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Interview with Paul Linden Sensei
Interview with Paul Linden Sensei
by Ross Robertson
Interview with Paul Linden Sensei

September 20 - 26 of this year is International Aiki Peace Week, a global event set to coincide with the United Nations International Day of Peace, September 21. The idea for IAPW came to Paul Linden, and was then implemented by a collaborative network of others.

Although we've yet to share a mat together, I've known Paul for several years via our work together on Aiki-Extensions Pedagogy Committee, and Peace Dojos International. Paul is deeply committed to understanding what aiki means, and what it implies for human relationships and society. He's a pleasure to talk to, a good listener, yet unafraid to give honest feedback. I always learn something from him whenever we interact.

Paul Linden has been practicing Aikido for 41 years and holds a 6th dan. He is an instructor of the Feldenkrais Method® of movement education, and has a black belt in Isshin Ryu Karate and a PhD in Physical Education. He has developed out of Aikido a method of body awareness training, Being In Movement® mindbody education, which he has taught to people with issues in everything from computer ergonomics to sexual abuse recovery.

Paul also enjoys writing, and among his e-books are:
  • Feeling Aikido: Body Awareness Training as a Foundation for Aikido Practice
  • Embodied Peacemaking: Body Awareness, Self-Regulation and Conflict Resolution
  • Winning is Healing: Body Awareness and Empowerment for Abuse Survivors
  • Extending the Way: Applications of Aikido Principles in Personal, Social and Business Development. edited by Stephan Richter, Peter Schettgen, David Sikora, Paul Linden
Paul would like to write/edit a book titled Accidental Perfection: Moments when Aikido Training Works. It would be a compilation of experiences in which Aikido training clicks into place and allows one to function with unaccustomed ease and effectiveness in various areas of life. He would appreciate it if people could send him one or two page descriptions of Aiki experiences. He can read German and French, but English is much easier for him: PaulLinden@aol.com.

Paul has presented workshops in Munich, Berlin, Bremen, Dublin, London, Buenos Aires, and New York, among various other locations. His website has a lot of free, downloadable material on body awareness training and Aikido. And a book on peacemaking (Reach Out) is available as a free download.

Go to www.being-in-movement.com to access his materials.

Also relevant are www.aikipeaceweek.org and www.aiki-extensions.org.

The following interview took place via email over the course of a couple weeks.
RR: Paul, I'd like to approach this from the inside out. Before you tell us what the International Aiki Peace Week is, can you tell uswhy it is? Why is such a thing necessary, or even useful? What is its reason, its motive, and what could we possibly hope will be accomplished?

PL: Implicit in Aikido is an understanding that the rest of the world desperately needs: if peace is not grounded in the body, it won't work. Aikido is a fantastic vehicle for dismantling the physiological reflexes for aggression and opposition. And the world needs what Aikido has. On the other hand, Aikido itself is too labor-intensive to spread widely. Practitioners must make available to the world simple, explicit training methods for learning Aiki. Pioneers in this mode of teaching were Koichi Tohei, Terry Dobson, and Tom Crum.

RR: Why isn't peace workable if it's not grounded in the body? Why does the world need this?

PL: Emotions are events in the body. Aggressive feelings give rise to aggressive actions, and trying to act peacefully while the body is stuck in aggression is practically impossible. Trying to think and act peacefully when your body is stuck in fight-or-flight mode is like building a building from the second story upward. Peace must start with the body. And without peace and cooperation, the future looks pretty bleak.

RR: How did you get the idea for International Aiki Peace Week? What did you have to do to bring it into actuality?

PL: Around New Year 2010. I was talking to my friend, Bertram Wohak, who is a bodywork practitioner, an Aikido instructor in Munich, and a member of the Board of Directors of Aiki Extensions. We were wondering how to get more dojos involved in Aiki Extensions and applying Aikido off the mat. I suggested having a group project involving the application of Aiki in conflict resolution and peacemaking. Bertram suggested that bringing Aikido as an art of peace into broader public awareness could be a project transcending the political and stylistic divisions in the world of aikido. Bertram and I spent some time discussing the idea, and we fleshed it out together. And he has continued to help design the Peace Week.

Bringing it into actuality started with my proposing it to the Board of Directors of Aiki-Extensions. They were enthusiastic, and many other people have been so as well. In particular, Aiki-Extensions President Rob Kent has created the website and without him the IAPW would have been no more than a good idea. Bertram Wohak has done a lot to contact German and other dojos in Europe. In addition, Quentin Cooke and Bill Leicht (head of the Peace Dojos International) were instrumental in getting this off the ground. Christian van Henten translated the website into French. And many more people helped as well.

RR: So by now, I think we're beginning to get a very good sense of what IAPW is. How would you describe it?

PL: It is numerous dojos around the world showcasing the various ways in which aiki can be used to move the planet toward peace. Through shared action, the event becomes more visible.

RR: And by doing it with the additional focus and awareness that others all around the globe are participating, we get an extra sense of purpose and meaning. So what are the mechanisms by which people and groups become involved?

PL: Go to the website, sign up, possibly make use of the downloadable materials, and teach peace through Aikido.

RR: A lot of people might say that every day of aikido practice is a day of practicing the Art of Peace. Do you think this is true?

PL: If by studying the art of peace you mean practicing to train oneself to act peacefully, then very often not. It can be, but it isn't necessarily so. I don't think that you learn peacefulness unless the practice is set up in such a way as to provide feedback about how well you are doing peace, and for many people peace simply isn't part of their practice. For example, it is easy to demonstrate that kindness improves postural stability. With that, postural stability in doing a kote gaeshi becomes a measure of kindness. And with that, kote gaeshi becomes a method of training yourself to maintain a spirit of kindness while defending yourself against an attack. But this element is often missing in practice, or at least it is not made explicit and emphasized.

RR: But if you throw someone forcefully, even with enough skill so they don't become injured, is that a peaceful or non-violent outcome? Is peace different from non-violence?

PL: The American Heritage Dictionary includes under its definitions of violence : "Physical force exerted for the purpose of violating, damaging, or abusing." "Abusive or unjust exercise of power." I would suggest that physical force, even destructive physical force, is not necessarily violent (though of course it is always unfortunate). Violence is the spiritual state of desiring to cause injury. If force is used in a state of compassion and regret, because it is the only way to respond to unprovoked aggression, then I would say that the action is nonviolent.

As to the nature of peace, conflicts are inevitable, but if they are dealt with well, they will result in win-win situations and feelings of mutual respect.

RR: In your view, what does aikido have that other disciplines might lack?

PL: My interest lies in developing training methods for teaching peaceful behavior. I would suggest that any fully effective method for teaching peace must include the body and combat. Our reflex response to aggression is counter-aggression, and changing that cannot be limited to verbal/emotional work but must include physical training. It is in the situation of combat that the demons of fear, anger, and opposition can be roused and tamed. However, it is crucial that the combat practice include practical methods for replacing the body feeling of aggression with the body sense of peace.

RR: Can you give an example of what sort of exercises you've found that enhance relaxation, performance, or some such?

PL: Let's try something very brief. As you, the reader, are reading this, let your tongue hang loose in your mouth. What happens? Many people will feel their neck muscles relax and their breathing get easier. Can you let your tongue relax as you do an Aikido technique?
Can you let your tongue relax when your boss is in a bad mood and yelling about everything? My booksFeeling Aikido and Embodied Peacemaking present many specific exercises for creating a mind-body state of peace and inner strength.

RR: Does aikido make for better human beings? Is aikido practice sufficient unto itself, where (like some forms of Zen) there is nothing to accomplish but the movement, the stillness, the posture, and the breath?

PL: There IS something to be accomplished. I emphasize building and integrating power and love. Martial arts offer a wonderful trap -- the egotistical enjoyment of power. Without the possibility of that trap, we would never have the opportunity to grow past it. Aikido makes for better behavior, ideally. I don't know if we can change what we are, but we can improve what we do. We have to identify goals and then devise training methods for achieving the goals.

RR: I'm not sure there's universal agreement about aikido's place in the world ofbudo. Has aikido left its martial roots behind? Would that be a good thing?

PL: It depends on how you practice. I don't think combat efficacy is an all-or-none thing. Are you asking about combat efficacy for a special forces soldier or for a civilian, for example? I think that many people practice Aikido in ways which would allow them to defend themselves against street attacks.

I often ask ukes why they are attacking, and they usually say that it is so that nage can practice. I suggest that they have to have as a goal injuring nage in the very specific manner that calls forth the very specific defense nage will practice. Without that sharpness, Aikido can indeed lose its efficacy for both combat and peacemaking.

RR: Then let's talk a little bit more about combat training and peace-building, which I think might be a surprising combination for some people. Is there a place for the practice, or even the study, of violence in a peace-building discipline?

PL: By "violence" do you mean the desire to hurt or do you mean physical attacks which attempt to apply force to the defender? If the art doesn't include force application, then it won't be scary enough to work as spiritual training. But it can never allow people to get into truly wishing harm to nage. I think that the best way to learn to maintain a peaceful attitude is to practice that in a situation of discord. The best way to learn to receive an enemy compassionately is to have a cooperative enemy to practice with. Aikido is such marvelous feedback precisely because its techniques work best when nage is in a state of kindness.

RR: If I have a keen desire to hurt someone, but refrain from doing so, is this peaceful behavior? Also, you say we cannot wish harm to nage, but at the same time you say uke should attack with the goal of injuring... can you clarify how attitude, desire, intent, and action should come together in training?

PL: Peaceful behavior lies on a spectrum. Wishing to harm but refraining is not peaceful, but at least it's better than acting on the wish. In practice, uke has a goal of injuring nage, but of course it's a pretense. Nonetheless there is sincere practice, and there's practice with no sense of commitment. Commitment is done on the level of intention.

Intentionis a more tangible equivalent of "energy" or Ki." Much of my practice involves explicit work with intention. For example, if you wish to move forward, before there's easily visible movement, there's a tangible readying of the muscles for that specific action, and that's the interesting level on which to practice perceiving both oneself and the attacker.

Intention is the foundation for my body work. Withdrawing the intention from a segment of the body creates a sense of distance or anesthesia, and trauma is one of the primary causes for that withdrawal from the body. Violence grows out of body numbness. If your own body isn't alive to you, then you may well treat other people as objects rather than conscious beings. And ecological violence, I suspect, grows out of the same body numbness. If you are alienated from your own body, then you will not feel the web of life, which you are a part of. Aiki is about body presence, and it is here that aiki can have a major impact on trauma recovery, violence reduction, and ecological sustainability.

RR: Then what does our training as uke do for us, beyond the mat? Isn't uke also practicing aiki?

PL: What is katate tori? A wrist grab. But how many wrist grabs are there? If I grab and twist inward, or if I grab and push, or if I grab and pull, are those the same attacks? I would say no. In my practice, I focus on how each defense technique grows out of a specific attack. So uke has to be sensitive and discerning enough to supply just the exactly right attack that deserves the defense technique to be practiced. That sensitivity certainly has applications off the mat.

RR: As of this writing, the number of dojo around the world signed up to participate in the International Aiki Peace Week has exceeded 275. That's a tremendous response by any measure, but even more impressive given that this is the first year. How can people, whether in dojo or as individuals, stay involved once the week is over?

PL: First, by making peacefulness an explicit goal of their Aikido training. And second, by creating projects in the community which spread the understanding and experience of aiki beyond the mat. And third, by joining Aiki Extensions and contributing to its mission, which is to extend aiki off the mat into daily life.

RR: Personally, I think it would be a really great thing to see different aikido dojos and different aikido styles working together to address local, national, and global issues. And of course, working in tandem with other martial artists, community groups, and agencies compatible with these goals.

PL: Aside from Aiki Extensions, the other organization that I'm active in is Male Survivor (www.malesurvivor.org). It is an organization which focuses on research about and treatment for men and boys who have been sexually abused. About 15 years ago, a therapist invited me to present my work on body awareness, centering, and self-protection at their conference. And 6 years ago, I became a member of the group of facilitators for their workshops. One of my dreams is to offer training for Aikido practitioners on how to work as members of trauma treatment teams.

RR: Paul, it's always a pleasure talking to you. Is there anything you'd like to say in summary?

PL: The way nage relates to uke is a model for how to receive any of life's difficulties. Approaching a genuinely distressing event in a body state of calm alertness and compassionate power will enable us to do as well as possible. O Sensei left us a truly marvelous tool, and it's up to us to use it.

RR: So Paul... is peace on earth really possible?

PL: Probably not, but if we don't dedicate our lives to that goal, then certainly not.
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Old 09-21-2010, 08:51 AM   #2
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Join Date: Apr 2010
Posts: 394
Re: Interview with Paul Linden Sensei

Thank you. That's a very interesting interview - good questions too.

The concept of aikido for peace - using budo for good - is very attractive and powerful. Jigoro Kano Sensei the founder of judo had the vision of judoka everywhere using the principles of judo in all facets of their lives so that the whole of society would benefit:

Jita Kyoei 自他共栄 we together with other people will flourish (mutual welfare and benefit).

Aiki-Extensions and International Aiki Peace Week look like great initiatives. I hope they continue to grow.

we can make our minds so like still water, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life
w b yeats

aikiweb blog|wordpress blog
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Old 10-03-2010, 03:45 PM   #3
Anita Dacanay
Dojo: Cleveland Aikikai, Cleveland, Ohio
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
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Re: Interview with Paul Linden Sensei

Very fascinating interview. I am intrigued with Linden Sensei's work on body awareness as it relates to healing from abuse; I guess I should get the e-book!
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Old 10-03-2010, 09:34 PM   #4
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Dojo: Allegheny Aikido, Pitsburgh PA
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Re: Interview with Paul Linden Sensei

Thank you so much for sharing this interview. I have enjoyed reading Paul's writings on his website and found them to be very valuable. I hope someday to get to visit and train at his dojo as well.
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Old 01-28-2011, 04:17 AM   #5
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Re: Interview with Paul Linden Sensei

Hi Ross - just to let you know that I quoted this column in my blog article about Truth and tatemae. Thanks. Regards, Niall

we can make our minds so like still water, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life
w b yeats

aikiweb blog|wordpress blog
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Old 01-28-2011, 12:54 PM   #6
Join Date: Oct 2005
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Re: Interview with Paul Linden Sensei

Niall Matthews wrote: View Post
Hi Ross - just to let you know that I quoted this column in my blog article about Truth and tatemae. Thanks. Regards, Niall
Thanks Ross for that great interview and Niall for quoting it in your new post, so that I discovered it. In sept I didn't read and write in Aikiweb.
I knew about the International Aiki Peace Week because I registered our dojos and we had an open door aikido during that week, http://entrenandoaikido.blogspot.com...rnacional.html
And I find also the idea great about helping men an boys who have been abused.
I hope this year 2011 more dojos will join this beautiful project.
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