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Sunday, November 25, 2012

An Interview with Dr. Dave

        Dr. Dave in Sweden, in the courtyard of Mikael Blomkvist's apartment from The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo

Today I will be interviewing Dr. Dave of Shrink Rap Radio. I have been listening to his Podcast for quite some time now and it is truly one of the best psychology pod-casts I have come across. He covers a wide range of topics and hosts many notable guests.

Dr. Dave is also known as “David Van Nuys, Ph. D  an Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Sonoma State University”. He manages other pod-casts and offers many seminars and continuing study creditcourses for practicing psychologists both online and in person. You can find out more about Dr. Dave here.

It is a great honor to speak with Dr. Dave as I know he has a very busy schedule. I hope that you will enjoy this interview and that you will take some time to check out Shrink Rap Radio. It will surely deepen ones understanding of psychology and its many tangents.

The interview

K: As someone who has a strong interest in both the Martial Arts and Psychology I was naturally drawn to listening to your recent interview with Sensei Nick Walker. Your interview was incredible inspiring and heartwarming. Sensei Nick Walkers outlook on life is uplifting and honest. He propagates a message of understanding and self-respect that needs to be shared.

With that being said throughout the interview I found myself very curious about your own experiences with the Martial Arts and in what ways you may draw connections between the Martial Arts and psychology.You stated that you have had a long interest in the Martial Arts and had practiced Judo for quite some time. Can you tell me a little bit about your experiences with Judo. Why did you start Judo, How long did you practice and why did you stop.

I personally started Karate because my little brother and his friends were starting. My mother invited me to come along and I had nothing better to do so I went with them. A choice I am very glad I made. I have now been practicing for 15 or more years.

D: first of all, Kyle, let me say how much I admire your commitment to the Martial Arts, sticking with them for 15 years or more. In fact, I'd have to say I'm quite envious because I was never able to marshal that level of discipline.

My own martial arts experience began with the study of Judo at a local YMCA, while I was still in high school. That's now been so long ago that I don't even remember how long I studied for. I had a Japanese-American Judo teacher, who had grown up in Japan and trained Judo there. He was very strict in his approach, emphasizing how demanding his Japanese training had been.

I really admired him and I think that I discontinued the class, if I recall correctly, when something came up in his life that required him to move on. I was very much drawn to the philosophical and spiritual side of Judo. I liked the formality surrounding stepping onto the mat and bowing to the Sensei and to the other students when pairing up. Going into it, I didn't know that there would be such an aspect but I did like it and I think it laid the groundwork for my interests in Buddhism, meditation, and yoga later in life.

The more immediate reason for my interest in judo was that I was growing up in a fairly dangerous, ghetto type neighborhood in Los Angeles. I was often fearful about some sort of dreadful attack or confrontation that fortunately never happened.

At the time, I had a pretty slight build, skinny actually, and weighed about 125 pounds, soaking wet! My personality is such that I'm really not a fighter but more of a mediator and peacemaker. I had read or heard that judo could enable a much smaller person to prevail over a larger and stronger person. It was really part of an adolescent fantasy and I think it was over-hyped both in the culture and certainly in my own mind.

When I went off to college, I took a class that was called unarmed defense. This was to fulfill my physical education requirement. It was taught by a very aggressive law school student and was really a class on how to fight dirty. He reveled this in the sharing of stories of bar fights that he and his teacher had been in. I did not like this approach as much as I did judo because it was lacking in grace and style.

Later, when I was in a Masters program at the University of Montana, I took up judo again. It turned out that one of my grad program colleagues was a Montana black belt champion and ran his own Judo club in downtown Missoula. He also had a Korean collegiate national champion who taught him and the rest of us. I really liked working with both of these men and was impressed by their gentleness in their teaching approach.

While in Montana, I got as far as a second degree brown belt. I earned that Brown belt in an interstate competition that was conducted in Idaho. As I recall, I lost my match but the teacher awarded me a second degree brown belt based upon my style and effort. I lost to what seemed to me as a very sloppy throw in which I was simply overpowered by my opponent throwing his weight wildly. It has been my observation since, that it's not true that weight and size are unimportant unless you have developed a very high level of skill or catch your attacker by surprise.

I had two out of the Dojo experiences in which I did catch an attacker by surprise. I used the same technique in both cases. The first incident happened while I was in high school. I was in the high school cafeteria and a rather bullying, older student wrapped his arm around my neck from behind. I had learned the strategy of going limp which pulled my opponents weight forward and then I straightened up, executing a shoulder throw. Boy was he ever surprised! Everyone in the cafeteria saw it and I don't recall ever having any future difficulties with that guy.

The second incident was almost a replay of that first but in a potentially much more serious situation. This one happened while I was a graduate student at the University of Michigan. I was working in a summer camp for emotionally disturbed boys.

One night, the other counselors and I went out to a roadhouse in the country. It was a crowded bar with a jukebox and dancing. I was dancing with a girl and heard a crash which immediately got my attention. Somehow I found myself moving quickly across the crowded dance floor, following the gaze of other people, until I reached the men's room, where a huge hulking fellow was choking one of my fellow counselors, who had blood all over his face.

I was trying to pry the attacker's fingers off my friend's neck when someone started to choke me from behind. At first, I thought it might be one of the other counselors trying to get me out of the way. So I let myself be dragged a bit, then I began to feel irritated as I was having trouble breathing. So, once again, I went limp and executed a shoulder throw. I found myself kneeling above a shocked stranger who I had just thrown over my shoulder.

I started trying to reason with him, saying something like “okay now I didn't want to have to do that but I was having trouble breathing. And now I'm going to get up and let's just be cool.” Well, when he got up, he realized that he was much bigger than I. I had a beard at the time and he started saying “fuzzy flipped me. I'm going to get fuzzy. He’s bluffing saying I don't want to fight and don't make me hurt you.”

It was really a bluff at that point and fortunately other people in the crowd intervened. It turned out that these guys were some drunken townies. One of the guys from our side who witnessed my throw was a collegiate wrestling coach and he said it was the most perfect and beautiful throw he had ever seen. For the rest of that camp session I was a god.

By the way, I should mention that I went back to the study of Judo at a local YMCA in Ann Arbor while I was working on my PhD in psychology at the University of Michigan. But I got injured, working out with a much heavier and stronger partner when I attempted to execute a hip throw. He leapt up in the air with his full weight coming down on my weight-bearing leg and I heard a loud pop. I'm not sure but I think I may have snapped a tendon or something because I had to be in a cast, as I recall, and was limping around for quite a long time after that.

K: Wow it sounds like your experiences with Judo have been really rich and exciting. I imagine some of your regular Shrink Rap Radio listeners maybe surprised to read this interview. I am really glad you could share these stories with us today.

Now looking back at your experiences with Judo can you tell me a little bit about how Judo may have influenced some of your perspectives on the human experience?

D: well, as I said before, I believe that my experiences studying judo taught me a certain reverence and an appreciation of discipline and the various rituals surrounding the martial arts. I do believe that it laid the foundation for my subsequent interest and Zen Buddhism, meditation, and yoga. It also fanned my interest in Japanese aesthetics.

I grew up in Los Angeles where there were lots of American Japanese. I was always struck by their intelligence and the respectful way in which they carried themselves. I've always been drawn to samurai movies and such. Hopefully, my experience with Judo taught me a certain amount of grace in my interpersonal relationships.

K: You also said that if you could go back you would have liked to spend your time practicing Aikido. For me if I could go back and replace my foundation in karate with anything it would be boxing as I have come to truly admire the fluidity and attention of detail found in boxing. What is it that draws you to Aikido?

D: I did not learn about Aikido until many years later. Again, it was the beauty and grace of the costumes, the circular movements, and the underlying philosophy and history of that particular art that appeal to me.

K: What is it that prevents you from taking up an Aikido practice now or have you had a chance to start?

D: At this point, it's my age. I'm 72 years old and in relatively good health but with all the aches and pains that go along with getting up there in years. It is a little tough.

Some of those aches and pains may be the result of a variety of youthful adventures including playing football in high school, various automobile accidents, a motorcycle accident, or in taking repeated judo falls.

I did try to take up Aikido about 20 years ago but I found that doing the judo type shoulder rolls that I had been able to do in my youth now aggravated a chronic stiff neck condition and so I gave it up. But I remain a distant admirer.

K: You said you had also spent some time practicing Tai Chi. Can you tell me a little bit about that? I have always been quite interested in Tai Chi but have not yet had a chance to practice. What drew you to Tai Chi and how has the practice of Tai Chi affected your life.

D: I studied Tai chi, the long form, for about three years. I think the same things that drew me to judo and to Aikido also drew me to the practice of Tai chi. I liked the form and the grace. It also seemed to be a practice well suited to my age.

I was also influenced I suppose by the health claims that are made for it. Believe it or not, I somehow managed to injure myself by over doing it in a way that aggravated chronic back problems. That forced me to layoff of it for an extended period of time and then I never quite made it back.

K: What other martial arts have you had the chance to experience over the years, including yoga and other physical practices?

D: well, I've already mentioned judo and Aikido. And I've also mentioned yoga. But I've never thought of yoga as a martial art. Though it certainly does have factors that are common to the martial arts, I think. Both involve meditation and a heightened awareness of the body. Both demand discipline and a commitment over a long period of time. Moreover, the teacher, guru, or Sensei plays an important role in both. Both emphasize the development not only of outer, physical strength but also an inner, spiritual strength.

K: Finally In what way do you think the Martial Arts and the fields of Psychology interact with each other?  Are there certain schools of psychology you feel would be more appropriate?

D: This is not something I've ever given thought to. Ideally the martial arts teach both courage and humility. I think that the therapist needs to be courageous and also that the client needs to be especially courageous. I think that therapies that have a spiritual dimension would have the most affinity with the spirit of the martial arts as I perceive it. So, of course, I would lean towards Jungian and trans-personal approaches.

Well there you have it the long awaited interview with Dr. Dave. I hope you enjoyed taking a look into a side of Dr. Dave that most people are probably not aware of. For me it was really fun to see how I may have more in common, with some one I really look up to than I had first thought. I feel Dr. Dave is very honest and down to earth. Perhaps his experience with Judo, which I truly think is one of the hardest martial arts, has helped him stay grounded.

Perhaps in the future we can talk to Dr. Dave or other psychologists again and try to further explore how psychology and the Martial Arts can work together. I have a lot of ideas on this topic and hope to write about them in the future but for now let us know your opinions in the comment section bellow.


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