Re: Article - PCS Conditioning in Budo
I am moved by this dialogue. It's heartening to know that there is such passion and compassion from students and teachers of aikido.
I am a very new student of aikido...not quite a month. I have practiced different spiritual paths and meditation disciplines for over 10 years and have been a student of different forms of spirituality for most of my adult life.
I am also a psychologist and psychotherapist with much experience treating post traumatic stress syndrome, grief and loss issues and death and dying issues. I have worked in crisis response and stabilization and dealt with the fallout from violence of many kinds with civilians, law enforcement, military and criminals inside an outside of the prison system.
I offer my background only to allow my offering here to be understood in context. I am no authority on PCS, nor on aikido or O Sensei.
I know firsthand that PCS is a very real and measurable phenomenon, which I don't think is being argued here. In my experience, PCS (as well as PTSD) can impact anyone with any amount of training, including very experienced military and law enforcement folks. From a behavioral perspective, it appears that PCS is easily addressed, and can even extinguished as a behavioral response, through simple desensitization.
What has become a truth for me is that complex systems cannot be changed or impacted deeply or significantly by simple interventions or solutions. And, in my experience, human beings are quite complex systems, with a number of unknown variables (actually, when heart, spirit, psyche and mind are thrown in, I feel we are beautiful mysteries to be honored as particular formal expressions of the formless and I do not feel we can be reduced to abstract mechanistic complex systems to be deciphered and mastered).
Desensitization to PCS through full throttle spontaneous and unpredictable training in discipline and/or art could be an effective method if practiced regularly for SOME people MOST of the time, but it is no guarantee that the nearly impossible number of variables present in a "real life" violent event will not leave either the most seasoned combat veteran in a full state of PCS or the most timid civilian unfazed. The key to the effectiveness of any behavioral change method is continual reinforcement...or, practice. The practice Threadgill outlines could be effective at reducing the risk of PCS, and probably is. I have read and have been told that they key to continual "improvement" in one's practice of aikido is the same...I hope to find that out.
I also know that we can deepen our practice within any discipline or art in two basic ways, "state" and "trait," (which essentially amounts to obtaining a fish by either learning HOW to fish or by learning how to BE a fish).
Behavioral learning and practice tends to produce "state learning" that allows us to recall physiological, neurological and behavioral "memories" when certain conditions are present or when a trigger (which can be either conscious or unconscious, internal or external) for those "memories" is activated. "Trait" learning is a deep core learning that taps the less behavioral and measurable aspects of human being to draw on the fundamental awarenesses, knowledge and skills that are already present in our being, even if we have not accessed such awarenesses, knowledges and skills before.
State learning happens through practice and conditioning and the desensitization that Threadgill mandates as a teaching method to deal with PCS is a method of state learning. State learning can help us learn useful tools, but it is not the kind of "learning" that I understand O Sensei is speaking of when he implores his students to open their hearts more and more until there is nothing that is exclude form them...no more enemies, no more opposites, no more "others," just one heart aligned with the natural energy and flow of the universe.
O Sensei is speaking of what "scientists" are just beginning to understand about what they call "trait" learning, in which perspectives, behaviors and principles become so deeply integrate that they become traits or parts of an individual's character, and are no longer simply a group of tools that are used to a greater or lesser degree. State learning is a process of putting something into our being from outside.
Trait learning is more akin to the realizations and revelations of zen than to behavioral practice. These traits are developed and integrated through disciplines such as meditation, deep reflection and contemplation, spontaneous and creative engagement with life, and deep observation. Trait learning is a process of allowing our being to open to what is already present within us and allowing it to flow into our lives.
There is also an aspect to living in the moment and remembering that in each moment we could die. With respect, PCS results in part because of a fear that the order of life will be disrupted violently and one will be powerless, out of control or hurt. If, as O Sensei teaches, one is able to include violence as a natural and purposeful part of life, then there is no more violence, per se, only life. When we exclude violence and suffering from our perspective then we are vulnerable to in ways we might not be if we realized that in each moment there is destruction and creation happening simultaneously and we need have no fear of either. This is why meditation on our own death and dying is practiced as part of the warrior's path.
It seems to me that Threadgill is separating "real life" from practice of the martial art of aikido when it might be better to practice aikido in one's daily life and living in order to cultivate an awareness that doe snot exclude some parts of life and include others. I
Perhaps if O Sensei's principles were practiced and cultivated in all of life then it would make Threadgill's method of learning to understand and work through PCS all the more effective?