“Aikido and Mind-Body Integration,” by Curtis L.V. Adams, M.D.
In 1967, after four years in the General Practice of Medicine, I started a residency in Psychiatry. A large percentage of my general practice patients suffered from psychiatric conditions and I read psychiatric literature voraciously, as I did during my first year of residency. I became more and more mystified during that year, as we were presented so many systems of psychology and psychiatry, each of which, taken by itself, seemed to “make sense”. Taken together, those systems seemed conflicting and confusing. During a discussion of this confusion with my brother, then a graduate student in speech and communications, he suggested I learn about an epistemology called General Semantics. After I followed his suggestion, and applied Korzybski’s principles about abstracting to my studies, my confusion cleared remarkably. I enjoyed teaching those principles to students, residents, preceptees, patients, etc., over the years. It was always fun to see the comprehension bloom when I could get a student to sit long enough with a person overwhelmed, for instance, by a quandary without diagnosing or classifying so he could see the person and help him clarify his situation and arrive at a workable solution.
I discovered my second passion in 1974. That summer, my family and I spent our vacation in an isolated lake cabin. I ate a lot, fished, and read potboilers. One of those books featured a hero who used Aikido to deal with bad guys. I had a book on Aikido in my library, and got it out as soon as I returned home. Serendipitously, in September of that year, Dr. Greg Faulkner moved to my hometown of Huntsville, Alabama, to work in the space industry. He started an Aikido Class, which I joined. I have practiced since then and taught for a number of those years.
My general sense of well-being began to improve soon after starting Aikido. My body habits changed and people remarked that I moved more freely. When one of my psychiatric colleagues attended a trial workshop, I remarked to him that Aikido had intrinsic value different from other martial arts, and different from the attendant exercise. He did not agree, and I was unable to defend my point. A number of years later, the acknowledged best fighter in our federation of martial artists, an engineer, wondered why we all continued to practice martial arts over the years. I have attempted to answer the question about the intrinsic value of Aikido, as I believe there is such, and also the question of why I continue to practice and to teach the art. I think it is a tool to help me “make sense”, especially in the face of confrontational, aggressive persons.
The human ability to conceptualize and objectify accounts for many of our accomplishments. This ability also accounts for one of the major problems that we have to solve: a dichotomy between one’s subjective or organic self and an “I-Persona” or “I-Mask” self-concept. We describe ourselves on currency subject to being overvalued and vulnerable to being blown away by the wind of events, leaving us with a diminished sense of self-worth. In this paper, I will explore this split and in particular how the practice of the Japanese martial art of Aikido helps to resolve this problem.
This split occurs as part of development. In normal development there is a reorganization of the conceptual framework to fit the reality of the person and his world at the end of each stage of development. There is a period of turmoil associated with this state of reorganization that must be tolerated and supported by the environment. Since most human environments do not support any kind of turmoil, few people have been able to complete this part of each stage of development. For that reason, most people have a mixture of out of date ideas and conclusions in their conceptual frameworks.
Charles Kelly wrote that there are two character types based on two different ways of conceptualizing: the mechanic and the mystic. The first, the mechanic, operates in concepts, deals with the world by means of discrete units, and treats the world as though it is fundamentally static and immobile. He acts and operates on an outside reality to the exclusion of subjectivity or consciousness. The mystic over-focuses on the subjective “feeling” aspect of the life process at the expense of the objective “action” aspect. He becomes convinced that subjective reality antedates and overrides the merely physical reality of the body and the external world. He develops the conviction that consciousness is independent of the body.
In his essay on metaphysics, Bergson wrote, “There is an absolute knowledge, which can only be given in an intuition (meaning coming only from an internal processing). Everything else falls within the province of analysis,” i.e., the world of the mechanic and the mystic. “By intuition is meant the kind of intellectual sympathy by which one places oneself within an object in order to coincide with what is unique in it and consequently inexpressible. There is a reality that is external and yet given immediately to the mind.” I think this is inherent in the “staying at the level of nonverbal” talked about in General Semantics.
Alfred Korzybski, who originated General Semantics, called this level of the intuitive the level of the nonverbal: the level of being and knowing without the use of symbols or words. He recommended that one stay at the level of the nonverbal until he comes to a complete knowledge and acceptance of a situation. We have to use words and symbols to communicate; however, being able to stay at the level of the nonverbal until we have contacted the external reality is important. This ability increases the reliability of our abstracting process by allowing us to gather more information before arriving at conclusions, inferences, etc.
These concepts relate to my work as a psychiatrist in that practically every person has a concept of self quite different from what can be seen or perceived in that person. People define themselves according to their status, their role, what they have been told about themselves years ago or out-of-date self-definitions. These same people often have a conceptualization of external reality that is eccentric and cannot be consensually validated. Psychotherapy, when done right, helps the person get to a sense of reality of self and helps him develop a consensually validatable conceptualization of external reality.
Aikido is another way a person can develop a more accurate perception of self and a more nearly accurate conceptualization of external reality. In Aikido there is a particular necessity of evaluating reality accurately.
Aikido is a modern martial art originated in Japan by Morihei Uyeshiba, called by Aikidoists O-Sensei or The Great Teacher (of Aikido of course). Morihei Uyeshiba was a seeker who started out early in life with a decision that he would never get beaten up. He had seen his father bullied by village ruffians and made the decision that he would not be such a victim. He entered into the study of martial arts as a young man, studying the way of the sword and the way of the empty hand, Jujitsu, and eventually ending up in a martial art called Daito Jujitsu. He was an undefeated fighter. He was capable with a sword or an empty hand of beating practically anybody in a fight and took great pride in his ability. He was sergeant-at-arms for a spiritual sect, and later a hand-to-hand combat instructor for the Japanese Navy. With all of those skills under his command, he came into conflict with a close friend, a naval officer who was a professor of fencing.
Consider the paradox. Uyeshiba was a man who said he would never be beaten up and who had taken great pride in fighting and his ability to fight. He now confronted a friend who had attacked him with a wooden sword to kill him. He was faced with a situation in which his self-identification conflicted with an external and intuitively felt reality. When does your friend become your enemy? How can you kill your friend? Morihei Uyeshiba fought this “battle” with the naval officer by using only defensive moves. When the naval officer moved to strike, Uyeshiba would move out of the way. He continued to do evasive tactics until the opponent collapsed in a sweat. Then Uyeshiba went out into the garden where he experienced a sense of lights and a revelation about the martial arts. This revelation was that martial arts are not to kill and destroy your enemy but to restore harmony that has been previously disturbed in the universe. From this experience, he formulated a new conceptualization of Budo or the Way of War.
Uyeshiba’s conceptualization was based in part on the actual meaning of the Japanese character “Bu”. The idea is that an individual stops war or fighting. The top of the character is of two crossed halberds, indicating a cessation of aggressiveness. The lower character literally means to stop. The composite, therefore would imply “to stop fighting” or end battle. He originally called his method of self-defense Aiki-jujitsu and later renamed it Aikido. Aiki means harmony of the energies. The word do, which means Way in the spiritual sense, added to aiki forms Aikido that means the way of harmony of the energies. Aikido is the current designation of the Way of Morihei Uyeshiba.
In addition to being an extremely effective form of self-defense, Aikido became a basis for the pursuit of the true self. This pursuit is done by the constant reevaluation in the learning and application of the techniques of Aikido. In order to do Aikido effectively, one has to cultivate an awareness of the body, the location of the body in space and the force of his movements. This constant reevaluation ideally caused a shift from the concept of opponents, as in self-defense, to partners, who would help in rediscovering the true self. Consequently he was “making sense” of a previously perceived paradox. His martial skills remained the same, or improved, but the application changed from aggressiveness to cooperation (or in the words of Trigant Burrow from detention to contention).
The philosophy of Aikido is the culmination of a philosophy that had required centuries of evolution and was very much a part of the life of the samurai. The first step in this evolution was that of the samurai or servant warrior. He belonged to his master and if ordered, his job was to kill the enemy. The samurai learned that this kind of killing is spiritual suicide. Then came the concept of mutual destruction, i.e., of sacrificing one’s life to kill the enemy. In that situation, a sense of appreciation of one’s life emerged. It is no sacrifice if your life is valueless. Then evolved the concept of the mutual preservation of life, the idea of the saving of one’s enemy’s life while preserving one’s own life. The warrior must have a profound knowledge of his craft in order to actualize a philosophy of saving his and his enemy’s life. Otherwise he has no choice other than to kill or be killed. His knowledge must not be of a mechanical nor of a mystical nature, i.e., abstractions have no place when one is faced with an enemy skilled in the art of killing and determined to end his life. The warrior’s knowledge must be based on an intuitive perception of movement and forces. It was out of the background of the Zen considerations of the samurai that Morihei Uyeshiba was able to have his enlightenment experience from which he developed his Aikido, “The Way of Harmony”.
In the world we certainly have to be able to deal with aggression that arises in many contexts. When we are afraid we will often retire into the world of thoughts and fantasies. The Aikidoist must learn the skills of containing his emotions in situations where the threat is only symbolic. When the attack is physical, however, and only then, the Aikidoist has a place to “enter the spirit” of the attacker and neutralize the attack. The skills that are necessary for self-defense can be demonstrated, but must be learned through constant practice. The first of these skills is to avoid opposition. This means blending with the attack, redirecting it, etc. The second is to neutralize further aggression with techniques such as locks, throws, etc.