March 27, 2022
I always wanted to write a ‘Foreword.’ I think books that start that way are cool. To me it says the book is so good, it warrants an introduction. Enough of my Inner musings? (Some may say a byproduct of Aikido and Tai Chi Chuan practiced together, many of you Aikidoka would just blame it on the Tai Chi part). I am Foreword-ing to let you know why last week’s letter took two weeks to produce. Often it is my fault, having too much to do, having nothing to write about, being lazy, but that was not the case. I was prolific; my draft was done before two weekends ago. As you may know, my beloved does the initial edit and review. She is preparing for a very important conference that she runs for her company. We are up (as I write this) in Maine but need to head back a day earlier than usual so she can jump on a plane for Cali to the Sonoma Valley for a bunch of meetings. That being the case, it took her almost a week to do her thing. Then, off to Hal (Lehrman Sensei) for his input. He was burdened with the civic responsibility of jury duty, so he took most of the next week. So much for my expedience.
I could not produce these letters without their help. Their collective input is invaluable. My letters would sound like a Brooklyn boy’s prose laced with maledictions and non-sequiturs. I owe my writing ability to both as I really suck at writing. Through their patience and guidance, I think I am finally adequate (Did you know about tenses?) You need to use only one when you write? I always thought it was an adventure to use as many as possible.). This newsletter is a group effort as is the dojo. There are two dozen people that without their help, the dojo would be a small group of white pajama-wearing people falling down with no structure or regularity. We are a community and only by being a cohesive group do we grow and survive. So, thanks to Hal and Rachel and everyone else who have helped us to be the dojo we have evolved into. G_d bless you all. I am only the person who gets the credit but I am a product of everyone.
So, as I fumbled my way through the last paragraph (Did I mention Rachel and I are up in Maine? That means I might be enjoying some of Kentucky’s finest libations, given to me by one of my favorite students). It is two weeks since I have said hello to new members. We had a pair of siblings join our 4-6 year old class and Mom is threatening to try out the Adult class. Also, a teen joined our program as well. Henry joined our Adult program and was a welcome addition to our overflowing Tai Chi Chuan class (a dozen or more is not unusual). I want to welcome back a 9-year-old member of our dojo who went on sabbatical to let her broken wrist heal (Not from Aikido). We missed her these two months while her bones knitted. Javier has rejoined our Adult program having left previously due to work. Javier was one of the first new members when we re-opened from the Covid shut down. This Javier is not my long-time friend and instructor Javier but another Uruguayan Aikido practitioner Javier. We now have two Javier’s from Uruguay. What are the odds? Also, Jerry tried class and is joining our dojo. Lastly, we are welcoming Vanessa’s goddaughter to our teen program.
Welcome All. It has been a busy two weeks signing up new people.
To Do or Not to Do’s
Aikido of Red Bank’s 20th Anniversary Seminar – SaturdayMarch 26, 11:00 am – 3:30 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.
Hakama Class – Sunday, May 29, 11:00 am. This is mandatory for all ASNJ instructors; instructors from any dojo are welcome. There is no charge.
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.
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 sessions exploring wherever Aikido leads. It is not often you will have two Shihans sharing their personal perspectives. Here is the flyer. Please come join us for a great day of Aikido and friendship.
The Awkward Years
I have heard many stories of kids in middle school dealing with bullies, predators, or just plain (fill in expletive) that middle school brings on. Both my boys must have dealt with these years in their rite of passage to high school. We have kids who often join just for these reasons. Frank, Director of the kids’ programs, is the perfect mix of fatherly compassion, an odd uncle’s ability to give advice and an errant past to offer them techniques that are not usually taught at an Aikido dojo. He is a wonderful help to young kids needing to get through these tough times. I am sure most dojo’s have a Frank (our Frank is clearly the best of them all) but if you know of a kid who is going through a tough transition into tweenhood, get them to an Aikido dojo. If I am to be Frank (great pun), it is the best way to give them the tools to deal with this challenging phase of a kid’s life.
Annie Get Your Guns
I am always amazed that Annie and Danny Small know EVERYONE in the Aikido world. They (and Crystal Aldrich) are my Aikido Rolodex. If I have a question about someone somewhere at some dojo, they know them, all of them. Living Googles. So, I think the Aikido world (at least you who have nothing better to do than to read my newsletter) know that Annie had shoulder surgery (Get the joke now? Guns? Arms?) and is doing very well, according to her loyal and loving hubby. You may see her here and there with one of her guns in a sling (I wonder if that is where the phrase came from, Gun Slinger? Nah.). I wanted to wish her well and a speedy recovery to be back on the mat soon.
I played a little bit of basketball (I sucked) and was always amazed at how a well-placed elbow could give you enough room for a jumper (I watched the end of the Baylor game with Leroy at our local secondhand store in Swanville, Maine. We don’t have a TV in Maine so I must go somewhere to watch. Good Game. They lost.) But it reminded me of my class last week. We focused on the elbow. When you relax and drop it (your elbow), uke rises. I mean they really go up on their toes, just by putting the weight of your arm in your elbow. You need to relax your arm and drop your elbow. No jump shot though.
This is a basic in Tai Chi Chuan (the weight of the arm always is in the elbow) and for me most clearly seen in Koyudosa. When you drop your elbow, uke goes up. Why doesn’t everyone do this all the time, and practice this? I don’t know, but please try it. It is easier than lifting them with strength. Try that with Javier – either one of them. They are big. Only one is covered in tattoos. Even his elbows.
My Maine Epiphany
Rachel and I spent a shorter than usual weekend in Maine as she needed to be back to fly to the West coast for work. I am usually quite busy in Maine and this weekend was no different: I wrote most of my letter, cut down trees, assembled a shed, ran electricity for lights, and made some furniture. I got up early one morning and re-read last week’s letter, specifically about breathing and then just hung out and did nothing. When Rachel got up a few hours later, she asked me what had I been up to? Nothing.
What I realized is all the things I did is how we usually define ourselves -- by what we are doing, by what we are, by what we have – the Yang. The part about breathing was about what we need not to do, let go of tension, stop holding on, the nothings – the Yin. We, or more truthfully, I define myself by the things or events and not the emptiness. When I meet someone, I listen to what they do. I never think about what they don’t do. I find myself thinking this way when I do Aikido, Tai Chi Chuan or meditating, but forget that the other half is real when the rest of my life is going on.
What is the difference between the two? On one hand nothing, on the other hand, everything. How many can do nothing? I don’t mean do nothing by watching TV or reading a book, but do nothing? Just sit and be still, be quiet? Just be part of, well, be part of everything. We can only experience that when we are still, truly doing nothing. My epiphany is to not only look at the something but also look at the nothings. It is ok doing nothing if it is done with awareness. It can be the same as doing something. I value my martial arts by how much tension I can let go of. I try that all day long, but I only define my day by what I have done. I am missing half of my existence. All the nothings.
My Maine Epiphany.
"Those who are possessed by nothing possess everything."
- Moihei Ueshiba, the Founder of Aikido