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Dojo Directors

Derrell Thomas 4th dan, Fukshidoin aikido teacher

Derrell Thomas

Director, Iaido Program

5th dan, Fukushidoin

Derrell Thomas began his practice of Aikido in 2000 under Shihan Richard Stickles at Aikido Schools of New Jersey’s original location in Elizabeth.


After trying different martial arts in his youth, mostly Shotokan Karate, he dropped a family member off at the dojo who had just begun training in Aikido. He watched a little of that class and never looked back. Soon the dojo moved to Roselle Park. Derrell's practice became daily and he started helping Stickles Sensei in the dojo. He assisted with children’s classes, took lots of ukemi in adult classes, and helped cover teaching when it was needed.


In 2008 Derrell started a program called Newark Aikido, running out of the YMCA. He was there seven years and then expanded into his own dojo space. After two years there he unfortunately had to close the doors. He and his students were welcomed back to ASNJ where he currently trains and teaches.


Personal Quote: "I have seen Aikido change people's lives and I've seen the dojo save people's lives."


Derrell is currently ranked  3rd degree black belt in Iaido.

Frank Pakulski 3rd dan aikido teacher

Frank Pakulski

Director, Children's Program

4th dan, Fukushidoin

Frank started Aikido in September of 1997. A friend lent him a book about various martial arts and he found the idea of an empty-handed sword art intrigued to him. So, Frank visited ASNJ in Elizabeth and watched Sensei Stickle's advanced classes and has been in love with Aikido ever since. Frank practiced Judo for several years as well as various sports a 'Jersey boy' would enjoy.


Frank’s aikido focuses on the concepts learned with training with a bokken (wooden sword). His favorite technique, if you twist his arm to choose,  is Ikkyo (first technique of Aikido). “From Ikkyo you can do any Aikido technique, O’Sensei, the founder of Aikido, made Ikkyo the first technique for a reason.”   Franks classes focus on moving your body in harmony with an attack. As he likes to emphasize in youth classes "If you are not where trouble is, bad things cannot happen to you".


Daniel Small 3rd dan aikido teacher

Daniel Small

Director, Adult's Program

4th dan, Fukushidoin


Danny started Aikido as a special birthday present to himself in 2005. He trained in Tang Soo Do in his 20’s twenties under Grandmaster HC Hwang. Danny’s first day at Aikido Schools of New Jersey was truly life changing. “I found my home, I found a new family, and I found a way to challenge myself like never before.”  What drew Danny most to the practice of Aikido is the principle of Continuous Self Improvement.  By training my mind, body and spirit he discovered a process that expanded my view of the world and of myself.  “At this point in my life, and my training, Aikido is now medicinal, my training on the mat prepares him for the challenges of life.”

Danny feels blessed to be part of history of ASNJ, thankful that Rick Stickles Sensei was my teacher, fortunate to be part of Yamada Sensei's lineage, and will always remember his training with Doshu and Waka Sensei, the direct descendants of O’Sensei.  “I only hope to give back as much as I received from Aikido.  Hope to see you on the mat soon!!!”


Javier Burghi 5th dan aikido teacher

Javier Burghi

5th dan


Javier started training in martial arts asa teenager in Uruguay with Shotokan karate. He found training was fun but he always felt that there was something missing. 


In 1990 a friend suggested that trying Aikido. He started training with Carlos Cela Sensei in 1990 and very soon realized it was what he was looking for. In 1994 he moved to New York and immediately started my training at NY Aikikai, studying with great instructors like Yamada Sensei, Sugano Sensei, Harvey Koinsberg Sensei, Donovan Waite Sensei. In 1997 he started going to Aikido of Park Slope under  Hal Lehrman Sensei.


Having trained in different countries and as many seminars as possible, he has always tried to exchange knowledge. It has always been a very fulfilling experience and something that I intend to continue doing for as long as I can. 

Javier instructs on occasion when schedule allows.

Connie Trumper 4th dan aikido teacher

Connie Trumper

5th dan


Connie began Aikido practice in 1994 at ASNJ with the School's founder, Shihan Stickles, when the school was in Elizabeth, NJ.  Connie considered martial arts in 1994 after a difficult life change. She felt that trying something new and unfamiliar might transform her circumstances into something positive. A friend told her about Aikido explaining that it is very different from other martial arts. Aikido combined meditation, coordinating breath with movement and that the art centered on neutralizing an opposing force by blending with it rather than trying to stop it. Upon seeing Irimi Nage, a classic technique, something resonated and Connie knew she found her practice. She joined that evening signing up for 1-year membership and has practiced ever since.

Shihan Stickles put Connie in charge of the Children's program after obtaining 4th kyu. She ran the program until she moved to North Carolina in 2000 where she studied with Sensei Steve Kaufman. Connie returned to NJ after about a year in NC. She returned to teaching and teaches at Aikido North Jersey as well as ASNJ.

Connie has also attended a myriad of seminars in the US, Bermuda, Montreal and Japan and has taught regularly in seminars in both NJ and North Carolina. And if that is not enough, Connie is working on her certification as a Yoga instructor, another skill she incorporates into her Aikido practice and instruction.

Walter "Buck" Braxton 4th dan aikido teacher

Walter "Buck" Braxton
5th dan


Buck is a retired Lieutenant from the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice.  He also is a substitute teacher for the Rahway New Jersey School District.  Buck studied Aikido under the instruction of Shihan Rick Stickles for over twenty years. He teaches  Aikido in the afternoon.

His favorite saying is “Keep Your Aikido Sharp”.


Andy Small
5th dan


Andy has been practicing Aikido since 1988 and he previously trained in Judo and Karate. He started in Connecticut with Sensei Juba Nour. A few months later, when work as a trial attorney brought him to New York City, he continued training at the New York Aikikai under Shihans Yamada Sensei, Sugano Sensei, Wade Sensei, Konigsberg Sensei, Pimsler Sensei and Lerman Sensei. At the New York Aikikai, Andy was a devotee of 6:45 AM morning classes. This taught him the value of aikido as a daily priority as well as getting to bed on time.  

After moving to New Jersey in 2006, Andy joined ASNJ and began training under Shihan Rick Stickles, who depth of knowledge and experience inspired Andy to focus on the details of technique. Andy also finds that hamni-handachi (attacker standing; defender kneeling) and suwari-waza (both uke and nage on their knees) are prime examples of Aikido’s brilliance, manifested in movement. Andy is a player-coach never missing an opportunity to train.  Andy is a partner at the law firm of Weber Gallagher Simpson Stapleton Fires & Newby LLP.


Tom Newcomen

4th dan


Tom started practicing martial arts in 1978 at the House of Karate in Staten Island.  He studied Go-Ju Ryu where he earned a yondan (4th Dan). In the mid-to-late 80s, he studied at Nanzen-Kai Karate where he earned a shodan (1st Dan). In 2000, Tom started his journey in Aikido studying with Sensei Ralph Wemberly, 5th Dan at Aikido of Staten Island until 2007. Tom also studied at the NY Aikikai under Yamada Sensei. Tom now studies at ASNJ and is currently a Sandan (3rd Dan). 

Parvis Ghahramani 1st dan aikido

Parviz Ghahramani

3rd dan


Parviz started Aikido in 2008, after practicing Taekwondo for 18 years. He chose Aikido as a natural progression to a next level of awareness that can be continued for life. After a couple of trial classes at ASNJ, he was hooked for life (He had the Aikido bug, as he called it). He found Aikido as a martial art was more is kind to his body, more peaceful and still inherently powerful and effective.  

Parviz works in the biotech industry in a busy job that requires hours of sitting in the office or on a plane working long hours each day. Aikido soon became an important component to balance my life and to keep both my body and mind healthy and out of a chair.

Parviz teaches some of the beginner’s classes and participates in many other classes available at ASNJ to progress his Aikido to the next level. Parivz summarizes Aikido in the following phrase "Force has little role where there exists a higher level of martial arts skill and awareness".

Annie Small

2nd dan


Annie started Aikido in 2006. Her husband of over 2 decades was an active student at ASNJ and this was something they could do together. Annie found that she became stronger, more flexible, my spirituality and mind grew and I learned to incorporate aikido in every aspect of my life, even her career.  “From my first day on the mat, I knew aikido would be a part of my life for the rest of my life.” Annie and her husband Danny and I love to travel and go on hikes up in Vermont with family and friends.  They love going to see concerts and enjoy all kinds of music, going to the theater and love to enjoy wonderful food with friends.

Annie has discovered that through her practice of Aikido she can achieve new limits if she pushes past her limitations.  She shyly boasts when she achieved the rank of Shodan, 1st degree black belt. “I will never forget that day and how proud my mom was of me; I was as giddy as a child running home with a perfect report card.”

George Walden

2nd dan


​George jumped into Aikido in 2010, in his 60’s.  He fell into Judo in college and ran track for many years.  He started Aikido for health and self-defense but fell in love with the openness and graceful movements.  His favorite moment studying was his first break fall, and to his surprise, he did not need any medical attention. George assists with the kids and beginner’s classes and occasional fills in to teach. He finds teaching as a great way to help improve his own techniques.

Paul Burt

2nd dan

Paul started Aikido in 2013.  If you come by the dojo, you will recognize him as he is usually manning the front desk.  As a fan of the classic Kung Fu movies  on TV back in the day, Paul took a few classes with  Sensei Stickles in the former Elizabeth, NJ location.  Many years later, he came by with his son who fell in love at first fall.


Paul trained in Tae Kwon Do in the late 90’s.  He loves singing, playing guitar and piano, but not at the same time. Paul leads bi-monthly Worship and Praise Services at the Jersey Shore Rescue Mission.  Paul is  an assistant instructor for the beginner’s and kid’s classes.

Barry Stratford

2nd dan


Barry began his study of Aikido in 2005 under the direction of Shihan Rick Stickles. Barry is a common fixture at ASNJ and can be seen teaching one of the beginner’s favorite course - Ukemi or the art of falling.


For the past 20 years has managed "life camp “, a 90-acre campus of rolling fields and woodlands that serves as a summer day camp for 300 Newark area kids between the ages of 6-13


“I really enjoy the spirit of cooperation in the art of Aikido."

James Talyor - this one is good.jpg

James Taylor

1st dan

James Taylor first became interested in martial arts as a teen. His curiosity was inspired by reading and television.  He eventually began studying Hapkido.  He went on to study Shorin-Ryu Karate and Daito-Ryu Aiki Jujitsu prior to finally discovering and falling in love with Akido. James has been studying Aikido since 2012, began at ASNJ under Shihan Stickles. James initial attraction to Aikido was its fluidity of movement and the non-aggressive philosophy.

James is currently teaching beginner and youth classes. He finds this particularly rewarding because the interaction with young people inspires him continue to learn and grow. James says training, learning, and working has taught him to be calm and centered. The friendships and community at the dojo have provided support to explore the discipline, self-balance and centeredness.


Olga Sen

1st dan

Before trying out a class in 1998 at Aikido Schools of NJ (ASNJ) in Elizabeth, Olga had never participated in any sports. Once she had this Aikido experience at ASNJ, it felt like what she had been searching for her entire life. Since then, Olga has sustained her Aikido practice through life’s ups and downs, including dojo relocations and the untimely death of Shihan  Stickles. Olga is deeply grateful to Shihan Stickles for having created Aikido Schools of NJ and sharing his passion for the art of Aikido.


She is committed to studying, practicing, sharing, and spreading her knowledge of this wonderful martial art.  Olga embraces Aikido as a multidimensional art with physical, spiritual, and philosophical components. She feels Aikido can embody different aspects of energy and encompass a full spectrum of expression, from peaceful and soft, to aggressive and strong. Olga avidly continues her quest to explore all of Aikido's many facets, finding new revelations to this day.


Zachary Tall

1st kyu

Zachary Tall started his martial art career at the age of 4 in an after-school Karate program. He would become the first-ever child to receive a black belt at Empty Hand Karate and would continue to practice for 12 years. 


While practicing Karate Zachary joined a Tae Kwondo dojo and practiced for 4 years. Zachary wrestled in high school, but never found a love for starving himself. He joined ASNJ at the age of 13. He found the art different and exciting; he has been practicing ever since. He founded the Aikido Club at Rider University.  Outside of martial arts, Zachary teaches history to 8th graders in Orange. 


Jeremy Burt

1st Kyu, Junior Deshi

Jeremy started taking Aikido in September of 2013 at the age of 7. He initially enrolled in Aikido classes because he was being bullied at school.


Since then, he has gained the confidence and ability to deal with these encounters so those bullies don’t matter anymore. As one of the original Jr. Deshi’s he is very eager to expand his Aikido training.


Jeremy loves WWE, video games, and playing the piano. He will graduate from high school as part of the class of 2024. He is currently undecided about his career path.


Anthony Guzman

1st Kyu,

Guzman (as everyone calls him at ASNJ) began training in Aikido in 2016 to help overcome an injury. He has a black belt in Kick Boxing after training for six years.  He was also a competitive high school wrestler.

Guzman was first attacked to Aikido because of the beauty of the art and stayed because of the power of Aikido.

Guzman spends time cycling and listening to all types of music when not on the mat. He likes to say, he listens to a limitless variety of music.


Chris Zorse

1st Kyu,

When looking for a place to get some daily exercise in the early 90s Chris discovered ASNJ in Elizabeth. He studied under Rick Stickles Sensei. Later, Chris joined O’Connor Sensei in Morristown where he trained for the next 20 years while frequently visiting other dojos. “Aikido is not just a martial art, it’s also a community. Everyone knows everyone and I’m made to feel welcome wherever I go.”


In 2016 Chris took up jiu-jitsu for a year and a half but stopped due to frequent injuries. “I just couldn’t get the notion: tap early and often.”


At the end of Covid, Chris found his way back to the ASNJ family. “Sensei Jay is a great instructor, and he makes this dojo special by letting the senior students express their own style.” Chris feels that diversity is what makes ASNJ unique and why he calls ASNJ “home.”


When not on the mat Chris can be found one-wheeling through a field with his dog, Josie. “I love feeling the power of my hips or center in Aikido and one-wheeling. They are both very similar in that way.”

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