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  • Writer's pictureSensei Jay

Horror Movies

June 8, 2023

What’s Happenin’

ž Feast of St Anthony Sunday June 12, 6:30 pm. We will be putting on a demonstration, mostly the kids at the fair across the street from the dojo. Come by and watch and support our members.

ž Lehrman Sensei is teaching class Wednesday, June 12, 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm

ž Dojo trip to NY Aikikai – June 17– Join us as we head to the NY Aikikai to take class with Steve Pimsler Sensei. We will announce more information shortly.

ž July 30, Sunday 11:00 – Hakama class. There will in a teacher’s meeting to follow.

ž Lehrman Sensei in Portsmouth, NH – Saturday/Sunday, September 2 - 3. It has become an annual seminar where Sensei Lehrman teaches at a wonderful dojo in a beautiful coastal town. A few ASNJ students usually go. I head up every year for the Saturday class and then to Maine afterward. Hope to see you in Portsmouth!

A New Test

I want to congratulate the following people who passed their tests on May 20, 2023.

Shodan 3rd Kyu

Naelys Lopez Michelle Aldaz

Patrick Morrow

1st Kyu

Jeff Morrow 4th Kyu

Anthony Guzman Ulises Erickson

Henry Singleton

2nd Kyu Natalie Noya

Eva Morrow

Duerte Nobre 6th Kyu

Frank Basile Robert Morrow

The tests were great. There were a lot. A dozen. I was excited. I was happily reviewing the list of who was testing with Frank after Tai Chi Chuan class on Thursday, and he looked at me and said, “That is a lot of people for the Wheel of Ukemi class.” My excitement plummeted (like I was going to that class).

Testing is a great time to show the world what you have learned. You get to show off. You see, Aikido is not a martial art to show off. It looks beautiful. I think all martials arts are not effective if you ‘show off.’ The reality is if it looks good, it is easy to see to both spectators and opponents. You want me to show my attacker what I am doing? Give him a heads up by making big, beautiful moves? In Aikido, we sometimes confuse beautiful ukemi as a goal, but that is just showing off how well you lose. I started Aikido before the beautiful ukemi was developed. In my day (G-d, I sound old) ukemi was survival. You did it to not get hurt. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the effectiveness of beautiful ukemi as an art form, but at the end of the day, ukemi is for uke to walk away from a bad situation.

If you want to have a moment to show off: test. I love the fact that some students take their tests very seriously, I also hate the fact that some students take their tests seriously. The best tests I have seen are those who just enjoy the moment to show what they have learned., the ones where the person is having a good time. Maybe I should change the name of the day to “Kyu Demonstrations”?

I created “The Wheel of Ukemi class before tests to ease the tension of the day. “The Wheel of Ukemi” (WoU) class was one of my ‘great’ ideas until I realized that, well it is a great idea that sucks for me. (See the Wheel of Ukemi videos at this link.) When students test, they are anxious to perform their techniques correctly, nervous to be doing Aikido in front of a crowd of people and, well, it is a test. My WoU class is designed to help reduce stress. I have a carnival wheel (think Vanna White) with most of the test techniques pasted on the wheel. One by one, I call up each student who is testing to join me at the WoU. They give it a good spin while I crack jokes. We line up in the center of the mat and they proceed to throw me in front of the class. I take very big ukemi. What is more empowering than chucking Sensei into a big, loud, breakfall while the class is applauding?

The testing student practices that technique for 5 minutes. They survived, performed a technique in front of everyone, and watched me crash into the mat. It is a win-win, right? Nope, it is a stupid idea. There is not enough Advil for me the next morning. Frank followed up after our Thursday class – “Watching you do “The Wheel of Ukemi” is my favorite part of the day!” and then proceeded to snicker to himself. Thanks, Frank.

Did I mention the tests were great? And thanks to Hal for joining us to make the day even more special. Hal, after you get your knees done, feel free to split the WoU duties with me, ‘kay, Partner?

Baby Steps

I tried a new way to teach an old concept. When I was a karate student, I learned that when attacked, we would do a two step response: We would block and then hit. We practiced these two techniques over and over. We would knock the attack aside and then return the favor. Two distinct ideas done as quickly as possible.

Now I do Aikido and see many students do something similar in their Aikido. The first half is to get out of the way. Instead of a block, they move to a place outside of the attack. Then they pause (I call it “voguing.”). Then they attack uke with a throw or pin. They push or shove them with enough force in the attempt to get to a throw. The flowing graceful movement becomes two separate techniques. In Aikido, when you are attacked the movement should be flowing and continuous taking the energy of the attack unbroken into the throw without the ideas of blocking and then attacking, and, definitely without stopping.

Uke translates to “person who receives technique,” and nage translates as “one who throws.” The actual Japanese words (I don’t speak Japanese, I know how to Google) for the two rolls (yup, I took the easy pun) have nothing to do with defending or attacking.

I have been trying to get my students to give up the idea of blocking and then attacking. To stop the two-step modality. I was appealing to their logic, their insight, their mental flexibility, and harness everyone’s natural tendency to total relaxation and ability to change their habits instantly. Yup, it hasn’t worked.

This week, I figured I would try baby steps. Forget ideology, don’t try to change thinking, just give up vogue’ing, just make the whole technique one movement. My only instruction was to NOT pause. We started with katatori (wrist grab) kokyuho (breathing throw) (I don’t make up the names, I can barely remember them) where you raise your arm with the back of your arm making contact with uke causing a back roll. One of the most basic techniques. I asked the students to try to make the whole technique one movement and move smoothly. I did not correct the ‘pushing’ or attacking idea. I let that go and just asked to do the whole technique without a pause – one slow movement. Then we moved on from a static wrist grab to a kinetic attack (I am watching the Madonna video ‘Vogue’ while typing this. Then we moved on to shomen attack, still kokyuho. And finally, into tski. All I asked was to try not to pause in the middle.

What was amazing was that by the end of the class, not only did everyone stop pausing, but they also did not attack or push at the end. They used the techniques to take uke up and over their foot, not back at them. They gave up the idea of blocking and attacking without me pointing this out or correcting. They all learned the concept just by doing one movement and doing the technique. The technique did the work. The technique taught the concept. I may be out of a job. Or I might have learned how to be a better teacher.

Willing Suspense of Disbelief

Does Aikido work? Is it a real martial art? How many times have you seen an Aikido YouTube video by a martial artist ‘expert’ spouting their opinion on this debate? They always get a video of a really lame hakama-clad dude losing a contest with an expert in some multi-lettered martial art. You’ve seen the videos? Tired of this? I bet you kept watching. Yup, me too. Drives me crazy. (Try watching the experts questioning the effectiveness of Tai Chi Chuan. Even worse.)

I am going to add my opinion, my non-YouTube video opinion, to the mix (After three years, I am finally getting the hang of writing, I don’t have the time to learn how to make and edit videos.).

My answer is that 100% Aikido is a viable and powerful martial art. But not for why many of the videos make you think it isn’t. Aikido is beautiful. Our ukemi, besides being a great tool for learning following, sensitivity and movement, it is beautiful. Watching good Aikido is inspiring and truly an art form. Aikido done only for its beauty, done only as just a technique, is OK, but I would not be impressed with Aikido as a martial art in this limited way.

For many of you who do not know me, read my bio. I have done a lot of other martial arts. I have some basis for comparison. At ASNJ, we have 15 instructors and most of them have a black belt in another martial art. So, there is a lot of history that I am using for my answer. We all have one thing in common at ASNJ, we all do Aikido. Why if it does not work?

In my experience, Aikido, as well as Tai Chi Chuan, work because…they work. Koichi Tohei outlined this clearly in his four points in Aikido (Keep One Point, Relax Completely, Keep weight underside, Extend Ki) A big part of this is the study of Ki (See that letter) but Aikido works because how you relate to your attacker using a technique, not because of the technique. You use the technique to have a framework for the relationship, but it is the blending, the harmonizing, the non-fighting nature of the relationship in Aikido which makes it an effective martial art.

It is easy to be captivated in your practice by the two person kata practice where uke always falls down. There is a value to this and there is much to learn from this. But you also should have an uke challenge you, to help make you aware of where your Aikido needs work, often, to really understand how to make Aikido genuinely affective. If you get stuck on the fantasy that uke will always fall down, you may be ripe for YouTube. It is easy to get stuck thinking that the beauty is all there is.

I am sure everyone has seen a horror movie. If you try to describe the plot to someone, it seems silly. A big shark ate a boat because it was pissed off (Dah-Na) or a demonic person with a messed up face and knife gloves for hands that kills people only on Elm Street? We allow ourselves to forget it is fake and silly to enjoy the movie. It is called the Willing Suspense of Disbelief. We forget reality for a period to accept a story or narrative. This is fine for Netflix but not a dojo.

When you practice Aikido, test it sometimes. See if it works and if it doesn’t, don’t blame Aikido, blame yourself and practice to discover why. Work out the puzzle or ask a Sensei for help (We should set up a hot line 1-800-SENSEI.). We learn by failing. If you always practice with all-too willing ukes, or people smaller than you, or you tell people that beautiful ukemi is the real goal of Aikido then your Aikido will not work in the real world.

Grab the partner that frustrates you, look for the bigger guy to work with, take risks and try to explore the technique and what it offers to teach you. Make you Aikido beautiful but don’t just do the technique and expect magic to happen. The magic is hard work and practice. This is the path to learning Aikido. Be willing to fail. Work on relaxing and blending. In the long run, you will be rewarded with skill and aptitude.

I love to quote Hal about how to study Aikido, “Instead of practicing pretend fighting, have a real practice!” Or make videos on how to look great while losing in Aikido. Aikido works. Yours might not at this moment with that uke, but the key is to honestly practice.

--Jay Tall

Sensei, Aikido Schools of NJ

" This isn't flying, this is falling with style!"

-- Buzz light-year, from Toy Story

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