Yearly Archives: 2015

Aikido and Visualization: Part 2 by Jim Lahue

Jack Nicklaus said that he never hit the ball until he first visualized where he wanted it to go. He saw his swing, he felt the connection, he pictured the ball's path. And, as a result, the ball very often went exactly where he intended.

On the previous page, I wrote about how you can use visualization to improve your skills at Aikido. The same is true with other aspects of your life. If you see something first in your mind, it is much easier to achieve in reality.

But while the practice of visualization is available to all people, there is an idea from Aikido that can make it much more powerful: Positive Mind. For visualization to really work, you not only have to see what it is you want to achieve. You must apply your positive mind, and truly believe that you will achieve it.

For example, you can say to yourself, "I will be the President of the United States." You can see yourself at the inauguration. You can picture yourself in the Oval Office. But if you don't really believe you'll become president, you probably won't.

The difference between idle daydreaming and effective visualization practice is the belief that something is going to happen. With effective visualization, you feel a sense of confidence that what you are imagining will actually come to pass.

Jonathan Bannister (founder of the Rochester dojo) once recounted to me how Sensei had given him a Koan, or question for meditation. He asked Jonathan, "How do you beat the man in the mirror?" The answer, Jonathan told me, was "I already won." By having the belief that you will win from the beginning, you accomplish the real victory.

Kokyu Dosa teaches you this. If you practice Kokyu Dosa with someone much stronger or more accomplished than yourself, it can be very frustrating. You start to think, "I will never beat this guy." But that is exactly the opposite of what you need to be thinking! Instead, every time you fail to push that person over, tell yourself, "I will beat him next time." See yourself pushing him over. Believe it. Fail again, then believe it more. Faith is strengthened more by hardship than it is by success. This is how your positive mind, and your ability to make things happen in your life, progresses.

So here are some ideas for getting started with visualization.

First, you have to figure out what it is you want to achieve. It could be something short- term, like getting through a presentation that's been worrying you, or more long-term, like climbing Mount Everest. Don't worry about whether you think your goal is achievable. In fact, you should ignore those things that are clearly possible, and just write down those that seem beyond your reach.

Next, you have to work on visualizing what you want to achieve. Your practice of Aikido can help. For if you can learn to watch an Aikido technique, replay it in your head, then see it from the eyes of your instructor, you already have the skills you need. You just have to apply them to your goals outside the dojo.

If you want to be a lion tamer, for example, then go see the best lion tamer in the world. See him every chance you get. Replay in your head what you saw him do. Then practice putting yourself in his place, in your head. See things from his point of view. Assemble a whole collection of videos in your head, of yourself as the world's greatest lion tamer.

(Some people say they can't create pictures in their head. If this sounds like you, I suggest you look at a book called The Einstein Factor. It has an entire chapter of exercises for people who have trouble getting their internal videos playing.)

Now here's the critical part: You have to believe what you see. You have to train yourself to have a feeling of confidence that what you see in your mind will actually come to pass in your life. This is the most difficult part of the visualization process, and the part, therefore, that is most often left out. But this is also where Aikido training can help the most.

The very practice of Aikido helps you develop your positive mind. You can't avoid it. So, for starters, you may try to practice visualization right after Aikido practice, or after you do ki exercises at home. But regardless of when you do it, the gradual, long-term changes that Aikido practice brings about in your mind and body make your visualization practice stronger.

Still, I have found that it is sometimes so hard to believe you will achieve something that's very important to you, that the very act of visualizing it increases your doubt that it will ever come to pass. So, here are some ideas for you.

As you imagine yourself being the world's greatest chef (or running the fastest mile ever, or doing three cartwheels in a row, or riding an elephant across the Sahara desert), do a ki exercise, too. I've found that wrist exercises work best. They offer a little distraction to keep your mind off of your doubts. But more significantly, these exercises reinforce your feeling of one-point and positive mind. So if you say to yourself, "I will be the first person to walk on stilts on a tightrope between the World Trade Center towers," doing ki exercise simultaneously will help you feel more positive and believe it more.

You can also make your visualization training an adjunct to your meditation practice. Sit in seiza and practice keeping one-point for a little while. Enjoy that feeling for itself. Then, as you maintain the same posture and keep the same feeling, work on running those mental videos. See yourself winning your race, but not with an excited, exhausted feeling, but with calmness and confidence, like there was never any doubt.

I recently saw the documentary on Muhammad Ali, "When We Were Kings". It reminded me how Ali used to talk so confidently about being The Greatest. Though it often came off as arrogance, by talking this way he was giving himself the confidence he needed in the face of a daunting task - in this case, beating George Foreman. By saying he was the best, he not only convinced others, but himself. It was his positive mind, I believe, that truly made him The Greatest.

Aikido and Visualization: Part 1 by Jim Lahue

Maruyama Sensei has often kidded me about all the notes I take when I go to Kokikai camps. I'm usually the last one in the gym after class, writing my notes long after everyone else (save my patient brother) has changed and gone to dinner.

One time, Sensei asked me what I wrote in my notebooks. Without really meaning it, I said, "Everything you say, Sensei." He said, "No, write everything I do." When I thought about it, I realized that really was what I was doing: Seeing in my mind what Sensei did, and then describing it in words.

Those words, themselves, really do me no good. But when I read them - days, weeks, or even months later - they trigger in my mind an image of Sensei doing a particular technique. Once I see him, in my mind, I can copy what I see. This visualization practice has allowed me to continually learn from Sensei, though I only see him a few times a year.
The parents of one of our young students have an amazing book written by an autistic woman. She has a very unusual job - designing facilities for cattle, creating the spaces where they walk, eat, get bathed, and so forth. She has been very successful at designing facilities that work better, run smoother, and make the cattle feel more comfortable. She is able to do this because of one of the gifts her autism has given her: The ability to play a mental videotape of virtually anything she has seen in her entire life. She has seen scores of these cattle facilities, and she has witnessed how well (or how poorly) each one works. When she creates a new design, she reviews her mental videotapes, takes the best elements, then combines them - and even tests them - in her head.

This is visualization (although at perhaps a higher level than most people can ever experience it). It's reviewing and constructing videos in your head. So how do you start accumulating videos that can help you in Aikido? Watch the best instructor you can, then later on, try closing your eyes and replaying, in your mind, the images of what he or she did. You can help yourself by saying what you saw ("Let's see, she stepped back with her right foot and raised her right wrist, keeping her elbow down. . .") as the words may help to create the video in your mind. Practice. The images may be faint at first, but keep practicing and they will get clearer.

It's a good idea to keep some record of the videos you've got stored in your head. That's the purpose my notes serve. If you don't have some kind of written record, you may forget you have the video, so you won't think to try playing it.

Once you get the hang of playing a video of Sensei, or some other instructor, it's time to change the actors in your production. If you have a mental video of Tsuki Kotegaeshi, run it a few times, then try putting yourself in Sensei's place. Only now, try seeing everything from his point of view. Watch as you put your hands where Sensei had put his. Though you are sitting still, feel your own body moving as you mentally do the technique. Go slowly at first - you're directing your own video here. But once it's completed, and you can see and feel every movement as you think Sensei saw and felt it, you've created an amazing learning tool. Run that video over and over again in your head to train both your body and your mind.

By practicing in this way, you can change your habits more effectively. While we often find our bodies doing strange things in the dojo, it may be hard to convince them to change. But the mind leads the body. So if you can see yourself doing something a new way in your mind, your body will soon change, too. When you next practice that technique, you will find new habits in place. Then you can see how uke responds, and use that feedback to improve further.

One more point. You have already begun to learn some skills that are absolutely crucial for effective visualization practice: Relaxing, being calm, feeling positive. So keep one- point while you run your mental videos. The images will be clearer, and the effect will be stronger. (Of course, this also works the other way around. Sometimes when I feel stiff or tense, I will simply visualize myself practicing an Aikido technique. As a result, I will feel more relaxed and gain a stronger feeling of one-point.)

Before I tested for 2nd Dan, I thought, "I don't need to visualize my test. I should be beyond needing that by now." It was, by far, my least satisfying test. So in the days prior to my 3rd Dan test, I practiced visualizing the entire exam. I saw myself doing every technique; I practiced my entire freestyle in my mind. I think it was no mere coincidence that it ended up being one of the most satisfying experiences of my life.

Aikido and Music by Jaime Exley

As I sat backstage singing the Sonata in my mind the butterflies in my stomach felt more like vultures. I knew that my teacher would be in the audience, along with all the other tuba players at school. Each one was equipped with a pair of ears that were trained to pick up every mistake that I made. These guys had all played the pieces that I was going to perform, and they were there to find out how well the freshman knew his stuff. I had been preparing for months. There had been times when it felt like I was living in the 8 x 5 cubicle in the basement of the school that I practiced in. I hoped I had practiced enough.

The time had come to put my preparation to the test. I walked out on stage to impressive applause. There were more people there than I expected. As I sat down, my tuba felt strangely cold against my sweaty palms. In the front row sat the girl that I had had a crush on since September. There was nowhere to run. This was my first solo recital. Sure, I had played hundreds of concerts in front of thousands of people, but I was always in the back of the orchestra with a sea of violins in front of me.

When I took my initial breath I noticed how tight my chest felt, and that my mouth felt like it had cotton balls in it. I began to play. The first few bars went smoothly, but before long I made a small mistake. Under normal circumstances, such a small problem would not interrupt the flow of the music, but my mind immediately focused on the note that I had cracked. A musician always has to be thinking three bars ahead of where he is playing. What I had done was to place my mind behind myself.

This quickly led to more serious problems. I felt as though my lips, fingers, mind, and ears were all separate entities fighting with each other. My only goal became reaching the end of the piece without completely falling apart. Sitting in my dorm room later that night I thought to myself, "Well, chalk that one up to experience."

Three years later I sat in the same room backstage waiting to go out and play my senior recital. Strangely, there were no butterflies in my stomach. There was still a little sweat on my face from the Aikido class I had left fifteen minutes before. This time I didn't try to sing through any difficult passages. I was simply trying to maintain the feeling that had come to me during that class. It was a feeling of relaxed vitality. It was centered inside my abdomen, but it extended outside of myself. Most importantly, it was a feeling of connection between my mind and body.

When I walked out to play, the scene was very similar to that of the disastrous recital my freshman year. However, this time there was a group of friends from Aikido that had come to support me. I don't think they realized how much they already had. Taking my first breath, I reminded myself of the feeling of connection that I wanted. Before too long, I made a small mistake. This time, I didn't let my mind become disconnected from the other aspects of my performance. The recital continued very smoothly, and when it was over, that same feeling remained.

Music is an art that exists within time. Once a note is played, it cannot be recaptured. In this respect, it is a lot like Aikido. When practicing Aikido, if we don't like the position of our feet or the way we grabbed our partner's hand, we do not stop the technique and ask them to attack again. This kind of practice can help us in any situation in which we are under stress. I feel that Aikido has enhanced my performance as a musician, but that is just a small portion of how it has enhanced my life.

Aikido and Basketball by Paul Lahue

Anyone who plays basketball on a somewhat regular basis - whether it be professional ball, high school, or weekend pick-up - has experienced games when he or she was "in The Zone." Games in which whatever you did seemed to work out in the most perfect fashion. Picking off a perfectly anticipated pass, threading the needle to find that person with a wide open shot (that is made, of course), draining the 25-footer from the corner, or driving down the lane and going up in traffic with the most ridiculous circus move that kisses of the glass and somehow finds the bottom of the net. You can't help but love those games and wish that they could continue forever.

Unfortunately, there are also those games that we would like to forget as soon as they are over. The games filled with low arcing shots that clang off the rim, the sweet passes that get intercepted by those previously unseen defenders, and the defensive skills of a matador dodging an oncoming bull. Whatever you do seems to make things worse. They are games that, win or lose, you are just happy are over.

Each game has with it a certain feeling, or "Zone", that is attained while playing. Whether it's a positive or negative feeling is not for the events of the game to decide, but for you as the player to decide.

It is easy to keep things going right in a game where everything is already going right, because you have developed such a positive attitude towards the game itself. You feel strong, relaxed and fully aware of everything that is happening. You have acquired a natural and positive "ki" feeling.

It is difficult, however, to feel motivated to continue in a game in which your play basically sucks. Your attitude stinks, you left your game at home, and you are getting so tense that you want to scream. This is also a "ki" feeling, although not the one we are looking for. The differences between these two scenarios are obvious but how can we ensure that we are "in The Zone" more often than we aren't?

I am by no means an expert in either Aikido or basketball, and I don't claim to be. I've practiced Aikido for seven years and I've played basketball since I was four. I'm now 25. All I can say is that I'm still learning about both. Since I started practicing Aikido I have found ways to apply it to my life in many ways, one of them being my basketball game. I have found aspects of Aikido that have helped my defense, my passing, my shooting, my rebounding, and every other part of the game I can think of.

I can my remember coaches of mine saying, "Pauly, you've got to stick to him like glue." My attitude then was, "Okay, coach, whatever." And my attitude was reflected in my defense, because it stunk. But I now realize that what those coaches said is about as true as it gets. You must develop a connection between yourself and the player you're covering so that it truly feels like you are sticking to him like glue. This idea has led to big improvements in that part of my game.

With passing it is the same idea. When you toss a lazy pass to a teammate chances are that it is either going to get picked off or, if the pass gets to where it is intended, nothing beneficial is going to come of it because the defender will already be there. But when you "see" your target, connect with that person, and zip it in to the player's hands, good things happen. I say "see", but you don't necessarily have to be looking at your target. A sweet no-look dish is always nice, but you've still got to "connect" to maximize the ooooohhhs and aaaaahhhs from the crowd.

When shooting it is easy to determine if you have a good "ki" feeling or not. You receive immediate feedback by hearing either the crystal clear snap of a swish, or the deadening thud of the masonry work you've just performed. The idea of connection applies again, but there are other parts of Aikido that I've found can make my shooting almost flawless at times.

One way of "connecting" with the hoop is to actually imagine or picture the arc of the path you want the ball to follow. I usually focus on the front of the rim when shooting. If I feel that I am not quite hitting my shots the way I like, I will consciously picture an arc going from my hand to my target - the hoop. I do this from the time I begin my shot until the ball reaches the basket. If I look at the ball after I release it, I lose my focus, my connection, and my picture and (more often than not) I'll miss. If I make a point of having a picture, however, I can move about 25 to 30 feet away from the basket and hit my shots consistently. This isn't to say that I do this all the time, but when I'm working on my jumper or just looking to get that "feeling" in a game, I'll try this.

I use to play pick-up ball with some guys at my old Junior High School. One day one of the guys took it upon himself to instruct me in how to shoot a basketball. He preached, "It's all in the wrist, Pauly, it's all in the wrist," as he wore himself out chasing down his own misses. Well, it's not all in the wrists. As a matter of fact it's really not anywhere. I've found shooting to be a huge combination of parts working together to create that sweet jumper.

For me shooting has become one of the ki exercises that is practiced at the beginning of every single Aikido class. It is called Shomen Uchi Undo or, for those unfamiliar, raising and lowering the arms with a ki feeling. When practicing this exercise you must be stable or, as one of my instructors says, "dependable." The hips begin the movement and their movement forward propels your arms and helps them rise. After that, you let gravity lower your arms. Then you move your hips back. This is a very relaxed movement, yet when used in Aikido technique, it can be overwhelming and very powerful. Maruyama Sensei's idea "minimum effort for maximum effect" is always present.

I have learned this idea also applies to shooting a basketball. First, I am stable, "dependable" and squared up to the hoop. If unbalanced, the chances of the shot going in are already reduced unless compensated for in some other way. Then, my hips begin my movement and my arms rise up with the ball. Just before the peak of my jump, the ball is released. Gravity pulls my body and my arms down, my hips move back, then I hear "whooosh" and get ready to play defense. It sounds involved when reading it (even to me), but doing it is where the results are seen. It may work for you - or maybe you'll think I belong in the same place as the guy who says it's all in the wrist.

I'm always looking to improve myself, whether it be in Aikido, basketball or life. There is always room for improvement and it is up to each person to push him or herself to that next level. I'm not a professional basketball player and never will be, but I still look for ways to make myself better. That is part of the foundation of Aikido and it should be a part of everyone's life. Now I will look to apply these principles to another aspect of basketball, coaching. It will be yet another way to challenge myself and, hopefully, help others to be better.

Aikido and Business by Mike Lewis

"Oh no, not another staff meeting! " is your first response to the note on your e-mail. Then you get that familiar knot in your stomach and the little guy with the hammer starts tapping in your head; just behind your eyes. Its Thursday and the meeting won't be until next Wednesday; six nights of restless sleep, and a weekend to worry about who will say what about which project.

You talk to other members of your team; each one beginning to fight their own little demons. The CYA (cover your a-- ) process begins; "If I did XYZ, then everything would be allright" Then the blaming process; "If you had done XYZ, then we wouldn't be in trouble." Then the judgment; "If those managers/boss think they are so good, then let them finish the project."
On another floor in the building, a manager looks at the financials, spread sheets, and timelines. Everything has slipped and is behind, and she has to report to the business council about this year's product and sales projections.

"At least I have two weeks to worry about it,' Beth thinks to herself, "I'd better get my team together." Then she reaches for the Maalox, and the enteric coated aspirin. " I know my blood pressure is up, but if I go to the doctor, he'll just tell me to eat and drink less, get more sleep, and relax. Relax? Sure! With all these incompetents I have working for me? How can they do this to me? They must not care about me. They must hate me and want to sabotage my career. They're only interested in their paychecks."

Wow! Two trains full of emotion heading for the same intersection. High speed crashes may be exciting to an outside observer, but they are no fun for the people affected. Any adult who has never been in either of these positions, or felt these emotions,is either a saint, or numb from the neck up.

Conflict like this frequently occurs in business, but can also be seen in any other organization, including families. Daily conflict between spouses, partners and children often leave us drained of energy and patience. We often feel that we must win, and can do so with the authority of being a male or a parent, or by simply having a bigger voice. Talking "up" to our parents is the most difficult, because we are never right , and will never "win". We all know that the opposite of winning is losing, and that if we lose more than we win, we are "losers".

Imagine the difference in reactions to conflict , if families and workplaces were familiar with the principals of Aikido. Suppose that everyone understood that conflict does not necessarily mean contest; that if we could all stay in the moment long enough, we might find that we have shared goals despite our ways of reaching them.

For my generation, the war in Viet Nam is a good example. There were good, caring people who were "doves" and against the war. There were good, caring people who were "hawks", and for the war. On the street, or in the same room, a discussion between hawks and doves was a contest of tsuki and shomen attacks. Each was a direct, confrontational, " I'm right, you're wrong" head on attack. Had they turned tenkan and blended energy, they might have discovered that each wanted a world safe for their children.

Jean-Paul Sartre said that the best thing a father could do for his son is to die young. Maybe, if fathers and sons practiced Aikido together, they could find a common path, if only to allow each other's growth: growth into an adult and growth into an honored elder.

If both Dave and Beth were familiar with Aikido, the week or two before the meeting would have been different. Rather than a time of anxiety and trepidation, there would have been excitement and anticipation about the process. Rather than fearing a contest and readying defenses, Beth and Dave would have been discovering from where the energy was coming and how to use it to finish the project.

In the best situation, the meeting would have been a celebration of energy, co-discovery and growth. Each would bring all their energy to the table, and each would leave whole and healthy. Other team members would feel less threatened, and therefore more able to contribute to the process. All would have less stress and more vitality.

We do not need to wear a black belt to carry the spirit of Aikido into our daily lives. We need only to strive for mastery and stay with one-point the best we can to change the way we live with our families, our friends, and in our work relationships.

Aikido and Raising Kids by Jim Lahue

I believe that kids were put on earth to bring happiness to us adults. If our children aren't bringing us joy on a daily basis, I think we're missing something.

I developed this belief not long after my first son was born. I had been practicing Aikido for several years, and was feeling quite a bit more confident and settled in my daily life. I have this clear recollection, though, of being at a party at my wife's parents' house, sitting in a chair with my son Justin in my arms, and feeling a sense of peacefulness much deeper than I had ever felt at Aikido. It didn't matter that I was at an event that involved a lot of people - the kind of event that had made me feel unsettled and anxious for as long as I can remember. There was just something about holding this little kid of mine that made me feel great.

Both he and his brother have always seemed to exude some kind of positive energy that I could soak up just by being in contact with them. Justin had a bald little head for the first six months of his life, and I would gently rub it all the time because that energy seemed to be coming right out of it. (In fact, I got blamed for being the reason his hair wasn't growing in, because I rubbed his head so much.) Now, as Justin gets close to being seven years old, and therefore can walk across roads and parking lots by himself, I still often insist that he hold my hand. There is just something about being in physical contact with this little kid that affects my whole state of being. So how is it, with this positive energy streaming out of their little bodies, that he and his brother are also incredibly effective at disrupting our entire household, upsetting each other and their parents, and making life incredibly miserable for us all? And how can we use principles from Aikido to help?

My wife had a couple of observations about Aikido and raising kids that I thought were key. One observation was about a guest Aikido instructor who was staying at our house. Jeannine remarked on how this instructor looked so much younger than her actual age, and how her face was always so calm and pleasant. The only time it wasn't serene, Jeannine noticed, was when she was talking about her child! It seemed as though the role of mother overpowered that of Aikido instructor. All the cares and concerns of the mother came through, and showed on her face.

The point is, we care a great deal about our kids. It troubles us when things aren't perfect for them. And no matter how calm and relaxed we are, problems with our kids affect us deeply. So it seems an application of Aikido ideas to bringing up kids is especially critical if you're looking for inner peace!

The other observation that my wife made was actually the key to my learning how to apply Aikido to bringing up our kids. Though I don't remember the situation exactly, I recall that Justin was causing trouble, and I was very unsuccessfully trying to correct his behavior, I believe, by yelling at him. The gist of what Jeannine told me was, "You always use gentleness in Aikido. Maybe you should try using that with your kids."

The effect of that comment on my life has been incredible. Gentleness, it turned out, wasn't just the best way to throw a big attacker. It was also the best way to raise your children.

Ever since hearing that comment from Jeannine, I have been experimenting with gentleness in child-rearing. I find that if I speak to my kids gently, they are more likely to do what I ask without resistance. If I lead them gently while we are walking down the street, they are more willing to go where I want them to. I feel better, they feel better, and the results are better, too.

What it really comes around to, I believe, is that gentleness is one of those universal principles that works everywhere. Catch onto it, apply it, and your life will be easier and happier.

The challenge, of course, is applying gentleness when your kids are raising heck. Fortunately, this is exactly analagous to what we do in Aikido: applying gentleness when someone is trying to cause us physical harm. The same principles work in both instances. Keep one-point, be relaxed, think positive, and gentleness comes naturally. Lose these ideas, and it is very hard to be gentle in a stressful situation.

So practice your Ki Exercises. Work on the Cool Ki Tricks with a friend. Sit in seiza and practice keeping one-point for a few minutes each morning. Maybe even join an Aikido class. Developing your own dependable mind/body state is the key to rearing your children with gentleness. It will help you more than all the parenting books in the store. Because only by changing what we feel inside can we truly change the way we act with our children.

Sometimes in Aikido we find that to understand relaxation, it helps to really tense up the muscles so we can learn about the opposite feeling. Similarly, I think that we can understand the idea of using gentleness with children by examining an opposite behavior. And that opposite, to me, would be spanking.

Before I had kids, a very intelligent man for whom I had a great deal of respect told me that he spanked his kids. He said it worked. Indeed, his kids were very well-behaved. I came across articles in respected papers that said spanking was the way, that it was the missing ingredient in the way we raised our children. I read letters to the editor from people who said they had been spanked when they were kids, and it was the best thing for them. I was convinced that spanking was a good thing.

So as Justin got older and began to test out his boundaries, I did spank him (the poor little guinea pig) - just as all those authorities and articles had advised. But a strange thing happened. His behavior got worse. He got more aggressive and it seemed, needed more spanking. (I'm not sure all kids would react this way. Justin has always been very strong willed, and I think he saw spanking as an injustice that could only be rectified by causing more trouble!)

But it wasn't Justin's behavior that finally convinced me spanking was wrong. It was my own behavior. I found that whenever I spanked Justin, I was angry. Well, I didn't like being angry; I knew that anger was completely incompatible with having a good ki feeling. So I decided that if I was going to spank Justin, I would do it from a calm, relaxed, and positive state. But that's what led me to the real shocker: When I was calm, relaxed, and positive, I had no desire to spank him. There was only one conclusion I could make: Spanking was not a way to discipline your child, it was simply a way to vent one's own uncontrolled anger.

This was perfectly analogous to what Aikido had taught me. Using muscle and a fighting mind would cause me to come directly into contact with the attacker's power. But using gentleness and a feeling that the attacker was my friend made it feel like they had no power to resist.

So now, when our kids misbehave, we calmly (for the most part) put them in time out, and give them an opportunity to "change their tune". ("Mommy," three-year-old Matthew would call plaintively from the top of the stairs, "I've changed my tune.") Both of our kids really hate time out. I'm not sure why. But it is a humane and (usually) efective punishment. And it is gentle. (It was this revelation on spanking that led me to believe that countries are wrong to punish their own people through methods like caning. Such forms of punishment can only create a society where many people live in fear, and those who have undergone this cruel punishment must live for the opportunity of revenge or retaliation.)

The lesson for me was this: Find your best ki state (keeping one-point, being relaxed, feeling positive), then do what comes naturally with your kids. You'll treat them with greater gentleness, and they will respond. Plus, you will be teaching them the best way to deal with challenges in their own lives.

If your kids start to make you crazy, maybe you'll have to leave the room and do some ki exercises, or sit in seiza for a few minutes. Or, if you can, hand matters over to your calmer spouse. But I believe what you will discover is, when you start with a good feeling of mind/body coordination, you will always treat your children fairly, kindly, and appropriately.

But most of all (and the thing I remind myself of almost every day), just enjoy your kids while they're kids. They're really cool. They say and do weird things. They like you in a way that no one else can. And if you hug them, or hold their hands, or play with them, or rub their bald little heads, that strange and wonderful energy that can only be generated by children will flow right into you.

Aikido and Autism by Dwight and Sheila Overmoyer

Our son, Austin has been attending the Rochester Aikido Kokikai class for the past two years. Austin has enjoyed learning a variety of Aikido skills and techniques, he has grown within its learning environment and has accomplished the skills for both the white and yellow belts.

Austin is 9-years old. He is what's known in the medical and educational fields as a high-functioning child with autism.
Autism is a life-long, developmental disorder. Autism affects the cognitive processes of an individual - which is displayed as limited social language and organizational skills. It is difficult for an individual with autism to discriminate cues or stimuli. Learning, both academically and socially, is a profound challenge. Many educational institutions have developed successful programs in teaching autistic children. Public school districts use modified curriculum/grade level objectives in educating autistic children.

Dispite the profound impact that autism has on the individual and family members, children with autism have many strengths, too. Many are hyperlexic, i.e. advanced reading skills. Others have powerful memory and mathematic skills. In fact, paradoxically, most high-functioning children with autism appear normal and are quite intelligent.

Many autistic children grow up to be successful individuals in society.

Becoming involved in local organizations is probably one of the best opportunites for children with autism to experience. One shining example of an organization that has offered Austin tremendous opportunites for personal growth is the Rochester Aikido Kokikai organization.

The impact that Aikido has had on Austin has been tremendous! Three vital areas in Aikido that has helped Austin in personal growth has been through structure, repetition and socal interaction.

Aikido creates a learning environment of structure and support. Aikido also offers a high degree of structured physical activity which is critical in the development of autistic children and with all children in general.

By learning tasks through a structured environment, Austin has developed a higher level of task retention and mental focus. Developing mental focus through structure allows Austin to improve his critical listening skills by learning the verbal cues of his Sensei. Through Austin's Sensei's instructions, Austin has improved his Aikido skills and has been able to build on new skill objectives.

Repetition with positive reinforcement at Aikido has also increased Austin's concentration and focus on perfecting tasks and skills during class. Each task requires practice and repetition as part of the learning process. Austin interacts with upper-belt students to practice the Aikido skills of that day. This interaction involves physical activity, verbalization and repetition of a task - all vital attributes of successful learning.

Austin practices the tasks and skills with his class partners and with the careful instructions from his Sensei, Austin's concentration of perfecting the given task has increased.

Formal testing in Aikido involves discriminating listening and direction from the Sensei. Austin has had successful opportunities to pass through belt levels and receive the immediate reward of applause from his peers and observing parents. This is a tremendous testing activity that raises Austin's self-confidence and self-esteem, which is vital in preparing him for future challenges in the outside world.

By involving Austin with his classmates in practicing Aikido tasks, the social success dimension now comes to focus.

Taking turns to perform a task, listening to instructions from his Sensei, the emphasis on safety with others, the enjoyment of working on Aikido skills with classmates and the fun of playing competitive games after a rigorous class are all vital character building blocks for any child in a social setting.

Austin has applied the principles of Aikido outside of class - in terms of higher self esteem, respect for others, taking turns, appropriate social behavior and sharing - which are all important character traits in society.

Austin looks forward to his Aikido class every week. He has developed both in form and character since he started attending class. Aikido has served itself beyond the walls of its classroom with Austin. The tremendous support, companionship and learning that Austin has experienced through Aikido will be a lifelong influence to his development.

You can contact Dwight and Sheila at

Aikido and Trauma by Chris Steerman

Trauma can occur to anyone at anytime. It can be a single catastrophe or something that occurs repeatedly. Trauma can be physical or non-physical, and can range from divorce, natural disasters to violence. Traumatic events may not have been experienced first-hand, but only witnessed. The type of trauma referred to here is primarily interpersonal, in which one person has been violent (i.e. physical or sexual abuse) to another.

Aikido Kokikai is a martial art that stresses relaxation, correct posture, positive mind and centering (finding one point). The development of Ki (energy) is also emphasized. Those of us who have been practicing Aikido for awhile have probably seen the sudden emotional reactions that sometimes occur during practice. Often the cause of the reaction is not obvious to others practicing. The person (often a woman) will suddenly and quietly leave practice, to return later amid queries by other students as to whether or not she had been hurt. Many of us have also seen people begin Aikido practice with their heads down, eyes averted, shoulders hunched, and uncomfortable with physical contact. They seem to move stiffly, uncertainly, and fearfully.
Especially for these people, beginning training in Aikido can be overwhelming and threatening and the student may have difficulty staying in practice. Other students can and do assist this person by normalizing these early reactions, validating that it is common to feel strange acting as "the aggressor", even for the sake of practice and that this is not a betrayal of non-aggressive values. It also helps to acknowledge that the assault on the senses of sight, hearing, touch and smell can be intense and disconcerting.

If a new student will stick through the confusion, anxiety, and embarrassment of beginning practice, there can be a shift into increased positivity, relaxation, a sense of stability, surefootedness and confidence. Practice retrains outmoded responses and aversions and teaches on a very basic level that excessive self-consciousness can be counter-productive. Closeness and direct eye-contact can be tolerated without fear of aggression. Danger can be more accurately assessed and responded to. These are not merely outward changes. They run deep and affect all areas of life, including coping with stress and threat, and even achievement.

How is it that practicing Aikido can do all of these things for the trauma survivor? In my work in the field of trauma and abuse, I have become aware of the behavioral and emotional patterns that result from these experiences. Victimization tends to cause a loss or distortion of identity and personal boundaries. With repeated violations, a person is left with a distorted sense of personal space, may be hyper-reactive or emotionally blunted. These defensive patterns can lead to retraumatization or revictimization. Emotional numbing can cause a person to be oblivious to danger signs that others would note and heed. The posture of a victim is sometimes taken on by a survivor. A person who appears weak, unable or unwilling to fight back is more likely to be targeted. For both adults and children, Aikido can counter these negative effects. It teaches an alternative to flight, fight, or passivity. Peace is practiced actively. Aikido's emphasis on relaxation, centering, positive mind and posture create a transformation in outward appearance and movement which communicates assertiveness, confidence and strength.

Anti-violence programs can be highly effective with young children, before their ideas regarding aggression are solidified. Aikido training can be started early and children can learn that it is not necessary to hurt someone in order to assert and protect themselves. Aikido encourages cooperation, as opposed to competition. Positive effort is rewarded and results in increasing success, without depending on physical prowess or strength. Respect is practiced and expected of students by teachers, and vice versa. All can have the role of both student and teacher in the same class and all have something significant to contribute.

To some, to fight back is to be an aggressor and to become what one hates. To run away or to remain and accept the aggression of others results in feelings of helplessness, vulnerability, and powerlessness. Aikido provides another way. One learns the value of ALL life, including one's own; that it is not necessary to sacrifice one's self to be non- violent; that the aggressor may even be TEACHABLE.

Aikido demonstrates to the aggressor that there is an alternative response to aggression which will neither reinforce nor escalate the conflict. Aikido students learn that aggression is an expression of fear and/or rage. Responses which feed into these feelings may escalate the conflict and result in harm. A response based on Aikido principles decreases the reasons for rage or fear by responding actively but with compassion. It is demonstrated by example that fear does not have to call for aggression. There is no power struggle, literally no "impact". Even though the attacker has committed himself or herself to an attack, the situation has not become one in which someone must be hurt. We "invite them" without threatening. They make their own choices and the Aikidoist defuses the danger without compormising the principles of peace.

Aikido reteaches boundaries, yet insists on closeness. The student must engage closely to join or redirect one's opponent. He or she must open up, and feel the attacker's energy and direction. The layers of blunting fall away, and one learns again to listen and feel.

Aikido can provide a piece to the puzzle of healing. Even if the student cannot stay in practice, there may have been a seed planted which can grow when that person is farther along in her own recovery.

The terrible untimely lesson that has been learned regarding the fragility of the human body is replaced by a sense of strength , power, and energy. The isolation is replaced by a connection with self and others. We can become a community. We are not adversaries, but teachers; connected and interdependent, yet self-reliant and strong.

Aikido and Conflict Resolution by Judith Warner

(This material is adapted from an article published in Aikido Today . The author, Judith Warner, is an instructor for Aikido Kokikai Rochester and has been involved in the field of conflict resolution for the past ten years. She works with Thomas Crum, author of The Magic of Conflict, and co-authored Your Conflict Cookbook with Mr. Crum. Their company, Aiki Works, Inc., uses principles and movements from the martial arts of Aikido and Tai Chi Chuan to teach conflict resolution.)

Conflict. It surrounds us and is as natural as sunrise and sunset. Yet many of us react to its presence with aggression, denial, or resistance. These are the knee-jerk responses that we learned watching our parents, who watched their parents, or by watching our buddies in the school yard, or even watching Rambo and John Wayne movies. None of these responses really work. Have you ever truly solved a problem by yelling at someone? Think of the last time you got frustrated with your spouse over the monthly credit card statement. And did it ever work as a teenager when you and your parents stuck to your positions on the use of family car rather than discussing each other's needs? Yet, we repeat these same knee-jerk responses, day-after-day, year-after-year.

Over the past ten years, I have been involved in countless conflict resolution programs, helping people to deal with their dysfunctional problem-solving ways. In all of these programs, Aikido has provided a base that helps people to examine and change their ways of dealing with stress and conflict. Without my Aikido training, my work in conflict resolution would be ineffective. This article explains how my company uses Aikido in its programs. I hope that it will give you some insights into how you can apply Aikido principles in your own life.

Basics of Conflict Resolution

The reasons why we react to conflict so often with aggression, denial, or resistance is because we see conflict as negative and a contest. These are myths. Conflict is not negative, it simply is a natural fact of living in an increasingly complex society where we are all running about trying to get our jobs done and live out our lives. What we do with conflict as it happens, how we respond, can be negative. You can probably think of hundreds of images of negative responses to conflict - fist fights, massacres, verbal retorts. However, there are also many positive responses - the women's peace movement in Northern Ireland, a community garden at the site of a riot - where the adversarial, or contest, aspect of conflict is missing. There is no winner and no loser. When we do not view conflict as a win/lose contest, we can create win/win solutions.

For this to happen, three basic conditions have to exist: acknowledgment, acceptance and adaptability - the "3 A's" of conflict resolution. Parties to a conflict must acknowledge its existence - rather than trying to avoid or deny it, accept their involvement, appreciate the feelings and viewpoints of all parties to the problem - without making judgments, and be open to new ideas that might lead to solutions.

Aikido's Potential Contribution to Conflict Resolution

These "3 A's" are readily seen and experienced in the art of Aikido. Every time Aikidoka get on the mat, we are reminded that resistance, tension and aggression are not the most powerful, nor the most effective, responses to conflict. It is only when we are relax and move fluidly from center that we are most successful in our technique. The heart of Aikido is about acknowledging, accepting, and working with an uke's energy, being willing to adapt and change as necessary.

This is readily seen in an Aikido demonstration. The visual portrayal of harmony and control without harm in a demonstration helps on-lookers to visualize how they might handle their own conflicts, as parents, spouses, or team members. Traditionally, Westerners have had a tendency to articulate too much, to be too digital-auditory, to be too much in the brain, in the mind, in the intellect. When we do more than just lecture on how to resolve conflict, more people get the message.

The power of Aikido in teaching conflict resolution increases even more with participant involvement. In my company's corporate programs, we often hear comments during a demo like, "It seems so effortless, are you really doing anything? He (the uke) must be letting you throw him." So, if someone from the audience volunteers, we have the person try a shoulder grab and experience the power of a nikyo hold. His or her affirmation of the power of the seemingly effortless technique intrigues and opens others in the audience to examine some new paradigms. We also have everyone get involved in partnering exercises on concepts such as one-point, the mind/body state that allows the Aikidoka to remain calm, aware, and execute technique under pressure of attack.

The Value of One-Point

It is easy in the conflict resolution field to focus on communication techniques and conflict resolution strategies. These pieces are essential but teaching them without addressing the mind/body aspect of conflict resolution limits their effectiveness. For example, are you more likely to draw upon your training in communication methods if you are uncentered, tense, and agitated, or centered, calm and relaxed?

The principle of one-point, or center, in Aikido is a direct, simple way to introduce the optimal mind/body state for conflict resolution - relaxed, aware, able to focus. Everyone experiences this state at certain times in their lives - during a peak performance, or at a special moment, such as a wedding, giving birth, or graduating from school. The learning is that it is our choice everyday, every moment to be centered. The challenge is chosing this state of being under stress. If we do so, we are better able to handle conflict.

The Use of Basic Aikido Movements

Learning some of Aikido's natural responses helps people absorb conflict resolution principles at a physical level, in the body. They can then apply the principles to non-physical situations. For example, in South Africa, a colleague has been doing programs in the gold mines with management and labor. When his clients experienced the distinction between confrontation and working with an opponent at a physical level, the metaphoric light bulbs began to go on. Their willingness to consider new ways of working together on issues increased.

Aikido is rich in movements that can be used for this purpose, for example, a simple shoulder grab. If you grab someone on the shoulder, his tendency is to react, to hold his ground, and perhaps to grab at your hand. This, of course, makes him less stable and more vulnerable to additional attacks from you for his focus is on the grab, not on the rest of you. Our workshop participants work with a partner on this simple move, imagining the grab as a non-physical attack in their lives - perhaps a retort from a child or a fellow worker. They notice their internal response as they are grabbed - increased tension, rapid breathing or maybe holding their breath, etc. Next they play with the simple alternative of stepping aside, drawing their shoulder just out of reach of the attacker, so their partner loses balance in grabbing for them. The participants receive the immediate physiological and mental feedback that by stepping off line of an attack, tension dissipates, they are still in balance, and their attacker is no longer in a position to continue attacking. They are able to make a distinction between stepping aside with awareness of the source of the attack and running away or ducking the attacker's punch or grab. They experience the power of acknowledging the attacker (one of the "3 A's") at a very simple, but profound, level.

The use of Aikido in teaching of conflict resolution whets people's appetites to experiment with new ways of handling their problems. Once they have discovered that there is a way for them to be powerful and nurturing at the same time, they want to learn. Some begin training in Aikido. Others pursue mind/body disciplines such as T'ai Chi, or begin to meditate, giving themselves daily training in centering. Whatever their choice, they walk away with the knowledge that they have more options to consider in handling their conflicts than they realized they had before.

Of course, the same off-the-mat applications hold true for practicing Aikidoka. If an Aikidoist catches one point before beginning to discuss a problem with a child, boss, or parent, the likelihood is that the discussion will go better. What is wonderful for Aikidoka is that the opportunity to develop these conflict resolution skills is present at every practice. Every technique on the mat is a chance to develop one-point, to play with a metaphor for a personal issue. As long as we stay challenged and aware in our practice, we are growing in our ability to deal with stress and conflict off the mat. I wonder - how many of us appreciate this aspect of our practice? It never ceases to amaze me how true the adage is that we never fully appreciate something sitting in our own backyard. There is so much questing these days for stress management, personal growth, relationship building. For Aikidoka, the basics for enhancing these aspects of life are there on the mat in our daily practice. The gift is simply there for the taking.

Student Comments

Read what some of our students have to say about their experience with Kokikai Aikido and our Rochester Dojo.

Alan Tamayo, Nidan, practicing since 2005
"I practice Kokikai Aikido because it helps and teaches me to relax.  My practice of Aikido is a personal journey.  It challenges me to develop a better understanding of “one point” and "correct feeling" and it regularly reminds me that expanding my scope of knowledge of Aikido has no limits.  Every time I practice I have an opportunity to learn something new or gain new or different perspective.  The level and type of instruction I receive from Sensei, my instructors, and fellow aikidoka inspire me and keep me motivated.  It is the multifaceted aspects of Aikido that I find fascinating and it is why I continue to practice.  Its greatest benefit is its application off the mat and in my daily life."

Brian Martens, Yondan, practicing since 1995
"My wife and I started with Aikido Kokikai of Rochester in 1995 through its program with RIT.  As of now, that was almost 19 years ago.  From a martial perspective, Aikido was an answer to a question that plagued me since I started studying martial arts at the age of 10.  I finally had a variable response to meet all situations from a guy who had a little too much to drink at a party to a real life or death situation with multiple assailants.  From an instructional perspective, the Rochester dojo has held a tradition and blessing of having several senior ranked instructors that thought differently and therefore taught differently.  Everyone learns a little differently and so many schools have only one instructor where things are taught only one way from one perspective.  At AKR, odds are you can find a teacher that speaks best to how you think and learn...

...I not only found a way of life, but a second home and extended family here.  If you are at all interested in self defense and something that will positively impact every corner of your life, go check it out.  AKR is not run as a for-profit organization.  All the instructors teach on a volunteer basis because they love and believe in the art and it shows."

Judy Warner, Rokudan, practicing since 1986
"So, I have been with the club since 1986.  For 25 years, I worked with author, Thomas Crum, applying training and metaphors from the art of aikido in business and community workshops to teach people how to stay calm under pressure and resolve conflicts effectively.  In aikido, you work with the other person's energy to resolve an attack. Kokikai Aikido provides the student with a 'workbox' of techniques and movements to use under pressure.  It also teaches the student how to remain calm enough to use techniques effectively.  The heightened awareness and focus that the student develops from practice can benefit them in both physical confrontation and in everyday life.  I have watched many people begin training in our dojo.  Many have moved out of Rochester and continued practice.  Others are still practicing with the club. There is always more that you can learn from practicing Kokikai Aikido…..but first you have take that first step on to the mat."

Timur Akhunov, Shodan, practicing with Rochester since 2013
"I have been practicing with this dojo since August 2013 after moving from Chicago.  I never thought I would get involved in a martial art, but Aikido Kokikai got me hooked.  It keeps me in good shape, being able to defend myself and practice with happy and committed people without bruises and injuries.  It's awesome to jump into a big forward roll or fall safely.  I continue to be fascinated how with continued practice a person of any gender or body type can be strong and powerful at self defense.  I also enjoy being able to prevent the attacker (or attackers) without injuring him/her/them.

Onto practical issues.  The club (dojo) has a huge dedicated space that has classes 6 days a week (I attend 2-3 times).  One of the walls has giant westward windows and it awesome to practice as the sun sets.  The cost is $60* per month with discounts for students, families and prepayments.  I didn't have to pay for the first few classes before I decided I am in.  Moreover, the club has a first 3 month special for $120.*"

*dues updated 01/2016