Navy chaplain uses Japanese martial art in ministry aboard the USS Wasp
By JAMES BOLINGER | STAR AND STRIPES Published: April 2, 2019
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Lt. Keith Braddy, the chaplain aboard the Sasebo-based amphibious assault ship USS Wasp, ministers to sailors and embarked Marines through the philosophy of aikido.
Braddy, who has been practicing the martial art for 25 years, said he started as a teenager in Elizabeth, N.J. Now, at 43, he is using those skills for the spiritual health of servicemembers aboard the command ship of 7th Fleet’s amphibious readiness group.
Aikido, a descendant of the traditional Japanese martial art daito ryu aikijujutsu created by Morihei Ueshiba, spread to the United States after World War II. The practice is primarily taught as a defensive art, and the goal is to use the attackers’ momentum to defeat them.
“It is a very philosophical art,” Braddy said. “Morihei sensei was very affected by World War II and the destruction at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He wanted to create a martial art that would bring people together, as opposed to just merely killing.”
Braddy joined the Wasp in 2017 shortly before the ship changed homeports from Norfolk, Va., to Sasebo, replacing the USS Bonhomme Richard.
Many of the crew are geographical bachelors, meaning they have families back in the States, Braddy said. It’s a high-stress situation for families and sailors. Combined with the transition to a new culture and an emergency response in the Caribbean to assist with hurricane-relief efforts 2017, the crew was under enormous pressure and needed a way to get through it.
Braddy said the ship’s former command master chief recognized that having a martial arts program on board might be helpful.
Braddy then received permission from the president of the American Aikido Federation to teach and bestow rank. His is the only such program aboard a Navy ship, he said.
“It’s a very relaxing art and because it is traditional and hasn’t been Americanized, there is the philosophical base of Japanese culture, and it’s very calming,” he said.
Aikido translates as the “way of harmony,” and that philosophy can be transferred into every facet of a sailor’s life, Braddy said.
“I try to teach my sailors that when they have overwhelming force — force of life, force of problems — rather than going against it, blend with it,” he said. “Working in harmony with each other. Working in harmony with the command. Working in harmony in life.”
Some martial arts get off on trashing people on the mat, Braddy said. The throws in aikido are real, but the uke, or sparring partner, gives his or her body as a gift with which to practice.
Therefore, one must take care of the uke, which builds community, he said. That community then expands from the mat, to life, to the command.
Petty Officer 3rd Class William Nguyen, an electronics mate who recently left the Wasp and is departing the Navy after four years of service, began training with Braddy two years ago.
Nguyen said he first picked up martial arts after getting beaten up at age 15.
“My uncle introduced me to aikido, but I didn’t like it because it was too passive,” he said. “So, I switched to MMA, where you punch people in the face for fun. But, after a while it was just not clicking anymore, and I just want to find peace.”
Aikido is not just about rolling around on a mat, Nguyen said. It brings peace to its practitioners by teaching them to use their physical abilities to gain self-confidence and overcome adversity.
Nguyen said he will take that philosophy with him as he exits the Navy and returns home to Houston.
At sea, the chaplain holds classes three times a week, and has taught more than 50 people since joining the Wasp’s crew. However, he relinquishes teaching when the ship is in port, and takes his students to the aikido dojo in Sasebo to learn from a Japanese sensei.
Sometimes the beginning stages of counseling happen on the mat, Braddy said. The bond between teacher and student gives the crew members who practice with him an avenue to discuss problems that may arise while at sea, the chaplain said.
“Everyone may not come to my religious services, because they may not share my faith,” he said, “but aikido gives me a way to connect with them.”