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Monday, March 7, 2011

Aikido for the Classroom

I spent last Wednesday and Thursday at nonviolent crisis intervention training. This is something required for all staff at the Academy, due to our abundance of students with emotional and behavioral disorders.

The training covered how to deal verbally with a student in crisis, how to escape a violent attack from a student, and how to physically restrain a student as a last resort. It was, as I said, nonviolent crisis intervention, which means all of the above needed to be accomplished without harming the student.

A couple of the other teachers had trouble with this. It bothered them that, in a situation in which they would feel totally justified in striking back, the wellfare of the student remained their legal responsibility. For my part, aikido's precept of minimizing harm to the attacker had already prepared me for this conundrum.

In fact, I found that my meager year of aikido gave me a head start on much of the material covered in the training. The stages of dealing with students in crisis verbally were very reminiscent of the way Thomas Crum applies aikido principles to interpersonal conflict in his book The Magic of Conflict. Some of the physical techniques covered in the training could have come straight from an aikido class.

One restraining hold, for instance, had me next to my restrainee, him bent over, my hip against his, my inside hand on his upper arm and my outside hand holding his hand tight to me, palm-up and elevated above his shoulder. Anyone familiar with aikido will recognize this position:

(Thanks to the Ueshiba Aikido Association for the picture)

We know it from the technique ikkyo.

Indeed, I got so far into an aikido state of mind during our arm grab escapes that when a fellow trainee accidentally grabbed me in a way that hadn't been covered by the training, I had her halfway into katate dori ikkyo before I knew what I was doing.

I suspect I looked rather foolish, grinning like a child as I escaped simulated punches, kicks, arm grabs, and hair pulls, but I was, quite frankly, overjoyed. This was the first time I had been given any indication from the outside world that what I had been learning in the dojo could be applied to something real.

I have complained before that the practical applications of aikido are not always readily apparent at my dojo. It's something I constantly struggle with: trying to keep a martial state of mind while sometimes being presented with things that look and feel more like two-person yoga exercises than martial arts techniques.

But last week, I got to see the physical and ethical principles of aikido at work, in the hands of trainers who knew nothing about aikido but everything about dealing with real crises. It was an encouraging moment for me, one I will try to remember the next time a sensei wants to work on mystifying connection exercises.

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