Monday, December 23, 2013


Can you teach Aikido to combat veterans, or anyone, with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]?  I mean, in all my research, and with everyone I talk to about PTSD, especially Combat Related PTSD [CRPTSD] the only thing that has become clear is that to say someone has, or has symptoms of, PTSD is at best only approximative. It is like saying someone has cancer, which we now know is only a general, and somewhat vague, generalization. There are cancers of the brain, kidney, lung, skin [even within skin cancer there are basal, squamous and melanoma cancers, all of which can be, or become, malignant, malign or benign].
The study of PTSD has not yet reached this level of sophistication. All we know is that are many different causes, circumstances around a cause, personalities involved, possible genetic factors, and individual predispositions, to the point where it could be said that no two people have the same PTSD. And to further complicate matters, every individual’s PTSD may present itself differently. There can be different emotional, spiritual and physical needs, “triggers”, fears, aversions, weaknesses and strengths between individuals. It can even vary from day-to-day within one person. We, with CRPTSD, are not just fucked up, we can all be fucked up differently!
Of course I absolutely believe that not, only can Aikido be brought to a widely disparate population, it has the potential to provide each individual with resources and strengths which can enable them to, not just cope with their own symptoms, but to resolve them. There is no known cure for PTSD. But the practice of Aikido helps one, has helped me, continues to help me, to identify stress and tension and generally resolve it in a positive way, or at least not as negatively. To refer back to a blog response from Mary Malmo, it provides a source of “deal-a-trons”, to help me keep on keeping on.
But how does this all impact on teaching Aikido? Can you teach the way you normally do in your dojo? What about someone with  physical disabilities, who cowers at yokomen, reacts violently to tsuki, has trouble being close to others or being touched? It is pretty clear that patience, compassion and flexibility are critical. But what is your anchor? How can you be as flexible as you might need, yet still bring these vets the critical essence of Aikido? What I strongly believe is that, if presented properly, Aikido could be invaluable to these vets. I realized that I had to do something I had not done in over 40 years of practice: I had to define what I felt was the essence, the basic, intrinsic nature of Aikido, i.e. what is my Aikido.
Before you can even approach doing a class for veterans, you must define what your Aikido is. Then, be aware of your self, the impact of Aikido on that self, and you and your Aikido’s impact on the vets. Achieve clarity on what is the core, the essence, the essential soul of your Aikido. With this as a guide, you will find that issues become opportunities to practice, learn and teach true Aikido.
I came to the conclusion that Aikido, to me, was a form of active meditation I could share with someone else. At my best, I felt relaxed, centered, at one with my partner, and that we, and everyone else on the mat, were a whole, much greater than the sum of its parts. And most of all, I felt joyousness. Practicing Aikido is the second most fun thing I knew. I realized that one should not practice Aikido to learn technique, one should practice technique as “a way to a unified spirit”.
None of this requires that I throw someone away, I do not have to be “macho strong”, I don’t have to feel fear/anger at being attacked, I don’t have to wear special clothing, I do not have to hurt anyone in order to not be hurt, I don’t have to defeat in order to avoid defeat. I have come to realize that I can practice Aikido anywhere and everywhere. And most especially, it lets me bring something of value to people who dwelt in the hellish world of constantly revolving physical, mental and spiritual torment that is CRPTSD, and do it on a concrete floor in the day room of a VA ward, in black jeans and a white tee shirt.
I believe that the essence of what Ueshiba Sensei brings to the world through the practice of Aikido is that by becoming one with one’s self, centered, calm, peace-full, with a unified spirit, one can be at one, unified, with the universe. I also believe that this is what these victims of war, veterans with PTSD so desperately want; this sense of a unified self, with the inner tension, anger, shame stress recognized, but in abeyance. I find that by using the process of breathing to release the negative stress tension energy and have it flow from the extremities, head, neck, torso, into the hara/center, where it can be “stored” as in a battery. Of course, energy in  a battery is neutral, potential energy. Then, in practicing technique one captures partner’s attack energy, blends it with the energy in one’s center and uses this combined energy constructively, i.e. to bring you both to a place where you both are safe and secure [of course, with you in control].
The effectiveness of Aikido as method of teaching one to deal with the negatives of CRPTSD is that you are working with a partner in a real, if controlled, attack. If you are relaxed/centered, the technique works best. Also, there is the added stress and possible triggers that can come with being “attacked”; grabbed, struck, having someone get in your face, and you find you can actually “deal”, successfully and constructively, while carrying on. Trust me, the sense of self, of self worth, of something much more than self confidence, of the return of self control, of basic goodness and value of self, if even for a few seconds, is enormous. And you know that this thing, that even you, can be something worth building on.
I have covered this topic before in my book and previous blogs. I keep coming back to it because the most important thing I can tell people wanting to do a program for vets with CRPTSD, is that in being solidly centered, secure and confident in your own Aikido, you will find the strength and flexibility to teach the Aikido many of these vets need to revitalize the inner strength and resources they need, they so desperately are looking for, to cope with a lifetime of debilitating symptoms.

ps, Stay tuned for our next newsletter, and the announcement of our funding drive on Indiegogo.  With your help we aim to raise enough to enable us to do seminars around the country at dojos that want to start programs for vets with CRPTSD.

Saturday, December 7, 2013


I have a vet in my current group who fights professionally in MMA [mixed martial arts]. I told him I hoped that he would find some value in what I was offering. I was sort of thinking he might pick up a technique or two that he could use in the ring. Then I realized that was not at all what I was teaching, or hoping he would get from Aikido. And I don’t think that is what he wants either. What I want him, and all the other vets, to get is a  way to deal more appropriately with his inner war and with the real world he has to live in, the world outside of the ring, outside the world he knew on the battlefield.

This issue comes up frequently. “I don’t need that stuff [Aikido], I know Karate, or Brazilian Jujitsu, or Taekwondo, or I had hand-to-hand in the service”, or “if anyone messes with me, I’ll just kill ‘em”. I usually come back with some semi-wise ass or disparaging remark or a few words as to why Aikido is superior, or just shrug my shoulders and change the subject. And of course, none of this works. But thinking about my MMA vet, why he seems to be pretty committed to the class, and what I want him to get from it, I am beginning to realize that I don’t want Aikido to be “better” than, or teach improvements to, other forms of defeating, crushing or being victorious over others. I want it to give them something different, something that can transcend these forms of warfare, that can give them a taste of a different way to use their inner strength and energy to deal with the aggressions, frustrations and sometimes outright assaults that life throws at everyone. They are no longer in the warfighting ring and no longer need the warfighting skills they were so intensely trained in and which so permeated their lives. They need a new set of skills that will enable them to deal with the real world they now need to exist in as well as the consequences of that warfighting they still carry.

Most dojos and sensei are about teaching technique, improving technique. They are committed to training and enabling better Aikidoka. And I believe the assumption that this will, over time, lead to a stronger, more humane way to move through the world. However, I only have, at the most, 10 classes to give these vets that taste of what Aikido can do for them So, from the very beginning, I emphasize identifying and moving negative energy - stress, tension, anger, guilt- to their hara/center and holding it there in a “battery”, as neutral energy, and using this energy to assertively, but non-aggressively, resolve a negative situation. Then, practicing techniques gives a way to practice this more positive way of “dealing”, with partner’s resistance providing instant feedback.

This also fulfills my belief that I do not want to teach Aikido as a way to technique, I want to teach technique as a way to bring vets with CRPTSD to Aikido. Keganin No Senshi Aikido means “the wounded warriors way to a unified spirit”. This, not enabling better warfighting, is the purpose of my teaching. I have to get better at expressing this.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The FIRST Newsletter

The Wounded Warriors Way to a Unified Spirit
November, 2013
Mostly in order to invoke some self-discipline about keeping track of what we are doing, and to let as many folks know what has happened, is happening and maybe is gonna happen, I am going to attempt a regular Newsletter [regular being a relative term] approximately monthly, or so. Please feel free to pass this rare literary opus on to anyone you feel might be interested.

Aiki Extensions California conference
Aiki Extensions, Inc. was established in September, 1998 to support and enhance communication among those who apply the practice and principles of aikido in venues outside of conventional dojo settings. AE members have applied Aiki principles in such areas as business, bodywork, psychotherapy, teaching, mediation, and sports. Historically AE has been organized along four “interest tracks”, or general areas in which Aikido principles can be used “off the mat”; business and consulting, bodywork & psychotherapy, youth and education, peace and international relations, of course, many of these overlap. This year a fifth area of interest has been added; military veterans, especially those who have served in combat.
We have been members of AE since 1999. They have a conference once a year, this year it was held at Sofia University in Palo Alto, CA. Tom was invited to do a seminar on his work utilizing Aikido as an essential part of treatment programs for veterans with Combat Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [CRPTSD]. In addition to the seminar, he met with several Aikidoka who are very interested in the work being done by Keganin No Senshi and our sister organization, Aikido For Veterans and have made a commitment to assist us in gaining funding.

CRPTSD Ward classes
We have re-started teaching Aikido twice a week in the PTSD facility at the local VA hospital. This time around classes are 2:45 to 4:00 Tuesday and Wednesday. As always, attendance can be spotty with 1 to 5 vets and a somewhat varying group, although there is always one or two in each cycle who really get into the practice. I have made a commitment to be there every Tuesday and Wednesday and do a class if even one vet shows up. I am also doing a brief presentation at the morning meeting on the fist day of each new cycle. I’m working on developing something short but through as most vets have no idea what Aikido is and is not.
The ward program has changed from an eight week treatment program to a six week program, The VA, in its usual wisdom, has decided to deal with the heavy increase of vets with CRPTSD, by jamming more bodies through by decreasing the amount of time for each group/cycle, not by increasing the time, resources and support realistically needed.

Last June we were invited to do a presentation at the International Stress and Behavior Society’s US conference in New Orleans. We have been invited to do a presentation at their international conference in St Petersburg, Russia, this coming May. So, in early May, Keganin No Senshi is going international.
This is a group of researchers committed to delving into the neurological, biological basis of stress and trauma. These are hard core scientists, several have said science is their religion. When I did a presentation at the 2013 conference in New Orleans, I wondered why I was invited, I thought maybe comic relief; I mean, every circus needs a clown. Then I began to ask myself why I wanted to do a presentation at this conference, what benefit could derive for what I am trying to do with vets with CRPTSD, and what did I have to offer a group with such a well defined, fairly esoteric field of interest. Then I came upon an article in the New York Times, Oct 14, 2013 that said students are at risk of becoming intellectually brutalized, conditioned to focus on the microscopic at the expense of the holistic. Then the article quoted Dr John Martin “In excavating the cell to look at smaller and smaller parts of it, very few students are able to think of the physiology of the way the body works, how the big systems of the internal cosmos function.” Dr Martin is a, cardiologist, transatlantic academic, clinician, specialist in gene therapies for heart attacks, and a published poet.
So what I hope to offer the group at this conference is a method we have developed for bringing about improvements in veterans with CRPTSD, a condition which research is beginning to show arises from neurological changes resulting from trauma. I hope this presentation gives them a perspective, some insight into one group of humans who we hope will someday benefit from their microscopic labors. In turn, I plan on learning more about the neurological basis of the condition my warriors suffer from so I can adapt my program to better meet their needs. Maybe we can’t all be poets, but we can all contribute to the poetry of life.

We are starting the process of doing a crowdfunding fund raising through Indiegogo. There are many non-profits which are successful in getting money through crowdfunding, but there are a lot that don’t do well at all. We want to do this right, so we are getting help by bringing in some professionals, a videographer and a media/branding/marketing specialist. These are people who have done extensive work with non-profits, businesses and government organizations. This is going to result in our laying out some funds, but if it works, it will help get KNS off the ground financially, which will, in turn, enable us to expand programmatically. Is this a gamble, or an investment? The answer is yes.
Media/branding/marketing; We are working with Holly Mott of Clarity Consulting in developing a social media/marketing capacity. In addition to assisting us with the Indiegogo campaign she will be training us, mostly Fran, to be able to carry this out ourselves. We have already met several times and based on information we gave her and questions she asked, she is preparing a branding/marketing plan specific to KNS.
Videographer; Scott Hancock has done a great deal of work producing videos for civic, government and non-profit groups and political candidates. He is currently doing a video for National Geographic.
We have prepared an initial version of the card, which shows up on the Indegogo intro page, and a script that will come up when you click on the card. The script involves video, stills, pictures, written and spoken “advertising” that hopefully will present the KNS/AFV program in a way people will want to support us financially.
Board role/help; We needed some volunteers to participate in an introductory Aikido class that we want to video to be used in the Indegogo presentation. It will probably take about 2 hours on a weekend. Karen Peterson, 4th degree black belt, has agreed to do a couple of demonstrations for the video and other members of the Board have tentatively volunteered to participate in the demos and help recruit some additional students.
Our assessment is that what makes a crowdfunding project work, and produce enough funds to make it worthwhile, is outreach to as wide a group of supporters as possible. To us this means contacting as many people in the Aikido community, Veterans organizations, Veterans Administration personnel and the general public as possible. This means we have to become extremely skilled in using social media and while we aren’t exactly technophobes, some of us, mostly me, are virtually technical illiterates. Somehow I am going to be drug kicking and screaming into the 20th century.

Actually, this newsletter is our first foray into this arena. Please feel free to comment, give us feedback and to pass the newsletter on to anyone and everyone.

Thank you for wading through my first attempt at a newsletter and for your continuing support. And as always,
Onward, into the fog,

Friday, November 8, 2013

STANDING PINS, and the fear of losing control

I have advocated for the use of no falls, no throws in bringing Aikido to vets. I’ve done this because our “mats” have usually been a bare gym floor, or industrial carpet glued to concrete, many vets have physical injuries restricting movement, it would take-up most of the few weeks I have them for class, it requires more focused attention to tori maintaining uke’s, and their own balance throughout a technique and it really isn’t essential to learning what I believe is the essence of Aikido.

However, based on remarks made by vets during practice, I realize there is an even more important reason for doing standing pins. One of the common aspects of PTSD among combat vets is fear of losing control, of the real risk of bringing serious harm, of destroying in order to retain control and personal safety. Several times vets have remarked that they liked being able to hold their partner off balance and under control without anger, without hurting them, without having to use force, with little or no effort, while remaining calm and relaxed. The sense of empowerment, the ability to control a situation while remaining in command of themselves, for many is exhilarating. And does it give me a sense of exhilaration, knowing I can bring something of such value to these warriors.

So again, I encourage anyone working with vets with CRPTSD, even if you have access to mats, utilize the power of standing pins. And once in while, utilize it in your regular dojo classes

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Using myself to reach vets

I am realizing that how I present the Aikido classes to the vets is vague and wishy-washy at best. I’m not presenting the heart of what I want them to gain in the few short weeks we have. I want to stop dancing around and get across the raw essence of what I want them to have. And I think the best way to do this is to offer myself, my own experience with how Aikido helps me deal with my own inner devils. The following is how I want to start doing my introduction to each new group.

What does Aikido have to offer you? I can only tell you what it has offered and continues to offer me, every day, every minute. 

What are the devils my experience in the jolly hell of combat given me?
 Fear; I fear myself, I know what I can do, how destructive I can be, how I can hurt and destroy. I fear the violent aggression I have been conditioned to release when faced with violence and aggression.  I fear being afraid, of not being able to deliver, of giving in to the coward I fear is deep in side.  I fear being vulnerable and helpless. 

Anger; anger at being unable to deal, unable to return to who I was before, unable to accept the world as it is, with all its changes and inconsistencies and confusion and reversals and sucker punches.

Deadness; the difficulty, even inability to express, or accept, or even feel honest emotions because it might mean exposing myself and my “self” to more pain or rejection, or worse, having someone I care about destroyed. If I don’t care - - - I don’t care!

Frustration; the frustration that can overcome me because I have no way to deal with all this shit, which only adds to the shame, depression and inner doubt that increases this self-defeating, viciously downward spiral.

What Aikido has offered me, and which I constantly strive learn and practice is;
how to recognize tension and stress in myself,
how to convert my own inner stress, tension, anger into positive energy,
how to focus my energy in something I can use constructively,
how to relax in the face of aggression and attack,
how to resolve conflict constructively,
how to convert negative, aggressive energy from others into energy I can use constructively,
how to be relaxed, calmer, centered, balanced and positive in how I stand, move and face the world.

In the few weeks you will be here I want to offer you a glimpse, a taste, of what the practice of Aikido has offered me and a brief but real experience using these powerful tools which you can use to deal positively with your own inner devils.

So what I hope, is that by exposing myself, my own inner battlefield and how Aikido has, and is, enabling me to deal, to not just cope, but to grow from my experience, some of the vets will be willing to risk going outside of their comfort zone and trying the class.

Jeff Dowdy Sensei recently emailed me the following questions.
Do you have someone to take ukemi and demonstrate with?
Do you share philosophical or therapeutic points with vets during practice?
Interesting questions, and like a lot of interesting questions they made me think about how, and why, I teach my vets class the way I do, and how it differs from the usual way classes are taught in the dojo. These are the “answers” ;

When working with vets I don't have a special uke. Vets usually don't trust an "outsider". I have one of the vets in the class do the attack, and I usually choose the biggest person. Of course, this means I have to be really centered myself and especially gentle and careful of uke. As you can imagine, this help me enormously in finding the weaknesses, gaps and wrong assumptions in  my own technique.

I usually only have these vets for 6 weeks or so, so I do a lot more explaining about the therapeutic aspects of centering, releasing and focusing energy, etc. Practice in the dojo assumes you will learn this over time and through the constant effort to refine your technique. In both cases I believe that what we learn from practicing technique is that technique can't work, or at least can't work well, if tori is not centered, inwardly calm and balanced through out. I once got dumped on for saying the essence of Aikido is to be physically and spiritually centered, everything else is tricks.

Also, I use the 15 minute "debrief" at the end of class as an opportunity for the vets to talk about how it may help them deal with the devils inside, what we [who enjoy these particular benefits of our military service] call "the shit". This is often the most beneficial part of the class.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


The current contingent at the PTSD ward is leaving this week. A new group of about twenty will be arriving next week on Monday and Tuesday. This session was a bit of a bust, I only had more than two vets in my class twice, several times no one showed up. The recreation coordinator is always apologizing, saying maybe we should just cancel for now, making excuses for the vets, etc. She is having the same problem getting guys to come to her activities. I keep explaining that I try to have realistic expectations. I understand the reasons why it is very difficult for these guys to breakout of their “comfort zones” and that the vets who need what Aikido can bring them the most, are the hardest to get in out of the woods. So, while I may be disappointed, I’m not surprised. I’ve made a commitment to be there two days a week and offer my class to whom ever. If someone is in a place where they can accept what I have to offer, great. If not, my commitment is to be available.

If you want to do something of lasting value to vets with CRPTSD, you are going to have to make a commitment beyond doing “something nice”. The personal rewards can be enormous, but the personal investment has to be deep. This can be a difficult population to reach; cautious, untrusting, tough and fragile, proud but needy, wanting but often unable to make a commitment. I find that what I believe is the core of of my Aikido enables me to remain centered and open, with no expectations, no anticipation beyond my own commitment.

Of course, this makes me a saint, which I ain’t. I get frustrated, despondent, impatient, depressed, and even totally pissed off, but at myself, because I can’t reach these guys, and at a system that has put them where they are, but ------- I will show up at 2:30 every Tuesday and Wednesday. I will offer my Aikido to any vet who will even walk by, give a second glance. I don’t have anything else to offer except myself and my Aikido.

So be it. Onward, into the fog

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

This will be short. I am really frustrated and a bit angry at what is happening at the VA hospital. In the PTSD ward, they are treating what I am offering as just another kind of recreation activity like a pool game or a trip kayaking or taking a walk around the grounds. The vets regular “program” is over at 2:30 and they can do what ever they want. It is hard enough to get these guys to try something new, a little bit outside their safe zone, maybe a little challenging. There is no encouragement to even try Aikido and plenty of distracting stuff in competition. The only hope is that there is a new group starting week after next, maybe I will have more luck then.

The program I was hoping to offer to the hospital at large has been blocked by a bureaucrat someplace “up the line”. However, the woman who wants the class is arranging a meeting with the head of the mental health clinic. She is apparently both more open to alternatives, further up the chain of command and more capable of maneuvering through the system. As the vast majority of vets with mental health issues most likely have PTSD, this could work. If it happens?

So that’s all for this week. One of the good things about doing this blog, is that it gives me a chance to blow off steam. I hate bureaucracies. It is nearly impossible to ignore them, very difficult go through them, tiring to go around them. They are great black holes, sucking the soul out of anyone entering in, absorbing the energy of anyone trying to help the poor victims trapped with in.

What the hell, onward, into the fog

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


I have done 4 classes at the PTSD ward of the local VA hospital. They have changed their structure a bit. Before there were up to 6 new people rotating in every week, which gave me a constant turnover of people. We also held classes mornings, right after morning meeting, in the ward. While this meant more restricted space it gave me the chance to lure in guys who were just sitting around, which actually happened quite frequently.

Now there is one group every 6 weeks, no rotation. This should give me a more consistent group for the 6 week period. Class is scheduled at a gym all the way across the hospital grounds, in the afternoon during “free time”. This makes recruiting and attendance problematic. However, a recreation specialist is assigned to work with me which helps. She attends the classes, and as she is doing a grad program focusing on recreation and PTSD she has a particular interest in my approach and maybe sees a thesis paper out of this.

As I figured, recruiting and attendance is a problem. I had 4 guys the first class, 2 for the second, no one showed up for the third, and 2 for the fourth. However, the second and fourth classes were outside on the lawn in front of the ward and I managed to entice 2 guys to join in the second class, one of whom came back for the fourth class, along with 1 from the first class. If this sound a bit confusing, it is! Rather than get caught up in the attendance problems, I’ve decided my commitment is to show up for every class, conduct class if even one vet shows up, doing simple, basic techniques with the emphasis on being centered, relaxed and balanced throughout and focusing on the fuku shiki kokyu, or deep breathing process of transferring stress/energy to the hara. If it is anything I want to offer to these vets, it is this ability to control the negative energy of CRPTSD they are so fearful of, and convert it in to potential, positive energy.

One of the biggest root causes of CRPTSD can arise from the fact that during a traumatic event, you think that your life or others' lives are in danger. You may have witnessed people being injured or dying, or you may have been physically harmed yourself. You may feel afraid or feel that you have no control over what is happening around you, no way to deal. Worse, you may have no control of yourself. And feeling unable to deal with your self can be the most frightening feeling possible.

Quote from a former MidEast warrior, emphasis mine. “Sometimes in my day-to-day life something, sometimes some little thing, would come up and I couldn’t deal with it. I’d get confused, frustrated. I would just lock up. Then I completely lose control, and it’s not safe for me and it’s not safe for other people. I’m not aware of where I am, what’s happening or what I’m doing. And that’s when my combat training would take over. Like when I first got out, I was constantly getting in to fights, for no reason, and somebody would have to stop me. Then I realized I knew how to kill and sometime no one is going to be there to stop me, and I’m going to kill somebody. I was so afraid of myself.”

One of the comments made during the debrief at the end of the first class was that some of the standing pins were “kind of painful”. I felt they shouldn’t be, until I realized I needed to teach uke how to take ukemi safely. To do this, uke has to give up their balance in order retain as much control over themselves as possible. This sounds contradictory, but if you do not give up your balance and remain solid and static the flow of a technique will place stress and pain on joints,  if you “give up” your balance, you should be able to retain enough control to move within the flow of the technique to that safe and secure place which is the goal of a standing pin. For this reason, it is as important for uke to be as centered and relaxed as tori, and as essential to practice ukemi as it is to practice technique. This is something I need to teach in every class, as a part of every technique.

Friday, August 2, 2013


In the past, I may have covered or alluded to what I am writing about in this blog. But I am covering it again as I have found it to be the most important aspect of enabling vets with CRPTSD to gain from Aikido what they need in order to best learn to deal with the internal state of warfare they will struggle with their entire lives. I don’t propose to tell any sensei what to teach. The form, system, techniques of our individual Aikido, our “way”, are very hard learned, valuable and personal, and are very important facets of what we each bring to the mat.
However, the vets you will be teaching may have a range, depth and severity of issues you will not find in the average person approaching your dojo for instruction. In fact, the people we most want to reach, the most damaged, the most in need of the powerful, positive effect Aikido can have in their lives, may be the most difficult to teach in the usual dojo manner. On the other hand, once we do reach-teach them, the rewards, for them and us, will be the greatest.
During warm-ups at the beginning of class, my Sensei, Todd Martin, has often equated fuku shiki kokyu, or deep breathing, with relaxing our energy so that it can flow to our hara or center.  When I think of this dynamic in relation to what Ann Frederick, and Peter A. Levine say in their book “WAKING THE TIGER”[1997 North Atlantic Books],  I realize this can be an enormously powerful technique for enabling Vets with CRPTSD to refocus their internally negative energy; anger, fear, shame, etc. into a source of neutral energy focused in their center-abdomen, with out having to identify or focus on that negativity.
I think this last is very important as one of the frequent effects of therapies which cause someone to identify or focus on this negativity, or the cause of the negativity, is to actually cause a re-experience, along with all the trauma and its subsequent emotional turmoil.
The way I deal with this is, at the beginning of every class, do the breathing-centering exercises below. Then, when we are doing a technique, and someone tenses up, goes off balance, or tries to “muscle” a technique or fight an attack, I can have them pause, relax, and recenter their energy, and they dramatically experience this relaxed, positive energy enabling them to use the technique to gently and safely to control the attack.  When I think about what I want the Vets to learn, this way of converting negative, self-destructive PTSD energy in to a constructive force in their lives as I outlined in the previous blog, this is what I want.  I believe that this is what Aikido has given me that helped me deal with who I was, and who I could have become, post-Nam. Experience, retrospection and research indicate it will work for many other vets.

David Drake Sensei calls CRPTSD “Warriors Heart” and describes it as “a warriors hellish world of constantly revolving physical and psychological torments”. Personally, I find that absolutely accurate. The form this internal world takes is trapped, negative energy, stress which the victim sees no way to release, has no way to escape, comes to believe there is no resolution. [The VA now says there are up to 22 suicides a day among former combat vets.] For Aikido to be most effective, we must teach in a way which emphasizes, at the very beginning, moving this negative stress/energy to ones center or hara which serves as a battery, and that energy in a battery is neutral and can then be used for positive, constructive ends. This is something that many aikidoka intuitively, even unconsciously, learn with much, much practice but that can be emphasized and taught in the very first classes so that it becomes an intrinsic way to deal with the symptoms of CRPTSD.

BREATH & FOCUSING ENERGY [fuku shiki kokyu]
Always start class with this kokyu [breath/energy] exercise:
1. a. inhale through the nose, extend and raise the arms; relax the glutes, relax and expand the lower abdomen, diaphragm, and upper chest, extend shoulders back and up, the mental image is deeply filling the entire body with fresh air,
b. exhale through the mouth letting the breath float out very softly, as slowly as possible, no sound; compress the shoulders, chest, diaphragm, lower abdomen and glutes; do not hunch over, rather “clench’ them, like clenching a fist,
c. do this at least three times.

2. Repeat the breathing technique above. But now:
a. at the end of the inhale, with the shoulders back and the arms and hands full extended straight up, picturing their body as full of little pockets and tubules of energy, stressing that stored energy is neutral, potential, neither negative or positive until it is used. [My example is if you plug a light into a socket it illuminates, if you stick a knife in you will get zapped.]
b. very slowly, lower the hands and as the hands come down, picture the tubes and pockets and sacks opening up and the stress/energy draining down from fingers, wrists, forearms, upper arms, scalp, ears, face, jaws, neck, shoulders, chest, upper abdomen, moving up through the toes, feet, legs and in from the glutes and hips, and all flowing into a battery in the lower abdomen/center/hara [I cup my hands and picture them gathering the energy in and carrying it down]
c. do this at least three times.   [If I watch students carefully, I can actually see this process of relaxation.]
d. I tell people that, with practice, people often feel the energy moving down, sometimes as a warmth or coolness or as muscles and joints “softening”, I feel a slight “opening up” of my body.

Tori - Uke [student - partner]
Explain the collaborative nature of practicing aikido technique. As the one doing the technique, Tori is learning. Partner’s role is to help Tori learn, to teach, through an honest “attack”. Uke is also learning how to “give up” balance but doing so safely.

Breath, relaxing to center
Tori [and Uke] should maintain the breath/energy process described above through out the technique; inhale through the nose, picture the stress/energy relaxing and flowing from the extremities into the center as Tori blends with and absorbs Partner’s energy, then exhale through the mouth allowing energy from the “battery” to flow just to the muscles needed, as they execute the technique.
As I move around the class I fine tune technique [always emphasizing what a student is doing well] but I focus on the students relaxing and doing technique from center. I usually just say “relax”, and touch, inobturusively, the shoulder or point where I sense tension [“anchoring”.]

Smooth, continuous, flow
Stress smooth, flowing movement in executing a technique. Have Tori start to do techniques as slowly and smoothly as possible. Continually emphasize that smooth will enable control of Partner’s energy and balance throughout a technique and will lead to fast, but effective, technique.

Control of energy, center, balance
I believe that the physical essence of Aikido lies in the control of partners, and ones own, energy, and with that, controlling balance. I tell students that an Aikido technique is about the gathering, blending, centering and movement of energy. Every technique begins with control of one’s own energy, relaxing their energy to their center, establishing and maintaining their own balance/energy through the entire movement.
As this is done, one welcomes the gift of partner’s attacking energy, blending it with their centered energy and then moving themself through the technique in such a way as to encourage partner to move with them to a place where both are safe and secure. I stress that done properly, an Aikido technique is done with someone, not to someone.
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 I don’t bring it up until I feel they begin to experience it naturally.

To throw or not to throw, that is the question
My “dojos” mats have usually been industrial carpet on concrete, in addition, many of my students had physical conditions which precluded falling. Because of this I adapted techniques so that they ended in a standing pin, lock or simple take down. I found unexpected advantages to this:
By not having to think about the throw, Tori is able to focus on taking, blending with, and keeping Partner’s balance-energy.
If you throw someone, they can come right back at you.  With a pin, you remain in control, the vets tend to really like this.  As one of my vets said, as he was standing gently holding his partner in a very nice nikyo ura, “Now we can talk this over.”
Tori is better able to learn to be sensitive to, and “take care” of Partner, greatly helping to prevent injury.
You have much more flexibility with who you can have in your classes [literally, anyone] and where you can do classes [actually, anywhere].
You can concentrate on enabling students to focus on critical aspects such as breathing, centering, balance, etc., and work in throws later, if possible.
Even if you have mats, it is beneficial to practice to standing pins, especially with beginners.

Finish with the same breath/energy technique the class started with.

End game
A “debriefing” is as important a part of a class as breathing, warmups or any other piece. About 15 minutes should be allocated with the understanding it may end up shorter or longer. This session should be facilitated by the counselor/therapist participating in the class. The objectives should be; to anchor what has been learned “on the mat” with what is happening in real life, to share learning and support each other, to find out what they liked best, would like to know more about, didn’t like, would like changed. The session should be run as a support group.

I apologize for the length and redundancy of this blog but I hope it, and what I wrote in the previous blob, cover what might be the most important part of the Keganin No Senshi form of Aikido.
Keganin No Senshi Aikido translates as the Warriors Way to a Unified Spirit.

Thursday, August 1, 2013



A lot of what I write in this blog is kind of in-depth, analytical and even a bit esoteric. But there are really only seven things I want to offer a vet with CRPTSD:

In practicing Aikido, you will learn and practice;
how to recognize tension and stress in yourself,
how to convert your own inner stress, tension, anger into positive energy,
how to focus your energy in something you can use constructively,
how to relax in the face of aggression and attack,
how to resolve conflict constructively,
how to convert negative, aggressive energy from others into energy you can use constructively,
how to be relaxed, calmer, centered and balanced in how you stand, move and face the world.

KISS [Keep It Simple Stupid!]    My task is to offer my Aikido in such a way as to make these 7 objectives accessible to these vets. This entire blog has been, and will be, a diary of how I struggle with that task.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The first part of this is excerpted from a long ago blog.
This time I was determined to start a class on a different footing.  I wanted it to be an integral part of their regular programming and I wanted there to be a counselor regularly attending each class with definite responsibilities:
to observe vets’ reactions during class,
to be able to deal with any issues which might arise as they occurred, either by stopping the class and dealing or taking a vet outside if they were having issues,
to conduct a “debriefing” after each class, 15 minutes or so,
to insure communications with the vets, regular counselors,
1. about what a vet might be doing in class
2. if there were any indications of effects that Aikido might be having on a vet
3. if there was anything we could do in class to reinforce what the counselor was doing.
I wanted daily feedback from the counselor and regular meetings with the staff, at least monthly.
I am also concerned that, if these classes are having a positive effect on the vets, it is the practice of Aikido and the particular structure of the way we are teaching that is the primary source of that effect, not just the personality of the sensei. I don’t want it to be just  the “Tom Osborn effect”.
If we are to develop a form of Aikido which is especially suited to benefit veterans with CRPTSD, and which can be utilized effectively by any aikidoka or dojo in the country we should have a carefully structured program for them to work from. I recognize the important role of the sensei, their personality, as well as the essence of, and how they embody, their Aikido, and I believe that their style of Aikido, as well as their individual and “Aikido personality” will be a vital part of their classes, I also know that these vets are apt to pose a unique range of issues not experienced in the usual group of students. The KNS program attempts to, not only allow for, but encourage these vets to start and maintain the practice of Aikido. It should be a platform on which each sensei can build a program of their Aikido, appropriate to their area and their vets.
The primary purpose of KNS is to have Aikido programs specifically designed for vets available to every vet, anywhere in the country. To this end, I hope to have the staff counselor critique my performance, noting what seems to be just me, and if and how that can be codified into a standard curriculum or teaching methodology that can serve as a foundation on which any sensei can build a successful program.
At one time it was a commonly held belief by many in the Aikido community that children cannot learn Aikido, that it was not appropriate for most women, that it could not be practiced by the handicapped or the elderly. Most of us now know that the true depth and power of Aikido can be available to anyone. We must only determine what is the essence, the soul of Aikido; then our responsibility is to develop ways, teaching methods, structures, that can enable these “inappropriate” folks to reap the benefits of this art. There are thousands of veterans whose lives are a hellish world of constantly revolving physical, psychological and spiritual torment, who can benefit from what we have to offer. It is now up to us to develop the Aikido which enables them to enter and benefit from this art, this way of peace, this world, this universe opened to us by Morihei Ueshiba.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Ai – unify,  join Ki – spirit, energy

When teaching a class with CRPTSD Vets, our “dojo” is often a VFW dance floor, VA Service Center day room, meeting room, or gym, and our mats generally consist of a hardwood floor or industrial carpet glued to concrete. In addition, many of the folks practicing have physical injuries, or the creaks and stiffness that come with being too hard on our bodies for too many years. These are the initial reasons I started teaching Aikido to these folks with no throws and no falls, but with every technique ending in a strong standing pin. However, I have discovered more essential reasons for doing no-falls Aikido that can benefit standard teaching methodologies in the dojo as well.
The initial aspect of an Aikido technique is to have oneself centered. When one is “centered”, both the physical body and energy are in balance: the body erect, but at ease, the energy potent, but relaxed. Secondly, when one is attacked, the attacker is extending their energy away from their center. Thus the second aspect of an Aikido technique is to “discover” the place where the energy-balance of attack places partner’s center. The beginning movements of every Aikido technique are the initiation of a blending of the attack energy with one’s own centered energy.
Proper technique also requires proper balance, which is achieved with posture, body position, alignment and footwork, and connectedness to the ground. Effective blending with, and taking control of, partner’s energy results in taking control of partner’s center and thus their balance. A good technique, properly executed, moves partner’s center, converts their energy-balance to momentum, and maintains control of that center and momentum throughout the technique to a place where Tori has partner’s energy immobilized and their balance completely under control, to a standing pin, or to the point where, by merely letting go, partner is “thrown”. While “energy” and “balance” are separate concepts, in the practice of Aikido technique they are so essentially interdependent and entwined as to be considered one. If you are not physically balanced then your energy cannot be centered. If your energy is diffuse or extended [un-centered], your physical being cannot be balanced and grounded.
In Eastern thought, the concept of body and energy being separate is seen as incongruous.  There is also a deeply-rooted understanding of being one with the universe, that every body is a part of a greater whole. It is my belief that O Sensei’s Aikido is intrinsically dependent on achieving this state of balance, first, totally in one’s self, then with the energy-balance center of one’s partner and eventually with society and the universe. In this sense, having one’s energy and body balanced can be defined as being “centered”.
For many, maybe most, Aikidoka, the purpose of a technique, of Aikido, is the throw, and the idea is to get to it as quickly as possible. If we think only of the throw, it is all too easy to neglect the process that enables that throw. If we eliminate the throw, we are able to concentrate on maintaining the energy-balance-momentum dynamic throughout the technique, from before the point of blending to the final moment of pin, take down or throw. A well-executed technique, in which one’s own energy-balance is centered and partner’s attacking energy-balance is taken off center and fully controlled, can be done very slowly and smoothly. In fact, one should never attempt to move “fast”, movement should be smooth, flowing, controlled and centered. Kanai Sensei said “only from smooth comes fast”.
The advantage of utilizing “No Throw” technique as a tool for teaching and learning is that it incorporates kinesthetic and intellectual learning and both requires, and allows, Tori to focus on the core aspects of Aikido technique, thus bringing about a deeper, more internalized understanding-knowledge of Aikido. It also allows Uke to learn and practice more controlled, and thus safer, ukemi. For, even though Uke is extending their center, with practice they can learn to stay relaxed and maintain enough control of their center and balance to enable them to execute a good fall and to remain safe, or even better, perform a reversal if Tori gets sloppy, i.e. loses center. Although it sounds contradictory, Uke, while giving honest resistance to Tori, should give up balance, but only just enough, rather than having it taken away totally. One should be able to capitulate, without becoming a victim.
Stress is also a form of energy, usually negative energy, imposed on us, a state of mental or emotional strain or suspense, a balance between and interplay of opposing elements and tendencies. Stress is an organism's response to an external stressor such as an environmental condition or a stimulus. Stress is a body's way of reacting to a challenge. In a stressful event, the untrained body's instinct is to respond to that stress through sympathetic nervous system activation, which results in the fight-or-flight response. Stress typically describes a negative condition that can have an impact on an organism's mental and physical well-being.
Vets with CRPTSD have had experiences that have caused extreme stress, resulting in negative energy which becomes “trapped”  in their mental, emotional and physical self, and which they have no means to resolve. This forces them out of balance, off center; mentally, emotionally, spiritually, socially, physically, any or all of the above. When working with vets, the primary objective is to enable them to learn how to bring the usually negative stress energy of their PTSD into their center as a neutral, potent source of energy and then to convert that into a usable, manageable, positive, force-energy to deal constructively with both internal and external negative situations, real or imagined.
Aikidoka are familiar with the term “ki”. Regardless of what one believes its form or source, it is generally perceived as energy: potential, primarily positive energy available for our use. In practicing Aikido, we learn to utilize this ki by focusing on kokyu, the technique of using parasympathetic breathing to bring the negative stress-energy to the hara, center, where it can then be utilized in positive, constructive activity, such as in an Aikido technique or dealing with real world stress and aggressive situations. The kinesthetic learning entailed in properly executing an Aikido technique is powerful, covert and inevitable. If Tori is not centered or does not gain and retain control of partner’s center, technique will not work; if stress tension remains in the shoulders, neck, arms, or other parts of the body or psyche, technique will not work; if center is lost during technique, the technique will break down. If Tori starts and remains centered and in control of partner’s center, even technically “incorrect” technique can be effective.
The gist of this is that No Falls, No Throws Aikido can be a valid form of Aikido technique and a true way to realizing the essence of Aikido. It should not be only a way for those of us unable to practice the full, traditional form of Aikido, it can also be a way for all Aikidoka to improve their technique and come to deeper levels of understanding and internalizing Ai Ki.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


One of the biggest problems facing us in getting Aikido accepted as a viable part of effective therapy programs for Vets with CRPTSD is objective, scientific proof that it works. There is a growing body of anecdotal evidence. But what is needed is data from well structured research which documents the positive effect of Aikido practice on individuals with PTSD, and ideally CRPTSD, over a period of time.
Well structured means something along the lines of the following research program concept;
1. initial projects w/ non-vets [students???]
a. 12  weeks, 75 min Aikido class 2 times weekly [KNS format]
b. recruit & screen student participants [ screening criteria - high stress courses][random group]
c. stress tests [tbd]; pre test, test every [2, 3, 4??] weeks, final test
d. 3 grps; i.   full participation in Aikido Class, twice weekly
[60 min KNS class, 10 - 15 min debrief]
ii.  participate in other activity [sport, ???] 60 min, twice weekly
iii. no other activity, just tests
2. Using results of 1 to leverage similar research with vets [non-PTSD?]
3. Using results of 1 & 2 to leverage similar research with vets identified with CRPTSD
   These could be research/thesis projects for grad students.
   Our role will be to conduct Aikido classes using the KNS format.
No one in KNS is currently involved in the world of academe where this type of project would be most likely to happen, and the legitimacy needed to gain access to this world can be difficult to come by. As with most organizations and bureaucracies, if you ae not already a part of the recognized population you can only get accepted by an introduction from someone who is, and finding, and getting the ear of such a person is difficult on it’s own, usually requiring more than a bit of effort and a lot of luck. As a result of a lot of effort, we had our bit of luck.
For the past four years we have been making presentations at any psychology-social work-VA-or other remotely related conference or seminar that would have me. In June we did a presentation at the 20th Annual International "Stress and Behavior" Neuroscience and Biopsychiatry Conference in New Orleans. Now I have no idea why they accepted us, The other sessions were extremely academic on the neuroscience research involving zebra fish, chicks and mice. [The closest thing to us was a session on testosterone and skydiving.] I thought we were for comic relief. Like every circus needs a clown!
It turns out these were people who’s “religion” is science, and the teaching of science. They not only understood the need for what we are doing and encouraged us to keep on, they understood and supported the need for verifiable data that it works. Many spent considerable time talking with us on how we might set up good research projects, gave us the names of people who would be interested in such a project, and most important, were willing for us to use their names as reference. A couple of folks even offered to “call ahead”.
As a result of this, we just had a meeting with the Chair of the University Psychology Department and a Professor who is working on using hair and saliva to assess PTSD. They very much like the idea and see a need for research in this area. They gave us the names of several others who might be interested and said they will contact other faculty with an interest in PTSD and who might be interested in supervising grad students in doing the project. They see it as an excellent, and timely, topic.
I hope that I will be able to do future blogs on the progress, and success of this research. In any case, what has brought us to this point is not the genius of our ideas, or a brilliant plan of action, or a lot of money [HA]. What has worked is belief in the power of Aikido for vets, constant, if often blind, efforts, persistence and the strength that comes from being too ignorant to know what can’t be done.
The strength of innocence!

Monday, July 22, 2013


Doing Aikido classes for vets with CRPTSD myself, locally is a good start but there are thousands of vets who can benefit. To bring Aikido to as many as possible, we want to support other aikidoka and veteran’s organizations in starting a program modeled on the Keganin No Senshi approach.
Writing and publishing the book, doing presentations at seminars and conferences and putting up the website have been the first steps. Reaching out to others anywhere in the country is what we are committed to now.
On the website [] we describe what we have to offer in areas of;
Initial Week End Training Seminars
Annual Followup
Major Area Seminars
Other Organizations
Locating Partners in Your Area
AND MOST IMPORTANT, that we will always be available whenever there are questions, problems, or need support.
It is our intention to help start locally autonomous programs, with it being our role to provide the support and resources they need to succeed. Vets with CRPTSD may be faced with a range of psychological, physical and spiritual issues. While the KNS program is specifically designed to be appropriate for these vets, we also want the local programs to be compatible with the style and approach of the sensei teaching.
We have made connections in CT, NJ, VA and New Orleans. Our most successful collaboration has been with Aikido for Veterans out of Boulder, CO who conducted a major seminar last August and are in the process of establishing classes at a US Army, Warrior in Transition Battalion.
We welcome the interest of anyone who sees the value of Aikido for vets and wants to explore the possibility of starting classes in their area.

Friday, July 19, 2013



When Ward 8 ran out of space and staff that could participate, The director suggested I contact the Vets Service Center in Springfield. A Service Center is a part of the VA, BUT, somewhat separate from the usual VA bureaucracy. They were originally started by Viet Nam vets and are staffed almost entirely by former combat vets. This is a place where vets trust, are comfortable going and are already involved in a varied therapeutic program. The issue of comfort zones is critical in enabling one to deal with PTSD.  And, to recall Mary Malmros’ comments, it can help you renew your “dealotrons”. Unfortunately, the Vets Center also became over extended and ran out of room and support staff.
I tried holding a class at the American Legion, did a massive promotion campaign, and no one showed up. Shows how difficult it is to get the vets who most need the program can be the hardest to pull out of the woods.
We kept pecking away, talking with anyone who would put up with us for two minutes, writing grant proposals, and getting turned down, doing presentations at social worker and psych conferences, refining and writing down a better class structure, working with folks in other parts of the country [more on this later].
Then we lucked out. We did a display at a local Vet’s Expo sponsored by a town Vets Office. It was pretty much rained out and only a couple of vets showed up [see above re comfort zones], but almost every agency, organization, group, non-profit and government had a people there, some groups I had never heard of. My partner in this insanity is a networking maestro and we made some solid connections. Most importantly with the Medical Director of the VA Hospital and the new Commandant of the local Soldiers Home. Both were very interested in having classes at their facilities and told us to contact them.
Of course, I did so the next week and as a result we are restarting the class in the PTSD ward at the hospital and also a class for the hospital population at large and we are working with staff at the Soldiers Home to set up a class there.
If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is that it ain’t easy, and it ain’t going to be fast, but that there are people and places that can see the value of what we are trying to do. But damn, sometimes I just wanted it all to go away, to chuck it and take up egg dying. And sometimes I just wanted to cry

Thursday, July 18, 2013


It has been 3 years since I last taught my aikido class for Vets at the VA hospital Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ward and posted my last blog.  But it hasn’t been wasted time.  I have started a website web site and written a book based on that previous blog, the comments from many Aikidoka, a considerable amount of research and thought and the opportunity to reflect back on the person I was when I got out of Viet Nam and how Aikido enabled me to deal with trauma I didn’t even know I had.  The book is titled “COMBAT RELATED POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER - A HOLISTIC APPROACH.”  It is being published by Levellers Press [www.]
The research has been both rewarding and depressing:
there will be over 300,000 people coming out of the current mid-east mess who have, or will have, Combat Related PTSD [CRPTSD]
50% of women involved in the mid-east war will suffer CRPTSD, a majority will involve abuse and rape from their “comrades in arms”
by the VA’s own estimate, about 22 vets commit suicide EVERY DAY, there will be more combat veterans die from suicide than from combat injury
And on and on ad infinitum ad nauseam.
What has been rewarding is finding a growing support for the kinesthetic, movement based treatment Aikido can offer a victim of CRPTSD, and that O Sensei’s belief that Aikido can be a way of peace, and further, a way to bring peace to those whose reward for serving their country [they have been told] is a hellish internal world of physical, psychological and spiritual torment.
All this has led to the creation of thenon-profit corporation, which is dedicated to bringing Aikido to Vets with Combat Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This commitment is taking us down three pathways;
Continuing to teach classes locally, at the PTSD ward, for the VA hospital’s general population, at the local Soldiers Home and any other local venue that will have us.
Developing a structured program for aikidoka and VA facilities interested in starting a program and promoting that program with dojos and VA facilities throughout the country.
Developing research projects which can provide objective “scientific” data which can verify that Aikido can be an effective part of a holistic, therapeutic CRPTSD program and a powerful tool vets can use in dealing with what is a lifelong struggle with their condition.
I want my efforts, and this blog to be a way of encouraging and supporting others in offering Aikido for Vets with CRPTSD, so I guess those last comments are what you’d call cliff hangers.  I will cover each of these in the next few blogs