It is Not the How but the Why
March 3, 2022
Vanessa oversees the Welcome Packages given to all new members. The other night, she popped in about three quarters through my Wednesday class but did not get on the mat. She was there to assemble the quickly dwindling supply of Welcome Packages; and she also had some minor surgery so I cannot complain about her not getting on the mat. The Welcome Packages have a lot of basic information that a beginner would want: Class schedule, dojo etiquette, bowing, how to tie a belt, testing, a patch for their gi, etc. It is a way to make the transition into our dojo a little easier.
I want to welcome Jose into our Adult program and say hi to a new seven-year old that joined our Kid’s program. We also had two people come by for the free trial class and have said they will join. I like running out of Welcome Packages.
To Do or Not to Do’s
Lehrman Sensei – Wednesday, March 9, 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.
Aikido of Red Bank’s 20th Anniversary Seminar – SaturdayMarch 26, 10:00 am – 2:30 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.
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 classes exploring wherever Aikido leads. It is not often you will have two Shihans sharing their personal perspectives.
A Small Change
Annie Small will be off the mat for several months as her injured shoulder recovers from necessary surgery. I want to wish her a successful procedure and a speedy recovery. I am sure we will still see Annie at the dojo with happy laughs, a now post-Covid allowable huge hug, and her infectious smiles. Not to mention some of the coolest shoes.
While Annie Small is recuperating, Andy Small will be teaching the Thursday 8:00 – 9:00 class. (Get it? A Small change?! I was accused at work of too many Dad Jokes. I responded, “This is nothing, read my newsletter!”). In addition, Olga Sen will teach Annie’s other class, the fourth Sunday of the month 11:00-12:00 class. Please come and support Andy and Olga while they keep Annie’s classes warm for her.
Open the Door
A couple of weeks ago, I worked on ‘Repulse the Monkey’ in Tai Chi Chuan class. You walk backwards while meeting, receiving, and take your attacker’s balance and then throw them forward while you go backwards. I love this technique. The part that always intrigued me is then the forward hand is extended, you turn your waist and therefore rotate your arm while it does not move except for turning. Like turning a doorknob (except with adding your waist turn). When your opponent grabs your rotating arm, their balance is taken away just by that simple rotation. And then it hit me, that is where I got the “Open the Door Class” from. So much for thinking I was creative. Just saying.
What is the Sound of One Tree Falling?
Last week’s letter was late. I do not know if anyone noticed but I felt a little bad. It was unavoidable. I went into work Friday and did my rounds at jobsites as I normally do in the morning. About 10:00 am I got a call from Rachel that a tree at home had fallen on the power line and there was smoke in the basement and outside the dining room. I told her to get out of the house immediately and call 911. What she neglected to tell me was she was in the basement doing the laundry only wearing her BVD’s when the lights went out. She called 911 while donning clothes. I was parked at a jobsite when I got her call (Mostly to use the bathroom. I drink a lot of tea in the morning. It was not an option.) and left for NJ. The smoke turned out to be nothing, a power strip got fried but created an impressive amount of smoke. [Ed. Note: Jay arrived 30-40 minutes later, I, skivvy-clad in the pitch-black basement victim, saw the smoke billowing and the sparks! ‘Nothing,’ he says. Pffft.]
I arrived to find the Fire Department keeping my nicely dressed honey company and to see the very large tree from my back neighbor’s yard that had taken out our electric and cable line due to the ice storm. The power line was still burning in the back yard [Ed. Note: See? Flames! Okay, an inch high maybe but still: Flames!!!]. I went downstairs and cut the power to the house. I have a pair of 200-amp bladed fuses that I popped out. I was powerless (or at least my house was). I still had one leg (wire) that was hot (had electricity in it) but as the wires from the pole were on the ground along with my service mast (the pipe on the back of your house that feeds the wires into your house) were also on the ground, I thought starting an electrical fire was a bad thing, so I kept the power off. I am silly that way.
I called PSE&G on my way home and they were coming to assess (their word, not mine) the damage. Then I called my electrician (I am a general contractor, I got people) who would come over Saturday to replace the service mast (Here is one of those funny things: Everything that touches the house is my – the homeowner’s-- responsibility and everything that does not touch the house is PSE&G’s problem. Who was the person who said, “Hmmmm, I think this is how we operate? If it is in the air, we fix it, if it is on the house, naaah, let them get someone else to fix it.) The issue was it all was on the ground.
Saturday morning, Rachel and I heaved and dragged (well, lifted but it sounds more dramatic. Not sure what the correct verb is but we did laugh a lot.) the generator up the stairs, I tied it into the service outlet, pulled the start cord and we had some power. (In California, there is a bill that would only allow battery powered generators. I want to know the guy who thought that one up. Probably the same guy who decided what is in the air is owned by PSE&G). The furnace was back on, and the fridge was giving us a cold shoulder (you know, like a ham). We had a few lights and could charge our cell phones. Life was good (relatively). I never made it to the dojo on Saturday thinking getting electricity into my house took precedence. Again, I am silly that way. Instead, I spent the day coordinating the electric restoration (which means I did mostly nothing) and did what anyone would do stuck at house without internet and electricity, I cooked homemade tomato sauce (obviously). About 6:00 pm Saturday night, we were powerful again (the house, not me. No radioactive spiders biting. Electrical wires no longer on the ground but in the air – go PSE&G!). By 7:30, we celebrated with a nice bottle of Chianti (I broke out the good stuff. Do you like wine? I buy all from WTSO.). I served shrimp parmesan over linguine with the freshly-made marinara to my lovely and now warm wifey (I admit, it did get a little cold Friday night. My wife went to bed with a ski cap on. I bought her one with an LED light in it. I had a dream a train was coming at me.). Just because you have a rough day, doesn’t mean you should not eat good. The cable company is coming Tuesday (now Firday) to bring us Internet again. Until then we will do what any normal person does, read books, enjoy conversation, and steal Wi-Fi from our neighbors.
It Is Not the How but The Why
In my Aikido Classes, I am still working on creating shapes. I want to skip ahead to the end of class – kokyudosa. We continued the shape of our arm like a bokken and into kokyudosa. In my aikido experience, it is traditional to end class with kokyudosa and I encourage all the ASNJ instructors to do the same.)
I had beginners doing the ‘Look at your hands and then show them to uke’ technique and advanced students doing it more freestyle. There is one common idea that makes it ‘work’ either way: DO NOT FIGHT. I am working with one student on ‘just touch your nose’ technique. Do not think about uke. Just touch your nose as if it was the most natural of actions. He has been doing this for weeks but when I practiced with him, he has somehow created his touching his nose into an attack. Clever. We fixed that.
So, it dawned on me, Aikido starts off with the ‘How’, the physical technique. Hamni (stance), shift, waist turn, etc. But it develops into the ‘Why’. Like the cliché line the actor asks his director “What’s my motivation?” (Rachel and I stopped by Hartford on our way back from Maine and had lunch with Jacob. He is auditioning for a bunch of Summerstock plays. Very exciting. Break a leg. Hence the acting analogy.). The ‘Why” is what is your motivation? Are you fighting? Trying to Win? Defeat your partner? Then your technique is adversarial, conflict based. If you give up your fight and just focus on technique, not the attack but you, your center. Then you can move no differently than brushing your teeth or touching your nose, uke has no choice but to give up their fight and follow. Like the exercise I wrote about in Tai Chi Chuan class last week. My idea of Aikido works because what is in your mind more that what is in your arms.
Practice the ‘Why’. Don’t just do the technique but ask yourself what your motivation is. Can you practice without needing to win and just focus on the moment, not the goal. Do the technique in the moment, based on your experience, and not focus on the fight uke brings to the moment. Allow uke to join you in your harmony. It takes TWO to fight. Now, what is uke’s motivation?
“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