Paul Linden, PhD

Aikido of Columbus

I have been practicing Aikido since 1969 and Parkinson’s Disease since 2004. Aikido is a non-violent Japanese martial art and a study of peacemaking. Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease of the brain. The two have a lot in common.

Many years ago, while visiting Los Angeles, I met a friend of a friend. As we were sitting together eating lunch, he casually said, “You know, I could kill you as you sit there.” I smiled and said, “Yes, of course you could” and kept eating. I knew he wasn’t being hostile but was merely expressing a fact. Astonished that I understood, he explained that he was a Viet Nam veteran, and that was his way of testing me.

He had killed many people, and he knew how thin the line is between life and death. He knew that anyone could die at any moment. Combat soldiers learned to live on the edge of life and death, and when they came home, they were unable to fit back into normal society, which pretends that death won’t happen. He was stunned that a non-veteran knew that edge. I told him about my martial arts training and how it was possible to know the edge without killing anyone.

Two concepts underlie Aikido as I practice and teach it: First, emotions and attitudes are physiological events in the body, and to receive an attacker in a peaceful way, the body must be trained to do so. And second, the body moves with better balance and strength in a state of inner stillness, kindness, and gratitude. (My website has a free downloadable handout titled EMBODIED PEACEMAKING which details the basic exercises that I use to teach this.)

• Copyright Columbus Dispatch 2013. The newspaper published this essay, and they were generous enough to allow me to use it in my teaching.

Practicing calmness when attacked and compassion for the attacker caries over to stresses and problems that aren’t attacks. Such as Parkinson’s, for instance. When I was diagnosed, my initial reaction was shock! And my practice for the next six months was to say to myself many times a day “Parkinson’s” and train my body to go into calmness instead of fear. Gradually stillness and compassion took the unease out of the disease.

The real function of martial arts, I think, is to help us accept our fundamental weakness. I can block a punch, I can parry a kick, and I can escape an arm lock. But I can’t control the weather, a presidential election, or whether I have Parkinson’s. Once we build up enough personal power, we can accept somewhat calmly the unacceptable.

Having Parkinson’s is inconvenient, but if I get frustrated or irritated at it, the tremors increase and the disease feels worse. The more I meet Parkinson’s with an attitude of compassionate engagement and relaxed strength, the better my body functions. This is not philosophy. It’s physiology.

The questions are: What do I choose to become as Parkinson’s eats away at my brain? Do I cultivate habits of fear or anger about my condition or habits of power and compassion? So in the end, practicing Parkinson’s is very similar to practicing Aikido.

Parkinson’s will never be popular as a path of self-improvement. The same approach, though, can be applied to everyday difficulties — whether personal, interpersonal or international. The world would be very different if people didn’t respond to difficulties in a rush of fear and anger. Think of all the killing and aggression that would not take place if we each took responsibility for our body and our hurtful reflexes. Peace would be possible.


PAUL LINDEN, Ph.D. is a specialist in body awareness education, and his work focuses on the interplay between self-exploration and more efficient and effective action. He has extensive experience teaching people such as musicians, athletes, pregnant women, children with attention disorders, and computer users. Two of his focus areas are abuse recovery and peacemaking.

He is the developer of Being In Movement® mindbody education, and founder of the Columbus Center for Movement Studies. He holds a Ph.D. in Physical Education, a sixth degree black belt in Aikido and a first degree black belt in Karate, and he is an instructor of the Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education.

He is the author of a number of e-books, and videos, among which are:

• Winning is Healing: Body Awareness and Empowerment for Abuse Survivors

• Embodied Peacemaking: Body Awareness, Self-Regulation and Conflict Resolution

• Feeling Aikido: Body Awareness Training as a Foundation for Aikido Practice

• Comfort at Your Computer: Body Awareness Training for Pain-Free Computer Use (a paper book)

* Embodying Power And Love: Body Awareness & Self-Regulation 10 hour video.