Friday, November 26, 2010

INTEGRATING INTO A PROGRAM OF THERAPY


I would like to start with a qualification; I do not believe there is only one “cause” for PTSD, therefore there should not be one “therapy”. The causal circumstances, the surrounding context, individual psychological states, genetic proclivities, and the potential for a wide range of differing factors can make the basis for each individuals PTSD unique and probably difficult to define. It follows, then, that dealing effectively with an individuals PTSD would require exposure to as wide a range of therapeutic approaches as possible, and treatment should involve a team of therapists from a variety of disciplines.

Given the kinesthetic realities I outlined in the previous blog, several physical approaches should be offered; exposure therapy, EMDI, Yoga, tai chi, physical therapy and Aikido all have their strengths, and different individuals may respond effectively to one or more. When offered along with talk therapies and medication in an integrated team approach, sort of a therapeutic smorgasbord, a “prescription” can be developed that is most effective for each individual.

This would mean that the instructors would need to be fully integrated in to the therapy team. There should also be an initial two way training/familiarization program between the instructor and the therapy team. This is to enable both sides to understand the basics of what they both have to offer. It will allow the instructors to structure their programs to complement other aspects of the veteran’s therapy programs, and give therapists a deeper understanding of what the veterans are experiencing, and how they can best take advantage of this during their sessions.

The best example of this would be “relaxing to center”. This is a key aspect to aikido and the vets soon experience it when a technique works best when they do it successfully. A therapist, observing a vet begin to tense up, should be able to tell him to relax to center, to inhale and as he exhales slowly let his muscles to open and allow the energy to flow down to his center.
As I have indicated above, there are any number of lessons, behaviors, attitudes, mind-sets, etc., absorbed kinesthetically in the practice of Aikido techniques that can be utilized in conjunction with more traditional therapies to excellent effect. The end result will be to provide a more holistic approach to a causally differentiated disability.

Monday, November 22, 2010

BLENDING; MIND, BODY AND SPIRIT

11/22/10
As I said in my last blog, this will be an attempt to clarify in my own mind why I believe Aikido has a place in the treatment of Vets with Combat Related Post Traumatic Stress disorder. It is still a bit of a mishigas, but moving toward some sort of clarity none the less. The ultimate measure of success, of course, will be if my arguments are instrumental in getting Aikido included as an intrinsic part of a full program of PTSD therapy. With this in mind, this is written more toward PTSD therapists than other Aikidoka.

I’m not a psychologist, psychiatrist or psycho- of any kind, so a lot of what follows is based on my direct experience. I may traffic in generalizations, but I have found them to be generally true. I do not espouse Aikido as a therapy for Combat Related PTSD. My experience is that it can be therapeutic, and when utilized as part of an overall therapy prescription it can support and amplify other therapeutic approaches and be especially effective with individuals with different learning processes. I have come across a significant amount of material which tends to support this and has influenced what I have done with the Vets.
Which gets me to the theme of this blog, the mind/body/spirit dichotomy that seems to pervade current therapeutic approaches to CRPTSD. Is it valid, and what is the role Aikido can play in bringing about a more holistic therapy? To start with, the concept of a separation of mind, body and spirit is an artificial construct which arose in Western thought. In most Eastern thought the mind and body are recognized, but as integral parts of a whole. One could not be considered except in a relationship to the other.
The current treatment of PTSD is oriented primarily toward the mind, the mental/emotional state, utilizing medications and various forms of talk therapy. However, the root of most PTSD, especially Combat Related PTSD, comes from physical trauma, fear of physical trauma, or the dehumanization an individual undergoes from having done or acquiesced to things which have been deemed heinous their entire lives. This could be termed kinesthetic trauma. [An interesting question might be whether people who are kinesthetic learners have a higher rate or deeper symptoms of PTSD.] In that case, to treat PTSD on a intellectual/mental/emotional basis with out a strong kinesthetic component might be less than effective.

One of the strengths inherent in the practice of Aikido is that we always work with a partner. This is a collaborative partnership with one person called nage [which roughly translates as student], practicing a technique, and the other person, called uke [which roughly translates as teacher], executing an attack,. This is not the violent attack/defend/defeat dynamic common to many martial arts, which can trigger many of the negative reactions of someone with PTSD. The student does not take an attacker’s energy and use it against them, Rather the student moves off of the line of attacking energy, blending that energy with their own, and bringing themselves and the attacker to a place which is safe and secure. The teacher does not attack in order to crush or defeat, but rather to enable the student to practice and learn a technique. In Aikido, the emphasis is on doing something with someone, not to someone.

Many treatment programs do encourage participation in Yoga, Tai Chi, Qui Gong, etc. These definitely bring a physical component to the treatment program and can be very effective in promoting inner calm, centering, reduced stress and relaxation. However, they are arts in which you essentially work alone. These forms lack a direct, physical relationship with the feelings of vulnerability and helplessness that are often the root of the underlying trauma. While an instructor can correct a technique, there is little immediate and direct feedback and the tactile experience is minimal. Introspection also does not deal directly with the sense of guilt and shame which come from having done vicious, violently repulsive things to others in order to preserve the self, nor does it give access to ways to deal effectively with the guilt of having to respond to aggression with greater aggression, violence with greater violence.

Unlike the other arts, working with a partner on an Aikido technique involves close proximity with an “aggressor” and a simulated attack. This gives rise to feelings of vulnerability. Even 41 years after any combat experience and 42 years practicing Aikido, I can still experience this feeling of vulnerability, and the fear of being harmed or having to react “wrongly”. Properly taught, Aikido gives effective, non-violent, non-aggressive methods, physical, mental and spiritual, for resolving this dilemma. Aikido has taught me to relax my tension, center myself physically, mentally and emotionally, to welcome the aggression as an opportunity to learn. It has taught me to move into the aggression, but off the line of the “attack”, to accept the energy of the attack and blend it with my own energy, to move this blended energy until the aggressor and I are both in a safe and secure place. Of course, I want to make certain that I am the most secure.

An additional kinesthetic re-enforcement is that techniques work really well only when the individual is centered, relaxed and balanced mentally and physically and follows the above steps. As it is learned physically, on the mat, it is internalized and becomes an integral way to deal with feelings of vulnerability, attack and situations of aggression off the mat. This “way of dealing” quickly becomes the method for dealing with all forms of conflict and potential conflict, not just the physical. It does not matter how conscious one is of this learning. Covert is often much more effective than overt.
Most forms of PTSD therapy pay scant attention to the spiritual aspect of being human. There may possibly be some religious intervention, but in general short shrift is given to the moral, ethical, quandary victims of combat related PTSD often must confront. While Aikido is definitely not theological/ religious, it has a pervasive spirituality. The founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba [O Sensei] wrote "The secret of Aikido is to harmonize with the movement of the universe and bring ourselves into accord with the universe itself." O-Sensei maintained that Aikido is a work of love, a path to overcome discord in ourselves and bring peace to the world, "to make the heart of the universe one's own heart." He described Aikido as an art of peace and viewed its practice as a spiritual endeavor. O-Sensei taught that, while it was important to become proficient in physical technique, this is not the ultimate purpose of training. He taught that the principles learned through training in physical technique are universal and are to be applied to all aspects of one's life "The secret of Aikido is not how you move your feet, it is how you move your mind. I'm not teaching you martial techniques. I'm teaching you nonviolence,” Giji Munetaka Kuki sums up: "O-Sensei said Aikido is not about technique, but that it is about how humans should live their lives. Aikido is not really about theory or rationalization. The spirit of Aikido is to create a sphere, a warm sphere, a warm circle of harmonious feeling among people so that people can get along with each other with warm-hearted feeling."

Again, one can not execute truly effective technique without achieving, even if subconsciously, this sense of being one with ones attacker, that uke and nage are both of the same universe. The physical process of learning is one with growth of the mental/emotional/spiritual parts of being a human being.

Thus, Aikido can be a powerful, effective therapeutic tool when integrated into a varied program of therapy. More in my next blog as to how this might happen.


Monday, November 15, 2010

HOW DO YOU "LAY OFF" A VOLUNTEER?

11/15/10 NOTE: This might be the next-to-the-last entry in this blog for a while. I’ve been “laid off”. I don’t know how you lay off a volunteer, but someone or ones in Ward 8 decided that with program changes, etc. they did not have a time when they could offer Aikido. Whatever! I don’t want to try to figure why this actually happened, but as most of the key staff are “shrinks” of one kind or another, I don’t think they place much credence in the therapeutic value of physical activity or that they understood the mental/motional the practice of Aikido can have..
This happened back mid September, and I haven’t posted anything because I wanted to take this time to define why I think Aikido can particularly useful in helping people deal with PTSD as a critical part of a “treatment plan”, and not just physical exercise or to merely amuse or occupy time. My belief, and experience, is that properly taught, Aikido can complement and amplify more traditional therapies and be used by therapists in grounding their more intellectually based, “talk therapy” efforts.
I’m going to take some time and try to write out exactly why I think this is true. I have a lot of ideas, thoughts, theories and vague hunches so I need to clarify this mishigas, and bring it together into something concrete. When I get this done, once again I will rely on your feedback and criticism.

Monday, September 6, 2010

MUSUBI - THE HEART OF AIKIDO

9/6/10 NOTE; Musubi, to join, connect, unify, tie together.
Mary Heiny Sensei calls musubi “the heart of Aikido”. And on a personal level, on those rare occasions when I feel the wonder and power of a technique done extremely well, it was as if uke and I were one smoothly flowing unity. No you and me. Not even an us. Just a being, a gestalt. Even when I am uke, when this happens it is so beautiful, I just lay on the mat laughing. [New people to the dojo are certain I am crazy.] This is why I practice Aikido. Not as a form of self-defense, but for the opportunity to be something more than I am. A place in which I can lose myself in order to be something more. I apologize, I don’t think I’m describing this very well. It is like trying to describe blue to someone when I have only had a peek at it myself. Aikido is like a physical koan.
If I can help the vets get a sense of this concept of musubi, of the power of giving up the “self” to become something positive, rather than fearing the loss of self because of actions done to or by them, then hopefully they can see a way out of the self-defeating, downward spiral in which they see themselves caught. If they can come to realize that the anger, vulnerability, fear, aggressiveness they carry can be a source of energy they can tap in order to blend, to join with a threatening situation or individual, then they may begin to feel more control over, more possession of their own self.
Most of the guys start off impressed by the power they see in a technique. They then begin to feel the increased control they have over uke the more they center and relax their own physical strength. And sometimes a little light comes on when they do a technique with uke, not to uke. That’s the little light I work towards.

Friday, September 3, 2010

LEARNING FROM THE WALKING WOUNDED

9/3/10 w&f [0s, 5v] B Don’t seem to have any staff currently interested. I did have a vet with a bad back, and one who needed a cane to walk and had an arm in a sling. This made me really concentrate on how various techniques worked, and how to simplify them so the walking wounded could still use them effectively.
The vet with the bad back said that when he used the relaxing and centering principles throughout the day, it eased a lot of the pain in his back. He was working on moving smoothly and with “more aikido kind of posture” and this also helped.
Working together with the vet with the cane and sling, we were able to see how maintaining even the slightest contact and pressure on nage in the direction their momentum/energy/center was moving enabled excellent control, even when doing technique one handed, and with somewhat awkward foot movement. He was even able to do a very smooth ikyo [#1] with out grasping til the very end. This guy could be great when he gets both arms working.
Once again, I seem to be learning more from these guys than I am teaching. Sometimes it is easy to forget the power of "beginners mind".

Friday, August 27, 2010

GETTING A RETURN ON INVESTMENT

8/27/10 w,w,f [0s, 12-1v] A Classes have ranged from 12 vets to just one today. Most days I had 3-4 fairly serious regulars. I spoke with a staff and he said the problem is that a lot of the current group “blew out” of the program in the first and second week. He said some groups have a lot of vets with some real, major problems. As supportive as the program and staff are, some guys can’t deal with one or more of the conditions or treatments.

In some ways the small groups allow me to personalize what and how I teach. I have been able to build some relationships that kind of allow me to use teaching a technique a certain way to ease someone through a personal issue. It is difficult, because I not only have to focus on the technique I want to teach, I have to be relaxed and centered enough to be sensitive to where each guy is, not just in technical ability, but emotional condition as well.

As difficult as this may be, it seems to be helping my own Aikido as well. Sort of what I am giving out is an investment on which I am getting a significant return. I wish I could do as well with my finances.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

AMERICANIZED NAMES

Americanized Names for Techniques
Given the short time I have with these vets, and my own dyslexic inability to learn a foreign language [after 43 years I think I finally have the difference down between yokomen uchi and shomen uchi] I am trying to use Americanized terms. Some of these are descriptive terms rather than an attempt to do a translation from the Japanese. Some are probably completely wrong. Some are descriptions of standing pins I have developed from throws.
I would greatly appreciate any advice on this, remembering that I need easily remembered, fairly descriptive terms.
Static stances [Unfortunately, almost all of our work is done from static]
Mirror stance Gyaku Homni
Cross stance Ai Homni

Attacks
Shoulder grab [one hand] Katadori kah-tah doe-ree
Grab shoulders with both hands Ushiro watte kumi tsuki
Single wrist grab [mirror stance] Katate Dori kah-tah-the doe-ree
Single wrist grab [Cross stance] Gyakute Dori gyah-koo-the doe-ree
Grab both wrists Ryote Dori ree-oh-the doe-ree
Grab one wrist with both hands Morote Dori moe-roe-the doe-ree
Grab elbow Hiji Dori he-jee doe-ree
Grab sleeve Sode dori:
Grab lapel with one hand Eri Dori eh-ree doe-ree
Grab lapels from front with both hands Mae eri shimeage
Chop to top of the head Shomen uchi show-mehn oo-chee
Chop to the side of the head/neck Yokomen uchi yo-co-mehn oo-chee
Straight punch to stomach Mune tsuki moo-net skee
Grab both wrists from the rear Ushiro ryote dori
Grab head/neck from rear [choke] Ushiro kubi jime katate dori
Grab around chest from rear Ushiro watte kumi tsuki
grab two hands from rear Ushiro ryote dori:

Defenses
First form #1 straight wrist Ikkyo ee-kyoh
Second form #2 bent wrist [finger] Nikyo knee-kyoh
Third form #3 wrist twist inside Sankyo sahn-kyoh
Fourth form #4 forearm nerve point Yonkyo yohn-kyoh
Fifth form #5 back of wrist to floor Gokyo go-kyoh
Sixth form #6 Wrist twist outside Kote gaeshi co-the gah-eh-she
Entering movement Irimi nage e-ree-mee nah-geh
Rotary movement Kaiten nage kigh-ten nah-geh
Breath/relationship throw Kokyu nage co-kew nah-geh
Four direction throw Shiho nage shee-ho nah-ghe
Corner throw Sumi otoshi sue-mee oh-toe-she
Heaven and Earth pin Tenchi nage tehn-chee nah-geh
Wrist twist to shoulder pin Kote Gaeshi co-the gah-eh-she
Rear arm bar
Side arm bar
Front head lock & arm pin
Rear head lock & arm pin
Rear neck pin/choke [use extreme caution]
Nape of neck moving pin
Snake arm pin

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

THERE IS A GLIMMER OF HOPE

8/11/10 w [2s 6v] I Although I started out with six vets, three of them had to leave about halfway through, and the staff dropped out even sooner than that. One of the vets returned after about 20 minutes.
We did ikyo, nikyo, sankyo and Kote gaeshi from ai homni. The four vets I ended up with are very focused on pretty much every aspect of each technique. They really work at being relaxed and balanced throughout. I told them this, but got confused looks when I then said working at being relaxed is sort of an oxymoron. They would reach the next “level” when they didn’t have to work at it, they would just be relaxed. I think two of them began to get a glimmer of an idea as to what I meant.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

VARIETY AIDS THE LEARNING PROCESS

8/08/10 w&f [2s 12v] B Given the size of our “dojo”, this is about as large a class as I want. Four vets are back from last week and the 2 staff are new to the program, nurses or interns I’m not sure.
As I said in the NOTE on 8/3, I tried having the vets do ikyo omote to a ground or take-down pin if they wanted. Four of them did/took the pin. The response was “Well there seemed to be a be a bit more control, but I don’t see much benefit to it.” and “Okay, but I don’t think it teaches me anything new.”. Remember, these guys tend to be extremely pragmatic. One of the things they have consistently said they like about Aikido is that it is highly functional and very efficient. Can’t argue with them there! But I think I will do the take-down pins once in a while when I feel there are a few guys who will gain from it, like the chairkido.
I am feeling like I am getting too repetitious with no clear sense of what I am going to do as I come into the class each time. Sometimes I feel like I am not giving them as much as I would like, and greater variety could help. I think that the kinesthetic learning process is stronger when the learning objective, the basic principles, are learned through a wide variety of approaches. With this in mind, I think I am going to sketch out a six week curriculum that will help me teach techniques from as wide a variety of attacks as possible.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

IS AIKIDO ONLY ONE THING?

8/3/10 NOTE: I really like doing this blog. Well, I don’t like writing it much, but I do like having written it. And I especially like doing a section where I get some good responses and generate some good discussion. The last section [8/1/10] is one of those that is generating some good replies on the AikiWeb Aikido Forums, External Aikido Blog Posts [www.aikiweb.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=79] It goes to show how vibrant and alive is the art and the community of Aikido.
The discussions I have read in most martial arts forums usually start with “my form/style/school is different than yours”, but rapidly move to “my form is better than everything else.” and often deteriorate to “ your form sucks and your mother wears combat boots”. Aikido forums mostly stay with the first level of discourse. And given what I am trying to do, with the people I have as students, I appreciate the strong opinions I am getting, both pro and con. They force me to more closely examine what I am doing and why I am doing or not doing a particular thing. And sometimes I can bring what I am doing more in line with traditional dojo teaching, sometimes not.
For example, today I started the class with ikyo omote, but only bringing uke to a standing pin. I then got a volunteer and demonstrated the same technique but brought him to a smooth, soft ground pin. I then gave those people who wanted, the option of doing the standing or the ground pin, based on what their physical limitations allowed. Some guys tried the ground pin. What was interesting was how people began to see how important it was taking relaxed and balanced ukemi.
All that being said, personally I don’t see there being one fixed and rigid Aikido. From what I can tell, O Sensei’s Aikido grew and changed through out his life. The great consistency was that Aikido should be “a way to peace in the world”. I have done a fair amount of traveling and try to put in some practice with what ever dojo is in the area. While I almost always learned, the dojos I gained the most from were those in which the sensei and most of the students practiced technique as a way to the inner strength and self knowledge that enables them to move through life calmer, more peacefully and more in control of themselves and circumstances as they come at them.
To me these are the core principles of Aikido. They are the structure, the skeleton on which can be built a flexible, highly adaptable, organic body of practice and technique. Thus, Aikido can be appropriate to almost anyone, no matter what their age, gender or physical ability. At one time it was believed that women were not physically capable of practicing or learning Aikido. Even today there are those who hold that children can not, should not learn Aikido. Of course we know that Aikido is not suitable for those with physical disabilities, the wheelchair bound, the blind, the aged and decrepit, etc, etc, etc.
It only takes a few minutes running through the internet to prove all of those assumptions wrong, and that one of the great strengths of Aikido is that with careful thought, aikido can be, has been, is constantly being, adapted to meet the needs and capabilities of all those people with out losing or violating the core principles and practices. To hold that Aikido can only be taught in such a way that it can only be practiced by athletic young men is quaint, but denies the it’s vast range of possibilities. I mean if some arthritic, 71 year old, duffer can’t practice what am I going to do four times a week?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

NO THROWS AIKIDO

NOTE; A few people have questioned why I do not teach throws. I have found three reasons for doing techniques to a standing pin, as opposed to finishing with a throw or a ground pin.
Site limitations
It is very rare to find any kind of mat in a VA facility. Much more usual is linoleum, wood, concrete slab or rug on slab. These all preclude any type of throw. I may do an occasional take down to a ground pin, but I usually only do a demonstration if I have a vet who I feel can take the move safely. There have always been a number of vets in each class who do not have the flexibility or capability to get down on the ground safely.
Teaching objective versus time limitations
Learning to do even basic falls safely, can take many classes, even in a dojo with adequate mats. Plus, falls and rolls are rarely useful in the real world, and probably won’t be particularly helpful in dealing with their PTSD issues. As I normally have vets for only a few weeks, I would much rather commit the time to giving them exposure to principles and practices which can be of value in their day-to-day living.
Learning advantages
An Aikido, technique is a process, it is not an end. In the dojo it sometimes seems as if most nage are focusing intensely on getting to the end of a technique, the throw. All to often the process between the attack and throw are rushed through, often given short shrift. There is not adequate focus on the intermediate motions and actions that bring you to, and allow a successful finish. This lack of attention to the process also often results in a loss if control of uke. [NOTE; working with people who don’t know how to “take ukeme” has shown me how often I am apt to lose control during a technique because my technique is not consistantly focused on where I am “now” as a part of a flowing process. I’m not always sure the vets are learning much, but I am learning an enormous amount about the misperceptions, subtle weaknesses and glaring faults in my own Aikido.]
When doing a technique to a standing pin, there in no idea of “throwing uke away”. As the desired end result is to hold uke in a safe and controlled position, there is more focus on attaining and maintaining control through out the entire technique. Students quickly find that a smooth, balanced flow is what best allows firm control from the initiating attack through to the final pin, where, as on of the vets put it, “Now we can talk this situation over. Right?”

Of course, it would be best to teach technique to both a standing pin and a throw. But without mats, I can’t do that. And I really believe it would be very benificial to occasionally do techniques to a standing pin as a part of a regular dojo’s learning process.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

TOO ANGRY AND TOO OLD

7/29/10 w [0s, 3v] B Small group. All new people, although four guys made it a point to see me before class to let me know they had some kind of appointment or an injury really bothering them, but they would be at the next class.
Of the three new people, two expressed doubts about taking the class as they had real problems with anger and reacted “badly” in stressful situations. One vet said he “was a real bull in a china shop”. I told them that I thought that Aikido could give them a very viable way to use that anger as a source of energy to deal effectively, but non-violently with stressful situations. I only asked them to be aware of when they initially began to sense those feelings and use the relaxing to center technique I would be showing them, or to let me know when they began to feel they might be losing control. At the end of class, one of them said that he thought this might actually help him. He’ll see at the end of the six weeks.
The other vet said he didn’t know if he could do it as he was pretty old, 65 [a mere youth]. I talked about moving smoothly, doing warmups, not stretches, and how relaxing to center allows you to be more sensitiva to your own body, as well as partners energy. At the end of the class he said, “I love this stuff. Can I do it when I go back home?” Since he lives in Framingham, I will direct him to Framingham Aikikai, Halprin Sensei’s dojo.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"MAKE YOUR AIKIDO YOUR OWN"

7/22/10 w [5v] These five vets have been pretty consistent for the last six weeks. This means two things; I will loose them after this week, I will have a whole new group next week. It has been nice to have some consistency in the group and be able to move them from the absolute basic techniques to more complex moves.
I started them with basic two hand grab to the shoulders. One of the vets asked if I could repeat the nikyo from a cross hand grab. I had them work on this a bit, then decided to try something different. I talked about breathing and relaxing to center, joining partners center to their center and moving smoothly. I then invited them to experiment with the cross hand grab, and see what they could do while maintaining those basic points. They really got into this and while there were some interesting variations, they mostly re-invented existing techniques. All I did was work with them on being relaxed, centered and smooth, and left them to play with technique.
After class, one of the guys came up to me and thanked me, “I think I learned more in this class than before”. I think this is a fairly accurate way to evaluate wether or not I am being successful in teaching what I think is most important. As Satome says, “You must make your Aikido your own”. But if I am not giving a solid grounding in the basics, they have no solid foundation to base “their own” on.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

CHANGES IN EVALUATIVE CRITERIA

7/15/10 Note: Changes in my evaluative criteria. Way back at the beginning of this blog, I tried to lay out what I wanted to accomplish for and with the vets, how I wanted to do that, and some ways to tell if I was being successful. These were;
GOALS: 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:
1. Stress the collaborative nature of aikido practice, Nage as teacher, Uke is student.
2. All techniques will end with a standing pin, occasionally a take down. No throws or falls.
3. Concentrate on basic moves and techniques; 1 & 2 hand grabs, shoulder grabs, shomenuchi.
No tsuki [punch] as it could be a bit too risky with this group.
4. Drill on the 5 points of technique
A. welcoming “attack” and relaxing to center
B. getting “off the line” and entering
C. blending attacker’s [Uke] “center” with defender’s [Nage]
D. Nage utilizes technique to move their own body, maintaining relaxed and centered movement and not focusing on Uke
E. coming to a place where the attacker is secure and both participants are safe
[especially Nage]

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

I’ve been able to look at these every once in a while to help keep myself on track and to keep changing things appropriately. At this point I can up-date a couple of things;
Under GOALS;
A. welcoming “attack” and relaxing to center when feeling vulnerable, and utilizing that “vulnerability” as a strength
D. Nage utilizes technique to move their own body, maintaining relaxed, balanced and centered movement and not focusing on Uke
Under EVALUATION;
2. Eliminate.
Insert after 3 [as 4] “People will exhibit more centered, relaxed and balanced movement.
5. Vets will feel/evidence an ability to deal more confidently with situations of vulnerability outside of class.

These aren’t major changes. Eliminating #2 was just a recognition that these guys are a pretty tight group based on their common military background and the fact that the PTSD gives them a lot in common. Changes and additions are focused on mainly dealing more, and more effectively, with the issue of vulnerability, and using the basics of Aikido to cope. This is based on Staff feedback, discussions with the guys, and my own experiences. I have to find more and better ways to include this issue throughout my program.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Manual In Progress

7/9/10 I have had basically the same group of 4 - 6 guys for a while now, although a couple of the guys have been actively recruiting among new people so there were two new people and 3 guys returning for their three week “refresher” this morning. While I am not doing many new techniques, I am able to focus more on the basics of breathing to center and relaxing, turning vulnerability into a strength, and moving smoothly and in balance.

NOTE: I have spoken with three aikidoka over the last while who are interested in starting a similar program in their area. In response to this I have been working on writing a manual based in part on this blog, your comments and suggestions and some of my own mind trash. I will keep you posted.
I have come across a blog that is proving to be very useful, www.ptsdcombat.blogspot.com I would recommend it.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

WORKING HARD AT NOT TRYING

6/30/10 [4v] Small class today but all four vets have been seriously involved for 3 to 4 weeks. I was able to give each guy a considerable amount of individual attention. We spent almost the whole class working on shiho nage and I was able to work through it one aspect at a time, pointing out to each guy how relaxing to center, balance, focusing on one’s own posture made a difference at every point in the technique. There were a number of “AH HA!” moments and “Oh! So that’s how it works!”. And best of all, when was able to tell someone that “that was excellent”, I would get a slightly surprised look, and “but it didn’t feel like I did anything”.

I said that one of the most important things to learn in Aikido, is that you have to work very, very hard, at not doing anything. But, the harder you worked at not doing anything, the harder it was to not do anything, so you might as well just relax, and not try to do anything, and it will get done. I said it was like a physical Koan. The great thing was, at the end of the class, three guys said that now they understood what I meant.

I’m not real sure I understand, but every once in a while-----

I had an Aikidoka friend who was also an avid golfer. He said golf was like Aikido. You try and practice and work at it for years, and just when you think about giving up, you hit that perfect shot, your swing is sweet and effortless, the ball sails out straight, true and far. It is a thing of beauty. You laugh and congratulate yourself, and you are sucked in to more years of trying for that feeling again.
But, damn, it makes it all worthwhile.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

NEVER STRETCH BEFORE CLASS! huh?

6/27/10 NOTE: There has been a lot written lately about the negative impact of doing stretches before physical activity. I would argue that the problem arises from doing stretches wrong. I remember doing PT in the service and before sports. The rule was “no pain, no gain”. We were push through the pain and to bounce the stretch to get that extra inch. I can distinctly remember two groin pulls and more hamstring and back pulls, even when I was in my late teens/early twenties and in the best shape of my life. [Ah! But a memory now.]

I want to explain my approach to how I start most classes, what most dojos call “stretches”, and why I do my starting exercises the way I do. This has been a development based on my own failing body’s response to several versions of pre-class stretches and a couple of things I have read. Many of these vets are older and most have physical issues ranging from arthritis to serious disabilities earned in combat. Most of my technical information comes from an article by Roger Cole “a mindful stretch”, in Yoga Journal, August, 2009.

Cole describes the biomechanics; “Your nervous system uses the stretch reflex, a specialized reflex that regulates the length of your muscles. When ever you elongate a muscle beyond a certain preset length or unconsciously stretch it to fast, this reflex makes the muscle automatically contract so you can’t lengthen it any further.” It is this “automatically stabilizing function” that essential in daily life; e.g. standing erect, but also results in pain when stretching.

Cole further explains; “The stretch reflex is initiated by sensors, called stretch receptors, which are embedded within muscle. Whenever you stretch a muscle, you also stretch the sensors, which stimulates them to send nerve signals to your spinal cord. These signals electrically excite spinal nerve cells called alpha motor neurons. If the excitation is strong enough, the alpha motor neurons send return signals back to the stretching muscle. If the return signals are strong enough, they make the muscle contract, preventing it from lengthening any further and often bringing it back to it’s original length.” Thus, the end result of “stretches” can be pain, and worse, a tightening up of the muscle which can lead to stiffness of movement and possible cramping or pulled muscles.

The first thing I have done is to modify my language. The first ten minutes or so of class I call warm ups, I do not say “stretch you arm”, rather “extend”. I start off, as most dojos do, with breathing. I use this as an opportunity to get them to relax to their center. I use the five points for inhaling through the nose; relax the glutes, expand the lower abdomen, upper abdomen, diaphragm and upper chest. In exhaling through the mouth, unlock [relax] the muscles, starting with the scalp, face, shoulders, upper back, chest, lower back, and settling the energy obtained by this unlocking in the hara [abdomen]. I often remark that this unlocking lowers the center of gravity and allows greater flexibility and speed.

I find it important to speak in practicalities, stressing the “body physics” and improvements in strength, balance, movement, etc. Hopefully, at some point the vets will discover “ki”, but there isn’t enough time in six short weeks, 12 classes, to bring it up directly.

From breathing I do somewhat traditional “stretching” movements, working from the feet up. However, I stress smooth, slow movement, no bouncing, relaxing into the extension, focusing movement in each particular muscle group. I do each movement two or three times, focusing on breath; the first time very mild extension, the second a midrange extension and the third time extending just to the point where “stretch” is felt, then holding it, taking a deep inhale, and exhale slowly as they relax/unlock into the extension. I emphasize that at no point should they go past their “comfort point”. As we move to a different muscle group, I have them picture tapping into the store of energy they have accumulated in their center. Because of the limits of our dojo we don’t do any floor work. But if we could, I would use the same principles.

Guys often remark how much they look forward to the neck exercises, or the wrist movements, or that they could never even get close to their toes before. A couple of people have said the only reason they keep coming is a great way to relax and get ready for the day.

I realize I have a special group of people with some unique issues and needs. But I think any dojo, or any sports group, should take a serious look at the “stretching” routine they use. If people want to do traditional “stretching”, it would best be done after class, when the body is thoroughly, warmed up.

Monday, June 21, 2010

AIKIDO AND CHOCOLATE CAKE

6/21/10 NOTE: I forgot to add the following story to my last blog. It’s a true story about the power of Aikido in an aggressive situation.

Edward was 14 years old and had been studying Aikido since he was 4 ½ . We were at his Aunt’s for the big family Christmas dinner. His cousin’s fiancee, Jon was there. Jon was 26 and had been practicing Brazilian Jujitsu for 6 years, owned several MMA schools, and was rumored to be heavy into steroids.
We had just finished dinner and were standing around the living room while desert was being put on the table. Jon walked up to Edward, grabbed his shoulder and drew back his fist as if to punch Edward in the face.
“What would your Aikido do about this” he said.
“Your going to punch me out right here in your Mother-In-Law’s living room?”
“No. But what if we were outside?”
“Well, why don't you go outside and see.”
Jon went slamming outside. Edward sat down at the table and took a piece of chocolate cake.
After about 5 minutes standing outside in the cold and snow, Jon came bursting back in and stormed over to Edward.
“Your not outside.”
“That’s right, want a piece of cake?”
Jon looked a bit perplexed. Sort of grinned. Mussed Edwards hair. And sat down to eat.
Afterwards, I asked Edward how he felt. He said he was “scared shitless. All I could remember was Sensei saying ‘get off the line’”.

Friday, June 18, 2010

GETTING OFF THE LINE

6/18/10 w&f [W 1s, 13v, F 0s, 6v] I Some Fridays attendance seems to be a bit low. I was told that a lot of guys have other commitments on Fridays, lab work, assessments and such. As long as my plan is to work with whomever shows up, I don’t get bummed out by attendance. In other words, it is what it is, it ain’t neither good or bad.
Did some techniques requiring more movement and control of uke’s movement. I wanted them to realize how important it was to focus on their self, on moving with their hips and center and not being so locked into what they were trying to do to their partner. Did some chairkido and drew in a couple of vets who had physical issues but who were watching closely. I do like that look when someone realizes that just because they are physically handicapped doesn’t mean they totally vulnerable and defenseless.
I often talk about how Aikido principles can be applied to everyday situations. I gave the example of “getting off the line” using Aikido principles, but not actual technique. I asked if they had had situations where Aikido principles could have helped them arrive at a better resolution. This led to some interesting discussions. Guys were a bit surprised at how differently aggression/stressful situations could be dealt with. And how much better win-win, peaceful resolutions leave them feeling, even if only in hypothetical situations.
I think this is something I will try occasionally.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

THE CONUNDRUM OF "RELAXING"

6/12/10 NOTE: A brief note on the issue of “relaxing”. This morning in class at my dojo, Todd Martin Sensei was talking about posture when taking ukemi and the need to give up your balance an stay relaxed so that you can protect yourself and flow with the technique. When a student asked how to relax while being spun around and thrown, Todd had us stand, take a deep breath, and picture our muscles “unlocking”, starting with the scalp and moving down through the face, neck, shoulders, and on down. I tried it, and have tried it a number of times and in a number of situations [sitting here typing for example] and it works even better than my usual relaxation techniques. Probably because I am fairly visually oriented and I can picture actual little locks in my muscles opening up and the tension and excess energy draining down to my center.

For me, anyhow, this effectively resolves the linguistic oxymoron of relaxing without collapsing. Somewhere, in some language there must be a word that really describes this phenomenon.

"I DON'T WANT TO DO WAR NO MORE"

6/9 & 11/10 w&f [1s,12 v both days] B 13 people both days. That is probably the max I can work with effectively at one time. It is not just a matter of the restricted space we have, I could not give the kind of attention needed if there were more people. In a regular dojo there are students at many different levels of knowledge and it is more a matter of correcting small errors in technique. You also have people long enough to learn their different styles and personalities so you can tailor your individual attention to each one.

Always having a class of absolute beginners for only twice a week, six weeks max requires a rather different approach to teaching; highly individualized and focused on basic principles and only a few techniques. Admittedly, only being able to go to a standing pin and not having to teach or deal with falls, etc. enables me to focus more on techniques. I will repeat, I think every dojo should occasionally do a class only to standing pins. It enables people to focus on the beginning and middle of the movement. Too often we act as if the purpose of a technique is the throw, when, in fact, it is to bring nage and uke to a safe, controled and secure place.

One of the things a few of the people in this class have told me is that they like having a way to respond to attack/aggression without having to “whip on someone” in a way that is controlled and “as peaceful as possible”. Many of these guys are afraid of their own violence, their own anger, and “don’t want to do war no more”. Even if they do not continue with Aikido, they will know there are other, more positive ways to respond to stressful situations.

This is what Aikido has given me. I am glad that I can give some of this to these guys in the short time I have.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

FROM SMOOTH, COMES FAST

6/5/10 NOTE: Back on 5/27, I paraphrased a quote from Kanai Shihan, “Do not try to move fast, practice moving smoothly. Fast will come from smooth”. I got a fair number of comments on the AikiWeb blog posts forum, [www.aikiweb.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=79 ] So I thought I might go into the concept a bit more. I do this for selfish reasons as your comments cause me to look at an issue from a different perspective, and writing my thoughts down helps me organize and firm up those ideas. [I am not very good at self discipline!]

If you notice, the phrase does not say don’t go fast, or don’t aspire to fast technique. It says “don’t try to go fast”. This is very much in keeping with the Zen and Taoist concept that only when one stops trying, can success be achieved. The harder you try to understand a kaon, the less you can, the more confusing and absurd it becomes. Only when you stop exerting the effort to understand, when you relax and stop trying to find THE ANSWER. do you have any chance of arriving at the truth. I can only go to what I have observed in the Aikido of sensei I admire, my own experience, and what I have seen my students go through, to explain why I feel this concept is so critical, and how it affects my Aikido.

Watching those aikidoka who execute Aikido which can only be called beautiful, I observed that there is no point at which technique begins, there is no point at which it is, and there is no point at which it stops, it only ends because it is not occurring anymore. There is a smooth, rhythmic flow. Like ocean waves, they do not attack, but their continuous, effortless, rhythm has extreme power. And their speed is certainly beyond fast.

With my students; When I have them slow down and focus on a smooth flow of their own movement, they execute much better technique and frequently self-correct.

With my own Aikido; Any time we change technique in class, I always start off trying slow, smooth movement. This allows me to focus “in the moment”, on what my technique should be at the time I am doing it. I try not to think about where I am going, just the here-and-now. If I do this properly, I will be able to increase my tempo, without losing that focus.

After I had been practicing with Kanai Shihan for about a year, I frequently paired up with another guy who also liked the smooth is better approach. In one class, I don’t remember what technique we were doing, We both focused on slow, smooth accurate movement. When Sensei clapped, and we stopped, we were both laughing and not the slightest bit out of breath. We looked up, and the rest of the class was standing around us looking a bit amazed. After class, a couple of people said they had never seen anyone move so fast, we were almost a blur. Neither one of us remembered moving at anything but that slow, smooth pace. I often strive for that same effect. I’ve come close I think, but have never had that same experience. Maybe if I am able to stop trying, it will come.

So I will repeat, with a slight editorial change;

Do not try to move fast,
practice moving smoothly.

From smooth, will come fast.
I believe this is what Stefan Stenudd Sensei was describing in his book Aikido Principles in the chapter on “Ki Nagare – flowing training” [www.stenudd.com/aikido/books/aikidoprinciples-2.pdf ]

Friday, June 4, 2010

SHADOW UKE

6/4/10 F [1S, 12V] B NOTE: To those of you who reminded me that this was something I was doing because it was important to do, to make available to those vets who might find value in it, or at least a break from their regular routine, thank you all. Janet. Your are absolutely right, I should approach this as an artist approaches their passion; do it because I want to do it, because I have to do it. The “appreciation” or participation of others may ebb and flow but should not stop one from practicing their “art”. It is still frustrating, but I sort of knew this from the start. Thank you all for reminding me. I started this blog to serve as a way to force myself to keep a “diary”. Now I have come to rely on your comments, suggestions and critique and the blog has become a partner in what I am trying and y'all are my shadow uke. And I guess I should ease up on the whining.
As for the class; A good mix of new people and those who have had a few classes. A couple of six weekers who were missing last week, showed up today explaining they had other “stuff” scheduled last week.
We did some basic techniques from gyaku homni [mirror stance] and paired new people with former, which does help with a large group like this. I am placing more emphasis on the basics of relaxing to center, maintaining a relaxed, stabile posture and working on smooth movement through out. I have found it helps to have nage “ignore” uke once nage has drawn uke’s center in, and from that point, focus on utilizing technique to move their own body, maintaining relaxed and centered movement and not focusing on Uke. [The fourth point of the five points of technique I outlined at the very beginning of this blog.]
Also, whenever I can I talk about how the techniques of breathing/relaxing to center, approaching a stressful situation with a positive attitude [welcoming attack], and remaining relaxed and balanced through out, can be effectively utilised through out life.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

ONWARD IN TO THE FOG

6/3/10 f [0s, 6v] I & w [0s, 5v] B Wednesday was a fairly good class. Small, but people who seem to really be into it. I told them I wanted to take a few minutes after Friday’s class to get some feedback from them on whether or not they felt they gained much from the class besides some physical activity and if they thought there was anything that could help them “outside”. I was also looking for suggestions as to how I could improve the class, make it more relevant or useful for them.
Friday I had a completely new group! Doing feedback/evaluation would be slightly better than useless.
If I were to identify one of the biggest negatives to doing this class, it would be the inconsistency of the class make up. I can set up my “curriculum” to provide something of value in only 12 classes, but five or three or just once, I feel like it is an exercise in futility.
I’ll keep on keepin on, but!!! When things are going well, doing this class is great. I really enjoy it, I think I am making something valuable available to these guys, and I’m learning a lot about my own Aikido. Maybe I need some serious discussion with the staff.
Onward into the fog!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

MOVE SMOOTHLY, NOT FAST

5/27/10 w [1s, 6v] B Four new vets, although one of the “new” people is back for one of the regular three week tuneups. This is a pretty good program to be associated with. There is good backup support for these guys after they finish the six week program; the scheduled three week and one of two day refreshers when ever someone needs it. This also means that when I do a few minutes feedback this Friday, there will be someone with some feeling as to whether Aikido practice has been any continuing help.
I started with a “new guys” intro but I am continuing to place more emphasis on how relaxing to center, moving from the hips/center, and how powerful it is to maintain a calm mind and smooth, balanced movement throughout a technique. My mantra has sort of become my favorite quote from Kanai Sensei, “Do not try to move fast, practice moving smoothly. Fast will come from smooth”. [Apologies Sensei, if I have misquoted.]
Getting them to focus on slowing down, relaxing the upper body and maintaining balance really makes a difference in their technique. One guy told me “I messed up that technique, but kept my balance and could feel how he was moving, so I ended up in a good pin anyhow!”. One of the vets who has been here for a while said, “It is real nice when sometimes a move just seems to flow!”
It will be nice [I hope] to hear what I get for feedback Friday. Thank you for that suggestion.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

SENSITIVITY OF A CLOD

5/19/10 w [1s, 6v] A I would like to thank everyone for your suggestions. The consensus seemed to be that I should apologize for being such a clod, make it clear that I respect and admire what he did by recognizing that he had hit a “trigger point” and leaving a situation he didn’t feel he could handle. I should also ask if there was anything I could do to help in this kind of situation.

I went up to him before class this morning, and he started to apologize to me! I stopped him, and followed the advice above. He looked a little surprised and then smiled and said that he wasn’t sure if he had handled the situation the right way. I gave him much reassurance and said if he needed, at any time, and as soon as he felt the need, he could just sit out until he felt like he was ready to come back.

I’m going to have a meeting with staff next week to see if there is a better way to deal with these situations, and if I should let them know right away? as soon as class is over? I have to always keep in mind that this is not a regular class at the dojo. These guys have a wide range of issues and, while I want to introduce them to Aikido, my main goal is to give them tools which they can use to enable their ability to deal with those issues. So thank you all for helping me remember this.

We did some more advanced techniques from gyaku. It is interesting that as they have to focus on more complicated movements, they are keeping more relaxed and centered, when they are relaxed and centered, more complicated movement flows more smoothly. A couple of people found that if they do that, they can successfully complete an immobilization, even if they did not do the technique exactly right. After doing one technique very nicely, one vet exclaimed “Oh, that was beautiful.” and his partner said “I didn’t feel a thing until I realized I was pinned.”

Ah! Great strides from little steps.

Friday, May 14, 2010

I REALLY NEED SOME ADVICE

5/12-14/10 w&f [0s, 8v] A Seven of these guys have been with me three weeks, and will be here three more. I started them off with a continuous, flowing kana henko [enter & turn], then had them doing a form of “sticky hands”. It took a few tries, but as they got the flow of these movements they began to see how the whole dynamic of relax, center, movement from the hips and use of momentum, really fostered control and enabled technique. We then went to a fairly complicated technique from gyaku homni using sankyo and requiring smooth, flowing motion to work. I then used the same technique, but with two different standing pins.
Even the stiffest, most awkward guy is moving smoother. And everyone is consciously taking that deep breath and “setteling” to center. Also, because I can do some more advanced techniques, I’m having more fun myself.

I have a situation though, that I would like some advice on. During this technique, one of the guys apparently hit a trigger point and felt he was loosing his temper. He did recognise this, and felt he had to leave class. He is one of the people showing a lot of progress and I would really like him to stay with the class. I know that sometimes, especially when parterning with someone, usually young, who has a particularly “heavy” technique, I start to loose it. I find I have to step back, sometimes I can just take a couple of deep breaths but I often have to sit on the sideline for a while. To some degree I understand what is happening with him, and I appreciate the control he is showing, but can I approach him with out coming across as patronizing or belitteling? And how best to do this?

In the past you all, my senseis out there, have given me good advice. This time I could really use some help.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

THE SATISFACTION OF A GOOD GROUP

5/7/10 f [0s, 13v] I I really like working with this group. They pay attention, work diligently on each technique with out a lot of idle talk and focus on the breathing and relaxing to center. They respond quickly to corrections on posture and most are beginning to identify, on their own, when they are “muscling” a technique. There is a lot of supportive interaction between the guys who have been taking the class for a couple of weeks and those who just started Monday. I would like to think I am beginning to get my act together, but I just think this is a very good group.
One vet visited the Northampton Aikido last night, and he, and another vet came this morning. One of them has taken Brazilian Jujitsu and Taekwondo. He said at first Aikido looked about the same. But after watching class today he realized there were major differences. The biggest differences he saw were that the person being attacked [nage] was much less aggressive, more relaxed and with a stronger center of balance. The more advanced people just seemed to guide the attacker in throwing themselves. He wants to start practicing at the dojo. As always, we see!

Friday, May 7, 2010

MIDITATION & TEACHING AIKIDO

5/6/10 NOTE: So how does all this internalization I blathered on about in the blog on 5/01 relate to what I am trying to do for the vets with PTSD? I mean, if I think I’m going to get these guys doing any “meditative Aikido” in six weeks, I will just end up frustrated. Also, I will not be giving them anything of real value, no hints of different ways to deal with aggression, vulnerability, stress.

After some thought, I think my own awareness of the meditative aspects of Aikido can be of benefit in two ways;
The first lies in how I approach the way I teach and run the class. If I stay centered on what I want to accomplish, and how I model aikido it will help me deal with the frustration of having a different group of people every week, with no one for longer than 12 classes. It will help me avoid getting caught up with guys who want to muscle or otherwise “test” my Aikido. [
I’ve already screwed up once on that!] And it will help me keep my ego under control and focus on what these vets need that I can provide through Aikido. It will also help me keep my sense of humor. [A very important issue and one I will try to write on later]
Secondly, if I keep the emphasis on the breath/relax to center, discuss it as an important part of every technique, give “homework” to use this in their everyday, and occasionally speak of it as active meditation, I think I can ground the point with them. Then I can hope, when the occasion arises, they will be able to “meditate” as a practical, functional life tool. Conscious or not.

I realize that my approach to meditation needs to be much more along the lines of the Taoist "wu wei", [
action that does not involve struggle or excessive effort] than either of the zen schools I mentioned. It kind of means being in the here-and-now, natural action. I realize this is a gross over simplification, but it’s the best I can do with out writing another thesis on the subject. I will probably return to it later though.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

WHAT SEEMS TO BE WORKING BEST

5/5/10 w [1s, 13v] A I think the changes in my intro and the focus I am placing on technique is helping. I am being more up-front about what I hope to give them in this class, i.e., tools to help in dealing with stress, aggression, vulnerability. I am trying to be clear on the fact that, although they may pick up a few effective moves, I can not hope to teach them Aikido in depth in six weeks, 12 classes. What I do hope they will gain is a way, relax, center and to tap their internal strength.

I once said that I don’t study Aikido to learn technique, I study technique to learn Aikido. This is what I want to bring to these vets. They are beginning to see that if they breath/relax to center and move in a smooth, focused way, a technique will work. While I do have them do the movement of a technique properly, I need to stress that if they are not centered and relaxed, the “mechanics” of a technique are at best, awkward, and may not even be possible.

An effective, on-going evaluation of how I am succeeding is seeing how often people take that deep, relaxing breath and let the tension go out, and stay out of their shoulders, and whether or not they move smoothly as they do a technique. The fact that more people are working on this, and quickly recognize when they are “out of phase”, is an indication that the shifts in how I am conducting the class is are becoming more effective, and the directions I want to work in.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

AIKIDO AS MEDITATION

5/1/10 NOTE: I keep thinking about the concept and action of relaxing as it is used in Aikido. I find it the same type of relaxation I have been told I should seek when meditating. When we meditate, we are attempting [non-attempting?] to “let go” of our physical and mental tensions, internal disruptions and distractions. This is usually done by relaxing our entire being [including the effort to relax our entire being!], often by focusing on something such as a tone or our breath, to the exclusion of everything else. Unfortunately, I can not sit quietly for any length of time, for physical reasons as well as serious lack of the sort of self discipline needed. Five minutes of “stillness” and I become a total mental and physical twitch. Like asking a two year old to sit quietly.

But there are two rivers of meditation;
Soto, the calm, placid river which gets its strength from its depth and undercurrents,
Renzai, the active, dashing river which gets its strength from its coursing down a mountain side.

I practice Aikido as a form of active meditation. Often, I will use a technique as the thing to focus on. Ideally, once I have the moves of a technique [waza] and with much practice, I will focus on my breathing and my own center, comfortable in knowing that proper technique will enable partner to “throw them self”.
The thing I am trying to internalize now, is taking that relaxed, centered self off the mat and moving through the day with a “Taoist mind”. I sometimes manage this, particularly when driving or doing some routine work, but damn, it is hard to try, with out trying.

Friday, April 30, 2010

ANOTHER STRENGTH FROM RELAXATION

4/30/10 f [1s, 8v] I One of the vets who is no longer in ward 8 came to class. Nice, as I was able to have him work with the newest people. We did two versions of shoulder lock [kokunage]. I also printed a hand out of my condensed compilation of some of the history and basic aspects of Aikido, along with an invitation and a map of Northampton Aikido. I also gave homework; they were to try to be aware of stress situations, and as one happened, work on the deep breath-relax-center, dynamic, and see if it helped.
Two of the vets who are leaving the ward came up to me after and thanked me and said that they had located dojos near their home and hoped to continue their Aikido there. I took the opportunity to ask what about Aikido attracted them. One vet said he thought it might give him a way to deal with his anger. Just the relaxing to center when he felt it coming on seemed to help. The other vet said that he liket the way that putting out his energy in class seemed to give him more energy through the day.

NOTE: In the section back in 4/24, I mentioned the vet who didn’t want to do a technique out of fear he would hurt his partner [uke]. I worked with him and as he was doing the technique, talking him through breathing, relaxing as he moved. In that relaxing, he was able to be more sensitive to what was happening to his partner, which enabled him to do the move safely. I realized that when we talk about relaxing, it is almost always in terms of the internal benefits, i.e. enabling us [nage] greater flexibility, endurance and strength. There is a second, and in some ways more important benefit, true relaxation is essential to being fully aware and sensitive to external realities.
O Sensei saw Aikido as the art of peace. To me, this means neutralizing an aggressor, bringing them under control, and either maintaining that control, or sending them on their way, painlessly. [I mean, if you hurt someone, your just apt to piss them off more.] The “painless” part is very difficult. I find that when I am able to be relaxed in a technique, I can tell just when a wrist lock [a nikyo or sankyo] is going to trip my partners pain threshold. If I allow myself to be distracted, to tense up, I loose that sense of what is happening with my partner, the technique is awkward, sometimes painful. If I pause, take that deep, centering breath and relax, that sensitivity is there again.
There is another advantage to that external awareness that comes with being relaxed; I become aware of where my partners energy is and is flowing. Mary Heiny Sensei once spoke of being aware of an attackers “line”, the path their energy is taking from where their feet are planted up through their body to, and through their hand. If I am in a relaxed, sensitive place, I can redirect that flow without having to “grab on”. This can allow a very soft contact and, if done correctly, as I have seen Heiny Sensei do, partner never regains control, often is never even aware of what is happening until it is over. It helps me to consider that “line” to be an attackers “center” and I control it by guiding it to my center or center line and then redirecting it by moving my own body properly.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Personalizing

4/28/10 w [2s, 9v] B 4 new vets, 1 new staff. Started about 10 minutes late. Did intro talk. Changed it a bit, asked people to think how they would react when someone came “up in their face”. A couple of guys brought their hands up in an attack/defense move, one guy turned away and ducked. I explained that Aikido was a third approach to dealing with aggression and the feeling of vulnerability. This visualization seemed to help get the point across. I want to come up with more ways like this to "personalize" the basics.

Did my usual rap about relaxing, focusing, centering and how breathing can help. Started with warm-ups, stressing breath to center, did enter and turn [irimi nage] solo and partnered. Worked from mirror stance [gyaku homni]. Finished with simple wrist lock. The new staff person is a very petite nurse. For the wrist lock I had her work with a very large vet, six foot two or three. Everyone was a bit amazed at how well the move worked, especially her.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

"DEALING WITH STUFF WITH OUT HURTING"

4/24/10 f [0s, 6 v] I Two new vets. Talked about “mindfulness”, focusing on inner self and each specific area being used in a technique. During warm-ups, stressed breathing and relaxing to center during all warm-up moves, focusing on the muscle group being used.

Worked from gyaku hanmi [cross hold]. Started with ikkyo and progressed to nikkyo, omote [front] and ura [behind]. Most people are relaxing and centering much better.

After demonstrating an ura technique, one of the guys didn’t want to do it. When I talked to him, he said it looked too dangerous to his partner [uke]. I had him do the technique on me as I talked him through it, stressing being relaxed in his upper body so he could be sensitive to the effect the move was having on me [uke]. He did pretty well, so I had him do it a couple of more times with out help. He said I was just going along and letting him do it [which I was the first two times, but not the last] so I had him do it with his partner, who didn’t know how to go along. His comment was,”Oh shit, this stuff really works. I can deal with stuff without hurting anyone!”.

This echos what a number of guys have said, they like knowing that they can deal effectively with aggression with out necessarily hurting anyone. If they learn that relaxing and remaining centered is what does this, I will be giving them the most important skill I can in the six weeks I've got.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tricks is for kids

and Aikidoka.
A couple of people have questioned my use of the word "tricks". Someone even said Aikido is too serious to to be tricky.
Substitute "techniques" for tricks. They actually have very similar definitions, I just like to think of them as tricks. It helps me keep a sense of humor, which helps me relax and have fun, which loosens me up and helps me have fun, relax and center. Sometimes when I do a technique so well it just "clicks", I think it is the funniest, most wonderful thing. Sensei used to get on my case for laughing in class. Now I think he understands.
I mean, I think aikido is the most second best serious fun thing you can do.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Relax & Center. Everything else is tricks

4/16/10 f [0s, 6v] I Had 2 vets show up who are no longer in the PTSD program, but are still at the VA facility. They said they would still show up, and they are. I told one of them, if there were 6 or so vets in where ever he is now who might want to do aikido, I would be glad to do something with them. He said he would really like that and he thought there might be a few guys who would want to do it. He also said he is working on getting a pass for Saturday so he could come to the dojo.
I took a couple of new guys through the relaxation demo described above. They said they could feel the difference. When we did irimi tenkan [enter & turn] I had them try doing the move with upper body strength and when they felt “locked up”, I told them to relax to their center, and finish the technique. I did this a few weeks ago, and got the same results this time, people really noticed the “power shift”, the change in how they gained and held control when they were relaxed.
We finished up with some chair techniques. One of the things this demonstrates is how important it is not to use upper body strength. In a chair it is much easier to utilize your naturally lowered center of gravity.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

4/14/10 w [2s, 8v] A 4 new vets, 1 new staff. After warmups I talked about “relaxing” and how posture, standing erect, not straight or slumping, plays a role in how to relax and lower the center of gravity. Used Abrams Sensei’s process on two vets to demonstrate. Then we did techniques from ai hanmi and as I went around I showed how keeping an erect, but relaxed and centered posture helped. It not only made their technique stronger, with out correct posture, the technique could hardly be done.

NOTE; I am finding as I incorporate new facets of teaching, I drop approaches and language I was using and it makes my teaching more effective, simpler and more direct. It is also showing up in my own practice at the dojo.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

TEACHING RELAXATION

4/10/10 NOTE: 4/10/10 NOTE: One of the things I hope to give my vets is the ability to relax when faced with a situation of vulnerability or stress. I was going back through the AikiWeb External Aikido Blog Posts and re-read Sensei Mark Abrams blog on relaxing, www.aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?t=17810 .
I highly recommend reading it. I like both his thoughts and theories and especially his process for enabling his students to experience, experiment and internalize what I agree is “relaxation” while retaining effectiveness/ki.
While I tell my students to “relax muscle tension to their center” in order to lower their center of gravity, I think using Sensei Abrams teaching method will help them learn it on a kinesthetic level.
Thank you Sensei for another teaching point, another tool these guys might be able to use.

Friday, April 9, 2010

"Oh Man!"

4/9/10 f [2s, 12 v] I Three new people. Three guys dropped out after warm-ups. I could see that they weren’t moving very well, major grimaces with some moves, so I suggested that they sit this one out unless we did a technique they were very comfortable with. One guy did get up for one technique. But they were all very “present” the whole time.

Worked from gyaku homini [cross hold]. Started with ikyo and progressed to nikyo, imote [front] and ura [behind]. Most people are relaxing and centering much better.

One new vet was working with a staff member and was having trouble “entering” into his uke’s attack. When I came over to help, he said he really wasn’t comfortable getting so close to someone, but when he saw how much better the technique worked he said he would work on it. After class the staff person said the guy focused so hard on breathing to center and relaxing, he didn’t notice how close in he was moving until, during one technique, he stopped, looked at how close he was, said ”Oh man!” and smiled. Like the staff said, “A small step, but a signficant one”. Thats how we make, and measure progress.

Two vets are leaving the PTSD program [Ward 8] but are staying in the VA facility and just moving to the next building, and want to know if they can still come to this class. Well ya! Make me feel good!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

AIKIDO AS MEDITATION

4/7/10 w [1s, 9v] B 4 new people. I think I am getting the intro rap down, better and more succinct.
Paired new people with guys who have been here four to five weeks. Having people with more experience definitely helps everyone. In helping a new person, the more experienced person helps them learn faster, and, in having to explain what they are doing, they have to pay closer attention to their own technique. Today more people were asking for help because they were able to tell they weren’t doing a technique properly. A real sign of growth.

Note: We were talking about how Aikido is similar and different than Tai Chi, Yoga and other kinds of meditation they have tried and one of the guys came up with a difference I had never thought of before; “With Aikido, you don’t just meditate by yourself, you are meditating while trying to accomplish something with someone else. Easier, but harder.”
With most forms of meditation the focus is inner. The “feed back” comes only from ones own observations or from an instructor. In a group or class situation, there is little external measurement except how you feel about your state or progress. When working alone there is no measurement except evaluating oneself against what you think you should feel, or your interpretation of what someone else said you should feel. And one thing we human persons are great at is fooling ourselves.
In Aikido, we have feedback from our own perspective, comments and corrections from the instructor, and direct, moment-to-moment evaluation from our partner. Of course this requires a partner who provides “intelligent resistance”. Someone once told me “a good uke is an SOB”, they don’t cooperate if you aren’t doing the technique properly. This doesn’t always happen in the dojo. Some people get quite upset if uke doesn’t just flop along nicely. On the other hand, some ukes just try to play hard-ass and just lock nage up from the start [very easy to do when you know what is going to happen].
As I noted previously, working with these guys is a great learning experience for me. If I don’t do a technique properly, all the way through, it won’t work! Not because they are deliberately locking up, but because I’m not moving correctly and they don’t know how to just go-along-to-go-along. My biggest mistakes are not relaxing, not staying centered or focused, not staying in the moment. When I get this instantaneous evaluation, I can sometimes re-enter that meditative state as a part of the proper technique. Sometimes not, then I have to apologise and start over.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What Keeps Me Going

3/31/10 w [2s,6v] A There has been pretty much the same group for 6 or more classes. This is nice when it happens, as it allows me to do some more advanced techniques, which keeps the staff interested, some of whom have been taking the class since the beginning, gives the vets some new “aha” moments, and quite honestly, keeps my energy and interest up. It also allows me to get my basic points across from a slightly different perspective, and build on their physical memory and knowledge base. When someone is struggling with a new technique I can just say “center”, or “relax” or “bring their center to yours”, and they can remember those points from previous techniques.
There are also a couple of vets who really focus on their technique. I can see them consciously taking a breath, relaxing, trying to move from their center. They are beginning to know when a technique doesn’t “feel” right and ask for help. My shy vet made a point to day of coming up to me before class and saying he had to sit out and watch, he was “just in a lot of pain today, otherwise you know I would be up there.” Another vet had hurt his thumb this morning but he insisted on taking class. I finally had to make him sit out and ice the hand, it was so swollen. He really didn’t want to, so I had to pull rank as sensei.
Sometimes it isn’t much, but it is these small things that keep me going even when circumstances or my own moods pull me down. Aikido continues to be my own spiritual wellspring. It still helps me keep on an even keel, to deal with my own doubts, my often irrational irritation and anger. It is what enables me to claw my way back from the musty, dusty, darkness. I only hope that I can open this resource up for even one or two of these guys.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

3/24/10 w [1s,7v] I Worked from cross grasp [gyaku homni]. Progressed from simple move, first technique [ikyo], to more advanced third technique [sankyo] and ended with second technique [nikyo]. They liked sankyo once they got the pressure/torque movement but they really like nikyo and the immense control they have throughout the technique. I used the method Eric Sensei showed us Monday; extending the off side knee, trapping with the wrist on the knee and the arm at the elbow. This allows freer movement of the off side hand to get the nikyo.
The vet with really bad legs and even less balance is showing better movement. He says it is because he has more confidence and the warm-ups before class seem to help a lot. The young, shy vet is participating fully right from the beginning of the class.
Progress!

Friday, March 19, 2010

3/19/10 f [1s, 7v] I I can not figure attendance. Started off with 7 vets, 2 new, 5 guys drifted off or left for appointments and one other came in [my young loner], so we ended up with 3 vets. I have to talk with staff to see if there is a reason for this. I don’t know if it might be scheduling issues, issues individuals have, or something off-putting with me or how I am teaching.
Until I figure it out, I’ll just keep on keepin on!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

3/18/10 NOTE; Mary Malmos commented
Thomas, if I may offer a personal perspective...
...the difficulty in dealing with PTSD is that any lasting solutions take time to show results and are never 100%, while someone with PTSD is out of dealotrons and just wants it fixed now. Having PTSD is maybe a little like living in a panic attack: you're in a state of mind where it's very hard to do some of the things that you need to do to improve things. I admire you for your patience and determination -- more than anything else, people with PTSD need to know that someone gives a damn, recognizes their problem as real and wants to help.

Mary
Thanks for the comment, and for keeping up with my blog. I started it mostly as a way to force myself to document and evaluate what I was trying to do. I've discovered the added value of receiving comments and constructive criticism from folks who understand, or are at least supportive. Personal perspectives are what I need.
The feed back I get from my guys is that they like the fact that they can feel something happening right away. When they struggle with trying to muscle a technique, then relax and have it happen, the AHA is writ large on their face. When one of the chairwarrior "invalids" finds himself in full control of someone, the AHA is writ large on their face. And finding that that feeling of panic and vulnerability can be used to gain control over a situation can be quite empowering and AHA is writ large on their face. This showed up strongly with the young vet I mentioned in a recent blog.
I know that recovery from PTSD is at best a long process and probably will require a wide ranging, highly individualized medley of treatment, but I believe more and more strongly that aikido can play a positive role in that process for many. It is also one of the few treatment options which can give someone immediate feedback. I only regret that I can only work with someone twice a week, for six weeks max.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

4 TREATMENTS FOR PTSD

3/17/10 w [1s, 7v] I Standard class. Progressive technique from mirror stance [ai homni]. The most interesting thing was the active participation by a young vet who, up to now, has just sat quietly in a corner. One of the nurses said he is very uncomfortable in group situations. I think she really encouraged him to join in. He started out a little tentative, but after some one-on-one, he joined right in. The other guys showed surprising sensativety and were very supportive of him. I am frequently, and pleasantly surprised at how they take care of each other.
I will feel another level of success if we can keep this young vet actively involved.

NOTE; I came across an interesting report from the Anxiety Disorders Association of America on the four standard approaches to treating PTSD.

NAME Behavior Therapy
GOAL Modify and gain control over unwanted behavior
HOW IT WORKS Learning to cope with difficult situations, often through controlled exposure to them
BENEFITS Person actively involved in recovery skills that are useful for a lifetime
DRAWBACKS Can take time to achieve results

NAME Relaxation Techniques
GOAL Help resolve stresses that can contribute to anxiety
HOW IT WORKS Breathing re-training, exercise and other skills
BENEFITS Person actively involved in recovery skills that are useful for a lifetime
DRAWBACKS Can take time to achieve results

NAME Cognitive Therapy
GOAL Change unproductive thought patterns
HOW IT WORKS Examine feelings and learn to separate realistic from unrealistic thoughts
BENEFITS Person actively involved in recovery skills that are useful for a lifetime
DRAWBACKS Can take time to achieve results

NAME Medication
GOAL Resolve symptoms
HOW IT WORKS Help restore chemical imbalances that lead to symptoms
BENEFITS Help restore chemical imbalances that lead to symptoms
DRAWBACKS Most medications have side effects

Treatment is successful in as many as 90 percent of anxiety disorder patients. Most people respond best to a combination of the four options summarized in this table. If you notice, with the exception of medication, Aikido satisfies these treatment modules when properly taught. Most especially behavior therapy and relaxation techniques.

It is beginning to seem like my feeling that Aikido may truly be therapeutic when included as an integral part of an individual's over all treatment plan is valid, and worth pursuing.