In the past, the KNSA mission, our target veteran population and the program we have developed to most effectively serve those vets has not been as clearly defined as we want. We hope the following can help.
The primary mission of Keganin No Senshi Aikido is to enable veterans with Combat Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [CRPTSD] to become more vital, constructive, integrated members of their community. To do this, we have developed a program of kinesthetically-based therapeutic activities specifically utilizing the powerful core of Aikido adapted for these victims of combat. For more information on the special conditions of CRPTSD, please read the following section on Definition and Theory which is excerpted from the much more comprehensive section on CRPTSD in the KNSA Manual and our book*.
KNSA is committed to working with Aikido dojos to establish a program of classes geared toward this specific and difficult to reach group of vets. To best accomplish this, we will;
? come to your area and conduct a "teach the teachers" seminar,
? provide PR, marketing and recruiting materials and strategies, forms, fund raising tips, etc.,
? provide information, backup and support in dealing with the Veterans Administration and other members of officialdom,
? foster communications among all dojos offering the KNSA program,
? provide on-going support, feedback, certification and evaluation.
Our program is intended to be offered at Veterans Support Centers or sites with veteran counseling services, as an adjunct to, and in collaboration with, on-going counseling programs. The program is non-exclusionary with the foundation firmly rooted in the art of Aikido as appropriately adapted to meet the widest possible range of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs of combat veterans. If done properly and carefully, a program can be conducted in a dojo.
While it is not the primary mission of Keganin No Senshi Aikido to increase membership in Aikido dojos, it is hoped, and fully expected, that many veterans whose initial experience comes through the KNSA program will want, and be able, to become full members of a traditional dojo. Some, in particular those with disabilities, will need to continue finding the essence of Aikido in the non-traditional program of KNSA.
At KNSA, we do not teach veterans Aikido so they can learn technique. We use technique as a language to better teach and enable them to learn Ai Ki. As our name says, Keganin No Senshi Aikido is A Warriors Way to a Unified Spirit. It is a warrior's way out of the arena of warfighting, a way to move into the world of family and community.
DEFINITION OF TRAUMA AND PTSD
"Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is not a mental illness, but a normal, predictable, biological reaction to the stressors of combat and other traumatic events that causes such pain and suffering that we now face long-lasting internal battles which persist well after departure from the battlefield." Quote from Warrior 1
A COMBAT VETERAN WITH ANY OF THE FOLLOWING MAY BENEFIT FROM OUR PROGRAM.
A. The person has been exposed to a traumatic event in which both of the following have been present:
(1) the person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others
(2) the person's response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Note: this may be expressed by disorganized or agitated behavior.
B. The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced in one (or more) of the following ways:
(1) recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event, including images, thoughts or perceptions.
(2) recurrent distressing dreams of the event.
(3) acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring (includes a sense of reliving the experience, illusions, hallucinations, and dissociative flashback episodes, including those that occur upon awakening or when intoxicated). Note: trauma-specific re-enactment may occur.
(4) intense psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.
(5) physiological reactivity on exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.
C. Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness (not present before the trauma), as indicated by three (or more) of the following:
(1) efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings or conversations associated with the trauma
(2) efforts to avoid activities, places or people that arouse recollections of the trauma
(3) inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma
(4) markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
(5) feeling of detachment or estrangement from others
(6) restricted range of affect (e.g., unable to have loving feelings)
(7) sense of a foreshortened future (does not expect to have a career, marriage, children, or normal life span).
D. Persistent symptoms of increased arousal (not present before the trauma), as indicated by two (or more) of the following:
(1) difficulty falling or staying asleep
(2) irritability or outbursts of anger
(3) difficulty concentrating
(5) exaggerated startle response.
E. Duration of the disturbance (symptoms in Criteria B, C and D) is more than one month
(1) Acute: if duration of symptoms is less than 3 months
(2) Chronic: if duration of symptoms is 3 months or more.
F. The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.
G. Delayed Onset: if onset of symptoms is at least 6 months after the stressor.
COMFORT ZONES from "Combat Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a Holistic Approach [Levellers Press, 2012]
One trait common among many with CRPTSD is the avoidance of anything that threatens or that might take them out of their "comfort zone". This is unfortunate, for with CRPTSD there is no true comfort zone and, even though someone with CRPTSD may become hyper-vigilant and employ desperate coping strategies to avoid situations that remind them of their trauma, the sources of the anguish have become internalized, and all the more powerful because of this.
Some veterans with CRPTSD are resistant to practicing Aikido, claiming it reminds them of combat situations. Whether this is actually true is irrelevant. Aikido presents a situation where they are taken out of their comfort zone and, for that reason alone, they may feel threatened. In fact, they may have built up so many layers of protection/resistance to change that they have effectively become immobilized, incapable of any sort of social relationships, unable to hold down a job, quick to raging anger, etc, when they feel any threat or imposition, real or imagined, to these comfort zones. Unfortunately, these comfort zones not only tend to keep potential healing energy out, they can be looked at as being reflective on the inside, turning the energy generated by the original trauma back on itself, reinforcing and amplifying the trauma's negativity.
Even now, when I feel that anger/rage building up, I often try to ignore it or force it down, and it only makes me angrier that I can not control my self. But I have learned, when I start down that negative spiral, to pause, take that deep Aikido breath and, as I exhale, picture that energy, usually focused in my jaws, shoulders and hands, and flow it into my center. In fact, I have hit that point several times in writing this book when I have a concept or thought that I can't get into a form I can put on paper. Sometimes relaxing to center involves moving away from the keyboard, at times for several days. So far, when I have managed to come back to the task, that energy returns to me in a positive form: my shoulders and jaws are relaxed, my fingers move softly and easily. When I start writing again, usually the issue has resolved, the idea has a concrete form. And, wonderfully, it often takes me in directions I never considered before. I often say that I hate writing, but enjoy having written. I think this process of continually being able to resolve my own inner conflict and use it creatively is what pleases me most. I know I learned this process of energy conversion through my practice of Aikido.
I believe that medication can suppress and cover over this negative energy and does little or nothing to enable the victim to convert the energy, to make it a constructive force. Many talk-based therapeutic approaches force the victim to confront the causes of their disorder, but then this energy is only reflected back inward, often amplifying the fear and negative energy of the original trauma. Medication and therapeutic approaches such as Exposure Therapy might suppress the negative energy, but do little to teach a victim how to channel it into positive potential and kinetic energy.
The advantage of having Aikido as a integral part in a multi-dimensional therapeutic milieu is that the strengths of one approach can mesh, support and amplify the others. This can be done by structuring Aikido classes with a therapist regularly attending. This facilitates several things:
If an issue arises during class, the therapist can take the individual aside, or, better yet, the class can be stopped and the issue discussed.
There can be discussion after class on issues the veterans or the therapist feel are relevant. This could be scheduled, i.e. after every class Tuesday, or whenever the therapist, instructor or a veteran feels the need.
The therapist can bring the issues raised, things learned, and general observations to the staff as a whole, hopefully giving them insights which they can utilize, and bringing back suggestions and requests to be included in the Aikido program.
In this way Aikido could facilitate an approach to the issues of comfort zones and the implementation of an effective, interdisciplinary, holistic program of treatment for CRPTSD.
AIKIDO VERSUS WARFIGHTING
I strongly believe that one of the core principles of O Sensei's Aikido is that to promote peace in the world, one must first achieve inner peace. And, as achieving this inner peace enables one to better move through life, it sounds like the essence of truly effective therapy. When I teach, I vary the therapeutic aspects based on the make-up of the class. Most vets have had some experience with "warfighting"; hand to hand, karate, BJJ, etc., and, while Aikido is a martial art, and they may learn some techniques that would help those arts, I stress that I want to help them learn Aikido principles as a better way to regain control of the self, to relearn the skills, to re-attain the confidence in their ability to move through the life they must live outside of warfighting. While my focus is on veterans with CRPTSD, my experience is that anyone with PTSD is trapped in their own world of warfighting and has very similar needs and respond to the same therapeutic principles underlying Aikido.
I recently had a vet who fights professionally in MMA [mixed martial arts]. At first, I told him I hoped that he would find some value in what I was offering. I was sort of thinking he might pick up a technique or two that he could use in the ring. Then I realized that was not at all what I was teaching, or hoping he would get from Aikido. And I don't think that is what he wants, either. What I want him, and all the other vets, to get is a way to deal more appropriately with his inner war and with the real world he has to live in, the world outside of the ring, outside the world he knew on the battlefield.
This issue comes up frequently. "I don't need that stuff [Aikido], I know Karate, or Brazilian Jujitsu, or Taekwondo, or I had hand-to-hand in the service", or "if anyone messes with me, I'll just kill ‘em". I used to come back with some semi-wise ass or disparaging remark or a few words as to why Aikido is superior, or just shrug my shoulders and change the subject. And of course, none of this works. But thinking about my MMA vet, why he seems to be pretty committed to the class, and what I want him to get from it, I am beginning to realize that I don't want Aikido to be "better" than, or teach improvements to, other forms of defeating, crushing or being victorious over others. I want it to give them what helped me deal with my own CRPTSD, something different, something that can transcend these forms of warfare, that can provide them a taste of a different way to use their inner strength and energy to deal with the aggressions, frustrations and sometimes outright assaults that life throws at everyone. They are no longer in the warfighting ring and no longer need the warfighting skills they were so intensely trained in and which so permeated their lives. They need a new set of skills that will enable them to deal with the real world they now need to exist in as well as the consequences of that warfighting they still carry.
Most dojos and sensei are about teaching technique, improving technique. They are committed to training and enabling better Aikidoka. And I believe the assumption that this will, over time, lead to a stronger, more humane way to move through the world. However, I only have, at the most, 10 classes to give these vets that taste of what Aikido can do for them. So, from the very beginning, I emphasize identifying and moving negative energy - stress, tension, anger, guilt- to their hara/center and holding it there in a "battery", as neutral energy, and using this energy to assertively, but non-aggressively, resolve a negative situation. Then, practicing techniques gives a way to practice this more positive way of "dealing", with partner's resistance providing instant feedback.
This also fulfills my belief that I do not want to teach Aikido as a way to technique, I want to teach technique as a way to bring vets with CRPTSD to Aikido. Keganin No Senshi Aikido means "The Wounded Warrior's Way to a Unified Spirit". This, not enabling better warfighting, is the purpose of my teaching.
GROUNDING YOUR SELF; What you are bringing to these vets.
This is possibly the most important thing you can do to prepare yourself.
When I taught my first class at the VA PTSD ward, our"dojo" was their dayroom, industrial carpet on concrete, 8 x 15 foot, surrounded by chairs, a television and pool table. The students ranged from a 23 year old navy seal to a 75 year old Korean war vet, guys who could not stand being in any group of more than one to those who would gladly, and seriously, attack for no perceptual reason, and athletic ability from amateur MMA to physically handicapped. In addition, I would only have them for six weeks, maximum. My keenly trained Aikido mind instantly [or at least fairly soon] recognized that I could not do classes like we did at my regular dojo.
When you start a class for vets with CRPTSD, you may face some, all, or maybe many additional issues, yet you can still create an effective class: you can bring the power of Aikido to veterans, even under the most improbable conditions.
What is your Aikido. Achieving clarity on what is the core, the essence, the essential soul of your Aikido.
What I strongly believed was that, if I could present it properly, Aikido could be invaluable to these vets. I realized that I had to do something I had not done in 43 years of practice: I had to define exactly what I felt was the essence, the basic, intrinsic nature of Aikido, i.e. what is my Aikido.
I came to the conclusion that Aikido, to me, was a form of active meditation I could share with someone else. At my best, I felt relaxed, centered, at one with myself, at one with my partner, and that we, and everyone else on the mat, were a whole, much greater than the sum of its parts. And most of all, I felt joyousness. Practicing Aikido is the second most fun thing I knew.
None of this requires that I throw someone away, I did not have to be "macho strong", I didn't have to feel fear/anger at being attacked, I did not have to hurt anyone in order to not be hurt, I didn't have to defeat in order to avoid defeat.
Before you can even approach doing a class for veterans, you must define what your Aikido is. Then, with this as a guide, you will find that there are no real problems. Negative situations become issues become opportunities to practice, learn and teach true Aikido.
*The KNSA Manual is under development. Please contact us if you would like a PDF of the current Beta edition.
The book is "Combat Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a Holistic Approach", Levellers Press, 2012
(Original blog post may be found here