Sunday, March 16, 2014


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.