March 9, 2022
Congratulations to Frank and Danny
I am honored and proud to announce the promotion of two very special people: Frank Pakulski and Danny Small to Yondan (4th degree black belt or 4th dan). They are wonderful and talented and I am thrilled they are my Aikido brethren and my dojo-mates. They are vital in helping to manage the dojo. Two very special people whom I love very much. Thank you both for being part of the dojo and part of my life. God bless you and congratulations on your well-deserved accomplishment.
Let’s welcome Clarence to our Adult program. Clarence comes with judo experience. Also, please welcome Joe to the Tai Chi Chuan class. Joe has an extensive karate background. It is always nice to have a beginner who is not a beginner. We also had three kids who had suspended their membership (actually, their parents did the suspending, but you get the drift) reactivate their membership. And Diego was back in the house. It was great to see Diego, one of the earlier Junior Deshi come back for a little mat time.
If you paused your dojo membership, you are always welcome on the mat to get in your Aikido jam for a session here and there. Our door is always, metaphorically, open but please keep it closed -- it is still cold outside and I just had the heat fixed. Just come and practice.
I walked in early Wednesday to see a mat filled with a dozen youths and a handful of senpai helping Danny with his class. What a wonderful sight (--albeit a little loud. It was tough to get work done. I think I sound old.) The majority of the teens are new students, and the energy stopped me for a few minutes. I sat down next to Elizabeth (An Aiki-Mom and a Tai Chi Chuan class member) to watch them do their thing. We are very blessed.
St Paddy Day
March 17th is right around the corner. Please come to the dojo either wearing your gi or something GREEN. Yes, as it has become an annual tradition at the dojo, I am inviting anyone who comes to the dojo on that Thursday to wear green instead of your gi.
To Do or Not to Do’s
Aikido of Red Bank’s 20th Anniversary Seminar – SaturdayMarch 26, 10:00 am – 2:30 pm. Please join me at the seminar taught by Yamada Sensei and Konigsberg Sensei. ASNJ’s 2:00 Adult and 3:00 Junior Deshi classes will be canceled on that day.
Lehrman Sensei – Wednesday, April 13, 7:00 pm. Lehrman Sensei teaches the second Wednesday of each month. This is a mandatory class for all ASNJ instructors and an exciting treat for all our students and guests. We welcome visitors from other dojos who would like to attend.
Kyu Testing – Saturday, April 23, 2:00 pm. Class is at 2:00, Kyu Tests at 3:30 followed by a Potluck party. Speak to Danny, Frank, or Derrell if you think you are ready to test.
Dean Sluyter-hosted Meditation – Sunday, May 1, 8:45 am-10:00 am. Dean Sluyter, cofounder of ASNJ's Sunday morning meditation program, returns to lead meditation and discussion, and to present his new book, The Dharma Bum's Guide to Western Literature. No charge for the program, open to all.[jT1]
Spring Seminar – Saturday, May 21, Noon to 6:00 pm. We will be hosting Lehrman Shihan and Koningsburg Shihan for a very exciting seminar. This is their first time together since Covid. They will be alternating classes exploring wherever Aikido leads. It is not often you will have two Shihans sharing their personal perspectives.
Hakama Class – Sunday, May 29, 11:00 am. This is mandatory for all ASNJ instructors; members from any dojo are welcome.
The Dojo as a Safe Place
I was working with a student prepping for his 4th kyu test. He was showing panic at every shomen and tsuki. I asked what was up. He wanted to “Make it Real” and take each attack like he was ‘on the street’ (My words, not his). I told him while that was admirable, he was losing out on what a dojo is about. It is a safe place to practice. A place you CAN fail without repercussions, without being severely hurt (mostly just egos). It is like a padded room (Props to Bruce Profsky).
Try doing the technique slowly and smoothly and do not meet the attack with fear because you want to pretend it is real. Save that for when you are a shodan. It is ok to see the attack as fake and to learn not to fear it while practicing in a safe environment where you will not be hurt. Do it that way a million times until you can do it without any thoughts of fear. Then practice it real. Real in a safe environment. That is why it is called practice. Otherwise, you lose the benefit of what a dojo is about: a place to try and fail. I call that learning. When I was discussing with Hal (I am calling him Hal from now on, you should still use Lehrman Sensei. I feel funny saying Lehrman Sensei. It is like me calling my sister: ‘Mrs Coleman’, it feels funny.), he said “You don’t want fake reality, you want real practice.” I could. Not say it better.
Kids with a Lot of Class
Last week was Read Across America. One of our students, Michele Adlaz teaches 3rd grade in Elizabeth, NJ (God Bless our teachers). She asked for volunteers to read to the kids and to speak about their careers. I volunteered to read and to talk about being a sensei. I had no idea what book to read to 8 year old kids, so, based on Rachel’s suggestion, I skipped reading a book and told them various Zen and Taoism stories – the Calligrapher vs the Samurai, The Monk & Abbot who carried the Geisha, The Frog and the Scorpion (it’s my nature), the Farmer and the Monk (We’ll see.), and How Long Will It Take to Get a Black Belt (ten years if I practice really hard, then 20) stories and a few others.
We met on GoogleMeet (from the comfort of my office) and each kids had a laptop. Everyone had a different background so one of the kids was at a metal concert, another in outer space. The kids were great and I loved doing this. If you ever get the opportunity to share with the next generation, please do so. Sensei or Contractor. I think it is important to give as much as we can to the next generation. Even if they ask you questions like “What was your day like when you were a kid?”
A Breath Away
We all breathe. It is important and one of the seven criteria to be considered alive (I can’t believe what I remember from college biology classes). The lesson I remember about breathing, lo those many years ago, that came from Lou Kleinsmith Sensei, is “Don’t Stop.” Please don’t. Don’t hold your breath, ever, unless you are looking for pearls. Don’t hold your breath when you are doing something strenuous, when you are concentrating, when you are threatening your parents (just eat the broccoli, it’s not that bad), when you are thinking, just don’t hold your breath. This week was about relaxing, (or not being tense) in your breathing.
For whatever reason, our perception of how to hold our bodies is a tight stomach: Suck in that gut! Chest up! Shoulders back! (Sounds like a drill sergeant or a gym teacher.). Unfortunately, while this is typical in fashion magazines (or on TikTok not to sound like a Dad) it’s, well, to be frank, really bad for you. This posture causes a lot of stuff to be squished inside your torso, I mean a lot. Your torso is a biological miracle of Tetris like perfection that an Ikea packaging engineer would take his hat off to. Don’t take my word for it, check it out on Google body. (They have a site for everything. You can see if your house is good for solar panels and a site for teachers to communicate and send homework to their students.) If you pull in your stomach, your small intestines move up into your large intestines which pushes up your stomach into your heart which compresses your lungs and keeps them from expanding. You may think you look good; you might squeeze into skinny jeans, but you are not doing your health any good and it makes you have to poop more (Not my words, study from UCLA in the ‘90s. I like to say ‘poop’ in class. It makes Vanessa laugh.).
We laid on the floor (nice having a big mat), with our legs bent, feet flat on the ground; one hand on our belly, the other on our chest. The goal was for the belly hand to move and the chest to stay. We did that for a few minutes and many of the comments were how more relaxed they were. Everyone could breathe better this way. It is called diaphragmatic breathing. The way singers are taught to breathe. Then we tried to breathe into our backs, have the area in our lower back expand downward into the mat with each breath. (This is from an exercise we did in my teen gymnastic classes called ‘Constructive Rest’.). This was more difficult. Then we tried sitting, same exercise, hand on belly, other on chest. And standing. Each one presented more obstacles to breathe into one’s belly.
We learned about how much tension we hold in our torso and how this effects our breathing. It is not a quick fix but a lifetime to return to breathing how we did as a baby, naturally, without tension and not holding in our stomach or tension in our torso. And who knows, one day you may be asked to take the mic at a karaoke party, and you can finally belt out Adele. Eat that broccoli. Just breathe.
“Ultimately, you must forget about technique. The further you progress, the fewer teachings there are. The Great Path is really NO PATH.”
- Moihei Ueshiba, the Founder of Aikido