Wednesday, July 31, 2013

THE SOUL OF AIKIDO, TEACHING IT, LIVING IT
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

7/26/13
NO THROWS, NO FALLS
ENERGY, BALANCE and the CONTROL OF CENTER
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

RESEARCH ON AIKIDO & PTSD

7/24/13 RESEARCH ON AIKIDO & PTSD
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

OFFERING PROGRAMS TO OTHER AIKIDOKA

7/22/13 OFFERING PROGRAMS THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY
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 [www.keganinnosenshi.org] we describe what we have to offer in areas of;
TRAINING
Initial Week End Training Seminars
Annual Followup
Major Area Seminars
LOCAL PARTNERSHIPS
Aikidoka
Other Organizations
Locating Partners in Your Area
OFF-DOJO SITING
RECRUITING
A PROVEN CLASS FORMAT FOR A SUCCESSFUL CRPTSD ADAPTED AIKIDO CLASS.
FUND RAISING
EVALUATION
FOLLOW UP; SUPPORT, TRAINING
COST
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

TEACHING CLASSES LOCALLY

7/19/13

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

ONWARD, INTO THE FOG

7/18/13  
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 www.keganinnosenshi.com 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.http://levellerspress.com/]
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