Thursday, February 25, 2010

continually extending

2/25/10 Note: Janet Rosen Sensei sent me a comment in which she used the phrase "a feeling of continually extending". It sums up exactly what I was trying to express in several paragraphs. Sometimes simplicity is the most effective way to convey the complex. This is true of technique as well.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


2/24/10 w [1s 5v] All vets were new. I’ll only have these people for 3 weeks but there is a 6 week group starting next Monday. I’d thought I would have the last group a little longer. Too bad!

Good class though. I am getting the intro down a better, more concise and more complete. After warm-up and solo irimi practice, I did a brief exercise to start to incorporate what I was talking about above. I will call this “soft touch” control. It is a flowing movement a little like Tai Chi push-hands. In addition to getting them to be sensitive to their partners movement, there was another, unexpected benefit; if they didn’t move from their center, if they brought upper body strength into play, the flow fell apart. And they could immediately feel it! Then, when we did irimi tenkan with partners, they noticed when the technique didn’t flow, or when they tightened up, or went to their shoulders. They usually couldn’t tell why, or what to do about it, but the awareness of something not being right is a significant step.

I think I will start to include this soft touch exercise at the beginning of each class

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


2/23/10 NOTE: LOSING IT! In class at the dojo today, Todd Sensei spoke on the difference between “maintaining contact” and “grabbing”. We did several techniques working on just maintaining contact with the side of the hand, the palm or even the fingers, but not “grabbing hold”. He said some techniques may require grasping firmly toward the end, but only rarely is it effective to grab vigorously.

While this sounded right, and seemed to work when I tried it, the why of it didn’t click until I remembered Heine Sensei talking about the “line” of attack, and that you could visualize that line extending from the ground, through the attackers body and to and extending THROUGH the point of attack, i.e. the attackers hand. She said that if you controlled that line, “encouraged” the attacker to continue into their extension, you could lead the attacker to that “safe and secure” place which I see as the ultimate objective of Aikido.

This probably pertains to the question Edward asked back on January 16th about what to do when the person doing the technique [nage] loses contact during a technique. This usually comes from losing the sense of where the attacker is, where their line of energy/center is. The key is sensitivity. If you are “grabbing”, you are focused on that grab, are less sensitive to what is going on with uke outside of the area you are grabbing, are less sensitive to the attackers “line”, are more apt to try to force the attacker to do what you want, rather than guiding them to want to do the “right thing”. In other words, grabbing interupts the line, squeezes off communications.

What seems to allow me to retain control, to remain in communication with my partner, is a light, but firm touch. For this to happen properly, I needs be very flexible and not totally committed to one course of action. If I am focused on my own center, on moving properly from the ground through the hips, I am moving my partner with my entire body, my entire being. Thus, if he “lets go”, I am not depending on his “hanging on”, I retain guiding control on other levels, and I can modify my movement to meet the changing situation. This is more than abstract theory. I have actually felt it happen once or twice when working with a new aikidoka who has not yet learned to do “cooperative” ukemi, or with a more advanced partner who is trying to discombobulate me. I believe it is also what allows the “no touch” techniques I have seen done by Heine Sensei and Saotome Sensei.

I realize I have just used a lot of quotation marks. It comes from trying to express something which my language, possibly no language, does not exactly convey. Like most of the true, deep learning of Aikido, it can probably be best learned kinesthetically. This week I am going to try to get this idea of no-grab, gentle, firm controlling contact across to the guys, kinesthetically. I’m not sure how just yet. .

2/23/10 Edward Commented
This mostly makes sense, but in some places it's not clear if you are talking about contact from uke or nage's perspective. On one level, it doesn't matter, as the same principles should apply, but you might want to at least mention something about that. You might want to extend the "line" metaphor a little more, as it doesn't clearly tie in to the rest of what you are saying. Are you talking about "grabbing" as something that pinches/kinks the line? Another way to look at it might be that "grabbing" is a contracting motion, not an extending one, because most Aikidoka understand the problems with contracting while doing technique. How do you hold someone using only extension?
The other thing I found was that as I read it, it made me think about what the difference between uke and nage really is. I know this is unrelated to what you were discussing, but at some point shouldn't the quality and intent of contact be the same regardless of which position you are in? If, as nage, you can abandon a preconceived notion of doing a specific technique, and as uke you can be fully connected, where is the line that divides them? I know this doesn't apply much to the basic level training you've been doing with the vets, but it is really interesting for thinking about advanced level technique and randori/free training. It could also provide a different perspective on reversals.

I wish I had people for longer than 12 classes, because I think the concept of maintaining good contact does contribute to a more controled, safer ukeme, but I only have a wee minimum of time to work on how to best take, and survive a technique

Thursday, February 18, 2010

2/17/10 w [3s, 5v] A Same group. Again, worked mostly from one technique, starting from a basic move from static, took this to an “active” attack, then moved to more complex variations/additions to that basic technique. People are becoming more aware of the difference it makes breathing/relaxing to center, posture and moving from the hips.

One of the staff remarked how much more vulnerable she felt when there was an active attack, but that this feeling eased off as she found a “safe point” early in the technique. I am going to pick up on this at the beginning of class Friday.

People like it when we finish off with a “quick and easy” technique, i.e. a simple wrist or arm lock. Although today someone remarked that although “it looks simple, there is still a lot to doing it right”. Ahh, progress! And I think I have pretty much this same group until the end of next week, and then new people start coming.

Friday, February 12, 2010


2/12/10 f [1s, 5v] A I have competition! The ward has scheduled a meditation group at the same time as Aikido. Vets have the option of attending either. On the minus side; in meditation you don’t have to do anything, just sit, maybe sleep. On the plus side; it gives the chair warriors something positive to do and the vets who stick with the Aikido are much more into it, the space works better with 5 to 10 people and I can give much more individualized attention. The 5 vets I had today have been to at least 6 classes and had a rough sense as to what was going on. We did one technique [irimi tenkan nikkyo] for a full thirty minutes, breaking it down and working on the more difficult and subtle aspects; hand position and movement, breathing and relaxing to center, moving from/with the hips, proper foot placement, balance.
As I identified an issue one guy was having and worked with them, the others would watch, and then try to incorporate what I had shown into their own technique. The biggest issues, of course, were using too much shoulder and upper body strength, and not maintaining balance while moving. I was able to get them to use breathing [koku] to bring their strength and their balance to their center.

I also had them doing the technique “actively”, i.e. not from a static grab. We worked on moving slowly, concentrating on a flow of movement and proper breathing. I kept stressing that “fast” doesn’t come from “quick”, fast comes from “smooth”. Concentrating on moving smoothly allows you to focus on every aspect of the technique, every position of your hands/feet/shoulders/head/hips/center, as a flow, as they interrelate in the technique. If this is done properly, speed, accuracy and control will develop, and with them the ability to adjust technique to fit each particular situation, to improvise. And it worked! By the end of the class; the guy with the “heavy shoulders” was beginning to make powerful use of his hips, The guy who kept losing his balance was moving much more smoothly and center balanced, the guy who always got his hands mixed up or backwards was so much more smoothly coordinated and “in the moment” he didn’t realize how much he had changed until his partner pointed it out.

So I’m not going to worry about the competition. When we get a new group in I will do a little recruiting and maybe have some of my regulars talk it up. If I can keep a group of 5 to 10 vets, I think everyone will be better off. This is a situation, and best met with proper Aikido principles.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

2/10/10 w [2s, 8v] A Everyone has been here for at least two weeks, so I was able to do slightly more advanced techniques. More importantly, I was able to work with them on some of the more subtle aspects of a move, i.e. the positioning/roll of the hand, working on making movement more controlled, balanced and flowing.
Most of the guys are moving much better. They may not have the techniques down exact, but they are consciously working on the major points; breathing, centering, balance. It will be a real advantage to be able to pair them up with new people as they come into the program.

Friday, February 5, 2010

2/5/10 f [3s, 9v 2cw (chairwarriors)] A Did a progressive technique from ai homni, wrist lock to ikyo to nikyo. Then did the same with chair technique. Although everyone took a turn working from a chair, the greatest reaction is from the two people who are fairly restricted to a chair. Both these guys do warm-ups from the chair and very actively observe while we are doing standing technique. This level of commitment shows as they quickly pick up on the techniques while chair bound. And I absolutely trip out over the look on their faces when they realize they are not as totally vulnerable as they thought. One chairwarrior said he couldn’t wait to do a technique on his son.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

2/3/10 w [4s, 9v] B Started with about 18 people doing warm-ups. 5 sat down when we started doing technique. I just found out that attendance at these classes is required, although people with physical problems don’t actually have to do technique. Several new people so I did the full intro. Did a series of several progressive techniques from gyaku [mirror stance]. The last one was a bit complicated ,but most of the people eventually did it fairly well.

NOTE; I’ve been prowling the web and have come up with a number of people/organizations with a connection to, and/or an interest in, disabled vets or combat related PTSD. I have sent out 5 letters asking for help and advice in establishing a program that will research Aikido and PTSD, have the program fully developed, codified, expanded and published to where it can be utilized, both at other VA facilities, and possibly at the dojo level. To do this, and to give the concept physiological and clinical validity, I believe a formal evaluation process should be carried out, a manual developed, instructional CDs created and eventually seminars run. I am beginning to look for someone with the formal psychological credentials and an interest in PTSD to work with me on this if I get funding.

So I enter the next stage. I’ve done this kind of organizational and funding stuff for years, I’m not to sure I want to get into it again. Except, my brief experience in ward 8 indicates it can be an effective tool to give these guys. Ah well!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

2/2/10 NOTE: One of the comments I have received, both in the blog, on forums and in person, has been “Wouldn’t Yoga or Tai Chi be better for people with PTSD?”

My first response has been that I don’t know the arts of Yoga or Tai Chi. These arts are excellent exercises and ideally could be taught in conjunction with Aikido. As with Aikido, they can teach relaxation and centering, improve balance, flexibility and coordination, and can be excellent forms of active meditation.

But I have been giving this some thought, and I believe there are several reasons why Aikido provides benefits to vets with combat related PTSD, beyond what they may get from those two arts;

1. All Aikido practice is done with a partner.
Practice involves physical confrontation,"engaging with another human, (which is the source of the vulnerability issue in the art) is key" (Janet Rosen), even though it is in a controlled [safe] situation..
It teaches and requires utilizing internal strength, physical and spiritual, to deal with an external attack situation.
It is a social interaction requiring caring about a partner while maintaining personal safety.
The student/teacher, nage/uke partnership facilitates the learning process.

2. The other arts do not deal with the issue of vulnerability.
Confrontation, even in a controlled situation, engenders feelings of vulnerability. With vets, having experienced real life situations of extreme vulnerability, any confrontation can bring about emotional panic and lock-up or knee-jerk, fight or flight response. Learning to accept that vulnerability and to use it as a way to respond to confrontation in practice gives the individual alternative responses and ways to maintain control of themselves in real life situations, and to possibly turn confrontation into collaboration.

3. These are combat trained veterans who have been conditioned to respond to attack and aggression [real or perceived], by defeating the enemy through attack, aggression and violence.
Many vets’ PTSD arises from, or is complicated by a hatred of, or disgust with one’s self for violent actions taken in the heat of battle or under orders. One consequence can be the feeling of helplessness and anger, which can turn to self-anger, which, in turn, can amplify a generalized anger at the world at large; a downward spiral of dehumanization. Aikido provides a way to respond which is based on self awareness, and a calm, relaxed, humanistic attitude, with the ultimate aim of bringing all parties to a safe and secure place, non-violently. The founder insisted that Aikido was to be an art of peace.

I would really appreciate any comments or suggestions as to how I might better describe the differences-strengths of Aikido versus Yoga, tai Chi, etc. Thanks.