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Aikido program helps vets cope with traumatic stress

Date: 3/14/2014

By G. Michael Dobbs

HOLYOKE – Tom Osborn knows first hand about the effects of combat. The Special Forces veteran who served in the Vietnam War suffers from Combat Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CRPTSD) and has been teaching other vets for years the healing art of aikido to deal with their symptoms.

The Holyoke resident has undertaken a crowd-sourcing campaign at Indiegogo to raise funds to bring his use of aikido to others. He is seeking $54,000 that would teach his Keganin No Senshi Aikido (KNSA) to other instructors to help vets across the country.

There are 23 sites in Washington, California, Wisconsin, Florida, Virginia and Connecticut, among others, that have expressed interest in the program, Osborn said.

Osborn is currently teaching at the Veteran’s Administration Center in Leeds. He is also working in conjunction with the Veteran’s Service Center in West Springfield and has written a book, “Combat Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Holistic Approach” about his program.

Osborn explained to Reminder Publications that while most people think of Aikido as a martial art, it is a practice for conflict resolution and achieving peace.

“You have to have peace within yourself,” he said.

Veterans who suffer from CRPTSD have “tension and energy that’s bound up,” Osborne said. He added, “It’s negative. They’re afraid of it.”

His aikido programs teaches the participants to “take that energy and relax, bringing it to the center – the physical center of the body.”

The result is “now they are going to use that energy constructively – use it to help them deal with the reality of life,” he said.

Osborn’s partner Frances Welson added that aikido is different than meditation or yoga as it can “can be used with interactions with people when they come at you with something negative.”

Osborn said the transition from serving in the military and experiencing combat back to civilian life can be very challenging. “In the military everything is black and white. The limits are very clear. When you come out it’s no longer black and white, but all shades of grey,” he noted.

He said that although the attitude of the public has changed dramatically the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan still need help. He said that when he wore his uniform in public during the Vietnam War people spat on him. Now military personnel are frequently thanked for their service to the nation.

Older vets, though, seems more open to aikido he has discovered.

Osborn discovered aikido after his discharge from the Army in 1966. He had earned a black belt in karate while stationed on Okinawa. “I was looking for karate that resembled the Okinawan style but none did. They were very American. Purely by accident I found an aikido class in Cambridge and got sucked right in,” he explained.

He added, “I was looking for something but I didn’t know what.”

On his website ( described his own condition prior to practicing aikido: “When I was discharged on returning from Vietnam, there were few services available to combat veterans, and going to the VA for medical treatment was seen as throwing oneself into an institutional maw, to be chewed up, swallowed and ignored. To be labeled with ‘combat fatigue’ was seen as a shameful thing. But under my facade, apparently, I was a particular bastard – violent anger, sleeplessness, fits of deep melancholy and despair (occasionally sobbing uncontrollably for no apparent reason) – all the symptoms, which might today be seen as CRPTSD. Some which with I still struggle.”

Osborn said that members of his family who had served in World War II told him about “battle fatigue” and “shell shock” and said, ‘You’re not going to get over it.”

He continued, “I was looking for something to help me deal. You knew on some gut level this isn’t right.”

Too many vets “run away,” he added and turn to drugs or alcohol.

Osborn has had a long career helping others and teaching. According to his website he has been involved in founding and/or directing several alternative schools, a residential program for adjudicated youth, and a residential program for youth with mental, emotional and physical disabilities. He received a master’s degree in education and did doctoral work and taught at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

To learn more about his work and to contribute to his campaign, go to