Monday, August 20, 2012

The Game and The Art

Part 1 is first in a series of Ronin Post articles dedicated to The Samurai Game® and to the man, George Leonard, who created it; and to Aikido, the martial art that directly influenced him during the later years of his life.
Participants Upward Bound
Participants Upward Bound
The call came last February from Uriel Trujillo of East Stroudsburg University (ESU - Pennsylvania). His request - delivery of The Samurai Game®. The attendees would be high school age at-risk youth enrolled in UPWARD BOUND, the program he directs for ESU. I agreed and offered to include two additional days involving aikido, in this case adapted for that age group and to be called "The Art of Practice and the ESU dojo". It wasn't until July that I appreciated what Uriel had done to make this available. I began to get answers to the why of his February request. The potential impact of both the Game and the aikido-based program become more clear. By the afternoon of July 17th students, parents, faculty, staff, university officials and Uriel had all been touched. Regional TV reporters showed up to catch the story- to view click here.

Privately, when all had gone back to their dorms, Uriel asked how I was feeling. "There have been a few days in my life," I said, "when I've fallen in love with the entire world. Today was one."

Uriel's February call outlined a definite need. "These students are on track to be the first in their families to attend college. Being at-risk youth means that most come from financially disadvantaged and/or broken homes. Many live in the midst of familial or neighborhood disturbance and trauma. A broad spectrum of ethnicities and beliefs are involved. They represent grades 9 through 12. What you bring can help them stay on track, deal with issues of peer and family pressure, plus overall appreciation of principles needed for healthy relationships and principles for life success - dignity, courage, honor, etc."

Only a third of my fee for the Game could be covered. I told him this wasn't a problem. His surprising, "Really, why!?" - prompted my, "Because, it seems like the right thing to do." "OK," he said, "but I'll try to get additional funding so you can bring the aikido work too."

Over the next few weeks Uriel worked on financing issues. A martial artist himself, he knows the value this kind of metaphor brings to people, provided proper interpretations are made. Meanwhile, I sought help from two acquaintances, Carmela Bennett and Tesfaye Tekelu, explaining the potential difference to be made. Both are black belt ranked aikidoka, and both live in New York City just 90 minutes from the ESU campus. Carmela had recently received her doctorate in education. Her thesis addresses the impact that somatics has in the teaching/learning process. Tesfaye, a young Ethiopian, had founded the Awassa Peace Dojo in his home country, thus opening the horn of Africa to aikido. Because of him some 500 youth have been introduced to the art and opening the door for thousands of people to approach conflict resolution through non-violent means.

Calls and coordination continued. A few months into the process Uriel connected with, "Sorry, no funding for the aikido work. We can only fund the Game." I told him I understood, but offered: "let's do it anyway." He: "What? Really! Why?" Me: "Because we'd be insane to pass up the opportunity. If we don't do it now we'll have to wait a year or two longer. Then what?   We'll just be in the same place that we are today."

The days July 12-13 and 16-17 at ESU with sixty-some UPWARD BOUND students got to me, and it also got to the staff, the university officials and Carmella and Tesfaye. With this came a broader understanding of and possibility for UPWARD BOUND. ESU's program is just one of 900 scattered across the US, all housed on college campuses.   If similar results can spread elsewhere then the potential impact will touch hundreds of thousands of people.   Everyone involved these past months had his or her own reasons and needs for wanting this to happen. Those reasons were addressed and the needs were filled. A few weeks after the program was complete I was having supper at Dempsey's, a favorite hangout back home in Petaluma, California. My son, Alex, plus three black belt aikidoka from the dojo where I train joined me.   All had played the Samurai Game® at some time. We talked about Uriel, his students and the resulting delivery. Someone at the table offered, "There's an important book to be written here, not just this most recent thing, but about the Game itself, what it is and what's transpired over the years because of it."

So the next series of Ronin Post articles will take a step in that direction.

What is the Samurai Game®? Where did it come from? What are its objectives and how does it accomplish these? Who is it for and who has used it? What impact does it have for individuals, teams, schools, universities and organizations that engage in it? Who can produce and lead it, and what is involved with that? A myriad of questions need to be answered.

But the question to start with is WHY? Why the Game?

Years ago one of my mentors offered that the question 'Why?' always influences and provides insight into: 'Who?', 'What?', 'How?', 'Where?', etc. He contended that those who deeply understand why will always lead those who know what and/or how. Good consultants know that the first step in getting an organization back on track is to ask the founder, "Why did you start this thing (business, nonprofit, law firm, etc.) in the first place?"

In 1977 George Leonard invented the Samurai Game®. How he did that will be addressed at a later time. But for now what's important is that he ended his first delivery with a powerful and timeless social/psychological inquiry: Why do human beings continue to engage in and practice war as a means to resolving conflict? Given we know that for as far back as we can look into history war (the most intense form of conflict on our planet) always results in massive destruction, complete ruination of economies, severe emotional and psychological damage to generation upon generation - why do human beings keep practicing it again and again and again?   We're smart, aren't we? We know for a fact what war always results in. People all over the earth proclaim themselves to be peace lovers. So why do we, the most intelligent species on this planet, keep doing this?

(to be continued in The Ronin Post, September 2012)

© Lance Giroux, 2012

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