An Aiki Marine

Originally published as: "An Aiki Military"in A Way to Reconcile the World: Aikido Stories in Everyday Life, edited by Quentin Cooke
By Richard Strozzi-Heckler Sensei

I first met Birks when he was recently promoted to First Lieutenant, just a year out of The Basic School. He was the officer that supported our efforts running the Marine Warrior Project, the precursor to the Marine Corp Martial Art Program (MCMAP) at Camp Pendleton in 2000. In his support position he was close to the project but wasn’t a direct participant, but he was intensely interested and hounded me daily about what we were doing. He was a Division 1 Collegiate wrestler in College and had tried a number of martial arts. He was tough, disciplined, and carried a big heart in his barrel chest. I would show him what we were doing and he would hang around as much as his time allowed. He was a solid Marine and cared about his men and thought what we were doing would help his Marines. At some point I gave him the names of some Aikido dojos in the area and he began training.

Over the years I would get emails from Lt. Birks from around the world and he said he was continuing his Aikido training wherever he went. Then I heard a story about a Marine officer near Falluja, Iraq who had his patrol drop to one knee, take their helmets off, and bow their heads as an Iraqi funeral procession passed by. This diffused a potentially dangerous moment as the funeral crowd was outraged seeing an American unit patrolling nearby and they made threatening gestures. Later the Iraqis spoke the officer’s virtues in how he respected their culture. Coincidence or not, now Captain Birks’ unit, suffered minimal casualties in their deployment in this area. Later when I asked Birks about this he simply said, “It seemed like the Aiki thing to do.”