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.