Dear Aikido Members and Friends,

     I hope you are all healthy and happy during these difficult times. The past few months have given rise to great uncertainty. Stress levels have increased around the planet. Many people feel anxious and afraid about the health concerns as well as the economic impact of the coronavirus. At first, it seemed like chaos and confusion were everywhere while we were hearing about the pandemic’s effects around the world. Nowadays, it seems there are many who are impatient to get back to what they remember as normal. Some people are unhappy about being in a lockdown situation, especially with the many dramatic changes in our communities re social distancing, face masks, gloves, sanitizing and more. But it is uncertainty that is a major factor in these troublesome circumstances. It is often the stress of uncertainty that leads many people to suffer much more than they need to, or might otherwise if they were more confident of the future. This increases as time goes by and the uncertainty is not relieved.

     Psychological stress, or more accurately distress, is the life response to change. All forms of life experience this kind of distress when conditions in their environment and lives change. Change means having to use energy to adjust and learn new approaches, strategies and new rules. It is these elements that we mostly do not want to have to deal with. The universe is all about change. It is one of the only things that is constant. But we often resist and even outright fight change as it is difficult to deal with, especially psychologically and emotionally.     I am a psychologist by academic training and often bring psychology into my teaching and study of Aikido and the human condition. It is a fact that one of our brain’s critical functions is to connect dots, recognize patterns and predict what will come next. We do this in an effort to reduce uncertainty.  As humans, we usually do not enjoy being surprised, aside from birthdays or other special occasions. Yet for the past several weeks, we have all been living in a state of deep uncertainty with multiple surprises, as the coronavirus (and our response to it) sets the pace for when our lives could return to something resembling normal.    

This persistent level of uncertainty contributes to allostatic overload. This is the scientific term for the wear and tear on the body, brought on by consistent exposure to uncertain outcomes and the loss of an ability to plan for the future with clear, self-directed timelines. It accumulates as an individual is exposed to repeated or chronic stress. It represents the physiological consequences of continued exposure to fluctuating or heightened threat responses as a result of repeated and prolonged stress. The effects of allostatic overload include feeling tired, sad, anxious, nervous and unmotivated to perform tasks, even those that one used to find enjoyment in.

     We are all susceptible to allostatic overload right now.  The best way to deal with it is rest, exercise, fresh air and open spaces. We need to make healthy choices and address the situation. Do not just dismiss how you feel. Try to understand how you are doing and choose relief when you can, changing your routine, focusing on the things that normally bring you joy and setting your priorities clearly in mind. Your ability to lead yourself during this period will prepare you for the long road of recovery and rebound. The better you take care of you, the stronger you can be for others.

     We know that things will start opening back up in the coming weeks and some restrictions will be lessened or even eliminated. The world has changed and it is likely that things will not go back to the state of affairs exactly as we remember. Some people might not be ready to return to their previous workplace situations, schedules, commutes or routines. Some will have extra concerns about their children or a family member with health conditions that put them at a higher risk for coronavirus, so they will not want to take actions that will increase the likelihood of exposure and bring the virus home. But whatever our specific and personal situation, this is a time to grow and become more powerful, more capable, more in tune with our environment and the people within it.  This is a choice available to all of us. 

     March was filled with shock and awe.  April was about working hard to shift and respond.  May is shaping up to be the ultimate wait and see month.  As our country begins to transition towards a new normal with re-openings, timelines are uncertain and a rolling start is the only accurate way to describe the economic reboot.  May already seems rather different.  It will indeed test our ability to integrate back into society with a step by step approach.  While this may not be the preferred style of action for some people, learning to match pace with the world around us can be an extremely valuable lesson. Aikido is the way of harmony and this is a sound approach to greater awareness and the understanding that will allow you to be your best going forward.

     So although this may sound strange, embrace and enjoy this time. Do projects you kept saying you would get to someday. Keep your martial skills up by training at home and with family. Try to do something every day, even for just a few minutes. Spend time looking inward and reflecting on yourself and your life, again, for a least a few minutes each day. Prioritize your most important things and re-set your future goals. Most importantly, do some things that bring joy and bliss into your life every day. We only get one chance at life that we are aware of. Think of this time as a blessing and an opportunity to change for the better.     I hope to see you both on and off the mat soon. With my warmest regards,  OSU!

Kevin Blok 
Chudokan Dojo