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.