Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The benifits of no-throws Aikido

12/30/09 w [3s, 13v] A Good class. We were able to do more advanced work from ai homni, going to a nikiyo wrist pin and a shoulder lock pin. Given the no-mat, small area, I think not having to worry about throws helps. Nage can concentrate on their own movement and uke does not have to worry about getting set for a fall. I think it could be beneficial to occasionally do no-throw technique in a dojo, especially in a class with a preponderance of beginners and intermediate students. I did get the staff to split up and work with vets and. as it wasn’t a very big group, was able to bring everyone into one area.. Again, most folks do the move a couple of times and then slack off. The next class should have a lot more new people. This can be an opportunity to “tighten things up”, at least a bit.

Monday, December 28, 2009

12/28/09 NOTE: Up to now, classes have just been held in the ward’s day room. There has been no formal class structure even remotely approaching a dojo. Would it help or hinder if, for the period of the class, I established a more dojo-like atmosphere? My regular dojo is somewhat informal compared to the very strict rites, rituals and routines found in many dojos. But there is a structure, an etiquette, a discipline that helps the learning process and assures a measure of safety. In Keganin No Senshi Aikido, as we don’t do throws and falls, safety mostly involves being sensitive to uke and “tapping out” on time. However, current class structure and behavior are loose beyond just being informal.

The physical set up of the ward 8 day room is somewhat to blame, as the location of fixed furniture causes people to be a bit scattered and facing several different directions. We always have several chair warriors sitting around.. Also, sometimes a side meeting is going on at the front desk, and people often walk through on various tasks. There is also a tendency to sit down, or stop practicing a technique after one or two tries.

Many of these issues can be distractions and are endemic to where we are working out. I can probable get the “outlying” people [usually staff, usually female] to join the main group, at least after warm ups. Unless, for some reason, it is inappropriate. I think this would be good for them, and the group, on several levels. The chair warriors do seem to be paying attention to the class, often going through the motions of a technique to the degree they are able. They really participate, and seem to enjoy it when we do chair techniques.

Some of this is a result of my own resistance to arbitrarily imposed rigid or formal rites, rituals, structures. At the same time, I have learned, often the hard way, that structure, rites and rituals are important in any human endeavor, when they are relevant to the purpose, the situation and the people involved. So the questions are; should I structure the class a bit more like a dojo, or leave it loose and casual, and if so, what kind of structure would best suit these guys, and this situation?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Vulnerability & Power Shift

12/23/09 w [1s, 14v] A 8 guys were chair warriors today. Joint problems seem to be the main issue. I don’t know if this happens very often but I noticed it once or twice before. I think I will do chair Aikido for a bit every Friday.

In line with my discussions with staff and vets last week, and your comments, I am trying to place more emphasis on vulnerability, and how it is an important factor in initiating good Aikido technique. I explained that for a technique to even be initiated, Uke [teacher] had to attack. This meant that Nage had to at least appear vulnerable enough so Uke would attack, but, this meant that they were in control of their vulnerability and therefore in control of a situation where they were “under attack”. To physically practice this, I had them do enter-and-turn [irimi nage] a little differently. When Uke grasped Nage’s wrist I had Uke push, and I had Nage push back for just a second before breathing-to-center, then entering off line, and pivoting, using their hips rather than their shoulders and upper body. When they did this, they were able to observe and feel the shift in control from Uke to Nage. One vet described it as a “power break”, another agreed and called it a “shift in who was in control” . I had them maintain this resist and power shift through a succession of gyaku homni moves. In every technique, they were able to feel the exact point when the “power shift” happened. But, it only happened when they offered vulnerability and then did the technique properly. It can be an excellent way to self-evaluate whether or not the technique is being done right.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

12/19/09 I just received the following comment from Michael Werth Sensei, founder and Dojo Cho with Main Street Martial Arts, in Providence RI. I think it is an excellent way for presenting vulnerability as potentially positive, and another way in which Aikido can find strength in “weakness”.

“I also teach about vulnerability in Aikido, and how it's actually a "strategy" to be vulnerable "on purpose", in some small way to lead people to that opening. People can be attracted to vulnerability. Some will love those who are vulnerable and some will attack those who are vulnerable. It's presenting our vulnerabilities to others in ways that WE CONTROL that leads to trust and confidence in ourselves and an ever-expanding circle of influence and relationship with others.”

Friday, December 18, 2009

MAKING PROGRESS

12/18/09 f [5s, 18v] I Good group. Several new people. I mentioned the issue of vulnerability and how to respond with centering. We did technique from mirror grasp [ai homni]. Started with basic enter & turn [irimi tenkan] and progressed to an elbow lock and to a shoulder lock [shiho nage]. A number of people are beginning to take a breath and relax to center with out my prompting. Finished with a basic wrist lock and had standing people work with chair bound. Again, great response from people who felt extremely vulnerable because of their physical limitations.

Had my son with me today. He has practiced 16 years, since he was 5. This gave me a chance to begin to show people how to take proper ukemi. After class I asked for his critique. He suggested I work more on how to take ukemi. How a good, firm grasp, flexibility and staying in contact with nage is a way to remain safe and maintain some level of control. I’ll have to try to work on this at least once a week.

NOTE: Met with the program staff after class. I talked about how what and how I am teaching has changed since I first started. I am working more on breathing, relaxing to center and maintaining that relaxation through out a technique. I also mentioned the issue of vulnerability that came out on Wednesday. They thought that this was a major point to work on. The way they described it; with most people 95% of social interactions do not make them feel vulnerable, they may feel vulnerable in 1%, with people with PTSD they may feel vulnerable 95% of the time. Most of what the ward 8 program and the staff does is working with the vets in recognizing and dealing with these feeling of vulnerability.

The emphasis is that feelings of vulnerability may be valid, but that what are needed are ways, techniques for dealing with the situation constructively, not internalizing it, or kneejerking into a habitual, but not necessarily effective response.

Suggestions from the staff were: that I discuss the philosophy, the assertive but non-aggressive nature of Aikido, that I ask them what their feelings are when they are grabbed at the start of a technique and how do those feelings change as they breath/relax/center, and how they feel when they successfully complete a technique, i.e. gain and retain control of a situation in which they were vulnerable.

I explained how some of those things were learned kinesthetically, a very powerful learning process which has a definite, if covert impact on emotional as well as intellectual processes. I agreed, that given the short time vets were in the program, it could be beneficial to reinforce the kinesthetic learning with a bit more verbal explanation. I pointed out that staff could also refer to the basics of Aikido in helping someone to better understand the emotional/intellectual work done in other parts of the program. For example; “If you take a breath and relax to your center, how might it make you feel in this situation of vulnerability?” or “ How could you do an enter and turn to better deal with this?”

I am really glad that so many staff participate in my classes. I think it helps in their relationship with the guys, and wilol hopefully give them usefull tools in working with them in other milieus. I am going to try to get more staff to work directly with the guys, especially the women staff. Their Aikido is getting quite good.


I am beginning to feel like I'm giving the vets something more than a fun bit of exercise. The meeting with the staff, while not a formal evaluation, reenforced this.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Vulnerability

12/16/09 w [4s, 8v] I Moderate size class, no new people. Noticed an “evaporation” of vets between the time their morning meeting ends [usually late] and my class begins. An issue for when I meet with staff this Friday.

Worked on cross hand grasp [gyaku homni]. I was emphasizing breath, relaxing and welcoming the “attacker”,[uke]. One of the vets said he was having a lot of trouble doing that. We talked about that a little, and a couple of vets said when uke “came at them” they felt vulnerable and couldn’t relax, and in fact, usually tensed up and would go into an attack mode.. So their tensing up their shoulders and upper body can be more complicated than the typical male tendency to use upper body strength and to try to “muscle through” an attack. I think I will include this feeling of vulnerability and the way to respond in my emphasizing welcoming, breathing, and relaxing to center. This would also be one of the evaluative criteria if I ever get a regularized evaluation process going.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

12/15/09 m [5v] B Small class, 3 of the 5 are new. I never know what to expect on Mondays. It does give me a chance to do more one-on-one. I am placing greater emphasis on relaxing-to-center and proper breathing. Not that I am all that great on breath control my self!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

NOTE: In a dojo, there is usually a minimum of explanation and discussion. It is assumed that what I call the 5 points, will be learned, not intellectually, through explanation and discussion, but kinesthetically, through constant practice of technique. In working with the folks at the VA, I have them, at the most, for 6 weeks, 18 classes. Although I don’t expect them to learn precise technique, I do want them to grasp the power of breath/relaxation/centering. My experiments so far indicate a combination of explanation/discussion/group demonstration, backed up by practicing technique and one-to-one demonstration could be the best approach. Last Friday I had them try to work out some techniques for chair aikido using the five points and they reinvented a couple of excellent techniques, modified for chair gyaku hanmi. Several guys remarked on how relaxing and bringing uke to their center worked so well.

Questions for anyone out there. Would this intellectualization and improvisation help or hinder the internalization of the basic principles of Aikido? Should I stick to doing it just during chair work, or using it during regular standing techniques? Would giving a “homework” assignment help or hinder?
I thank you for any suggestions.

ps I apologize for my constant screwing up of the proper Japanese terminology in this journal. One of the reasons I didn't test for over 40 years is my total disability to learn foreign languages. I would be extremely embarrassed when Sensei would give me a technique to do, and I would have no idea which one he wanted. I would like to thank my Sensei, and everyone in my dojo for their patients in working through this. Please, don’t hesitate to correct me.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

12/9/09 w [3s, 18v] B There was no class Monday. Everyone was playing bingo, which the guys from here don’t usually do, except there were some cash prizes. There will be no class Friday as everyone will be helping set up for the Xmas party for all the alumni of the program. They say about 300.

There were a few new people today, so, because we started late, I did an abbreviated intro. Both the warm-ups and irimi practice went well. People seemed to pick-up the basics a bit faster. It could be I am improving how I talking and walking them through. Did irimi tenkan to a shoulder lock and finished with a simple wrist lock. I am finding these are good techniques to use with first timers. They are fairly simple, most folks pock them up quickly, they can feel the difference when they breath, relax and center, and shows even the biggest doubter how effective Aikido can be.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Chair Aikido

12/4/09 f [2s, 18n] I Class size increasing, couple of new people. I’d promised people we would do some chair aikido, so we did chair aikido. Generally people like doing these moves, although there are always 2 - 3 who still don’t participate. We started off with ikyo and nikyo from “Gyaku Hanmi”, i.e., same side grab. I asked people if it made any difference if they took a centering breath on beginning the move and if bringing uke’s hand fully into their center helped. The response was, and this is a direct, multiple quote, “Oh, wow, much better.”

One of the guys asked what technique would I use with a cross handed grab, “Ai Hanmi". I said I didn’t know, as I was sort of inventing chair aikido as we went. But if we relied on the 5 aspects, we would undoubtably figure something out. I then told them to work with their partner and try and discover techniques. Of course, they came up with a number of techniques, several of which were quite good. If I have a good group, I might do this again, i.e., have them try to develop variations of basic techniques.

NOTE: I have to see if it might be possible to video some classes. Given confidentiality issues it might not be allowed.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

KEGANIN NO SENSHI AIKIDO, Wounded Warrior Aikido.

12/2/09 w [4s, 12v] B good size class. Mostly new people. The usual doubting Thomases, but some fairly noticeable changes in attitude by the classes end. Did the standard basic program. I have been emphasizing taking a deep breath and relaxing to center at the very beginning of every technique. Again, when people do it, they immediately experience an improvement in their movement, and how much better the technique works. 5 chair warriors this time, so we will probably do some chair work this Friday.
The way the room is arranged is problematic [among the many other problems]. It is long, not very wide and has a pool table down at one end. This means we have people sort of strung out, with a couple trying to work beside or behind the table. It means the class is a bit chaotic and it is a bit difficult to get around to work with everyone. Again, not something we can do anything about, just another situation where the answer is to keep on keepin’ on.
NOTE: Someone said I should have a name to identify the special kind of Aikido I am doing. Since I can’t put myself under the umbrella of my own dojo, at this point I am also excluded from our federation. So I will call what I am trying to develop KEGANIN NO SENSHI AIKIDO, Wounded Warrior Aikido.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

11/30/09 m [0s, 5v] B
Real small class, didn’t start until 2:45, a number of people left early today and several new people are only processing. Plus, several people who were supposed to be here were in a class/session that ran way over. They were just getting out when our class was getting over. Did have one guy show up who is no longer in the Ward 8 program, but is still in another program at the facility. He wants to come whenever he can. I told him I would be real glad to have him. Mondays seem to consistently be chaotic. I don’t know if anything can be done, but I will try to bring it up to the staff. Also, the schedule and attendance may be all over the map with the holidays coming up.
Gave my goals tostaff. He said he has checked with a couple of people, and there is no way to get volunteers funded through the VA. He will check with the president of the local DAV. Maybe we could create the Injured Warrior Aikido as a DBA of Crystal Farm and get funding through that 501(c)3.
One of the new guys is a real “tester”, always wants to know “what if”. This is actually good, because I can show him the response to his “what if”, and it is obvious he is impressed. I use him frequently now as uke because everyone believes him when he says, and clearly shows, it works.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Breath, Relax, then Move

11/27/09 f [0s, 7v] I Today is the day after thanksgiving and we had 7 guys here anyhow! One of the guys came in from home. Two new people but I felt the more experienced guys could work with them if we did some slightly more complicated technique. They really did quite well, good class.

NOTE: I have found that when someone stiffens up or tries to use too much muscle in a technique, having them take a deep breath and relax as they exhale really makes a difference. And they can feel the difference themselves and how much “easier” the technique becomes. I have started each technique telling them to do the breath/relax just as they begin the move. This is really all I would like them to leave with. I could be one of the “tools” staff can use in counseling as well.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

11/26/09 w [4s, 6v] I Small class, 3 of the vets were relatively new but we had three who have been practicing five weeks. Worked from cross hand grasp [Gyaku Hanmi] and did ikkyo and nikkyo to the front [omote]. Several of the guys are going to be around the Friday after Thanksgiving and said they would really like to have class, if I could make it. Difficult as it may be to get up at 6:30 am the day after thanksgiving, how could I refuse. I think one of the better students will be leaving next week, but he is thinking about starting practice at our dojo. It still makes me feel good when that happens.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Learning from the not-so-good

11/23/09 m [2s, 6v] B Small class, three new people. There are several of the younger vets who don’t seem to show up but occasionally. I’m not sure how to deal with this. I think I should take this up with the staff. If they aren’t aware of it, it could indicate issues they may want to address.
I think I am getting the intro down much better, more concise yet clearer. Particularly doing ireme tenkan. The new people were doing the move much better, much sooner. Maybe it is just a good group. Having enough people with a couple of weeks experience to pair up with the new people really helps. There are supposed to be more new people Wednesday.
I talked with one of the staff about doing more formal evaluation of the program, both what it might be giving to the vets, and what it might be giving to the staff. He suggested I bring in the goals I set back in the beginning to the staff meeting Wednesday after class. We can go over them, see how realistic they are and determine how we can structure an evaluation process based on the revised set. Then I can meet with the staff one Wednesday a month and do an evaluation.

NOTE; I've been thinking about what to do when you are in a class or seminar with a sensei who's way of doing an aikido technique or their style of teaching is not what you think is good. You may not believe it, but I am as biased about Aikido sensei as anybody.
I had a class with a different sensei a while ago. He fell into both of the above categories of what I don't like. What I decided to try, is to practice what he taught, but analyze what I did and didn't like, and how I thought it could be done or taught better. In doing that, I came to realize a couple of faults/weaknesses in my own technique and teaching. Not that it should necessarily be what or how that Sensei taught, but something I should look at as a way to improve my technique, or a better way to teach.
This sensei’s methods of teaching was by the numbers. I found it too slow and disconcerting, no grace or flow. But working with the vets, or even with a newbie at the dojo, teaching a basic move, and going progressively to more complicated aspects and variations, while emphasizing the continuous flow, relaxed strength, balance, etc. isn’t by the numbers, but it could enable them to better see the bases of all techniques, give a context to techniques and help people understand the logical structure of aikido. It should also allow them to make significant progress fairly early on and thus keep their interest up.
I hope this makes some sense. I see it as a way to bring the basic principles to a negative situation. And as far as I'm concerned, that is what Aikido is all about.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

11/21/09 NOTE: I have just read “Aikido - Martial Arts - Fighting” on George Ledyard Sensei’s, blog, George Ledyard's All Things Aikido, and it has me thinking about my own experiences as a US Army warrior and as an Aikido warrior. My basic training and experience in the 101st Airborne as an Army warrior was focused on violence, aggression and conquering an “enemy”. I transferred to Special Forces as I had heard that their mission was to train and equipt indigenous people as guerrilla fighters defending themselves against a foreign attackers. [As a kid, I always wanted to be the Lone Ranger. I mean really!] And this was, in fact, what we did for many years, even in the early stages of our involvement in Viet Nam, under the mistaken belief that North Viet Nam was the “foreign attacker”.

In my last tour in Nam, I found myself caught up and participating in violence, aggression, and viciousness against the very people we had originally been serving. So I got out. The problem was that I found myself still caught up in the self image of this warrior of violence, aggression, and viciousness, and it was not a person I particularly liked. In fact I found this person I had become so repulsive, so antithetical to who I really wanted to be, the image of my self in my own mind, I often thought about eliminating that person completely. Fortunately, I stumbled into Aikido, and very soon came to the realization that one could be what Ledyard Sensei calls a “peaceful warrior”, that this seeming oxymoron could, in fact, be entirely real.

This realization enabled me to bring what I was beginning to see as the philosophical, spiritual bases of Aikido into other “war zones” such as alternative education, social services, social change, etc. and even the day-to-day struggles and stresses of life. I am not always successful. All too often my Irish temper yields to the warrior of aggression [like when I’m driving]. But there are times, thankfully the more important times, when the Aikido warrior takes over. There are times when I feel good about who I am, and that the fight can be a good one.

If I can in any way convey this to the vets I am working with, maybe I will be taking another small step toward my own image of who I want to be. It would be nice to contribute to bringing peace to the entire world, or even one little part, but I can only do that as I learn to be a peaceful warrior myself.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Back to the chairs

11/20/09 f [4s, 12v] A After warm-ups, we went to chair techniques. Doing ikyo and nikyo, ai hanmi and gyaku hanmi, while sitting helped people grasp the concepts of relaxing and bringing uke to nage’s center. The first instinct is to try to pull uke, but it proved to be very difficult. When people relaxed and just let the weight of their arm “drop”, they could execute the move reasonably well. I think we will do chair technique fairly regularly, every other week or so. With the exception of two guys recovering from broken wrists, it enables everyone to participate. Doing a standing technique and then repeating and varying it from a chair does two things; it shows the chair bound they are not powerless and it shows everyone that focusing on the 5 points of technique can enable infinite variations to basic technique.
Some people are beginning to move generally much better, less speed and using the upper body, and more relaxed flow and centering.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

11/18/09 w [4s, 12v] A Again, no new people and moderate size class. We were able to go from basic irimi tenkan through 4 sequentially more complex variations. The guys say they like doing this as it helps them understand how the more advanced variations work and gives a context for the basic variations. Working with the same group several times in a row; really helps firm up their use of the 5 points.
I got a chance to work on some new standing pins and chair techniques over the weekend with another shodan while on a short vacation. I need to do more of this, but don’t have much opportunity. I will have to find someone simpatico near by. Doing this by myself is OK, but someone to bounce ideas off would help.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

11/10/09 m [1s, 11v] A No new people and moderate sized class so we did grasp both wrists [Ryote Dori] to joint lock [nikyo]. Worked on maintaining center/center line while lowering the body to get under uke’s arm. Some difficulty in “lowering” body as opposed to hunching over. People found that when did this correctly, [relax, center] they were able to maintain their balance and keep uke from twisting out.
As I outlined in the previous note, I have begun demonstrating how to take ukemi safely, and with some level of self-control. When people were able to relax into the movement they found they could respond much easier.

Monday, November 9, 2009

NOTE: It is unfortunate that, because we can only workout on a rug, I can’t have people doing a full ukemi, i.e. rolls, take downs, etc. Doing technique as Nage gives the experience of dealing with aggression/stress as it comes at you. However, well taught ukemi [ falling down as an art] gives the experience of retaining some level of control and balance once one is in a spiral of experience; keeping oneself as safe as possible, going with the flow, keeping a clear mind not panicking and maintaining the possibility of reversing a technique/situation, and regaining full control. Few dojos stress good ukemi, beyond a way of falling down. I realize that this is one of the most powerful and effective aspects of Aikido that Sensei Martin stresses in his teaching. It is an excellent example of the covert teaching of life knowledge that the founder wanted.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Recommended reading

NOTE: The best general description of Aikido and its general principles I have found, is the "AIKIDO PRIMER", compiled by Eric Sotnak [ sotnak@bigfoot.com ]. You can find it at WWW.valleyaikido.homestead.com/files/Aikido_Primer.doc . This is an excellent introduction, and well worth reading.

Friday, November 6, 2009

11/6/09 f [4s 22 v] I After warm ups had them doing irimi tenkan, moving very slowly and working on a smooth, flowing technique. I demonstrated how relaxed movement from the hips/center, keeping the center over the “anchored” foot and not “hunching”, enabled nage to keep their balance while bringing uke off balance. This all seemed to help several guys improve over all. Continued this to a shoulder pin. Finished with a wrist lock variation.
Two guys visited Northampton dojo Wednesday and are going back tonight to start practice. Awwwright!!!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

11/5/09 w [3s, 23v] B Back to a large class, 14 new people. I don’t know if I am getting my presentation down better, or this is a very good group, but, in spite of doing the introduction and a slightly slower warm-up, we were able to move along a bit quicker than usual, with a higher level of interest. A lot less casual, not pertinent chatter and more people working on technique, even when I’m not working directly with them.
NOTE: I wonder about my teaching technique. Do I talk too much? Over intellectualize? My understanding is that O Sensei’s teaching “method” was to line up all the students, have them attack him one at a time, go through the line once, maybe twice, [not necessarily doing the technique exactly th same with each] and then move on to the next technique. No discussion and little, if any, explanation, leaving the students to figure out on their own what he had done. This has changed somewhat, especially with American Senseis, but the general teaching method is still very much non verbal, with the student encouraged to feel their own way into the technique Sensei demonstrates.
I admit that this “kinesthetic” learning process is extremely effective, especially with adolescents. But with the Vets, I find myself talking a lot, explaining, clarifying, etc. I mean, I tend to do this a bit with beginners at the dojo, but I wonder if I am doing it so much more with the Vets because everyone is a beginner, because I want to get certain basics across and I only have six weeks, 18 classes at the most?
Maybe this is the best teaching method, either because of the situation, or because this is my personal style of teaching. I’m going to have to experiment a bit to see if toning down my talk helps at all. Of course, given the constantly changing makeup of the group, measuring any change could prove difficult.

Monday, November 2, 2009

11/2/09 m [1s, 9v] A A small class, but with guys who are really into it. We were able to go from a basic irimi tenkan to a fairly advanced technique ending in a nikkyo ura standing pin. Some of the guys are still a little confused as to what foot/hand goes where and forget about relaxing their shoulders, but working with them one-on-one, they get it, and there are frequent A-HA moments. One of them said those moments, rare as they might be, are what keep him looking forward to this class.
It is a great example of the golf analogy; even the worlds worst duffer hits a great shot once in a while and that rare great shot is what keeps him coming back, and back, and back. In Aikido, once in a great while I do a technique just right, and that keeps me coming back, and back, and back. Its not masochism, it just feels sooo good when it happens.
NOTE: I was talking with Sensei Dallas yesterday. He has a dojo in Mississippi and is attempting to bring his art to so-called disadvantaged folks. He is interested in doing classes for vets. His questions got me to thinking how I have gotten my program off the ground and producing the limited successes we have gained. The situation I ended up with was certainly nothing like I imagined when I first approached the Volunteer Coordinator. I think what worked for me, was not focusing on some imagined end result, but accepting the situation as it was and viewing even the “negatives”as an opportunity to bring the best Aikido I knew to the situation.
My decision was to focus on what I consider the most basic aspects, i.e., the 5 points of technique, in the belief that students would experience, and hopefully internalize something positive and constructive they could bring to their lives. This enabled me to relax, stay flexible and move with the energy/flow of which ever group I had, on which ever day it was, and enjoy just bringing something to these guys that they could enjoy.
When I look back on things so far, I realize I have used some of the basic principles of Aikido in teaching Aikido. As a result, the classes for these guys have been one of the best Aikido learning experiences I”ve ever had.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

10/30/09 f [ 3s, 12v] B This size group won’t last, but it does allow for a better class. I was able to have them do a different irimi [going to the front of uke] and then progress to two variations. This form if irimi began to expose them to the concept of “centering” as maintaining uke’s center on nage’s centerline as opposed to directly to their center/hara. People could see and experience how moving from the hips enabled them to maintain this centerline control in a fairly fluid technique, where moving from the shoulders quickly caused them to loose uke. We finished with a basic wrist lock [kote gaeshi]. Our two current chair cowboys were able to do most of these techniques, especially the last, with minor modifications, once they grasped how to move from their center/hips while seated.
NOTE: I really get a great kick out of seeing that expression on the face of someone who thinks they are “helpless” because they are chair bound. Amazed? Empowered? Like they got a little piece of themselves back? After, I could see them practicing moves as I worked with the rest of the class

Thursday, October 29, 2009

10/30/09 [3s 12v] B Small class, mostly new people. Small group allowed me to take one technique, irimi tenkan, through several variations ending with a nikkyo ura. I was able to spend more time with each person, not just stressing relaxing and centering, but helping each of them modify the technique to their particular physical condition. This was also a chance to demonstrate, and practice, centering a bit further from the actual harra or body center by keeping the hands, and uke, on a center line as we move our body.
NOTE: I should talk with the staff about doing some discussion around how aikido technique can apply in the real world. Especially the principles of breathing/relaxing/welcoming, centering, and moving off the line.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Onward - into the fog

10/21/09 w [5s, 22v] No new folk. Did Friday type class. Worked up from irimi tenkan to basic nikiyo [omote, no take-down/pin]. This proved to be a good technique to instill the need to “center” i.e., bring uke’s arm/center down and directly into nage’s center. Told them we would start at that point Friday after warm-ups, and continue that technique to a more advanced level.
Note: As the schedule of when new folks come in to the Ward, and to avoid confusing myself, I’m going to re-name the 3 types of class I defined above;
Monday will now be “A” advanced
Wednesday will now be “B” basic
Friday will now be “I” intermediate

10/21/09 At Aikido of Northampton [my regular dojo]
2 guys from the big 8 [ward 8 is the location at the VA facility where the PTSD vets live] visited a regular class. They were a bit blown away at how effective aikido can be when you go full out. They also remarked on how the very limited, basic technique we are able to do actually are the basics of a full aikido technique. They got to meet Todd Martin Sensei and liked how he reinforced what they were doing. One guy is leaving the program Tuesday and asked if I knew of any dojos in the Providence RI area. He thinks he might want to continue his aikido. I will get him a list of the dojos I know of.

10/23/09 f [5s, 20v] A type class. Warm ups, solo & partner irimi tenkan. Repeated irimi tenkan to nikyo omote as a standing pin. Progressed to nikyo ura as a standing pin. People were surprised at how powerful nikyo is, and how destructive nikyo ura could be if pushed a bit too far. Very high interest in this technique. A lot of people experimented with different grips and hand/body positions.
I ended with a demonstration of nikyo ura to a takedown and floor pin, and how well it enabled me to control uke while being completely relaxed myself.

10/26/09 [ s, v] B [3s, 10v] Apparently a lot of people left today and we had 2 new guys.
also, starting on-time, at 2:30 on Mondays is problematic. A lot of people are involved in other activities, group meetings, counseling, clinics, etc. that are supposed to end at 2:30, but often run over, and even if they do end on time, by the time people get to class it is often 5+ minutes before they get to the class. I don’t know if we can do anything about this but I will try to get the class to start and end 5 minutes later.
NOTE: I just have to plan on not being able to plan any regular sechedule of classes. I will just have to concentrate on the goals I set and try to implement them as best I can with the group I have on any one day. If I reach a few people, inculcate the concept of relaxing, breathing and centering when confronted or in stressful situations I will know I haven’t wasted my time. Althought it has only been a short time, it seems to have happend with a couple of guys and that feels real good.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

10/16/09 [4 s, 22v] Great class! Had them leave about 11 chairs out. Started with regular warm-ups and solo irimi tenkan. Then explained that we were going to develop some chair aikido, together, as I wasn’t sure what I was doing with this. Stressed that the 5 points still applied, especially relaxing and moving from the hips, even though you might assume they were locked in by sitting down. Pointed out that in addition to Uke’s center being higher, Uke would have to reach in and over their legs to grab them. This would cause Uke to already be somewhat over balanced.
Started with a simple wrist grab, irimi variation where Nage “scooped” Uke’s “center” to their center/lap. Then continued this into an ikkyo, pinning Uke over Nage’s knees. Then a couple of the guys said they thought an arm pin to the chest would work from a chair, so we tried that. Worked great.
This was the first time we had every one trying moves. At the start, I could tell that a number of folks didn’t think they could do any of this. Some very serious doubts on the faces of former armchair cowboys, By the end of class, those looks had changed, at least to the possibility they weren’t totally helpless in a chair. The biggest hurdles were learning to sit back in the chair, relax the shoulders and not jerk on Uke. Many guys realized, for the first time, the power of relaxing and bringing Uke to their center.
I think, that as practicing technique to a standing pin, practicing technique from a chair can be an excellent teaching tool for aikidoka at any level.
For me, this was a very satisfying class. In part because applying the 5 points while “trapped” in a chair worked so well, but mostly because we were able to involve everyone in the class but also because of the level of enthusiasm the guys showed. The room was replete with really positive “vibes” today. I am even more firmly convinced that the basic principles of aikido, both O’Sensei 5 principles and the 5 points of technique, are truly universal and can be used by anyone, in almost any situation of conflict/ aggression/stress.
Damn, I love this stuff!!!!!!!

10/19/09 Confused start. Began with 4 staff and 7 vets. Was told there would be more vets as well as several new guys. Ended up with 5 staff [1 new] and 14 vets with 4 new guys. Obviously my Monday plan got changed. I guess I am going to have to be ready to adapt to who ever shows up.
Basically did the Wed plan. Guys who have been to a few classes voluntarily partnered with new guys. I concentrated on basic static irimi techniques. As expected, several people left the program. Unfortunately, they were a couple of the better ones. But, then again, a couple of those staying are coming along. Hopefully Wednesday or Friday I can get in some more active techniques using timing and momentum, working on a smooth flow of movement and using energy from the hips

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I shoulde make it clear, I don’t necessarily see Aikido as therapy for PTSD. I do believe, and it has been my experience, that Aikido can be theraputic. In working with young people, I have seen practicing Aikido contribute to changes in attitude, in approaches to problem solving, to responses to stress and agression. Like many physical activities, Aikido can be a kinesthetic, i.e. non-intelectual method for learning and changing behaviors. Hopefully in more positive directions than football or karate and other martial arts as they are taught in the US.

9/9/09 First class. Started with 6 staff and about 20 Vets. One or two had a bit of martial arts training outside of regular military hand-to-hand. No Aikido. Gave a brief explanation of Aikido, that it was a martial art, but the only one I knew of where the objective was to beat the opponent, but to bring everyone to a safe, secure place. Began with warm-ups, stressing breathing and moving only to the point where the stretch could just be felt. A lot of these guys have physical issues so I have to remember to encourage them to go only as far as they can, not to push to hard, both in warm-ups and practicing technique.
Demonstrated solo irimi tenkan stressing how the 5 points are applied. Had them practice as I went around.
Demonstrated irimi tenkan with a partner, stressing again how the 5 points are applied. Had them pair up and practice as I went around.
Did one variation on irimi tenkan to a standing pin, ikkyo. Demonstrated with a partner, had them pair up and practice as I went around.
Finished class with a “breath down”.

This was the routine for most classes, with variations after doing warm-ups and Irimi tenkan.

9/21/09 Began with warm-ups, stressing breathing and moving only to the point where the stretch could just be felt then solo and basic partner irimi. Much better at centering and being more relaxed. Partner irimi with three slightly advanced moves. Some confusion with position of hands and using a bit too much upper body strength but pick up corrections quickly, with a small demo. Breath down. Spoke briefly about what I felt was most important about aikido, and what I hoped to give them in the short time we had, i.e. the sense that dealing with aggression and stressful situations by relaxing and centering can be very powerful and effective. A few of the guys leaving thanked me, both for the way warm ups help their various joints, and for the exposure to aikido. Two have said they intend to keep practicing at a dojo near home.
NOTE: Don’t try to do backstretch with someone over 300 pounds!!! I really like the A-HA! moments.

Staff still haven’t figured out schedule.

NOTE; Unless the staff drastically changes the schedule, and given the ebb and flow of vets i.e. the 6 week cycle with new people able to start a Wednesday AM class, I think the general schedule should be;
Wednesdays 8am Intro to Aikido and difference from other martial arts, i.e. “collaborative nature, slower warm up and more explanations, stress 5 points, safety, explain teacher/student relationship, centering, breathing, slow smooth movement in technique. Focus on ireme nage, solo and partner work with 1 or 2 simple variations.
Fridays 8am Touch briefly on points above. slightly more complicated techniques, again working from same side and cross hand grabs. Demonstrate how using the 5 points actually gives more “power” and control than using upper body muscle.
Mondays 2:30pm Everyone will have had at least a couple of classes. This being the case, do a little more advanced techniques, possibly yokomen, two hand and shirt grabs. Again, stress relaxing, centering and use of breathing.

9/23/09 w [6 staff 20 vets] 7 new people. 4-5 people do warm ups but sit down when we start partner practice [3 who have had a week or more, 2 first timers]. I know some of them have physical issues, but some just don’t want to do anything. I’m not going to push it just yet but will talk with staff. See how they want to handle it.
Regular Wed program. Putting people with a couple of weeks with newbies seems to help move things along. These guys are mostly pretty supportive of each other. I’ll try to continue to use this dynamic.

9/25/09 f [5 staff 16 vets]. Again, 4-5 people do warm ups but sit down when we start partner practice. Apparently 4 people just didn’t show up. Able to get in 4 techniques and generally people are doing much better at relaxing, breathing and centering. Asked one of the biggest guys to do a move with me. As he started he went to his shoulders. I just said”sholders”. He stopped, took a deep breath, let it out slowly as he relaxed into his center, and a very nice irimi nage. Man! This makes it all worth while! And, while everyone is not doing this well, I can see real progress, and several of the guys have expressed the same feeling.
The staff want to try changing the schedule to Monday 2:30p to 3:15, keeping Wed & Fri at 8:a. We’ll see how it goes.

9/28/09 m [5 staff 16] vets This will only be a 45 min session. 3 people do warm ups but sit down when we start partner practice. I think this class is here voluntarily so the fact the numbers are pretty much the same is a good sign. Although, maybe it just means there isn’t anything else to do. As everyone here has been to at least 3 classes, we are still able to get through warm-ups, irimi practice and three techniques even though the time is shorter. Still making progress, When I tell someone to “relax”, or “bring partner to your center”, they respond. They may not get the movements exactly right, but the concept is beginning to be internalized.
NOTE; I am probably talking too much but in the short time we have, I want to make sure they understand the principles behind the movements. As I go around and work with the partner groups, I find what seems to work best is to watch a move, complement what is right, demonstrate emphasizing the corrections needed w/o talking, demonstrate again this time explaining the reasons, the physics behind the corrections and stressing relaxing the upper body and the 5 points.
There are a couple of guys who like to “test”, me or the move, I don’t know which, but it gives me a “teaching opportunity” by showing how a proper, 5 points grounded move allows me to either control the “test” or flow it into another move/pin.
I am having fun.

9/30/09 w [5 s 18 v] Same group so I am able to take it up a notch. Do 3 techniques from Yokomen. Even though it starts from a totally different attack, some people pick up idea of “guiding” nage’s attack, not blocking, and a couple of people realized how they were actually bringing nage’s “center” to theirs.

10/2/09 f Most of the guys and staff had to attend “family days” so we started with only 4 staff and 6 vets and this slowly evaporated to three vets and one staff. This gave me the opportunity to do some larger moves and work closer with everyone.

10/05 & 0/7 Missed both classes due to #*&#@ cold.

10/9/09 [4s 22v] I got a round of applause when I walked in????? Made me feel good. 6 new guys so I did the Wednesday intro and warm ups. A bit more time spent on irimi nage, solo & partner. Nice the way guys who have been here move right over to new folks. Even if they don’t have the technique exactly right, it sets a great tone for the class, a sense of comradlyness [sic?]. I wonder if the staff notices this making a difference anywhere else?

NOTE: 4 - 6 guys always come, try to do some of the exercises and even take a stab at the easier techniques but mostly they sit on the perimeter and watch. What about developing some chair aikido, techniques that can be done while sitting down???????? Would the abler guys be willing to work with me? Would the “sitters” be willing to do it? Can there be any advantages/strengths? How do we deal with the lack of mobility? other blocks/drawbacks?

10/14/09 [5s 22v] No new people so I did a Monday type class. Only did 3 techniques, but stressed the more subtle aspects, i.e. moving from the hips, relaxing the upper body, precise “grips”. Another example of how the limitations of not having to work on falls enables us to focus on these points at a rather early point in their training. I still think occasionally doing no-throw techniques could be helpful in a regular dojo class.
Broached the idea of doing some chair aikido so those guys with physical issues can still participate. There was a real positive response to being able to get these guys more involved. I did say this was new ground for me and that we would have to develop these things together.

COMBAT RELATED PTSD

9/09-11-14-16-18/09 MY MACHINE ATE MY LOG AND NOTES!!!
Up to 9/21 is just my best guess as to what I had written.

I want to extend my Aikido into more of my life as well as getting back to putting energy something with more socially redeeming value. Being semi-retired, I have the time to put that energy where I want, not just where I get paid best.
To quote someone, “all that counts in life is how you move through the fire”. As a Vet, my Aikido has had a very positive effect on how I have moved through life. I am going to approach the local Veterans Administration facility to see if they would be interested in having me teach a class on Aikido to Vets.

Met with the volunteer coordinator. She refered me to the clinic where they work with vets with combat related PTSD. Attended a staff meeting and did my pitch on how Aikido can help deal with stress, agression, etc. They got back to me the next day and asked if I could do a class at 8:00 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This is great, better than I expected.

We are doing class in the ward day room, rug, but no mats.
Vets are usually here for 6 weeks, with a new group of 4-7 new people coming in about every week and 4-7 leaving. There will usually be about 20 +- vets at each class. A new group process in on Mondays which means I plan on having some new people join the ongoing group every Wednesday.

While I want the class to be an enjoyable break from their regular schedule, I really want to give people something positive they can use outside of class, in their regular life, dealing with their real life issues. Properly taught, the physical activity should have an effect on their mental/emotional activity [kinesthetic learning]. It doesn’t really matter if they are consciously aware of this. Covert can often work better than overt.
Based on discussions with the staff and given the time and location realities:
Stress the collaborative nature of aikido practice, Nage as teacher, Uke is student.
All techniques will end with a standing pin, occasionally a take down. No throws or falls.
Concentrate on basic moves and techniques; 1 & 2 hand grabs, shoulder grabs, shomenuchi. No ski.
Drill on the 5 points of technique
1. welcoming “attack” and relaxing to center
2. getting “off the line”
3. blending attacker’s [Uke] “center” with Nage’s
4. Nage utilizies technique to move their own body, and not focusing on Uke
5. coming to a place where the attacker is secure and both participants are safe [especially Nage]

To evaluate progress/success on these I’ve come up with the following set of goals;
That guys will enjoy the class and keep coming
That there will be a good interaction among the various “demographics” of the group and a sense of group will develop
Guys will learn and demonstrate an ability to consciously relax and center when “attacked”/stressed
Staff will have some commonly held language they can use to help Vets in certain situations, i.e. relax, center, breath down
All of these will carry over outside of class