Kirste Carlson, D.N.P.
“It’s about learning to move from a secure center.” – Cleveland Clinic Nursing Hall of Fame member Kirste Carlson, who also holds a Brown Belt in Aikido
Sensei Betsy O’Donnell, has been sharing “the peaceful martial art” for 26 years
By Kirste L. Carlson, D.N.P.
If you had told me 30 years ago, when I was beginning my career as a psychiatric clinical nurse specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, that some of the most valuable lessons I would one day be using in my daily encounters would be learned from practicing a martial art, I wouldn’t have believed you. It turns out there were some precious life skills even a doctorate in nursing practice hadn’t taught me, and they’re available to anybody with a few hours a week to spare and a willingness to try something new.
Aikido is called “the peaceful martial art.” No chops or maiming. But that doesn’t tell half the story. It’s really about movement as the root of healthy psychological functioning. How you’re able to move is how you’re able to be in the world, and how you’re able to behave under physical or emotional stress. Aikido provides a laboratory for learning about yourself, and practicing a creative way of being under pressure.
I had done yoga for years, but I was intrigued by the idea of working with another person. Because that’s what we all have to do in our real lives. What I’ve learned at the dojo influences how I approach situations I face daily, many of which I’ll bet aren’t very different from the ones you face at work or home. (Got teenagers? A difficult spouse or partner? A colleague who likes to pretend he or she is the boss?)
The whole idea is that your first move is always to a physical and mental place of safety. You need to be able to locate it and know you can get there. When somebody behaves aggressively toward you, in word or manner, you don’t attack them back; but you don’t run away either. Instead, Aikido teaches you how to take a position slightly off the line of fire, from which you can safely stay connected with them without resorting to violent, angry behavior of your own. You might momentarily “win” by hurting someone else, but be assured, they will resent you after that, and wait for the opportunity to get even.
Part of the secret is learning to move from a secure center. It has to do with gravity, alignment, posture, and a growing self-confidence. Practicing Aikido with a partner gives you immediate feedback about these things.
It’s also an incredibly fun away to exercise. It’s playful. We laugh a lot. And we learn to look at one other’s (and our own) mistakes with humor and compassion.
It’s been said that Aikido is a personal growth system disguised as a martial art. I think that’s true. Among other things, it’s allowed me to be curious. I never dismiss someone; I find myself willing to explore their point-of-view – because it doesn’t threaten me. I’m working, you see, from a position of strength. And that is a wonderful feeling.