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  • Writer's pictureSensei Jay

Dojo with the Mojo

May 5, 2023

What’s Happenin’

ž Every Saturday 9:00 am – Kyu Test Prep Classes. If you are interested in testing or just want to sharpen your technique, Danny will be giving personalized lessons to help get you ready for the test on May 20th. There is no charge for this class.

ž Lehrman Sensei is teaching class– Wednesday, May 10, 7:00-8:30

ž Mother’s Day – Saturday May 13th, 11:00 am. All students are welcome and feel free to invite your Mothers, Wives, Significant Others, and Siblings to come celebrate with us. Coffee, Breakfast, Bloody Marys and Mimosas

ž Spring Testing – Saturday May 20, 2:00 pm Sensei Jay’s Wheel of Ukemi Class; 3:30 Tests. Potluck celebration to follow. Those interested in testing, please speak to Frank, Danny, or Derrell.

ž Sharon Dominguez, Guest Instructor – Wednesday, May 31, 7:00-8:30 pm. Sharon Dominguez 6th dan Shidion will be teaching class. Don’t miss this class.

Dojo with the Mojo

What a slogan. I think that would make a great tee shirt – “ASNJ – The Dojo with the Mojo.” Maybe not? It made me laugh. This is an update with what is going on.

I bought the new canvas for the mat. You can see it at the front of the dojo in a big canvas bag. Tom painted the Kamiza. It is white and pretty. Derrell is redoing the Tokonoma. We are finalizing paint colors (Hopefully. You can see lots of test swatches on the front wall) and will paint the dojo soon. (You can see of the rejected colors in the kids’ picture). We will install the canvas after that.

I have met with the Women’s Committee, and we are working on a Women’s Self Defense course based in Aikido principles taught only by female instructors to start in a few months. It is sponsored by the Women’s Committee. Buck has been very involved as he has taught a similar course for us on two occasions. To further help with our curriculum, we have a detective from a local police department who has fellow police officers. I will let you know more as we continue to hone the program.

As far as the new t-shirt, I will get around to that. The Dojo with the Mojo. Just saying. It is catchy. Let me know what you think.

Aikido, the Next Generation.

To Boldly Throw Uke Where No Uke Has Been Thrown Before.

We had kids test this last month: 21 kids! We hold kids’ tests every other month (the even months is how I remember) on the first Saturday of the month at 11:30 am. If you are around, come watch one day. I cannot begin to tell you how amazing so many of them are. The clean techniques, the power from someone not yet 10 years old, it’s amazing. They have such intense focus that I, honestly, would love to see from some of the adult students.

And then we have the very tiny ones. One of our youngest is only three and a half and is so cute I sometimes can’t help but laugh out loud while overseeing the test with a dumb ear-to-ear smile.

And then to watch the parents beaming with pride and joy, many who hugged me after the test thanking us for giving their kids something we all think is so special – Aikido.

Many parents are purely watchers, others of them are also practitioners following in the tiny footsteps of their offspring. I have started giving parents info on our Adult program when they sign their kids up because 40% of those kids’ parents have joined. It’s only a matter of time before the whole family is hooked.

And then the Jr Deshi’s parents and students who help with the tests. I mean we always need uke’s on test days. Watching the teens ushering the herd of tiny aikidoka through the tests, taking falls from someone not quite three feet tall and keeping the tiny gi-clad warriors calm and in position.

It is one of the days I am most proud to be a part of Aikido Schools of New Jersey and to be part of the Aikido world that Yamada Sensei helped to create for us and the future. It is a day that I remember how truly blessed I am. Come watch next month. Take part in that blessing.

Spring Seminar

We hosted Steve Pimsler Sensei for our Spring Seminar on Saturday, April 22. I don’t think I had ever taken Steve’s class before I did at the NY Aikikai Christmas Seminar this past December. He used to teach a lot of morning classes at the NY Aikikai. At this class a few months ago, I was so blown away I knew we had to invite him to NJ. Steve was named as the Chief Instructor at New York Aikikai.

The seminar was beyond my expectations. The mat was crowded, the laughter was contagious, the techniques were clean, classic and vigorous, and the perspiration was, well, smelly (Do you think we can harvest that odor into a rear-view mirror pine tree-shaped air freshener?). We had the AC pumping and doing its job.

The party afterwards was as always, a great time. We all did not get out until late evening feeling full, a little tipsy and hurting from four hours of Aikido fun. We can’t thank Steve enough and we are planning a dojo trip to bring our teens to NYA for a Saturday class.

Thanks to all that helped that day, to those who brought food and beverages to the party, to all those who attended and mostly to Steve. Thank you. And I can’t forget to thank the inventors of Advil. My best friend the following morning.

Whose Line Is It, Anyway?

Off the Line - a basic idea? I was surprised when teaching that it was revolutionary to some. Not the idea of getting “off the line” but how important and prevalent it is for ALL Aikido techniques.

When you are attacked with a strike, you need to get “off the line.” If something is coming at you, get out of the way. In Aikido, we move to the side either inside or outside, and move towards or away from the attacker. Never in line with or directly against the attack. Very basic and logical, I mean, who likes to get hit? (Forget I asked that. For this letters sake, let’s say no one.). But it is a basic idea, if attacked, get out of the way. But what happens when you are grabbed? You still need to get off the line. The same when uke tries to hit you. You get off the line.

This is a fundamental concept in Aikido as we do not ‘block’ as many other martial arts base their ‘defense’ on. We do not attack the energy back but agree with it, just off the line. When you are grabbed, it comes with energy. There is almost always a direction, pushing towards you, pulling away, pushing down on the grab. You join that energy and move off the line of uke’s attack so that is no longer directed at you (this movement off the line often goes into a spiral) and come out of uke’s feet taking their balance away.

When you are attacked, no matter how the attack is done (this is the same for verbal attacks) you should always get off the line. It is better than getting hit.

It’s all About Awareness

Sheri asked a question in Tai Chi Chuan and it filtered into my Aikido classes. She noticed that she goes up and down as she does the Form. She changes her height. The Tai Chi Chuan Classics teach us to keep our legs bent (the part everyone hates) and keep our height constant. “So, how do I fix that?” she asked. It was a great question and brought into focus what we were practicing, and I thought of the follow-up letter I will write to the Ki letter one day. (This is my attempt at foreshadowing -- “a narrative device in which a storyteller gives an advance hint of what is to come later in the story”-- Look how fancy my writing is getting. I’m foreshadowing. Impressed?)

So how do you fix something you are doing incorrectly? First, you need to know what you need to change. You need to become aware of the mistake. If you don’t have an idea? of what is correct, you’ve got nowhere to go (that sounded so ‘Brooklyn” when I wrote this). Then you need to be aware of what you are doing that is not proper. If you are flinching when attacked, you must know you are flinching. That is awareness. Knowing that you are doing something is crucial. Does that fix it? Yes. But not immediately. It’s a process.

You practice with awareness; you pay attention to something. In this example, flinching. When you first discover you are flinching, that is a great start. You may notice 15 seconds after you start tensing. You keep practicing and after a while, you start to notice in 10 seconds; then five, then two and then, one second later. Eventually, you will be rewarded with noticing right before it happens. At the very moment, at the fork in the road, flinch or relax.

At this point, your awareness is complete. You are experiencing ‘in the moment’. In that instance before you tense, you can decide to relax or not, which fork to take. You have learned to be in that moment, at that moment, a whole being. You can make the choice to move in a more relaxed manner or in a natural state. Or at least not to flinch. You have learned to correct your practice through awareness.

Take That Back

In our Tai Chi Chuan class we focused on our backs. Not just the back but the back of your back. Most people only perceive of themselves as the front of their bodies. It makes sense. This is where our eyes are usually looking (Unless you are an owl. Owls have 14 neck vertebrae as opposed to the seven neck bones humans or giraffes or any other mammal has. Crazy fact about giraffes? They have half the neck bones of an owl.). Our front is also where our arms and hands usually are. Where our feet point to. While we can scratch parts of our back especially when we are young, we usually need help for that hard-to-reach itch. But our arms mostly function in front of us. We are forward-oriented. We walk forward (unless inebriated) and most of our intention and language is directed forward. (Take one step forward and two steps backward...)

Yet we have a back side (as in the whole body and not the sitting muscle). As discussed earlier, our practice is about awareness. We are, in class, working on our awareness of our backs and to include ‘behind us’ in our awareness. While our spine is all the way behind us, it is the main structure that supports our body from our legs to our head. It anchors? the major blood vessels distributing nutrition throughout our body and the nerves that connect our brain to our body. Our back side is crucial to our existence.

So why do we ignore it? In Aikido, we do Oshiro. If done correctly, it brings our back into focus. We pay attention to what is behind us. In Tai Chi Chuan, we have techniques like Four Corners (The actual name is “Fair Lady Weaves the Shuttle.” It is just easier to say Four Corners. I am also notorious for not knowing the correct names of things.) and “Repulse the Monkey” (I am not making up these names.) where much of the focus is on what is behind us.

But more than that, we internally focus on what is occurring in our spine and in our back. We work to include the back of us into our awareness of our body as a whole. We focus on our back as it brings the weight of the attack into our legs and feet and, eventually, the earth. What is happening in our spine is crucial to our not only being alive but how the Ki flows in our bodies. Have you ever gone for acupuncture? Don’t they almost always stick a needle or two or six along your spine? Besides blood and nerves, it is also the conduit for Ki.

In Tai Chi Chuan, when attacked you take the weight into your foot and turn your body. And you turn, revolving on your spine.

Try to pay more attention on your back, especially your spine, when you practice. See if you have the nerve, (I just read that on my second draft and sighed. Yes. I am going to leave it in just to see if I can get on your nerves.) or the blood, or the Ki, and the awareness of this in your back. See all that is happening in your back side. (I love this article. I get to keep saying ‘backside’.)

--Jay Tall

Sensei, Aikido Schools of NJ

"We habitually think of the future as in front of us. We can see what is in front of us, so that is actually in our immediate past. Seeing what is in front of us gives a sense of security. We cannot see with our eyes what is behind us and so like the real future it is unseen, unknown. So, we can have the much more real thought of the future as what is coming from behind us, the wave that is coming to move us in an unknown manner. This gives a feeling that is much less settling and perhaps more true."

--Hal Lehrman, 7th Dan

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