly joyous and friendly way.

The cheery shout came from a tiny, old man in his 70s, sitting on the train wearing his kimono. The drunk man spun around surprised and shocked, and the old man, smiling, signaled for the drunk man to come closer.

The drunk man stumbled over to him and said, “Why the hell should I talk to you?” Terry watched, ready to attack the drunk man when needed. The old man asked, “What’cha been drinking?” and the drunk man replied, “I been drinking sake, and it’s none of your business.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful, absolutely wonderful,” the old man replied in a warm tone. “I love sake too,” and the old man told the drunk man that he and his wife warm up a little bottle of sake and drink it on a bench in their garden every evening under their persimmons tree.

The drunk man’s face began to soften, and his fist unclenched as he said, “Yea… I love persimmons, too.”

The drunk man then began crying and told the old man his wife had died, he lost his job, and now he was ashamed of himself.

As Terry was getting off the train at his stop, the old man invited the drunk man to join him, and the drunk man sprawled along the seat next to him and buried his head in the old man’s lap.

Goleman then wrote, “That is emotional brilliance.”


1 - What is one thing you can learn from the story of the old man and the drunk?

2 - How can you distract and disarm someone who is escalated?

3 - How can you refocus someone who is escalated on something more positive?

Much of this information was taken from the introduction of Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence. You can find more about the book here: Emotional Intelligence

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