Goldilocks and the Three Bears
I was told my letters are too long by my editors (Zachary, my older son, and Rachel, my wife. My best critics.) I am appealing to you, my loyal readers to give me your opinion. Like the three bears – too long, too short, just right. Please let me know. Also, if there is any topic for the philosophy part you want me to cover, please let me know. I have a standard curriculum that I cover in Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) classes, but I take requests. I teach on Thursday, try the veal (too obscure a Borst Belt reference?).
Dojo news: We have a young man joining the youth program who formerly trained with Derrell at his Newark dojo. I do not give the name of kids in our programs in these letters, but if you see a new face, please say ‘hi.’ I also want to welcome Ethan who is going to join our “cutting edge” Iaido program. Say ‘hi’ but from a distance, I hear those guys have swords.
I want everyone to breathe easy. We are getting a new air filtration system thanks to a recommendation from Sensei Firestone of Westchester Aikido. It is an amazingly simple but brilliant system based on box fans and MERV 13 filters (It is brilliant. I did not think of it. I just recognized the brilliance when it appeared on the Zoom call). It will filter the air of particles that may carry the virus from the dojo every 3-5 minutes (at a much higher rate than what the CDC recommends). I hope to have it set up in the next two weeks as the weather is turning colder, and we will be indoors more often. I guess you could say that I have a lot of fans?
I am trying to take as many proactive steps as I can to keep the dojo as safe a place as possible while still keeping the spirit of Aikido and the practice as close to the art we are used to and love (some run on sentence. I hope my editors will let me keep it [Ed. Note: I’ll allow. This time.]). I will continue to consistently review the classes and programs as we upgrade the dojo.
I want to send a huge Mazel Tov to Crystal and Dan! They got married this weekend by dear friend and fellow Aikidoka, Sharon Dominguez. For those of you who may not recall, Crystal was a Deshi at ASNJ but now lives in Connecticut. Please send hugs to the happy couple.
As I am sure everyone knows from my emails, Lehrman Sensei is teaching Koichi Tohei’s 22 Movement jo form on the NYA Zoom program over the last two weeks. He is continuing, so jump on the Zoom class Wednesday nights at 6:00. (Have I ever mentioned his Wednesday night, 9:00 meditation class? I don’t recall if I have.) A handful of us are meeting at ASNJ to watch the big TV together while distancing – which is an oxymoron - a group meeting for Zoom? Nevertheless, at ASNJ, we have a big screen TV and aren’t afraid to use it. Thanks to Danny for setting up the technology and bringing a speaker to hear better. Here is Tohei doing the form Lehrman Sensei taught. Come by on Wednesday evenings at 6:00 and join us.
I am not beneath a little teaser advertising, but I have ordered the long-awaited ASNJ T-shirt. What do they look like? Ha! I said this is a teaser. They will be in soon and for sale at your friendly neighborhood dojo. See Paul to purchase one when they arrive.
I was going to discuss emptiness and Chapter 11 of the Tao Te Ching in class but got side lined when reviewing last week’s discussion on Wu Wei and centeredness. We ended up talking about distractions during TCC or Aikido movements while trying to be aware of your center.
A common distraction is your mind and obsessive thinking. We practice quieting the mind, not by shutting it down, but letting thoughts go. Have the thought, that is only natural, but let it go and focus on your center and your body.
The same with your heart. When you experience an emotion, feel it, experience it and the associated thoughts and again, let it go. When we don’t want to feel the emotion, we tense trying to bury it. The practice is to feel it and let it go. Pay attention to your center, it is always there.
Besides the obvious physical exercise, the continuous and lifelong practice of letting go and focusing awareness on your center is what gives you the tremendous health benefit of Aikido and TCC. It is moving meditation.
The TCC form and Aikido techniques are not the end game but the means. They are only the tools to learning and the subject we are learning is ourselves. This self-awareness is, for me, the real power of Aikido and TCC. How many times have you met a partner that resists, and you get frustrated because the technique does not work? This is the true opportunity to practice. Relax. Focus on your center, feel the connection to uke’s center, use the techniques to change uke’s center and their relationship to their foot so that their resistance weakens and eventually disappears.
I understand this is easier to say (or in this instance, type). It does not happen overnight. It is the art, the learning. Even a moment of this is a great accomplishment and leads to more.
The physical techniques are only tools to practice self-awareness and its connection to everything else. This is why I am so adamant about a meditation practice; something Stickles Sensei was also a big proponent of and why meditation was and still is a readily available resource at ASNJ. As I responded to a student when he said how difficult it is to focus on your center when doing the Form or a technique on the mat: Yes, it is. So, start simple: sit. The goal is to take that sense of awareness and be there as much as possible. And yes, when someone is punching you, that is when it is when it is most important to stay aware of your center. It is what the practice is ultimately about.
So, the classics say keep the heart and the mind in your Hara, or center. The story of the Goldilocks and the Three Bears is not about animals. It is an allegory about moderation. The three bears are just the tools to learning. The lesson is to do everything in moderation. Except moderation. Don’t do that in moderation. You need to do that all the time. Like TCC and Aikido.
Buy a T-shirt.