Tuesday, May 6, 2014

BLAMING THE VICTIM

If you are a veteran with symptoms of PTSD you have to understand two, absolutely true, facts.
You are not to blame.
You are not alone.

Back in March, I did a piece on warfighting and the fact that it can be a dominating condition of everyone who has been in the military, and especially combat vets. These are people who, at a very malleable age, have had their “self” overwritten, over powered, removed, rebuilt and retrained to survive and succeed in the various arts of war craft. One of the most overwhelming of these “arts” is turning this self over to the highly ordered, limited option, controlling system of the military world, the arena of warfighting.

This warfighting training and conditioning hasn’t much relevance to the art of living in the world of family and community. And there is little or no effort made by the government, or its military, to provide effective training, assistance or support in the unlearning and learning that is needed to successfully make this transition. In fact, as is common in almost every aspect of our nation’s way of dealing with “problem people”, the approach taken by the military, the Veterans Administration, the judicial system and police, and the vast array of organizations and individuals “devoted” to “helping our vets” is to blame the victim. “We have created you as the kind of human being you now are. If you can’t deal with that, it is your own fault.”“Get over it.” “We must help you, as you aren’t capable of doing it yourself.” This is helping in the sense of doing to or for someone, rather than offering as a choice.

Our society also isolates victims, denying them even the empowerment that comes with knowing they are one of thousands also struggling with the warrior’s hellish world of constantly revolving physical and psychological torments. Denied the knowledge of our sisters and brothers also suffering and victimized, we feel that we must struggle alone. There is;
no one who truly understands,
no one to help understand that it is not our fault,
no one to help understand that, within us, there is the strength move out of the world of warfighting,
no one to have our backs, like our comrades did,
no one who can give us the kind of support we need, support coming from their own pain, based on what helps them.
There is no one else. We are alone.

Is there a difference between where fault lies and whose responsibility it is to meliorate the condition?
When I was working at an inner city alternative school for drop-outs and kick-outs, all of the staff, and many of the kids, knew that their problems were firmly rooted in “where they come from” [their socio/economic/political environment]. When talking with them, some of the sharper kids would say; “It’s not my fault.” “Look at where/how I have had to grow up.” “What can I do when everything is against me?” I quickly learned to ask them who was going to suffer for all this and, therefore, who was going to have to do something about it. Further, we at the school would not, could not, help them do this. We could offer opportunities, give advice, make suggestions, encourage, critique, maybe even nag, but they had to decide to take advantage of what we offered, to take control, to, as one kid put it, “spit in the eye of the beast”. Some kids got it, and acted on it right away, some never seemed to, and for some, it took awhile. Years later, I ran into one of the kids on the street and he said, “Man, I never got what you meant, until I held our first baby”.

We have to be absolutely clear, that those whose political machinations have led to our PTSD have been striving to avoid accepting any responsibility for resolving it. Therefore, as victims of CRPTSD we must not blame ourselves. However, if we are going to resolve our condition, the responsibility for the trip back, the healing process, falls on us. If someone else creates, and forces us into, situations or conditions which negatively effect us, which victimize us, we are not at fault for behavior and suffering which arise directly from that. However, as we are the ones being affected, the responsibility for bringing our selves out of this condition falls strictly on us. All the wonderful help in the world will be of no avail if we do not take control, take on this responsibility for our own journey back/out. And no one can give you that control, you must seize it yourself.

To those who want to “help”. Don’t! These vets once were, still see themselves as and can be, tough, strong, resourceful individuals. Offer opportunities, support them in their efforts to reassume control, give advice, support, make suggestions, support, encourage, support, critique, support, maybe even nag, supportively, but each vet has to decide to take advantage of what is offered, to take control, to “spit in the eye of the beast”.

The first thing the veteran must do is take control; begin to move out of the arena which created and fostered the condition, recognize the need for a strong, supportive team, and actively participate in developing and carrying out their own exit plan.

What does Aikido do to offer the victim the opportunity for self- empowerment? The most effective aspect Aikido has to offer someone striving to regain control of their self is to learn and practice the ability to center, to achieve a relaxed, inner strength in the face of the unknown, in negative situations, and in the face of aggression. From this position they are better able to deal with civilian life’s vicissitudes, to return to the world of family and community. Our method of teaching this state of being centered is through kokyu ryoku [power breath], using this dynamic to release, relax and flow all energy into the hara [lower abdomen]. This is especially important with vets with CRPTSD, as they have enormous amounts of energy trapped as stress and tension, mostly in the upper body. Stress and tension may be used as a source of positive energy as in art, writing and other creative, constructive efforts.  But energy that is trapped, as is common for those with CRPTSD, tends to turn in on itself, to become negative.

When we teach kokyu royku [breath power] breathing, we have several objectives:
to get the most oxygen distributed throughout the body,
to involve the parasympathetic nervous system [relaxation, decreases anxiety, slows and steadies heart            rate, conserves energy],
to relax negative stress/tension energy and flow it to center [hara],
to make that energy available to, and usable by, the individual veteran for creative, constructive purposes.
One function of this is to prepare the body to better perform Aikido techniques. Of much more critical importance is that this process is empowering. It kinesthetically retrains the veteran to assume control of their self. It enables the vet to become centered, balanced, grounded, responsive and self- assured. It enhances the capacity to move into the world of family and community, while still retaining whatever positive aspects of military life they deem appropriate.

This centering process is the core of what we offer the vet. All technique is taught primarily as a means of enabling the vet’s ability to:
quickly achieve this state in which their energy is centered and they are balanced relaxed and responsive,
welcome partner’s “attacking” energy,
blend this energy with their own centered energy,
move this blended unit to a place where all are safe and secure, but the vet is in control [a standing pin].
Our ultimate objective is for the vet to be able to achieve these four states off the mat, in the world of family and community.

The kinesthetic therapeutic aspects of Aikido are powerful, but very subtle, even covert. It is not necessary to understand, or even realize, the emotional, psychological, spiritual growth that is happening as one focuses on learning, practicing and improving one’s Aikido techniques. But this growth most assuredly occurs. The comments vets make after a few classes and the feed back from counselors and therapists, while only anecdotal, make this very clear. To paraphrase William Shakespeare, as the body goes, the mind follows.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

WHAT KEGANIN NO SENSHI AIKIDO IS


In the past, the KNSA mission, our target veteran population and the program we have developed to most effectively serve those vets has not been as clearly defined as we want. We hope the following can help.
The primary mission of Keganin No Senshi Aikido is to enable veterans with Combat Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [CRPTSD] to become more vital, constructive, integrated members of their community. To do this, we have developed a program of kinesthetically-based therapeutic activities specifically utilizing the powerful core of Aikido adapted for these victims of combat.  For more information on the special conditions of CRPTSD, please read the following section on Definition and Theory which is excerpted from the much more comprehensive section on CRPTSD in the KNSA Manual and our book*.

KNSA is committed to working with Aikido dojos to establish a program of classes geared toward this specific and difficult to reach group of vets. To best accomplish this, we will;
come to your area and conduct a “teach the teachers” seminar,
provide PR, marketing and recruiting materials and strategies, forms, fund raising tips,  etc.,
provide information, backup and support in dealing with the Veterans Administration and other members of officialdom,
foster communications among all dojos offering the KNSA program,
provide on-going support, feedback, certification and evaluation.

Our program is intended to be offered at Veterans Support Centers or sites with veteran counseling services, as an adjunct to, and in collaboration with, on-going counseling programs. The program is non-exclusionary with the foundation firmly rooted in the art of Aikido as appropriately adapted to meet the widest possible range of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs of combat veterans. If done properly and carefully, a program can be conducted in a dojo.
While it is not the primary mission of Keganin No Senshi Aikido to increase membership in Aikido dojos, it is hoped, and fully expected, that many veterans whose initial experience comes through the KNSA program will want, and be able, to become full members of a traditional dojo. Some, in particular those with disabilities, will need to continue finding the essence of Aikido in the non-traditional program of KNSA.
At KNSA, we do not teach veterans Aikido so they can learn technique. We use technique as a language to better teach and enable them to learn Ai Ki. As our name says, Keganin No Senshi Aikido is A Warriors Way to a Unified Spirit. It is a warrior’s way out of the arena of warfighting, a way to move into the world of family and community.

DEFINITION OF TRAUMA AND PTSD
“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is not a mental illness, but a normal, predictable, biological reaction to the stressors of combat and other traumatic events that causes such pain and suffering that we now face long-lasting internal battles which persist well after departure from the battlefield.” Quote from Warrior 1

A COMBAT VETERAN WITH ANY OF THE FOLLOWING MAY BENEFIT FROM OUR PROGRAM.
A. The person has been exposed to a traumatic event in which both of the following have been present:
(1) the person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others
(2) the person's response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Note: this may be expressed by disorganized or agitated behavior.

B. The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced in one (or more) of the following ways:
(1) recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event, including images, thoughts or perceptions.
(2) recurrent distressing dreams of the event.
(3) acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring (includes a sense of reliving the experience, illusions, hallucinations, and dissociative flashback episodes, including those that occur upon awakening or when intoxicated). Note: trauma-specific re-enactment may occur.
(4) intense psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.
(5) physiological reactivity on exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.

C. Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness (not present before the trauma), as indicated by three (or more) of the following:
(1) efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings or conversations associated with the trauma
(2) efforts to avoid activities, places or people that arouse recollections of the trauma
(3) inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma
(4) markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
(5) feeling of detachment or estrangement from others
(6) restricted range of affect (e.g., unable to have loving feelings)
(7) sense of a foreshortened future (does not expect to have a career, marriage, children, or normal life span).

D. Persistent symptoms of increased arousal (not present before the trauma), as indicated by two (or more) of the following:
(1) difficulty falling or staying asleep
(2) irritability or outbursts of anger
(3) difficulty concentrating
(4) hyper-vigilance
(5) exaggerated startle response.

E. Duration of the disturbance (symptoms in Criteria B, C and D) is more than one month
(1) Acute: if duration of symptoms is less than 3 months
(2) Chronic: if duration of symptoms is 3 months or more.

F. The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.

G. Delayed Onset: if onset of symptoms is at least 6 months after the stressor.

COMFORT ZONES from “Combat Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a Holistic Approach [Levellers Press, 2012]
One trait common among many with CRPTSD is the avoidance of anything that threatens or that might take them out of their “comfort zone”.  This is unfortunate, for with CRPTSD there is no true comfort zone and, even though someone with CRPTSD may become hyper-vigilant and employ desperate coping strategies to avoid situations that remind them of their trauma, the sources of the anguish have become internalized, and all the more powerful because of this.
Some veterans with CRPTSD are resistant to practicing Aikido, claiming it reminds them of combat situations.  Whether this is actually true is irrelevant.  Aikido presents a situation where they are taken out of their comfort zone and, for that reason alone, they may feel threatened.  In fact, they may have built up so many layers of protection/resistance to change that they have effectively become immobilized, incapable of any sort of social relationships, unable to hold down a job, quick to raging anger, etc, when they feel any threat or imposition, real or imagined, to these comfort zones.  Unfortunately, these comfort zones not only tend to keep potential healing energy out, they can be looked at as being reflective on the inside, turning the energy generated by the original trauma back on itself, reinforcing and amplifying the trauma’s negativity.
Even now, when I feel that anger/rage building up, I often try to ignore it or force it down, and it only makes me angrier that I can not control my self.  But I have learned, when I start down that negative spiral, to pause, take that deep Aikido breath and, as I exhale, picture that energy, usually focused in my jaws, shoulders and hands, and flow it into my center.  In fact, I have hit that point several times in writing this book when I have a concept or thought that I can’t get into a form I can put on paper.  Sometimes relaxing to center involves moving away from the keyboard, at times for several days.  So far, when I have managed to come back to the task, that energy returns to me in a positive form: my shoulders and jaws are relaxed, my fingers move softly and easily.  When I start writing again, usually the issue has resolved, the idea has a concrete form.  And, wonderfully, it often takes me in directions I never considered before.  I often say that I hate writing, but enjoy having written.  I think this process of continually being able to resolve my own inner conflict and use it creatively is what pleases me most.  I know I learned this process of energy conversion through my practice of Aikido.
I believe that medication can suppress and cover over this negative energy and does little or nothing to enable the victim to convert the energy, to make it a constructive force.  Many talk-based therapeutic approaches force the victim to confront the causes of their disorder, but then this energy is only reflected back inward, often amplifying the fear and negative energy of the original trauma.  Medication and therapeutic approaches such as Exposure Therapy might suppress the negative energy, but do little to teach a victim how to channel it into positive potential and kinetic energy.
The advantage of having Aikido as a integral part in a multi-dimensional therapeutic milieu is that the strengths of one approach can mesh, support and amplify the others.  This can be done by structuring Aikido classes with a therapist regularly attending.  This facilitates several things:
If an issue arises during class, the therapist can take the individual aside, or, better yet, the class can be stopped and the issue discussed.
There can be discussion after class on issues the veterans or the therapist feel are relevant.  This could be scheduled, i.e. after every class Tuesday, or whenever the therapist, instructor or a veteran feels the need.
The therapist can bring the issues raised, things learned, and general observations to the staff as a whole, hopefully giving them insights which they can utilize, and bringing back suggestions and requests to be included in the Aikido program.
In this way Aikido could facilitate an approach to the issues of comfort zones and the implementation of an effective, interdisciplinary, holistic program of treatment for CRPTSD.

AIKIDO VERSUS WARFIGHTING

I strongly believe that one of the core principles of O Sensei’s Aikido is that to promote peace in the world, one must first achieve inner peace. And, as achieving this inner peace enables one to better move through life, it sounds like the essence of truly effective therapy. When I teach, I vary the therapeutic aspects based on the make-up of the class. Most vets have had some experience with “warfighting”; hand to hand, karate, BJJ, etc., and, while Aikido is a martial art, and they may learn some techniques that would help those arts, I stress that I want to help them learn Aikido principles as a better way to regain control of the self, to relearn the skills, to re-attain the confidence in their ability to move through the life they must live outside of warfighting. While my focus is on veterans with CRPTSD, my experience is that anyone with PTSD is trapped in their own world of warfighting and has very similar needs and respond to the same therapeutic principles underlying Aikido.

I recently had a vet who fights professionally in MMA [mixed martial arts]. At first, 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 used to 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 what helped me deal with my own CRPTSD, something different, something that can transcend these forms of warfare, that can provide 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 Warrior’s Way to a Unified Spirit”. This, not enabling better warfighting, is the purpose of my teaching.

GROUNDING YOUR SELF; What you are bringing to these vets.
This is possibly the most important thing you can do to prepare yourself.
When I taught my first class at the VA PTSD ward, our”dojo” was their dayroom, industrial carpet on concrete, 8 x 15 foot, surrounded by chairs, a television and pool table. The students ranged from a 23 year old navy seal to a 75 year old Korean war vet, guys who could not stand being in any group of more than one to those who would gladly, and seriously, attack for no perceptual reason, and athletic ability from amateur MMA to physically handicapped. In addition, I would only have them for six weeks, maximum. My keenly trained Aikido mind instantly [or at least fairly soon] recognized that I could not do classes like we did at my regular dojo.
  When you start a class for vets with CRPTSD, you may face some, all, or maybe many additional issues, yet you can still create an effective class: you can bring the power of Aikido to veterans, even under the most improbable conditions.
What is your Aikido. Achieving clarity on what is the core, the essence, the essential soul of your Aikido.
What I strongly believed was that, if I could present it properly, Aikido could be invaluable to these vets. I realized that I had to do something I had not done in 43 years of practice: I had to define exactly what I felt was the essence, the basic, intrinsic nature of Aikido, i.e. what is my 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 myself, 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.
None of this requires that I throw someone away, I did not have to be “macho strong”, I didn’t have to feel fear/anger at being attacked, I did not have to hurt anyone in order to not be hurt, I didn’t have to defeat in order to avoid defeat.
Before you can even approach doing a class for veterans, you must define what your Aikido is. Then, with this as a guide, you will find that there are no real problems. Negative situations become issues become opportunities to practice, learn and teach true Aikido.

*The KNSA Manual is under development. Please contact us if you would like a PDF of the current Beta edition.
The book is “Combat Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a Holistic Approach”, Levellers Press, 2012

Sunday, March 16, 2014

LEAVING WARFIGHTING

Define the “flu”. Maybe one of a multiple set of debilitating symptoms arising from any one of several hundred viruses which can be difficult to identify, not clearly understood, with only minimal means for treatment.
Define the “cancer”. Maybe one of a hundred types of debilitating tumors, arising from any one of several hundred possible causes, which can be difficult to identify, not clearly understood, with only minimal means for treatment.
Define the “PTSD”. Maybe one of a multiple set of debilitating symptoms arising from any one of several hundred causes which can be difficult to identify, not clearly understood, with only minimal known means for treatment.


While folks with PTSD have many varied symptoms arising from a seemingly unlimited range of causes, there is one cause unique among those with CRPTSD; extreme difficulty in leaving the world of warfighting and re-entering the reality of family and community.


In the military in general, and in combat especially, things are pretty much black and white; you know your place in the hierarchy, the limits are clearly defined, you do what you are told, everyone not on your side is enemy until they prove otherwise, you and your brothers and sisters have each other’s back and trust, the legitimate response to aggression and threats is greater aggression and violence, if you can’t win you are defeated, etc. This is the world of “warfighting”. Almost all martial  arts; Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Jujitsu, the various forms of Kung Fu, MMA, etc, are all forms of warfighting, the exception being the Aikido O Sensei developed in his later years.


In the “outside world”; there is no black and white, everything is shades of gray, often vague, expectations are unclear, the enemy is not defined so it can be anyone, maybe everyone, you know how dangerous you can be but the limits are unclear so you are afraid, always afraid of yourself. The external controls you have been rigorously trained to obey are no longer in place, and you can’t find, or trust, your own internal controls.  It is a scary world out there troop! Fight Escape And Run!


When, at an absolutely critical point in your growth as a human being, you are;
totally removed from everything you know
thrust into an environment deigned to tear you down and strip you of everything you have ever been
rebuilt into a “warrior”
forced to exist in the world of warfighting
sent back into the reality of family and community with a pat on the back and maybe a medal
given no assistance in re-learning how to not be that warrior
having no idea of the internal resources you have for dealing with your highly trained, conditioned potentially dangerous self
no wonder you exhibit the symptoms of CRPTSD. You must be a bad person.


But, anyone who has managed to survive in the world of warfighting must have some extremely powerful, if untapped, inner resources. What is being discovered in the very few effective treatment programs for vets with CRPTSD, is that by helping these individuals identify their symptoms and tap into this internal power to re-establish and retain control of their self, their individuality, they can begin to move away from warfighting and  begin to participate appropriately and positively in the reality of family and community.

And this is what we have to offer, a kinesthetic complement to the intellectual, mental therapy programs. If, as Shakespear said, “as the body goes, so goes the mind.”.


I believe that the ultimate purpose of Aikido is to bring peace to the world. But to do this, you must first bring peace to yourself. You can not deal effectively with a chaotic, unbalanced reality if you are not centered, balanced and at peace within yourself. In the usual dojo, you come to understand the need for, and power in, being centered and balanced over a long period. It is often not obviously taught, and seldom discussed, but eventually it sinks in, ah ha, technique work best when I am centered, balanced and relaxed, and I execute movement from that center, not the muscles in my arms, shoulders, chest, earlobes or wherever.


For someone who has had their “self” overwritten, over powered, removed, reestablishing that self through therapeutic “centering” reinforced through the kinesthetic centering of Aikido practice, can be a life altering experience. Learning, and experiencing, that, with help, continuing support and hard work, they can become successful, constructive, safe members of their family and community allows these victims, these powerful survivors to return to the human race from which they have felt so isolated.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

UKEMI; The Other Half


Ukemi sometimes translates as the art of falling away from harm. Taking ukemi is another way to practice kokyu royku, "Abdominal Breath Power". Ukemi is also an excellent way to practice maintaining the maximum amount of control over yourself in a negative situation. In practicing good ukemi, you learn that you can be in  a situation in which you might not win, but defeat is not inevitable. You also learn that it is often possible to respond to negative situations in such a way as to protect yourself from serious harm. These are both vital lessons for veterans whose warfighting training and experience is that the inevitable result of not winning, is defeat. In combat, there are no gray areas. But life is all shades of gray. This can be one of the most difficult things for any vet to learn to deal with when attempting to transition from the highly structured environment of the military with its clearly defined roles, expectations, hierarchies, schedules, and reliance on an externally imposed code, to the fluid, shifting, often vague and uncertain reality of civilian life. Aikido helps one to center, to re-establish an inner core. It helps restore the confidence in self, the sense of balance, which enables one to deal with the ebb and flow, the discontinuity of life. Practicing as both tori and nage helps one learn that one can win, without destroying, one can lose, without being defeated.

If the essence of executing an Aikido waza/technique is to be balanced, centered and in control of oneself, correspondingly, the essence of executing ukemi is also to be balanced, centered and in control of oneself to the greatest degree possible. Paradoxically, the way to maintain the greatest control of one’s balance, is to give it up! Walking is a process of deliberately allowing yourself to fall, generating momentum in the direction you want, then catching your fall. Running is actually the process of throwing yourself forward and then spinning your feet fast enough to almost catch up. In neither walking nor running should one loose control. Ukemi is the process of giving up one’s balance, but not one’s control. Uke can still retain control, at least of their own body, enough to ensure a safe fall or take-down.

When Todd Martin Shidoin, teaches a technique, he usually demonstrates effective ukemi, i.e. how to “give up” ones balance in order follow the energy flow of the technique. In doing this, he is able to maintain flexibility and the maximum possible control of himself throughout the technique. Todd sensei is able to do this because he establishes and maintains his centeredness and, no matter how vigorous, or hard, or improperly, or awkwardly the technique is executed, he remains amazingly relaxed, balanced, in control of his fall, and safe.

I talked about this with vets in my class today. They are beginning to grasp the concept of kokyu ryoku and relaxed centering, at least to the point where they notice when they are not doing it [which is significant progress]. But as the techniques get a little more complex, they take ukemi very stiffly, awkwardly and out of control. I’ve explained that what I hoped to help them learn was how to center and achieve control of themself in order to achieve non-violent control in negative situations. Now I want them to begin to utilize that relaxed, centered self control even in situations where they are ostensibly being controlled, i.e., when taking ukemi. Not only will this help them practice maintaining center, with practice, they will be better able to sense and flow with tori’s movement, which, in turn, it will enable them to protect themselves, and possibly even execute a reversal.

If we are teaching Aikido to vets with CRPTSD in hopes of giving them powerful tools they can use in the reality of their lives, we must recognize, and teach to, life’s myriad shades of gray. Ideally, it would be best to be tori, prepared and able to deal proactively with life situations as they come at us. However, reality dictates that at times we find ourselves having to react to a negative situation in which we find ourselves already enmeshed. In this second circumstance, survival may mean practicing effective ukemi.

Everything we learn and practice in the dojo can be, should be, expressed in how we live. I believe that only then are we fulfilling O Sensei’s dream of bringing peace to the world.

Friday, February 21, 2014

JOY IN THE BATTLE

I usually end my emails and letters with “Onward, into the fog” I mean, the fog is always there, sometimes heavier, sometimes it lightens up and I can get a peek at the top of the mountain. So the mountain, like the fog, is always there. But I know the top of the mountain is in the sun light, and it too is always there.
Joy is one of the ways to blow a little of the fog away, and Aikido can be one of the most joyful things, most exuberant experiences. After my wife and my son, nothing does so much to lighten the fog as a good practice with others who share the joy. But the fog always creeps back in, and not on no little cat’s feet neither.
So, since I find the alternative so unattractive [so far], I keep inching my way along.
I wish I had something more powerful to offer you. Then maybe I could make use of  it myself. But find a little lightness when you can, where you can. Take joy in the battle, the alternative sucks.

Onward, into the fog

Thursday, February 13, 2014

SOLDIER’S HEART & INTERNAL POWER


I have found references to Soldiers Heart going back to the American Civil War. Often it is used to describe what is now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD], or what I call Combat Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [CRPTSD].

While there are many definitions of Soldier’s Heart, I define it as a very powerful inner strength over which a veteran can see no acceptable means or channels to express. To have merely survived in the field of combat, and to continue to survive in their day-to-day life, denotes an awesome inner strength, a powerful, powerful source of energy. But, when energy can not be effectively stored, when it has no positive means of expression, it will explode.

This is the most effective treatment of CRPTSD, giving veterans the ability to recognize the power of their Soldiers Heart, to know that they have the ability to control and contain it, and then utilize it constructively and safely.

It has been said that 80% of Viet Nam Veterans will have experienced symptoms of CRPTSD at some point in their life. But not all are debilitated for their whole lives, the symptoms may come and go. It might be beneficial to determine why. We all have physical and emotional ups and downs in our lives. Does an emotional or even a physical down weaken us and allow the symptoms of CRPTSD to come to the forefront? Is this why, when I am tired or stressed out, I get irritated more easily, short tempered, much less willing to listen to, much less hear others? Assuming this is true, giving a veteran the ability to recognize their symptoms, tap into the internal power of their Soldiers Heart, and call on external resources might be the way to enable them to deal with a permanent, life long condition.

That all sounds so easy, so glib! Just because I know I’m starting to loose it, and the ability work through it, and know I have a strong, understanding support system, doesn’t always mean I can handle it. But, what it does, is help me step away, remove myself from the situation when I can, or hunker down and tough it out when I can. But damn, even that is frustrating, hard, and tiring. And I’ve been learning and practicing and living it for 45 years. Of course, the alternative to living is not currently acceptable.

So, as I always say; Onward, into the fog

Sunday, February 2, 2014

ACCEPTANCE AND COMMITMENT THERAPY [ACT] AND AIKIDO

ACCEPTANCE AND COMMITMENT THERAPY [ACT] AND AIKIDO
For over 5 years I have been researching, developing and conducting Aikido classes for combat veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which I term CRPTSD. The classes are taught at a VA hospital ward for CRPTSD. My basic concept is that, properly structured and taught, Aikido can complement and reinforce the ward’s program of therapy. During this time, I have struggled to emphasize the therapeutic aspects of Aikido while remaining faithful to, and staying solidly grounded in, what I believe are the basic philosophical and theoretical principles underlying Aikido, the principles upon which, for me, Aikido practice and techniques are built.

I have recently learned about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy [ACT], a form of clinical behavior analysis (CBA) used in psychotherapy. It is an empirically-based psychological intervention that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies mixed in different ways with commitment and behavior-change strategies, to increase psychological flexibility. The approach was originally called comprehensive distancing. It was developed in the late 1980s by Steven C. Hayes, Kelly G. Wilson, and Kirk Strosahl.  [unless otherwise indicated references are from  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acceptance_and_commitment_therapy]

I have long felt that, intrinsically, Aikido has a strong therapeutic aspect. My own experience and my work with other vets with CRPTSD seems to bear this out. However, there didn’t seem to be a “legitimized” psychotherapeutic discipline which would support this feeling and experience, and, in the therapeutic community, if you don’t have a home in which to hang your hat, you can be regarded as a hobo, a ne’er-do-well. Most of the traditional psychological, psychoanalytic approaches, relying strongly on mental, emotional therapies, did not seem to accept what I feel is a need for a kinesthetic element. However, in ACT, I am finding much that is similar to what I believe are basic aspects and principles of Aikido.

A simple summary of ACT is:
I. CAUSES & RESOLUTION
A. CAUSES
Many problems are due to the concepts represented in the acronym, FEAR:
1. Fusion with your thoughts.
2. Evaluation of experience.
3. Avoidance of your experience.
4. Reason-giving for your behavior  [excuses].
B. RESOLUTION:
The healthy alternative is to ACT:
1. Accept your reactions and be present.
2. Choose a valued direction.
3. Take action.
II. CORE PRINCIPLES:
ACT commonly employs six core principles to help clients develop psychological flexibility:
A. Cognitive diffusion: Learning methods to reduce the tendency to reify thoughts, images, emotions                       and memories.
B. Acceptance: Allowing thoughts to come and go without struggling with them.
C. Contact with the present moment: Awareness of the here and now, experienced with openness,                         interest and receptiveness.
D. Observing the self: Accessing a transcendent sense of self, a continuity of consciousness which is                      unchanging.
E. Values: Discovering what is most important to one's true self.
F. Committed action: Setting goals according to values and carrying them out responsibly.

If you compare these to the basic philosophical and theoretical principles I believe underlie the practices and techniques of effective Aikido, you can see some significant correlations.

I am treading on sensitive ground here. There are many, many opinions on exactly what were the underlying philosophical or spiritual principles of Morihei Ueshiba, O Sensei. There are even some who would question my right or ability to attempt any interpretation the founder. I have read many translations of his words, and the opinions and interpretations of many aikidoka with years committed, not only to practicing, but to serious thought as to what Aikido truly is. As I did this, the omnipresent fog of confusion began to envelope me. I realized that in order to “make Aikido my own”, and to give my own practice greater depth and meaning, I would have to develop a philosophical underpinning, a set of principles that resonate with me, and that, albeit filtered through my gai jin western heritage and sensibilities, I hope remain faithful to what O Sensei wanted to bring to the world.

My  hope is that these principles will enable me to develop my practice, and that my practice brings me to a deeper understanding of the underlying philosophy; and ultimately, will mean that I can do a better job with the vets.

I believe these principles are:

Centering
As embodied in Kokyu Royku [breath power] this entails bring one’s entire essence of being [physical, emotional, mental, spiritual] into a relaxed, balanced, self-controlled state. Advanced centering can bring in one’s surroundings, and for O Sensei, the universe.

Acceptance
This is neither smug, self-centeredness nor blind, passive acceptance of the negatives in the world, but being open to life with a non-prejudged recognition of the reality of now. One aspect in the randori of life is the welcoming of a “partner”, whether an individual or a life situation, whether partners intent is threatening or supportive, negative or positive, with out prejudgement or a pre-determined course of action.

Blending
This entails capturing and guiding partner’s essence/energy into your center and merging it with your essence/energy. From this point you only need to move and control your center in such a way that partner,s energy remains blended. Again, this applies to life situations, as well as in technique [waza].

Joy
The sheer joy, the elation of finding ways to bring my Aikido into my self, into my life, not just to deal more constructively with my own inner and outer devils and realities, but sometimes, even to do some small thing to make a better reality, a little better world. And the practice of Aikido, in the dojo and in life, must be joyful, and a hell of a lot of fun. Life should be joyful, let your corpse frown.

The ACT wording is different, but not entirely. And the process is more mentally/emotionally oriented, but not totally. And the desired result is focused on the individual, mostly. But, while the words may differ and the process predominantly a physical one and O Sensei’s end result is literally universal, the similarities are significant, complementary and with great potential for supportive reinforcement.  So, what I have discovered is that I haven’t had to change the Aikido I teach the vets to bring it more into line with what I thought were psychologically valid practices. What I need to do is find the center, the essence of my Aikido; accept, absorb and blend the strength and energy of ACT practices and principles into what and how I teach; and feel the satisfaction, the joy, when one or more of the vets finds ways to take what I teach, and use it constructively with, for and in their lives.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

FINDING THE STRESS “POCKET”


When I do the kokyu ryoku [breath/power] exercise [ Blog entry, 4/8/12, KI, KOKYU and DEALING] I have vets picture their tension [stress+energy=tension] being stored throughout their body in pockets and tubes, and relaxing this energy as they flow their breath down into their abdomen, their hara or center. I started to notice my own tension seemed to be concentrated most strongly in my shoulders and upper arms, but with others it could be focused more in other areas. While I want every class to start with relaxing tension, I want to individualize the process more and help each vet learn to better control that energy, better convert it to potential, positive energy. I want each vet to learn where their tension first or most strongly arises when they face negative situations.

To do this, I have started using a technique I have adapted from an exercise taught by Mark Williams [www.dynamichumansolutions.com] at the first Aikido For Veterans/KNS seminar in Boulder, CO. It is a gross simplification of what Mark taught in that class, which, in turn was a highly simplified version of the Body Dynamics portion of the full soft- and hard-skill mindfulness program he provides to corporations, the military and other organizations.

I start facing a vet at a “comfortable” distance, about 4 feet. [Mark has participants partner for this. Because of potential CRPTSD issues I do the exercise myself.] The vet is standing in a stabile, relaxed position. I explain that each person tends to feel tension in different places. I have them close their eyes and I softly move as close as I can with out touching. I say that when I tell them to open their eyes, I want them to be aware where they feel the tension hit first. I ask them to touch the spot. I then have them do the breath/relaxation exercise three times, focusing each time on flowing the energy in that tension into their center. Most vets will feel the tension drastically ease up and I can usually see their whole body relax, although it can sometimes take several trys.

I’ve also experienced an interesting aspect of how tension can flow improperly during technique. Many beginners, and even many advanced aikidoka, carry a majority of their energy as tension in the arm primarily involved in executing the technique, particularly in the hand. This is especially noticeable in tai no tenkan, when the hand is tightly cocked back, arm and elbow stiff, rather than the hand cupped forward, arm relaxed, elbow lightly bent, as if scooping up water. The tensed hand and arm indicates tension in the back and almost throughout the body, which causes the entire body to be unbalanced. I try to get tori to focus on relaxing their fingertips which helps release the tension all the way up the line and encourages them to flow hara strength in executing the technique. Also, encouraging tori to move smoothly and slowly enables them to be aware of where this hara based energy might become “knotted”, or falter, and the flow of the technique disrupted. [Reversals can only be done when technique energy flow is disrupted or allowed to range outside of tori’s centerline.]

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The SECOND Newsletter

Help us help veterans with CRPTSD nationwide

A program for veterans, developed by a veteran
The mission of Keganin No Senshi Aikido (KNSA) is to enable veterans with Combat Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to become more vital, constructive, integrated members of the community.  KNSA provides kinesthetic therapeutic activities specifically designed for victims of combat. The program is based on the art of Aikido as taught at two Veterans Administration facilities and extensive research conducted for the book, Combat Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Holistic Approach, by KNSA founder, sensei, and veteran himself, Tom Osborn (check out Tom's blog). It is intended to be offered as an adjunct to, and in collaboration with, ongoing counseling programs. The KNSA training program provides initial training and the first level of certification in the KNSA approach and demonstrates how to establish and maintain a successful Aikido program for combat veterans.

The 12-month program includes:
  • the continuation of our local programs
  • six intensive weekend seminars in various locations across the country  with the goal of enabling programs to be started, and successfully operated, by organizations at the local level in as many areas as possible
  • providing ongoing support, resources and training to these programs
Why we're doing this work
We know that many of you are already aware of the need for more and better therapeutic methods to help veterans who are living with Combat Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CRPTSD). We believe that the Keganin No Senshi Aikido method is a powerful tool to help these veterans find balance in themselves, their lives, and their relationships. We are trying to reach more veterans by reaching more of you, Aikido practitioners, allied health professionals, therapists, veterans services organizations and others interested in helping veterans bring the unique values of Aikido to their everyday lives and situations.
  • there is great and growing need for what we are doing
  • over 40% of women and 20% of men returning from Mideast combat are suffering from PTSD 
  • the current suicide rate of veterans may be as high as 22 per day – Suicide Data Report, 2012 Department of Veterans Affairs    
  • that 80% of Viet Nam vets have symptoms of PTSD

We need your help

In early 2014 we're launching a campaign to raise $54,000 - half the annual budget for the Keganin No Senshi Aikido (KNSA) national pilot program. Our goal is to bring Aikido---the healing art of peace---to veterans throughout the United States who are suffering from Combat Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. To reach them, we need you, Aikido practitioners as well as supporters of our wounded warriors, who can help us extend the reach of our program by starting Aikido programs for these veterans in your communities.How can you get involved?
  • Make a monetary donation when the campaign launches in early 2014
  • Share word of our cause with everyone you know who may support this work
  • Follow the campaign on Indiegogo and share updates and posts through your social media networks
  • Root for us! We can do this!
  • Read below on other ways we're looking for help

Internship and research opportunities

Internships: We need major help in organizing data and implementing KNSA’s social media communications.  We have a large amount of data on dojos, vet organizations, therapists and other people who have expressed an interest in KNSA or who we would like to take an interest in KNSA, but, as Tom says, “It is scattered all over our computer and, while we think we know what we want to do with it, we have only the vaguest idea how to do it.” Responsibilities include social media management, research, database entry, communications and outreach support. This internship is a great opportunity for someone looking for marketing and communications experience to build their resume.

Qualitative and quantitative research analyst graduate students: We would also be very interested in working with a graduate student[s] interested in researching the effects of Aikido on people with PTSD. One of the reasons for resistance to getting recognition from the VA and other major sources of funding is the lack of objective data. There is a wealth of anecdotal evidence and subjective reports supporting Aikido’s effectiveness, but hard evidence from well structured, scientific research is lacking.
 

Correction from November's newsletter

Notes From Tom: First, a correction to something I wrote in the November newsletter concerning the Veterans Administration. The length of time vets are in the residential PTSD ward I taught in is now and has always been six weeks. I wrote that it used to be eight weeks.

Second, I  generally tend to be critical of the Veterans Administration and consider it a ponderous, obstructionist bureaucracy, extremely resistant to change, slow to move even when change is inevitable, and primarily committed to ensuring its own placid existence. But I want to make it clear that there are some really excellent programs and great individuals who are truly committed to doing their absolute best to serve those who have served, while struggling themselves with the bureaucratic morass.  Vets Services, the PTSD wards, the growing number of women’s programs, those struggling to reduce the over-reliance on medication, are but a few. If you would like to hear more from me on this topic, click here to read a recent blog post.


Final Words

We will be sending more information about the Indiegogo campaign soon.  We hope you will view it and be inspired to support KNSA.  You will, of course, want to reap some of the premiums we will be offering, but mostly we hope you will join us in KNSA’s work to help our wounded warriors achieve the unified spirit they so deserve. All of us, together, can achieve what only a few of us can dream.

A joyous New Year from all of us at Keganin No Senshi Aikido. May you find many times of peaceful strength and vigorous calm throughout the year.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

"THE SHITS" AND BALANCE


A joyous New Year from all of us at Keganin No Senshi Aikido. 
May you find many times of peaceful strength and vigorous calm throughout the year.

In past blogs I have said that the purpose of any Aikido technique is to establish your own centered, balanced energy, accept and blend partners energy/balance with your own and then, by moving your center/self in a proper way, bring you and your partner to a point where you are both safe and secure, just that you are “safest”,i.e., you remain in control of all balance and energy.

The most common and  dominating symptoms of CRPTSD are stress and tension, what I call “The Shits”, resulting from any one, or combination of causes. This is negative energy, internalized, overpowering, and usually held in the upper body and mind. When one’s energy is in this state it is unbalanced. And this also has an unbalancing effect on every aspect of one’s being, the mental, spiritual, psychological and social, as well as the physical. It means that one is consistently moving through life, facing life’s challenges and situations, even the most mundane, off balance. It results in one having to deal from a position, a stance, that is insecure and unstable. It is no wonder that someone in this condition lacks confidence, feels a weak sense of self, sees anything new as threatening, views themself as ineffectual or a threat to those they love.

KNS’ approach to Aikido, stressing a breathing - centering [kokyu ryoku - breath power] process, focuses on first establishing that inner core of a calm, relaxed, centered energy which brings with it a mental, spiritual, psychological, social, and physical balance. One quickly learns and experiences that practicing an Aikido technique from a centered, poised, balanced stance is what enables that technique to accept, blend and control “attack” energy. This kinesthetic learning is quickly internalized and becomes a natural way to move through the world.

In teaching a technique, we first establishing that center; deep breath through the nose, exhale softly through the mouth while relaxing muscles/tension/stress to the center. Then we emphasize blending partners energy into that center, taking their balance, and executing the technique in a smooth, continuos movement that maintains control of partners energy/balance, to that safe, secure point where you are in complete control, and if you merely let go, partner falls.

I’ve said this before and will undoubtedly say it again, over and over, ad infinitum, ad nauseam, the sense of empowerment properly taught Aikido gives to someone with CRPTSD is enormous. The knowledge that they can deal with both inner and outer devils effectively, with out having to bring harm to themselves or to others, is both a relief and a validation of their worth as a human being.

I will also repeat that Aikido is most effective when it is an integral part of a broad spectrum therapeutic program. What I see as a smorgasbord approach. To this end, the fifteen minute “debrief” at the end of each class could be most critical to the healing process. My next project is to develop a basic philosophy, structure and process for an effective, therapeutic debrief. I am open to any and all suggestions and hope to have a first draft as blog in the not-to-distant future.

Check out our website, www.keganinnosenshi.org , and look for our soon to be posted campaign on Indiegogo.
And as always,
                               Onward, into the fog.