In the past, I may have covered or alluded to what I am writing about in this blog. But I am covering it again as I have found it to be the most important aspect of enabling vets with CRPTSD to gain from Aikido what they need in order to best learn to deal with the internal state of warfare they will struggle with their entire lives. I don't propose to tell any sensei what to teach. The form, system, techniques of our individual Aikido, our "way", are very hard learned, valuable and personal, and are very important facets of what we each bring to the mat.
However, the vets you will be teaching may have a range, depth and severity of issues you will not find in the average person approaching your dojo for instruction. In fact, the people we most want to reach, the most damaged, the most in need of the powerful, positive effect Aikido can have in their lives, may be the most difficult to teach in the usual dojo manner. On the other hand, once we do reach-teach them, the rewards, for them and us, will be the greatest.
During warm-ups at the beginning of class, my Sensei, Todd Martin, has often equated fuku shiki kokyu, or deep breathing, with relaxing our energy so that it can flow to our hara or center. When I think of this dynamic in relation to what Ann Frederick, and Peter A. Levine say in their book "WAKING THE TIGER"[1997 North Atlantic Books], I realize this can be an enormously powerful technique for enabling Vets with CRPTSD to refocus their internally negative energy; anger, fear, shame, etc. into a source of neutral energy focused in their center-abdomen, with out having to identify or focus on that negativity.
I think this last is very important as one of the frequent effects of therapies which cause someone to identify or focus on this negativity, or the cause of the negativity, is to actually cause a re-experience, along with all the trauma and its subsequent emotional turmoil.
The way I deal with this is, at the beginning of every class, do the breathing-centering exercises below. Then, when we are doing a technique, and someone tenses up, goes off balance, or tries to "muscle" a technique or fight an attack, I can have them pause, relax, and recenter their energy, and they dramatically experience this relaxed, positive energy enabling them to use the technique to gently and safely to control the attack. When I think about what I want the Vets to learn, this way of converting negative, self-destructive PTSD energy in to a constructive force in their lives as I outlined in the previous blog, this is what I want. I believe that this is what Aikido has given me that helped me deal with who I was, and who I could have become, post-Nam. Experience, retrospection and research indicate it will work for many other vets.
THE BASIS OF THE KNS APPROACH
David Drake Sensei calls CRPTSD "Warriors Heart" and describes it as "a warriors hellish world of constantly revolving physical and psychological torments". Personally, I find that absolutely accurate. The form this internal world takes is trapped, negative energy, stress which the victim sees no way to release, has no way to escape, comes to believe there is no resolution. [The VA now says there are up to 22 suicides a day among former combat vets.] For Aikido to be most effective, we must teach in a way which emphasizes, at the very beginning, moving this negative stress/energy to ones center or hara which serves as a battery, and that energy in a battery is neutral and can then be used for positive, constructive ends. This is something that many aikidoka intuitively, even unconsciously, learn with much, much practice but that can be emphasized and taught in the very first classes so that it becomes an intrinsic way to deal with the symptoms of CRPTSD.
BREATH & FOCUSING ENERGY [fuku shiki kokyu]
Always start class with this kokyu [breath/energy] exercise:
1. a. inhale through the nose, extend and raise the arms; relax the glutes, relax and expand the lower abdomen, diaphragm, and upper chest, extend shoulders back and up, the mental image is deeply filling the entire body with fresh air,
b. exhale through the mouth letting the breath float out very softly, as slowly as possible, no sound; compress the shoulders, chest, diaphragm, lower abdomen and glutes; do not hunch over, rather "clench' them, like clenching a fist,
c. do this at least three times.
2. Repeat the breathing technique above. But now:
a. at the end of the inhale, with the shoulders back and the arms and hands full extended straight up, picturing their body as full of little pockets and tubules of energy, stressing that stored energy is neutral, potential, neither negative or positive until it is used. [My example is if you plug a light into a socket it illuminates, if you stick a knife in you will get zapped.]
b. very slowly, lower the hands and as the hands come down, picture the tubes and pockets and sacks opening up and the stress/energy draining down from fingers, wrists, forearms, upper arms, scalp, ears, face, jaws, neck, shoulders, chest, upper abdomen, moving up through the toes, feet, legs and in from the glutes and hips, and all flowing into a battery in the lower abdomen/center/hara [I cup my hands and picture them gathering the energy in and carrying it down]
c. do this at least three times. [If I watch students carefully, I can actually see this process of relaxation.]
d. I tell people that, with practice, people often feel the energy moving down, sometimes as a warmth or coolness or as muscles and joints "softening", I feel a slight "opening up" of my body.
Tori - Uke [student - partner]
Explain the collaborative nature of practicing aikido technique. As the one doing the technique, Tori is learning. Partner's role is to help Tori learn, to teach, through an honest "attack". Uke is also learning how to "give up" balance but doing so safely.
Breath, relaxing to center
Tori [and Uke] should maintain the breath/energy process described above through out the technique; inhale through the nose, picture the stress/energy relaxing and flowing from the extremities into the center as Tori blends with and absorbs Partner's energy, then exhale through the mouth allowing energy from the "battery" to flow just to the muscles needed, as they execute the technique.
As I move around the class I fine tune technique [always emphasizing what a student is doing well] but I focus on the students relaxing and doing technique from center. I usually just say "relax", and touch, inobturusively, the shoulder or point where I sense tension ["anchoring".]
Smooth, continuous, flow
Stress smooth, flowing movement in executing a technique. Have Tori start to do techniques as slowly and smoothly as possible. Continually emphasize that smooth will enable control of Partner's energy and balance throughout a technique and will lead to fast, but effective, technique.
Control of energy, center, balance
I believe that the physical essence of Aikido lies in the control of partners, and ones own, energy, and with that, controlling balance. I tell students that an Aikido technique is about the gathering, blending, centering and movement of energy. Every technique begins with control of one's own energy, relaxing their energy to their center, establishing and maintaining their own balance/energy through the entire movement.
As this is done, one welcomes the gift of partner's attacking energy, blending it with their centered energy and then moving themself through the technique in such a way as to encourage partner to move with them to a place where both are safe and secure. I stress that done properly, an Aikido technique is done with someone, not to someone.
I find it important to speak in practicalities, stressing the "body physics" and improvements in strength, balance, movement, etc. Hopefully, at some point the vets will discover "ki", but I don't bring it up until I feel they begin to experience it naturally.
To throw or not to throw, that is the question
My "dojos" mats have usually been industrial carpet on concrete, in addition, many of my students had physical conditions which precluded falling. Because of this I adapted techniques so that they ended in a standing pin, lock or simple take down. I found unexpected advantages to this:
• By not having to think about the throw, Tori is able to focus on taking, blending with, and keeping Partner's balance-energy.
• If you throw someone, they can come right back at you. With a pin, you remain in control, the vets tend to really like this. As one of my vets said, as he was standing gently holding his partner in a very nice nikyo ura, "Now we can talk this over."
• Tori is better able to learn to be sensitive to, and "take care" of Partner, greatly helping to prevent injury.
• You have much more flexibility with who you can have in your classes [literally, anyone] and where you can do classes [actually, anywhere].
• You can concentrate on enabling students to focus on critical aspects such as breathing, centering, balance, etc., and work in throws later, if possible.
• Even if you have mats, it is beneficial to practice to standing pins, especially with beginners.
Finish with the same breath/energy technique the class started with.
A "debriefing" is as important a part of a class as breathing, warmups or any other piece. About 15 minutes should be allocated with the understanding it may end up shorter or longer. This session should be facilitated by the counselor/therapist participating in the class. The objectives should be; to anchor what has been learned "on the mat" with what is happening in real life, to share learning and support each other, to find out what they liked best, would like to know more about, didn't like, would like changed. The session should be run as a support group.
I apologize for the length and redundancy of this blog but I hope it, and what I wrote in the previous blob, cover what might be the most important part of the Keganin No Senshi form of Aikido.
Keganin No Senshi Aikido translates as the Warriors Way to a Unified Spirit.
(Original blog post may be found here