April 8, 2022
I would like to welcome Mike to our Aikido program. He practiced years ago in another federation. I also want to welcome Fabian to the Adult program. He had joined just before Covid and has, since his work scheduling changed, come back to the dojo. Make sure to say hi when you see them.
Dying of Cuteness
We had Kids' testing last Saturday at 11:30. I had to be at my nephew’s wedding by 2:00, so if you saw me run out, please understand. Still, watching the dozen or more little ones doing their Aikido is so impressive and adorable, I would not miss it anytime. Come by and watch.
On Thursday I was at the 4–6-year-old class. There was a 4-year-old girl who did not want to get on the mat. I went over to her by her dad and plopped down on my knees. I asked her if she could take me on the mat as I was scared. She took my hand, you know, when you slip each finger in between each other's as we walked onto the mat (I was dying. She was sooo sweet.). I asked which color dot I should go to (we put down colored dots for the little ones to stand on to know where to go). We walked over as Paul was teaching the other kids. She joined in the Aikido breathing exercise as I sat seiza next to her. After two minutes, I told her I was not scared anymore, and asked if it was OK if I stepped away. I got a huge smile and a happy nod. I left the mat, said ‘hi’ to some parents and went to my office to pay bills. I was smiling, yes, while paying bills, ear to ear. I love my job (the smiling kids’ part, not the paying bills part).
Things to Do in ASNJ
Lehrman Shihan – Wednesday, April 13, 7:00 pm. Lehrman Shihan 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.
Easter – Sunday, April 17. We are CLOSED.
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 Konigsburg 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 have two Shihans sharing their personal perspectives. Here is the flyer. Please come join us for a great day of Aikido and friendship.
Peaches And Unagi
This is a new section that was inspired from attending the Seminar at Red Bank. I gave up on the Foreword section and will, now and then, share my stories about Aiki-Friends (I am inspired by ‘Pitch Perfect.’ You understand if you saw the movie. I hope a teen or two might think I am cool.). I realized how much of my history has been in a dojo of some sort or another and the many close friends that I have in my life from all this time. Why is this section called ‘Peaches and Unagi?’ I am sorry but that is a private joke with this friend.
The first person -- no, it is not Hal -- is a person who is almost as influential to ASNJ as he is. Why her? She is an inspiration to many of my teen students, one of my first Aikido friends and she also saved my life with a needle. Sharon Domingez. She was there in the very beginning of my Aikido journey, one of the first people to say hi to me when I stepped on the mat in Aikido of Park Slope. She was a fellow white belt and my Senpai. She came over to say hi as she was friends with Eric Schneider, my Tai Chi Chuan teacher, who started doing Aikido in 1970. She and I became fast friends. We instantly fell in love, like brother and sister, at first throw.
One of my favorite Aikido classes ever was one she and I took together at NY Aikikai. We took turns and did each technique in the style of some Aiki-greats – Sugano, Yamada, Kani, Chiba, etc, and the other had to guess who it was.
I am always in awe of what she does in the Aikido world, from her amazing skill on the mat being an inspiration for many, her role on the Board of NY Aikikai, her close relationships with Yamada Sensei and the late Sugano Sensei, her role in the USAF as well as having a position in the International Aikido Federation (Hombu to the rest of us). She is also ordained and marries a lot of other Aiki-Friends bringing much Aiki-Joy. We have been through a lot, from going out as two couples, to our younger kids hanging out in Brooklyn.
I love Sharon dearly (Even though she, like most of my Aiki-friends, like my wife, Rachel better than they like me. During the pandemic, Sharon, Rachel, and Eric Zoomed on the weekends each doing their own art project. You may see this --everyone liking Rachel-- as a reoccurring theme when I talk about these Aiki-friends. (But that is another story I may have to rehash with a therapist).
As far as saving my life? Did I mention she is an incredible healer helping many people with acupuncture? She studied acupuncture with one of O’Sensei’s early students, Nakazono Sensei. The story: I went to a new Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor in Chinatown as my long-time doctor, Kenny Gong (also a master at Shing Yi and Bagua) passed away. The new guy, I do not remember his name, gave me some prescribed Chinese medicinal tea that I had a bad reaction to. I had high fever, spasms, and, in general, was in a bad way. Sharon broke out her needles within 15 minutes, while still very frail, I was much better. Was I dying? Probably not. Was her treatment miraculous? Absolutely! But if you have been reading these letters for a while, you know I like to tell a good story so let's stick with I was dying. An interesting fact, she now often uses grains of rice in lieu of needles in her acupuncture as her teacher has continued to develop the art and finds the rice has a good effect and is less invasive. I mentioned Sharon performs weddings …Hmmm… rice in acupuncture and weddings? Coincidence? I think not.
So, to my first Aiki-Friend, Sharon Dominguez Sensei, my dear friend, and our Aiki-Story.
Don’t Let the Door Hit You…
For most people, their Aikido practice is only on a mat. For me, and how I was taught, the practice has meaning more so when I walk out the door and stays with me until I enter the dojo again. This sounds idealized, but this really cemented (sorry, more of my construction background puns) for me as I read more and more of O’Sensei’s writings. I end my newsletter with a quote, usually from O’Sensei (The first time my wife edited this newsletter asked who ‘Ueshiba’ was. She thought O’Sensei invented Aikido.). I hope everyone makes it to the end of the letter for the quotes, because this causes me to read a lot of O’Sensei’s writings. I have only seen one quote that has to do with a specific technique: "Shihonage is the foundation of Aikido. All you ever need to master is shihonage." All the other readings have to do with his philosophy and how Aikido changes how you act in life and society.
We learn to stand with a straight back to learn to be righteous and let our spirit rise. We learn to move smoothly and to go with the flow and not fight. We keep our bodies relaxed to learn now not to hold stress and be healthy. We bend our legs and root learn to be grounded and not to allow our environment to rule us. We learn extension to be a part of the world and learn relationships. We learn to be centered to understand ourselves, our hearts, minds, and bodies and be aware. We learn to learn all these things, but these lessons are only introduced on the mat, but they are to be practiced everywhere.
The lesson is on the mat, the studying, the practice is all day long, the practice is in everything. You know the old joke, ‘What did the Buddhist priest say to the hot dog vender? Make me one with everything.’ (There you go, Tracy.). So don’t let the door hit you on the way out because then you would not be practicing Aikido.
Thank you! Three people gave us a Google review from last week's letter. I am asking everyone else to click on this link and review us on Google. Google counts positive reviews for more which affects how far to the top a website appears in a Google search. Don’t just do this for ASNJ, do it for every Aikido dojo you have ever practiced at. This is how we can ensure Aikido grows and keeps strong. Just Google a dojo you have visited and click on ‘review’ on the right side of the open panel. https://g.page/AikidoSchoolsNJ/review?nr
How Do You Raise an Aikidoka
I am sure you all read about Raising the Sword in last week’s newsletter. If you missed it, you could see all the letters on this link. We continued to focus on the part of lifting the sword and letting the cut happen as a result, not as the focus. In class we did kokyuho, shihonage, and iriminage to see how lifting our arms like lifting a bokken, effects uke and letting the throw happen from just letting your arms drop, like the bokken. Many found this tough as we are “programmed” that we can best do something with force. Sometimes, when the door is stuck, the answer is not to force it open but to add a little oil. Look for the way to get a result with as little energy as needed.
My bokken cuts have improved immeasurably by doing less. This idea has completely changed the experience for me. It has led me to investigate how many things I focus on the result only to make the experience require that much more effort. I am surprised at how many things I can make easier by focusing on the process and not the result. Join me in this and let me know if this makes a difference in your life.
Sorry for the little pun. (Streams-of-consciousness-warning!) I was listening to Phil Rizzuto’s “rap” from the famous Meatloaf song while I was driving to the dojo to teach the Tai Chi Chuan class. My brain was half Tai Chi Chuan / half Paradise by the Dashboard Light, when I thought he said, “Holy Tao, I think he is going to make it." (I did warn you.) Interestingly enough, the use of Holy Cow in baseball was coined by Hasley Hall in 1915. Where did the term originate? I am only guessing that is stems from the Red Heffer from the Old Testament. The many biblical scholars in the dojo can give me their thoughts on this.
So, some Tai Chi Chuan. “The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao.” This is the first line of the Tao Te Ching. What you call something by its name, it is a poor way representation of what that thing is. Let’s be clear, it is worse than a poor way to express things, words suck, they cannot do justice to an experience [Ed. Note: I imagine all poets are rolling their eyes and huffing now. I invite them to save their breath, he’ll likely get to a good point. Just gotta go for the ride.] Words are only a placeholder to communicate things. In simple terms, words are a bad way to express something, only experience is. We cannot teach through words, we need to see, feel, touch, etc. and experience that thing. I can call something “purple,” “soft,” or, “sour” but what one person experiences is very different from another when hearing these things. Seeing, touching, tasting something is the experience.
That does not mean words do not have their place, but Holy Cow, at the right place and the right time. They are to communicate but not to learn. I remember being up in Maine for New Year’s Eve one year watching a bunch of people dancing. It seemed like everyone had a different song playing their head (No one was listening to Meatloaf.). Zachary, my son, said “It is like they all learned to dance from reading a book.” Each had their own interpretation of the words to mean something else. This is why Ikea furniture instructions are pictures, not words.
When someone is interested in joining ASNJ, I insist they take a class. Let them experience what we do. I think this is one of the successes of this dojo. We enjoy the doing, being in the moment. Give it a try. Before you go any further (Meatloaf reference, sorry. Still have the song in my head) understand we learn by doing. Keep the long-winded explanations for telling friends at a party how good you are at putting together Ikea furniture. Or give them a BJÖRKSNÄS as a gift and let them find out on their own.
“The techniques of Aikido change constantly; every encounter is unique, and the appropriate response should emerge naturally. Today's techniques will be different tomorrow. Do not get caught up with the form and appearance of a challenge. Aikido has no form - it is the study of the spirit.”
- Moihei Ueshiba, the Founder of Aikido