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.

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.

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


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.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Learning My Own Lessons

3/14/10 NOTE: Something I initially saw as a drawback to only having people for a max of 12 hours, I am realizing is actually an excellent learning opportunity for me; I always have “uncooperative” ukes. Because Todd Sensei almost always teaches good ukemi [how to properly and safely respond to a technique], most of the people at my home dojo know how to move defensively, if not cooperatively. Resistance is usually “instructive”, i.e. an attempt to show you where you might not be doing a technique properly. Unfortunately, this cooperative ukemi, can also lead to weak or sloppy technique.

Many of the vets are fairly strong, sometimes rigid, and have no idea how to “take technique”. Most are not deliberately uncooperative, although there is always one or two who constantly attempt to lock me up, or out muscle me. This has two consequences for me;
I have to do my technique safely, being sensitive to the energy, tensions and possible physical issues of my partner.
I have to do my technique right, no short cuts, half hearted or sloppy moves, staying focused on my own movement while being sensitive to my partner.

While it is damn hard, it is making a difference in how I work in the dojo. If I remember my own five points of technique, a technique works, even with the muscle men. In fact, when I sense that strength and I relax, their strength flows into the technique, and back into them.

Damn! All this stuff I’ve been spouting actually works!

Friday, March 12, 2010

ATTENDANCE? keep on keeping on

3/12/10 f [2s, 10v] I I can’t figure out attendance. I started class with 1 staff person and 2 vets and ended up with 2 & 10! Two vets who have shown really strong interest [1 who started at the dojo wed.] didn’t come, but came up to me after to say they would be at class next Wednesday. I guess it is a symptom of the fact they have a lot of other things going on here, and Aikido is still seen by the staff as a recreational activity. Which it is, but there is, or can be, a lot of “therapeutic” value as well. I think some of the staff see the legitimacy of this. Anyhow, I’m just going to continue to start the class, and work with who ever turns up.

After warm-ups I talked about using deep breathing; full diaphragm/chest expansion and just letting the breath float out of the mouth as slowly as possible, as a way to deal with everyday situations of anxiety, stress, anger, etc. I explained how I used it to help temper my “assertive” driving and talked about times I have used it to control my own, often explosive anger.

We worked from cross stance [gyaku homni] started with a basic irimi and progressed from that to two standing pins. I was able to use variations we have not used yet, which is good, especially for the staff, who have been taking the class from the beginning.

NOTE; It seems, if I structure it properly, almost any technique can be used to get my main points across, i.e. breathing/relaxing to center, maintaining center of gravity/balance, focusing on one's own movement. If people leave gaining only this, I will be doing something really constructive.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

GRAVITY, use it, don't fight it

3/10/10 w [2s, 10v] I Again, 3 new people. Now have two people who have trouble retaining their balance when they move. I talked about their center in more concrete terms, as being their center of gravity. When they put their energy up, in their upper body or shoulders, it is much easier to go off balance, when their energy is focused down, in their center, they are much more balanced. I had everyone work on visualizing all the energy in their upper body dropping to their center, relaxing and dropping their shoulders, arms, chest and stomach through their center to the floor.
Not only did this seem to help the two guys with balance problems, everyone could “see” and feel the difference in their control. I had them visualize capturing their partner’s [uke] center/balance, use a technique to bring that balance into and through their center to the ground. I explained that in Aikido we never “fight” with an attacker, we use technique to cause them to fight with themselves and with gravity.
Explaining this basic concept in very mechanical terms seemed to help everyone move themselves, and their partner, much smoother, more powerfully, while, paradoxically, remaining more relaxed. Now if I can help them to understand gravity as amplifying their inner strength, I might be able to help them see, to believe in, and make use of that strength in other situations.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

3/5/10 f [1s, 8v] I 3 new people, the person who has been here consistently for 6 weeks is leaving Monday. As he is from Chicopee, I referred him to the Red Sun dojo.
This group, even the new people, seem to be taking the class seriously and really focusing on the moves they are doing. Even the guy with the balance problems is putting out major effort. We did more advanced versions of ikyo and nikyo from ai hanmi. They really like nikyo. It is relatively easy to do and is obviously a powerful technique. Two guys talked with me briefly after class. They both expressed how Aikido “grabbed them”. One guy said he began to see a way to deal with “stuff” with out going violent, which has been the way he has usually dealt, up to now. The other guy was nodding his head and saying “yup, yup, that’s right for me too.” They both asked about classes at Aikido of Northampton and said they would probably stop by some night.

Both guys came to class at the dojo tonight. This was excellent, as we did testing for several kyu ranks. They both were glad they came as they could see how it fit with what I am trying to do in the class, and both expressed a strong interest in starting at the dojo. I truly hope so. When it happens, I consider it a sign that what I am doing is worth while. We will see!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

3/3/10 w [1s, 6v] B 3 new people. Did soft touch exercise. People started out doing it mostly with their upper body, lot of shoulder movement. Had them work on relaxing to their center and initiating movement from their hips. Still a lot of upper body “competition”. Had them close their eyes and try to sense where their partners action/energy was moving and try to direct that with their center. This really seemed to soften their movement.
Working from ai hanmi [cross hand grasp] did ikyo and nikyo. One vet has a real problem with balance. I worked with him on bringing his center of gravity down from his shoulders to his center, taking several smaller steps, and concentrate on moving as slowly and smoothly as possible. I still had to support him a bit, but he was definitely moving a bit better. I gave him a couple of simple exercises to do that might help; standing on one foot, rowing exercise [funakogi undo], rotating the hips.