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  • Writer's pictureSensei Jay

By the Book


 

May 6, 2024

 

What’s Happenin’

 

●       Lehrman Shihan will resume teaching monthly classes at ASNJ on Wednesday, May 8, 7:00 pm-8:30 pm

●       Celebrate Mother’s Day at ASNJ on Saturday May 11 (the day before the actual Mother’s Day). We will have coffee, donuts, mimosas, and bloody marys to thank all the moms for all they do. 

●       Kids Testing Saturday, June 1st, 11:30 am. Forms on the front desk.

●       Spring kyu testing, Saturday, June 1: 2:00 pm Wheel of Ukemi,, 3:30 pm Kyu tests, Potluck party to follow. Speak to Frank, Danny, Derrell, or Tom to be approved to test.

●       Seminar with Lehrman Shihan at Aikido of Northampton, MA, Sunday, June 2. We have at least one car going. If anyone is interested, please let us know and we can see if we can get a second one to make the trip.

●       Dojo Trip to Aikido of Park Slope of Shihan Lehrman’s class 12:15 pm class on Saturday, June 8.  Please speak to Frank for carpooling information.

●       Hakama class – Sunday, June 30, 11:00 am. A dojo meeting will follow. This is mandatory for all instructors.

●       Camp Riverbend teens will once again spend a day learning Aikido at ASNJ on July 17.  Volunteers needed, please!!

●       Summer Camp will be held in Montreal from July 21 to 27, 2024.

●       Lehrman Shihan Seminar at Portsmouth Aikido, Saturday, October 12-13.

 

 

By the Book

We hosted Bruce Bookman Sensei for a weekend seminar back in March (Yes, it has been that long since I sent out a letter). It was beautiful to celebrate Bruce’s return to the USAF.  We all felt the presence of Yamada Sensei as if he was there to help celebrate (He never passed up a good party). It was beyond words (I guess that is fairly inaccurate as I am typing a whole bunch of words about it now, but still a nice dramatic phrasing?) I picked up Bruce and Colette from Newark Airport that Friday and brought them to their hotel - Chez Tall. Rachel had prepared their bedroom with all the necessities as well as bottled water and mints on their pillows (Now the Chez Tall makes sense?).  Colette had requested we have dinner at Reservoir, the Italian restaurant we fed them last seminar.  Rachel and I are Friday night regulars at Reservoir, a South Orange icon (reviewed by Dave Portnoy Bar Stool). We sat down and I introduced my friends to our favorite server, Linda.  She asked if these were also dojo sensei? you know, like that woman sensei I brought last time? She remembered Penny Bernath whom I took there for the last seminar. Creature of habit? Am I too predictable? Nah, the food is great.

 

We stayed up late catching up and hit the hay after removing the mints from our pillows (I have an amazing wife) and after a quick bagel breakfast, we were off to the dojo to see a packed mat of excited Aikidoka ready to work out.  Bruce jumped right into a kaleidoscope of techniques focusing on kuzushi. He started on mortetori (two hand grab). The morning flew and Hal Lehrman Sensei showed up to watch class, still nursing a new knee. Off to lunch for ramen and spicy conversations.  The afternoon had a lot of henka waza (Switching from one technique to another.)

 

After the class, we three awarded Derrell Thomas 5th Dan. I was looking for a way to make this a special moment and I thought what better way than to also honor the memory of Rick Stickles Sensei. I had Hal, who introduced Rick to Aikido, Bruce, who was Rick’s contemporary and myself, who took over the dojo.  Together we represented the past, the present and the future of Stickles Sensei. What better way to bring him to life to present Derrell with his certificate. To help celebrate, we had our usual post seminar party, I welcomed all attending to join us at the mini bar.  We had food for about 100 people. 

 

Sunday, with a mostly new group of people, the seminar continued for another three hours, and, now in May, I am trying to remember the techniques. I might have spent too much time at the mini bar.  Hal joined us again to abscond with Bruce and Colette for some time for old friends to catch up back in Brooklyn.

 

We will Book Bruce again. Be sure to join us.

 

An Ax(e) to Grind

I tried Google to find the correct spelling – Ax or Axe.  It was not helpful. Ax is American while Axe is British, but also perfectly accepts in American English to end with an ‘e.’ Argh.  (BTW, British Sign Language and American Sign Language are nothing like each other.  If you can sign in ASL, you cannot communicate with someone who signs in BSL. Even the alphabet is different. Also, in ASL the sign for England is like you are pushing a sword down. Think King Arthur.). This is completely unimportant except for the fact needed to talk about the latest ASNJ Women’s committee event – Ax(e) throwing.

 

20 women gathered at Stumpy’s in Fairfield NJ for an evening of trying to stick devices normally used to spilt or chop wood and hurling said device at a slabs of pine, with the goal of having the implement land at the target’s center.  Or for ASNJ’s female members and the friends and families of meet and have fun, enjoy a drink, and laugh while discussing the merits of the silent ‘e’.

 

Thanks to Annie Small for organizing this event.  I hope the next event does not have any silent letters for me to obsess over.

 

 

From the Women’s Group:

 

Thank you, Jay, – Want to know how the event went? ….

 

 

 

Just axe us.


Annie - The Women of ASNJ got together for another wonderful event on February 25.  This time instead of listening to singing bowls and enjoying yoga and meditation, we decided to take it up a notch and throw axes at Stumpy’s Hatchet House in Fairfield, NJ!! Truly a fun event!! We had a wonderful turnout with more women and different women that all got a chance to enjoy getting to know one another and throwing axes while doing that and for the record, it was quite a difficult task!! It’s not as easy as it looks!! I enjoyed watching all of us cheering each other on, laughing, and having a great time!! The venue was fabulous, and we all got a kick ringing the bell when one of us hit the bullseye!! I asked the women to write a little piece of what they enjoyed most and here is what they had to say!!! So looking forward to planning the next event!!

Natalie - I loved axe throwing. It's a great way to get out anger. I think I need to get my friends to go axe throwing because they are so tense all the time.

Irene - It was a fun night. I got to meet new people and to know a little more the ones I knew. Natalie got a bullseye on her last shoot at the end of the night which was just epic!

Thu - It was an awesome night! I had a great time talking with members of ASNJ and meeting their families. I loved watching us cheer each other on. That was so empowering and gave a lot more meaning to that bullseye bell's ring.  Regarding Stumpy’s: I think it was great that we had lots of space for the entire group. Justin [throwing coach] was super helpful. I liked that there were other games for us to play while waiting or when we wanted a change of pace.  Thank you, Annie, and everyone for building such a wonderful community and fostering a sense of belonging at ASNJ. 

Connie - It was a fabulous night out I haven't had that much fun since Laser Tag. Those old enough on this chat may remember the one on 22 East in Springfield. Thursdays Zappy Hour!

Anna - It was amazing spending time with such a wonderful group of people and seeing the joy when someone hit the target. I really enjoyed the axe throwing. It was harder than I thought it would be and I did manage to hit the target a couple of times. Everyone was warm and friendly. An amazing group of people and, I met several new people! It was nice having a large group.

Eva - My favorite moment of the night was chucking axes and watching other people get bullseyes. It was a lovely atmosphere for throwing axes. It felt great to be surrounded by ASNJ and ASNJ-family because I love the whole community. My personal high consisted of getting the axe to stick on the target like three times. It felt nice to watch so many women just being themselves and it just created a really cool atmosphere.

Sherri - I loved the event. It was a lot of fun. I loved the encouragement and the camaraderie of the evening. The interior of the location was fun! The coaching by Justin, the taller one, was a nice touch [Stumpy has throwing coaches available for tips and instruction]. I can't wait for the next event. 

Rachel - I had a fantastic time with everyone new and old. It was fun to encourage one another as we learned how to throw an axe or hone our axe throwing acumen (some of us were quite adept from the outset).  When an axe embedded in the wood with that satisfying thunk, we couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear (see the photos!?!?) – whether it was our own throw or someone else’s. And if you missed a bull’s eye, someone rang a bell to announce to the entire place that a bullseye was made!  It was a special evening. I think everyone felt it. Thanks to Annie Small for this awesome event from the initial idea to making it a reality.


 

 

 

The Garage of Damocles

Nothing like a misplaced literary reference thrown into unusual phrasing to get your attention.  Let me explain.  Last week, Danny (the husband of ‘Axe Throwing Annie.’), many of the students, and I did a bunch of projects in the dojo preparing for the Bookman Seminar.  Really, the projects had NOTHING to do with the seminar, but it was a good motivation to get off our Aiki-butts and fix stuff. (Please don’t tell any of my students this. They were all great helping to get the place ready and I want to keep them motivated.  Shhhh!)

 

Danny and I fixed the leaking sink, moved the mats under the canvas to remove the spaces and tripping hazards, hung the sign with Kanji painted by Frank over the kamaza, removed the extra name paddle racks we did not need near the kamaza, put a higher bottom on the weapons’ racks so that you do not lose your bokken when you put it in (it was just too deep and no one used it), fixed the Belgium blocks and white granite chips and removed the extra one – thanks to Jeremy  and Julian, painted the area where the old bulletin board was – thanks to Paul, put up the  “Beginner's Mind” sign (I love that sign) and removed the broken, hanging garage door from over the entrance doors (Get the Damocles reference? When you sat on the couch, guess what was above your head?)  The dojo looks much better.

 

I love that we are always doing something to make the dojo a better place.  Now we only have Swords but none of them belong to Damocles.  He should teach Iaido.

 

Thanks to Dwight, we now have a working drinking fountain and paper towel dispensers in the bathrooms.  Now if only I can get Javier back to install the outdoor speakers? (This is called Jewish Guilt.  I have a black belt in that martial art from my mother.)

 

Tai Chi Chuan Hands

Your foot is grounded, the chi comes up legs, it is directed by the waist and is expressed in the hands.  I love that instruction from the Tai Chi Chuan Classics.  I was talking about the hand a few weeks ago and it has three basics shapes. Start with there being no tension in your hand (or your body).  It should be relaxed and is described in the Tai Chi Chuan Classics as ‘Beautiful Lady’s Hand.’

 

A basic hand position is balancing your hand from your elbow up (your elbow is balanced from the weight of your shoulder dropping into the elbow and up to the fingertips, think the letter V). The back of the hand is smooth, and your hand is flat.  Your metacarpals (thin bones in the back of your hand) are not sticking out (Tension).  Your hand should make a hand model jealous.

 

Another is to turn your forearm level to the ground and rotate it so your thumb is up.  The back if your hand is flat to the back of your forearm but your wrist is relaxed so the finger drape toward the pinky.  If your hand is straight along the wrist thumb to pinky access, you are tense.  We do not do the extension concept as an Aikido person would.  This is a Tai Chi Chuan hand.  The energy is through the middle finger (not the thumb or pinky if you were doing Aikido).

 

An interesting hand position is seen in ‘single whip.’ While this position is only done during single whip (or squatting single whip). This is where your wrist is bent, and every finger is touching the thumb.  This posture, while having a lot of effect on the flow of your chi (it opens the lung meridian if you are doing Chi Gung), its basic function is to expose the end tip of your radial bone (think the end of a jo staff) in order to strike and break open an opponent’s sternum and drive their xiphoid process into their liver. (Not a good thing.)

 

The last hand posture I will mention is a fist (Didn’t see that one coming for a martial art?).  It is not what most consider a fist, it is loose. It is described as if you are holding a small egg.

Your hands in Tai Chi Chuan, like Aikido, are a means of communicating. Your fist communicated chi to your opponent’s insides, often damage internals (Tai Chi Chuan, unlike Aikido, is not based on Love, unless you love to damage people’s internal organs.)

 

There is a lot to unpack and learn about the hand in Tai Chi Chuan.  Each shape has a very specific function and a corresponding effect from your foot. I find this fascinating.  Come to class. I’ll be happy to give you a hand.

 

A Potential Member, a Phone Call, and a Recipe

I had a dad call up about having his daughter try out Aikido. She took Karate for a few years, and he did not like the school or the style, so he was considering Aikido for her. I have a lot of respect for Karate as well as advanced practitioners of any martial art.  I studied briefly back in the late 70’s at Mas Oyama’s dojo on I think was 6th Ave, NYC on the 2nd floor.  I saw him, Mas Oyama, once and was instantly in awe.  He radiated power. Mas Oyama was famous for punching a bull to death with his bare hands.  No cape or sword like the bull fighters in Spain.  Just knuckles hardened from punching a freight train for years.  Great Karate is amazing. 

 

I explained this to the parents.  It is important to find a martial art that represents who you are.  There is no one right martial art (Or ice cream: That is why Baskin and Robbins serves 31 flavors). Explaining this to the dad, I came up with an analogy. Some people like to follow a recipe exactly. I had a cousin many years ago who cooked that way.  1/4 teaspoon of salt is just that, not a touch more nor less. Others think a recipe is a suggestion.  You follow how you feel and what your senses, mostly taste, tell you what you want to do. I used this to explain the difference between Karate and Aikido.

 

Karate is based on kata.  You practice prescribed movements over and over, making them precise and trying to achieve a perfect technique. It is a study of precision and speed.  Aikido is where you learn techniques and use the techniques to create a new recipe dependent on your senses. The forms are important as guides.

 

Neither (way of cooking or martial art) is better or worse (I know many of you have different opinions, this is mine). It is important to discover what type of chef you are.  Do you follow recipes or cook by taste?  (If you are the latter, try Aikido, just don’t taste your uke, that would just be wrong. I am not sure our insurance would cover that. Just follow them.)

 

 

How to Follow

Aikido is about learning how to follow. Ukemi is to follow. You follow your nage and get thrown. Being nage is to follow, you throw uke how they ask you to be thrown.  Teaching is to follow. You teach students what they need to learn.

 

I came to class after watching a video entirely on koshi (hip throw). I love koshi (I did Judo as a younger guy for a few years).  I often end class with koshi, or aikitosh. So, I had this idea of teaching the whole class (90 minutes!) doing koshi.  Thanks to my son, Zachary, he talked me out of that idea. I did that five years ago and it was not well received, he reminded me. So, I decided to work on a tenkon entrance from tski and end the class with the last throw as koshi.

 

While doing the warmup technique, I noticed no one entered well.  They were tentative and uncommitted in their movements. I get it as the idea of meeting an attack with moving into (and past) the attacker’s attack can be uncomfortable.  My lesson plan changed as I saw my initial plan was not what the students needed. I followed them.

 

On many drive home I realized how often my lesson plan changes when I watch the students. I think good teaching is following.  I hope you can follow me here.

 

 

--Jay Tall

Sensei, Aikido Schools of NJ

 

 

 

“Tai Chi Chuan, the great ultimate, strengthens the weak, raises the sick, invigorates the debilitated, and encourages the timid.”

-- Chen Man-Ching, Master of the Five Arts

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