July 30, 2021
Please welcome two new adult students to our ASNJ family, Edward and Matt. Both joined our Adult program last week. We signed up a 11-year-old to our Youth program, as well.
New Jersey, Diner Capital of the World
New Jersey is known for a lot of things: pork roll, Bruce Springsteen, the Sopranos, gardens, goldfinches (its state bird), the Devils, shore traffic on the Garden State, exits. But the real thing that stands out for me is having the most diners per capita of any state in the USA. In fact, Rustic Mill dinner, two miles from the dojo in Cranford, stands out from all other diners in NJ. Why? Their pancakes? No. Great burgers? No. It’s because our dojo ad is showcased on their disposable paper placemats. You know the ones you read while waiting the six or seven seconds until your food magically appears? Zachary and I go after class sometimes. The food is great, I mean it is really, really great for a diner, but we go for the placemats. I do not expect many new students from there as the average patron is older than Zachary and my ages added together but you never know. Try it out!
Wednesday August 4th, 7:00, Lehrman Sensei will teach the 7:00 class. Everyone is invited. Lehrman Sensei has not taught in ASNJ for over a year.
Summer Fling: NJ Dojos Day of Aikido Fun – Sunday, August 15. We, along with five other dojos, will host six classes as follows:
9 am – 10 am: Jay Tall Sensei, Aikido Schools of New Jersey – 2nd dan
10 am – 11 am: Paul Manogue Sensei, Aikido of Raritan Valley/Ren Sei Kan – 5th dan, Shidoin
11 am – 12 pm: James Soviero Sensei, Aikido of Red Bank – 6th dan, Shidoin
Noon – 1:30 pm: Lunch
1:30 pm – 2:30 pm: Karen De Paola Sensei, –Skylands Aikikai – 6th dan ,Shidoin
2:30 pm – 3:30 pm: Jerry Zimmerman Sensei, Aikido of North Jersey – 6th dan, Shidoin
3:30 pm – 4:30 pm: Hal Lehrman Sensei, Aikido of Park Slope – 7th dan Shihan.
Potluck to follow. Please bring a dish or a beverage and expect to have a good time.
Kyu Tests – Saturday, August 21. We are having the Wheel of Ukemi Class, Kyu Tests and our summer BBQ / Potluck party. If you wish to test, please speak with Danny, Derrell or Frank for evaluation.
Hakama Class – Sunday August 29, 11:00 am. Open to members 3rd kyu and above and mandatory for instructors.
Teen Movie Night
Wow, it was a great time! At least the teens said so. I spent a nice time in my office with a few of the parents chaperoning. The teens started off with the normal teen junk food, pretzels and chips, and watched a movie. We ordered three pizzas and two platters of wings for dinner afterwards. We have great kids. I wish I had a place like this when I was their age. I might have turned out better.
Jo and Bokken
What do you get when you combine a Jo and a Bokken? Can’t be sure, but I’m not jo-kken. (sorry). I am covering Omar’s classes while his broken arm heals. Omar is an amazing resource. He knows every (that might not be an exaggeration) weapons kata that was ever created or at least it feels that way. This is why he teaches the weekly Weapons class to ensure all that knowledge is preserved and passed down.
Unlike Omar, I have kata dyslexia. I can memorize a kata in 10 minutes then forget it in half that time. Instead, for his class, I focused on two techniques and practiced them with empty hands, then with a jo, then with a bokken, then hand techniques again. The technique is performed differently with either weapon, but you can replicate that concept barehanded. For instance, koyoho with a jo extends high with a straight rotating arm up behind you, almost like an ushiro technique. You use the fact the jo has two ends and extends through each end. When done like a bokken, you face uke and cut down with your arm like the bokken into and through their body. You focus on the blade and a circular cutting technique. We echoed both ideas without the weapons. Fun class. I feel like I am on the cutting edge (now that’s me jo-kken).
How to be Loved
I expected chaperoning a four-hour teen event to be even less exciting than it sounded, but at least Rachel and I had planned a late dinner at the Garlic Rose restaurant in Cranford afterwards. Armed with my laptop and my book, I was fully prepared (until my office chair broke). I told the teens’ parents if any of them wanted to hang with me in my office, they were welcome. First, Jeff, not wanting to drive the 45 minutes back and forth, joined me. Then Harold joined two hours into the event. With Jeff and Harold in my office, I was with two devout Catholics (one a professor teaching in seminary) so I asked about changes the Pope recently made to the Mass. Truly a fascinating conversation. I was sorry 8:00 rolled by and we had to leave. I was in awe of the depth of knowledge shared by the two of them. Truly inspiring. But I really wanted to write about an earlier conversation I’d had that night.
Funny, when I sit with students, I often get asked about my martial arts history. That and Aikido concepts were much of what Jeff and I spoke about. I remembered the lesson I learned from Lehrman Sensei and teach sometimes. Uke only grabs nage’s finger (in lieu of a wrist) in an Aikido technique. You cannot use force, or you will just break your finger. I demonstrated in my office (bringing a whole new meaning to ‘giving them the finger’). Jeff asked what would happen if he tried to break my finger – “Go ahead,” I said. Obviously as I am typing away, that my finger is unscathed but it did result in him falling down (not far, we are in my office, comfy chairs, no mat.). How?
Let’s take a step back: I was in my mid-20’s at a lecture by the first female Baptist minister (funny how I remember that fact 30 years later). She was an amazing speaker. The comment that changed me was “You can never truly love someone unless you love them how THEY want to be loved, and not how YOU want to love them.” WOW. She went on that this was the same in a relation with a spouse or to G-d when you pray. I had already professed to my best friends’ mother I was going to marry Rachel (that happened some years later) but now I had a concept about how to have a loving relationship and, learned the power of prayer and meditation.
For me, this extended to the relationship of nage/uke in Aikido. The goal was no longer just to throw uke. They were already “asking” me to do that when they attacked me. I needed to pay attention to how they wanted to be thrown. My Aikido practice changed from using force and fighting uke to listening to them (the listening is a metaphor for sensing their balancing and force). My arms were no longer the tool throwing but there to gather information from uke and communicate back. My arms could be relaxed. The techniques I learned became just a framework how to move, not the final product. Just to be clear, my Aikido did not get any better at that moment, actually it got way worse. I couldn’t throw anyone. But these decades later, practicing this way has made it what it is today. All I had at that moment was a new focus. A new way to practice. Throw uke the way they want to be thrown, not how I want to throw them.
And it made sense. O’Sensei, as quoted in Kanshu Sunadomari’s book “Enlightenment through Aikido”, (my favorite Aikido book, BTW) said “Aikido is love.” So, if Aikido is love, you need to love uke the way they want to be loved, not how you want to love them. The technique is not about my ego saying ‘you will bend to my will.’ Aikido, for me, is not about domination. It is about relationship. And the key to any good relationship is to listen. The attack is not a threat but communication.
The evening with Jeff and Harold turned out to be filled with Christian philosophies. Then I did what any good Jew would do on a Saturday night: went for Italian food with my wife.
"Aiki is love. It is the path that brings our hearts into oneness with the spirit of the universe to complete our mission in life by instilling in us a love and reverence for all of nature."
- Moihei Ueshiba, the Founder of Aikido