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How aikido has made me a better surgeon


[The following is a guest post from my student and friend, Dr. Kel Feind. Very interesting take on what kata is and some of the benefits of doing kata - PLP]
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Tomiki aikido is widely practiced by martial art enthusiasts throughout the United States. I have practiced in dojo in Indiana, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and now in Mississippi for the past 5 years or so. Recently, I began to notice how principles and practices in aikido have improved my surgical techniques.

Kata is a Japanese word loosely defined as "form." As practiced in Aikido, kata refers to the many different stylized movements that can be encountered in a martial contest. By breaking down the movements into their basic building blocks, one develops nerve, joint, and muscle memory that is called upon during freeform martial interactions, or randori. These principles (but not the word) are found in many different sports. Golf and tennis both are built on stylized movements that are practiced while learning how to play the game. Football and baseball is also improved by practicing drills that improve quickness and coordination on the field. And in performing highly complex surgical procedures, I have realized that the principles of kata can inform and improve my practice in this arena as well.

A surgical procedure is best performed precisely, quickly, and as close to the same way in every patient. By doing it the same way each time, one minimizes mistakes, improves technique, and limits patient discomfort and risk. Since I began practicing Tomiki aikido (especially in Mississippi) I have realized that thinking about surgery as a kata has improved my skills in the operating room. Surgery can be broken down into a series of events: holding a scalpel, tying a knot, using different instruments, directing assistants, moving items from one hand to the other, are all preformed stylized rituals that are strung together in an operation. Thinking about them as parts of a kata has made them flow more smoothly and be performed with greater success than just jumping into an operation without this practice or method.

The other aspect of kata that is surprising is it's similarity to meditation. I can't prove it but suspect that both are heavily "right brained" activities. Meditation "turns off" your left brain. By repeating a mantra you overpower the chattering left half of your brain and your right side takes over. In kata too, the right brain seems to take over. It would be interesting to perform EEGs on aikidoka to learn more about what happens during kata. In performing surgery as a kata, it becomes less stressful and in some ways more meditative. That's not to say that there is less awareness in what is going on but it say that there is less distraction created by my left brain chatter.

[This article realy interested me because I'm always looking for interesting ways that aikido interacts with other specific activities (like aikido and baseball or aikido in the office) and with life in general. To some degree, Kel's article disagrees with some of what I was saying in my recent article on Kata and quality control - but that doesn't make either of them wrong. In fact, that just makes both viewpoints more interesting. Thanks for a great guest post, Kel - PLP]
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Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: mokurendojo@gmail.com or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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