Aikido and Psychotherapy: A Study of Psychotherapists Who Are Aikido Practitioners

By Faggianelli, Patrick; Lukoff, David | Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, July 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Aikido and Psychotherapy: A Study of Psychotherapists Who Are Aikido Practitioners


Faggianelli, Patrick, Lukoff, David, Journal of Transpersonal Psychology


ABSTRACT: Eight psychotherapists who were also highly skilled in Aikido, a non violent Japanese martial art based on the principles of harmony and the peaceful resolution of conflict, participated in this semi-structured interview study investigating how their practice of Aikido informed their psychotherapy practice. Eight themes emerged: Aikido resulted in a mind-body unification which was described as being physically and psychologically healing; being centered in Aikido was essentially the same as being present in therapy; the Aikido strategies of "getting off the line," blending, and extending were translated and utilized in psychotherapy; takemusu, the ability to spontaneously manifest technique or form in Aikido was observed to transfer into therapy practice; Aikido was described as a synthesis of a martial art and spiritual practice, both of which inform their psychotherapy practice; Aikido was viewed to be metaphorically and isomorphically related to psychotherapy. Implications for utilizing Aikido practice in training psychotherapists are discussed.

The moon does not think to be reflected

nor does the water think to reflect

in the Hirowasa Pond

-Tesshu

This study of psychotherapists who were also highly skilled Aikidoists investigated how their practice of Aikido, a nonviolent Japanese martial art, informed their psychotherapy practice. Aikido has been practiced by Westerners since shortly after the Second World War. During that time a number of transpersonal psychologists and pioneers including Robert Frager, who founded the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, and Charles Tart, a leading transpersonal theorist, have been deeply involved in Aikido practice. They have practiced an art, rooted in Asian martial and religious traditions, which overtly states that its aim is to train practitioners to peacefully resolve conflict, or even "to manifest love and harmony in all actions" (Tart, 1987, p.334).

The competent psychotherapist needs to deal effectively, powerfully, and caringly with his or her clients, often in potentially volatile and highly charged emotional situations. Because Aikido deals specifically with conflict and its peaceful resolution, the study of Aikido, complete with its philosophy and practice methods, was seen by the authors as potentially being helpful in keeping therapists grounded, centered, and connected within themselves while simultaneously being more sensitive and aware of the client.

The importance of developing a certain consciousness in which one is present and autonomous while being intimately interconnected with larger meaning is an important dimension of transpersonal approaches to psychotherapy. Humanistic psychology and humanistic psychotherapists have maintained the importance of being fully present in the existential encounter of therapy. For example, James Bugental (1978) described the therapist's need to be "totally in the situation . . . in body, in emotions, in relating, in thoughts, in every way" (p. 37). This is an excellent description of being centered in Aikido. It is also similar to Rollo May's "total relationship," Carl Rogers' "being present" and Freud's "evenly suspended attention" which they identified as fundamental elements of psychotherapy. The mind/body coordination required in Aikido trains the attention and brings about other changes in consciousness that are central to creating the healing presence so important in therapy. A therapist who can maintain a calm state of mind, free from fears and illusions of the past or of an imagined future, can relate to others compassionately and empathically.

The objective in Aikido is to join one's personal ki (energy) with universal ki to achieve ultimate harmony (ai). Aikido emphasizes working with a partner, rather than grappling or fighting against an opponent as in competitive tournaments. The essence of the practice is the blending of movements and breathing (waza) which physically creates harmony in conflictual encounters. …

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