Friday, April 30, 2010


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


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


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


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, .
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


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.