Using Aikido as Physical Therapy
In May, 1995 I woke up from a 13 day coma. I was told that they did not know exactly what was wrong with me. It seemed that as I was getting older I was getting progressively more ill. I could never hold onto physical fitness. Now I was an asthmatic. They thought I might have Multiple Sclerosis and I faced the prospect of never working again and indeed, never walking again.
In the first weeks after the coma I hallucinated a lot because of the drugs I was on. In one these episodes I recall one of the health care professionals who looked after me, telling me that I would be ok, because I could take aikido and it would make me better, which was strange because I did not know what aikido was. Later on, when I found out it was related to the martial arts I laughed. I could not do that!
In November, 1995 I was diagnosed with extreme mercury toxicity. The prognosis was not good. I looked for information on the internet and what I discovered made me sob. I had 12 fillings in my mouth that were leaching mercury into my blood. Not only did I have it – but I found out that I had passed it to my daughter through the blood in the placenta.
In May, 1996, I had to move from La Honda off the top of the mountains into suburbia, to Santa Cruz, California so that I could be closer to the doctors, Despite another shorter coma, I was on the road to recovery. My condition was still pretty serious. I was taking a lot of pharmaceuticals, which had their own special set of side effects. I could now walk again, but physical strength was not present. It had a profound effect on me both spiritually and emotionally.
One day in September, 1996 I was looking at the local TV channel in Santa Cruz and there was a short film about aikido featuring Linda Holiday Sensei. It provided a number to call. I picked up the phone and dialled. The phone was answered by Linda Holiday, Sensei. I told her of my condition and of my hallucination. She told me to come down and visit and that the next beginners’ class would begin in a few weeks time. This was how I came to join what was then called North Bay Aikido, (now Aikido of Santa Cruz http://www.aikidosantacruz.org/ ).
Since then I have taken the eight week beginner class over and over again. It took me six months to learn how to do a backward roll from standing and two years to do a front roll from standing, despite receiving the best mentoring from so many.
Mercury toxicity is characterized by a lot of fear and emotional dysfunction. Some days I could only do warm-ups because I could not allow another person’s energy to blend with mine, even with a grab. I learned how to cope by continuing to come to the dojo. Some days I slept or was ill for 20 hours but I kept on turning up, even if I only sat on the side and watched. Whatever I brought in the door was accepted. The dojo was, and still is, a safe haven.
So, how am I different? A coma is a life altering experience. Having your entire body cleansed of a systematic toxin that has been there for 50 + years is also. I was having identity crises daily in 1997-2000, but aikido gave me the tools to recover and grew. I learned the standard process of: center, breathe, blend, decide, act, forgive myself, and move on. These skills have helped me deal more effectively with what life throws at me and I am a better person as a result.
For example, recently at work I had two powerful managers telling me what to do at the same time. Unfortunately the instructions they each gave, were completely at odds with each other. I was literally and metaphorically stuck in the middle of them and it was all becoming very uncomfortable. I found myself centering and then I turned slightly to get off the line between them. The dynamic changed and they ended up taking care of me and resolving their issues. I feel that the outcome would not have been so positive without my aikido training.
People tell me that surviving what I did was a miracle. I tell them that I had a lot of help. The biggest help was the community of Santa Cruz Aikido with all their compassion.
One thing is for sure, when you come so close to losing it all everyday is precious!
Aikido of Santa Cruz
“A Way to Reconcile the World” is a book that was published in the summer of 2014 by the Quentin Cooke of the London Dojo. It is not stories about the martial art itself. Rather it is a book of stories written by all levels of Aikidoists about how studying Aikido has changed their lives in a positive way. Reading this book is a total inspiration.
I have two stories published in it (one is the story above). There is a story in this book that will move you.
Here is where it can be ordered:
Note the profits are going to Aiki Extensions. The money will really help support the great work that they do, (www.aiki-extensions.org). This is a camp which trains Israeli kids with Palestinian / Syrian / Iraqi kids together so they can learn to make peace.