Martial Artist Teaches Body Awareness Workshop

On July 19, Columbus, Ohio-based martial artist and body awareness education specialist Paul Linden will pick a volunteer from the audience and throw a tissue at his or her face to prove a point. 

“People can identify that it’s a tissue, they know that if I hit them as hard as possible with a tissue it would be trivial thing. Yet anyone with issues around boundary violations will have a definite response, as though the tissue were a stone being thrown at them.”

This lesson is one of many Linden will teach in his workshop “Embodying Power – For LGBTQ Individuals.” Part of the Center’s Pride in You series, the workshop will focus on body awareness training “for achieving calmness, inner strength, and compassion in a world of discrimination, rejection, and conflict.” In other words, to teach gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people how to become less fearful and more able to truly interact with their surroundings – abilities that Linden says anti-gay prejudice has often hampered.

The techniques Linden has developed are largely based on Aikido, a Japanese martial art that emphasizes not attacking an opponent, but using an opponent’s energy to push him or her away. Because it relies on this technique, Aikido is largely focused on the art of mindful movement.

When Linden began practicing Aikido nearly 40 years ago, he says he was “a non-athlete and a bookworm” who “didn’t have an awareness of [my] body to do what I was shown.” Instead of giving up, however, he spend what he estimates was “thousands of hours observing my reactions to getting attacked and working out methods of overcoming the fight/flight/freeze reflexes.” Eventually, he learned the tools he needed, got his black belt and began teaching these techniques in his dojo.

“I’ll tell you how I started it,” he says. “I was a new black belt and as I was teaching a class and I noticed that people looked down [when another student was grabbing them] at place being grabbed and lost focus.” At first, Linden thought the weight of the head as it tilted made his students lose balance. But eventually he realized that the problem was not his students heads; it was in their heads.

“They were thinking down,” he explains. So he taught his students how to increase their awareness by directing their attention in different directions simultaneously – that is, not just down to their sparring partner’s grasping hand, and letting that point draw their full attention, but in all directions, all while keeping the focus anchored in themselves.

“That is very much related in Aikido to being able to feel the group attack,” Linden adds.

But instead of simply telling workshop participants just to focus their attention outwards, Linden breaks the process down into small steps, as he does with the tissue toss at the workshop beginning. When volunteers flinch, duck or back away from the tissue, Linden asks them to do the following: relax their tongues and breathe from their bellies. When he throws the tissue again he observes “in almost every case there’s very little response anymore.” Why?

“Through altering their body in a specific way, they’re more in touch with the reality around them and able to deal with it,” Linden says. “In this case it’s just a tissue and there’s no reason to do anything.”

“What I might do next is say, OK, this was just a tissue and it’s irrelevant. But the same processes of fear and anger and dissociation are at play when it’s a real attack.” To demonstrate this, he might walk up to a volunteer and shout a meaningless word like “cookie!” and teach them how to undo their freeze or flight response in this situation. Sometimes, he may even walk a volunteer through a roleplay in which an anti-gay slur is shouted at him or her. The goal then, he says, is for the volunteer not to let the slur affect his or her body, to keep focused, and to prepare to do something besides “cowering in a corner.”

“We swim in an ocean of communication and the human tendency is to take in and reflect in your body what the attacker’s evaluation of you is,” he explains. For those who might find such a scenario too intimidating, Linden is quick to add that participants never have to do anything that makes them uncomfortable.

Frequently, Linden also uses his workshops to tear down conventional (and he thinks flat out wrong) definitions of power and compassion – namely that power is domineering and compassion is weak.

To illustrate this point, Linden provides the following scene which he says he would love to use to teach “hate mongers” how weak their hate makes them.

“[I would tell them] stand in a strong stance, and resist my push on your shoulders. Now, say a few words about pizza. And now talk about gay people being an abomination,” he says. “People usually have the clear experience that talking about pizza produces very little response, but speaking hatefully creates contraction, reduces balance, and makes the speaker unable to resist my push. One can use strength and force in a state of contraction, but that involves a lot of wasted effort.”

A compassionate and powerful person, on the other hand, says Linden, is able to look at life from a view of tolerance, to not let hate or weakness overwhelm him or her, and can act “forcefully and effectively from a place of sensitivity and compassion.”

Although the workshop will focus on the body, Linden encouraged people of all ability levels to attend.

“None of movements will be vigorous, dangerous or difficult,” he says. “Nothing will be more complicated than dropping a penny into a cup. If someone has a disability or a limitation of some kind, we’ll modify the exercise so it works for them at their level of ability.”

And while his workshop has definite points to make, Linden also said he’s willing to throw out the lesson plan completely and do whatever he and the group decide they need.

To register for the workshop, contact Jim Struve by July 15 at (801) 364-5700, Ext. 1. Cost is $45 and includes a box lunch. The workshop will be held at the Utah Aikido Dojo (3474 S 2300 E) on July 19 from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Participants are asked to bring a bath towel for balance exercises. For more information and registration forms visit jimstruve.com/workshops.htm.

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