This is a post from John Thorpe, one of our senior students. The original is on his blog at

After being diagnosed with one of those ‘severe and enduring’ mental illnesses many begin to define themselves by their psychiatric label. They may call themselves schizophrenic or manic depressive and in so doing often confirm the chronicity inherent to those labels. I am by way of being a martial artist and when I found myself subject to the mental health system, severely labelled, medicated and without hope, I fought a personal battle in a mental landscape, the battle to define myself.


  “Your true battle is with your own mind of discord”

Morihei Ueshiba

From the first class I was hooked, the principles and practice of Aikido fed a hunger which began in my childhood. I trained under my instructors as often as possible, even setting up a small dojo in my house where I could practice daily. In 1994 it was my honour and privilege to be asked to teach my first class and soon I began to make plans to set up my own local ‘Leeds’ class.

Just when, the elated moods began I am not sure or whether my fascination with spiritual aspect quickened the process or kept me well may never be known. The high mood increased over time until they were somewhat out of control. Hospitalisation followed and it was at this point that the true battle for which I had trained began. I was told, as I entered hospital that although not under a section of the mental health act, if I tried to leave I would be sectioned. It was explained to me that should I refuse medication I would be restrained and injected against my will, the power invested in the hands of those around me was horrifying, I no longer had any choice but to nod at the right time, remain silent and hope for a quick discharge. Within a few days of entering the ward I shuffled around dribbling, held my hands out in front of me unable to hold a drink without spilling it. I could not distinguish between illness and the medication side effects; this it seemed was how my life would be from now on.

After being discharged the adverse effects of too much haloperidol were still evident, if it were not for my wife I doubt I would have been discharged at all. I shuffled round the house with an ashen face set in a haloperidol ‘death mask’, there was nothing I could do for myself apart from sit on the edge of my seat like some withered emaciated ghost of who I had once been. A hungry ghost still haunting it’s old life, lost somewhere between desperation and longing, this was to be my lot.

A friend called, a fellow Aikidoka, he was shocked at what I had become. We talked briefly and then he took me outside. Tai no Henko he called out, a blending exercise in Aikido.

O'Sensei Tai no Henko


The founder of Aikido Morihei Ueshiba practicing Tai no Henko with Chiba Sensei

He grasped my wrist firmly, my body turned as he did so and I felt the authentic power of good posture and breathing, he allowed me to practice the exercise over and over and I began to feel strong again, a strength I thought was lost forever. I understood the role my Aikido would take in this battle. We practiced some sword exercises together and when he left I remained for some time lost in bokken suburi, a solitary exercise. The next day I was as before yet the memory of that authentic empowerment remained.

Eventually I returned to the dojo, this time with my eldest son by my side. I believe it is the training, discipline and respect martial arts demand which had fostered in me the spirit to challenge the stigma of living with a serious mental health condition and to face further relapse. My diagnosis defines me less than my martial art.

 John&Noah1John&Noah 2

Through the course of my training

mental health episodes have taken

me away from the dojo, so it was to

my great suprise and joy that the

principal instructor of our association

promoted me to the rank of

Sandan, 3rd Dan, in December

2012. That day was a huge

milestone in my recovery

morihei-Ueshiba - considerate people

“Your heart is full of fertile seeds, waiting to sprout.” Morihei Ueshiba

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Labels: aikido, bipolar, bokken, haloperidol, manic depression, Martial arts, mental health, recovery, suburi, tai no henko