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Covid Reopening – A Year in Review

June 24, 2021


Over a year ago on March 24, 2020, I put a sign on our dojo door, walked into my office, and sent an email saying we were closing temporarily due to the Corona Virus. I posted it on the home page on our website and social media. I think I said we expected to reopen in 4-6 weeks. It was just a little longer. We re-opened on June 24, 2020, three months later. Rachel and I went up to Maine for those three months. The boys spent most of the time there with us but also did quarantine in our house in NJ.


To be honest, it was not a terrible time (Looking back, it was a great period in my life. I feel guilty saying that and I’m aware we were fortunate in many ways.). We were in the forest we love in Maine, the white pines, oak, sugar maples, paper birch, beech, and balsam firs. We love the woods. I was quarantined with Rachel, my wife, my best friend, and my favorite person in the world. We had our two boys, Jacob, and Zachary, with us and James, our dopey hound keeping the world safe from squirrels and frogs. Who better to be isolated with? Locked in the woods with people I love. And there was always toilet paper in the supermarket. Rachel kept working remotely while I shut down my company, Tall Builders. I spent time cutting down trees and worked on the dojo website and our Search Engine Optimization (SEO). That really helped when we re-opened.


But this is not about what happened from March to June but what has happened in the 365 days after when we re-opened one year later. It has been quite a year and Aikido Schools of NJ is alive and well thanks to all of you, the instructors, the longtime members, and the new Aikidoka and all the people who have supported us. Here is a recap of the year.


Since then:

  • 42 students returned to the dojo when we opened that June last year (I think. We switched member management software so I cannot look up the exact number).

  • 100+ students have joined our dojo since that day (we have lost a few). Moistly [Ed. Note: I hate typos, but this is comedy gold, so I left it.] new, and a bunch of great people returned.

  • 21 classes a week were in the schedule on that day in 2020 when we reopened. The mat was never full, and some classes were completely empty. I am beyond blessed to have instructors that stood by us and ASNJ and kept coming to teach at an empty dojo and never complained. Thank you.

  • 35 classes per week is the schedule today in 2021. Most classes are packed. The kids’ classes are wonderfully chaotic with 15 or more kids running around learning Aikido.

  • 3 months we practiced in the parking lot during that the summer until the Governor changed the protocols allowing us to be inside with a limited number of people (We have AC! It was nice). Eventually, the protocols changed again, and we could once again reach out and touch someone. (Thanks AT&T for a great tag line.)

  • 30 documents were created including multiple sets of practice protocols that were needed to outline everything from how to practice for kids’ and adults’ classes, how to clean the mat, what signs to look for if you are sick, etc., as the State changed regulations. My favorite was “How to Sanitize the Bathroom After Each Use.” My wife laughed at me. She knows my bathroom habits [Ed.Note: Or lack thereof.].

  • 470 lbs. of apples and oranges consumed by students, both kids and adults, that we provided since Halloween as a healthy alternative to candy. It was such a hit; we always keep the bowl of fruit filled.

  • 1,200 disposable masks were supplied and used by students. Most brought their own, but I never wanted to turn someone away because they forgot one. While they (masks, not the students) are no longer required, I still buy them and will continue to do so in case someone wants one. And yes, I did buy 100 hot pink ones as they appear to be the favorite. I also have kids’ sizes with cartoons and such on them and for some reason, Tom, an instructor, only wears those.

  • 46 quarts of hand sanitizer supplied and will be supplied forever. I think that is a good thing to have on hand (no pun intended, well, it was intended). To quote Martha Stewart, “It’s a good thing.” Besides the fact that it is really moisturizing, and my hands and wrists have never been more supple.

  • 11 times I had to quarantine one or more students due to potential Corona-virus exposure. It was always private and never announced. Thanks to Paul for helping with all the contact tracing. I was terrified each time but grateful we all adhered to the quarantine guidelines.

  • 0 cases of Covid at the dojo. (Thank G-d!)

  • 27 gallons of bleach diluted with water to a 7% solution were used to disinfect the mat between classes. We are pricing out new canvas as the 3-4 times a day spraying bleach has destroyed the canvas. While I am not happy to spend the money, it was well worth it.

  • 6 rolls of tape were used by Danny and me to outline the practice areas on the mat. Another reason we need a new canvas: the bleach made it tough for the tape to stick and alternately, fused random pieces permanently to it.

  • 2 kyu tests were held where we promoted 20 students. Congratulations to you all for great tests! And thanks to Frank, Danny, and Derrell helping to organize and prepare everyone (and everything else you do!).

  • 12 cans of bug spray deployed for outdoor classes. Yup, they were biting. Reminded me of Maine – and not fondly.

  • 1 ninety-minute-long regular Tai Chi Chuan class was added to the schedule. It has a strong following and there are a few students who only take Tai Chi Chuan. It is free to all regular members. I cannot recall this class without remembering the best analogy of the year from Olga who described moving like you are catching a ball. (See post.)

  • 6 new students joined Iaido as well as many regular students began studying Iaido. It is now offered to all students at no extra charge. Derrell, great job.

  • 3-4 students on average take the new Sunday Yoga class with Connie (my wife is enjoying that). Yoga is free to all members and their families.

  • 1 weekly online meditation class hosted by Lehrman Sensei. I really enjoyed that time. Now my teaching schedule conflicts. I may have mentioned this class in one of my letters. It is not like me to go on and on about something I have discussed on the past. I usually only mention something once and then let it go. I never run on about things.

  • 70 gis purchased, mostly for new members.

  • 6 months of planning to create the new Adaptive Aikido class that we started this June. The class was developed to help educate kids with special needs to learn Aikido. Thank you, Zachary and Megan (who is not a member) for spearheading this.

  • 3 outreach classes with 34 students who signed up at the Wallington Recreation Center were created.

  • 2 special events were held by the newly-formed ASNJ Women group that was created by Annie, Vanessa, and Rachel, my wife. They even have a logo.

  • 50 of these letters were written to the students. The most popular was my trip (literally) to the dentist in Maine when I wound up at the ER getting stitches in my forehead. What I won’t do for the dojo. I was ahead of the game (sorry, bad pun). Vanessa’s story is also a huge fan favorite. Thank you, Vanessa, for sharing your story.

  • 4 garden sprayers purchased to sanitize the mat. I bought cheap ones from Walmart and Harbor Freight, but we may have only needed one if I bought a good one. Who knew bleach is that corrosive!?

  • 9 times I sprained my ankle this past year. Sometimes on the mat, other times just walking in NYC. It is from an old gymnastics’ injury. See “A High Bar” for more of that story.

  • ? (unknown) number of Advil have I taken. I spent 3 months in Maine cutting up trees for firewood. I thought I was in great shape until I stepped on the mat. The next two months of Aikido, I woke up every morning with a dozen muscles I did not know existed that were screaming at me. I guess I did not use them carrying trees. Yup. A lot of Advil.

  • 1 inflatable Sumo wrestler costume I wore for our Halloween class –– what a good time!

  • 3 light fixtures replaced above the mat. The bulbs were out, and it made sense to upgrade to LED. It is much brighter. Omar always seems to be there when I replace the lights. Thank you Omar!

  • 2 gallons of paint used to paint my office. It really needed it. Thanks to Ernesto for helping me paint and my son, Jacob, and Rachel helping me rearrange and hang pictures.

  • times I have told students to stop talking and practice. You know who you are.

  • 4 Kids’ tests were given. Those are the priceless moments watching the incredibly adorable little ones do amazing Aikido. It is good to know the future of our martial art is in good hands. Thanks, Frank, for helping to run this program and, Derrell, for running such fun tests.

  • 182 times we howled with laughter. I have no idea how many, but it seemed almost every other day, so I made up a number.

  • XXX many times have I shared a drink with one or more students from my office mini bar. I plead the fifth (tell me that is not a great pun).

  • 18 bottles of Dit Dot Jow given away to students (and used by me) to help with the aches and pains. (As Jeff Morrow asks, “Got more ‘Jow?).

  • 6 boxes of tissues were used in my office when tears were shed for various reasons. I cannot tell you who or why, it was a tough year and we did go through a lot of tissues. Every Jew’s office and car has tissues. (Don’t ask me why).

  • 365 times I thanked G-d (every day) for the blessings we have had. For the gift of this great community. For the thank yous I have received for keeping the dojo alive and growing. And for the fact that we all survived this and can spend one more day on the wonderful earth and enjoy another moment together.

I am sure there are many more things to recount, many more people to thank but it has been quite a year and one I hope to never repeat. Not because it was bad, but because I want each moment to be new. I look forward to the next class, writing my next letter, greeting a new member, hosting the next event, seeing old friends, having my next meeting, raising my glass to toast someone’s success, complimenting a student on a well-done technique, smiling with all of you and getting a welcome hug.


I can still remember turning off the lights last March when we closed and quietly crying as I walked to my car. I sat there alone for almost half an hour silently crying. I grabbed a tissue from the box in my car (Told ya.) and dried my eyes before I drove away saying goodbye to our dojo, my second home. As I backed out of the parking spot, I looked back at the dojo and saw O’Sensei over the kamiza. I made sure to keep the light on O’Sensei’s picture because I knew we would be back.


Thank you and G-d bless you. I can’t wait to see what the next year brings us. I will always have a glass ready to toast and a box of tissues if needed. I love you all.


--Sensei Jay



Life does not change. You have a day, and a night, and a month, and a year. We change - we can be miserable, or we can be happy. It is what you make of your life.


Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates



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