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  • Writer's pictureSensei Jay

Mat Who?

August 30, 2023

What’s Happenin’

· Lehrman Sensei Seminar in Portsmouth Aikido, Saturday, September 2 – Sunday, September 3. I am going to attend!

· Labor Day – Monday, September 4, we are CLOSED. All classes are canceled.

· Guest Instructor – Javier Burghi Wednesday, September 6 – 7:00pm to 8:30pm

· Teen Movie Night – Saturday, September 9 – 4:30pm to 7:30pm. Teens (11-18) will have a chaperoned movie night. Movie and details to be announced. The dojo will provide food and refreshments. Speak to Jeremy, Eva or Natalie if interested.

· The Women’s committee will host the first Women’s Self-Defense class on Sunday, October 22, 4:00pm to 5:30pm, and will meet about every four months. Free to ASNJ female students and $30 for non-members.

· Our good friend, Crystal Aldrich has opened a dojo – Aikido New London. She is hosting Jerry B. Zimmerman, Shihan, and Marie Shaffer for her grand opening seminar on October 14. Please help support her.

· ASNJ Fall SeminarPenny Bernath Sensei – Saturday October 28. Put this on your calendar.

· Veterans Day ClassSaturday, November 11, 10:00am - The class will be taught by ASNJ U.S. veterans.

· Kyu TestsSaturday, November 11 – 2:00pm Wheel of Ukemi, 3:30pm tests, potluck celebration to follow (Yes, this is the same day as Veterans Day – Double party!)

Keep It Simple, Stupid

I teach the Thursday 8:00pm Aikido class. It was historically not a well-attended class. It had no students. I started teaching basics. I do not mean basic techniques I mean pure basics. We work on explaining how to get on and off the mat, why we do much of the warmups, how to stand in a hamni, wrist stretches, how to bow in, holding a boken, stepping from hamni to hamni, correct posture. The only two-person thing we do is kokidosa. I mean basics.

Let me back up (we work on that also). The class falls right after my Tai Chi Chuan class (which is well attended) and it’s a late class, a tough time slot. Most of the Tai Chi Chuan students do not stay for that Aikido class. I was thinking after the last tests how often I talk to the 5th and 4th kyu testers about how they need to work on basics, posture, stances, transitions, etc. Something that we should work on when we are teaching beginners simple techniques, but we are too busy to teach basic techniques. Catch 22. I wanted to focus on the core basics. (We also have an ukemi class on Sundays.)

I love teaching the class as it pushes me to relive my beginning 40 years ago. I get to rewind and really keep my beginner’s mind. Learning from what I know as if I am just learning it. And then relating that to people.

One of my instructors called me up to tell me how a two-month student came to his class and had perfect form on his sword technique. A student who spent the last two months in my new basic class. I smiled quietly. KISS and didn’t tell. It works. I invite you to join us Thursdays at 8:00pm.

Beginner’s Mind

One of my favorite subjects. I have a 12-foot sign up in the dojo: Beginner’s Mind. (It was taken down during painting but will return as soon as our decorating committee [saying committee still sounds cool] tells me where everything goes). But this led to a great conversation with Rachel on our commute into NYC.

If you only have Beginner’s Mind, how do you know anything? If you treat every day as if it is the first day you started Aikido, how do you know anything? There is a difference between “letting go of the past” and “learning from it.” When I get onto the mat, I am not doing so with amnesia (though some days it feels like it). But I want to practice with the awe of a new student and to test everything (sorry for the superlative) I know and treat it as only a stepping stone for what I (hopefully) will learn next.

Just because something I do works, that does not mean that is the end of exploring a technique or this in my Aikido. It is the antithesis of “I know how to do that; I don’t need to learn anything.” It is only what I know at this moment in time. I treat what I know only as a piece of what I might know in the future and live in awe of how much there is to learn.

Beginner’s Mind is a way to stop the trap of thinking you know everything and don’t need to learn: the ego trap that leads to a dead end. The idea of being a student has many meanings. One is a subordinate person to a teacher. While the idea of a student can have this implication, I choose to dissuade that and focus on another, which I think is a purer form of the idea of a student. A student is a person seeking knowledge (It’s actually the definition from the 14th century French word, ‘estudiant’ meaning, yep, one who is studying). A true student is a person who is in touch with what they don’t know and understands it is a vastly greater category(there is an even greater category of what you don’t know than) what you don’t know.

For me, my role of sensei is to be the hardest working student at our dojo. I happen to have been a student for the longest time (I have the aches and pains to prove it). That is also why I mandate all instructors, me included, must take regular classes with other instructors. We are all students on a similar path. This is why we are a community.

Have You Ever Been to the Zoo?

I loved the trips to the zoo as a kid (and as an adult as well). The best was if you showed up during feeding times. I would always check the signs for the listed times of the feedings. I remember the lions pacing back and forth growling as they waited for the zookeeper to bring them their meal. I watched the zookeepers hurl large chunks of meat at the lions who would gracefully and calmly devour their protein. I was reminded of this recently. If you want to save a trip to the Bronx or Turtle Back Zoo, come to ASNJ at 12:15 on a Saturday. I watched our pint-sized Aikidoka kids pacing and emitting odd guttural sounds as they waited for their pizza to be hurled quickly at them (we do serve them on paper plates with napkins but go with me here) and once the pizza is in their eager paws, they became calm and fed themselves like polite gazelles. You could hear the new silence, followed by the most Zen-like calm one can experience outside of a Zen retreat. So, if you want to discover the quickest path to inner peace, come by the dojo at 12:15 on Saturdays (we should put up a sign) and study the kids’ instant (but somewhat short-lived) Zen-like peace. Bring a box of pizza to appease the hungry Aikidoka if you want to be safe.

Who’s Mat

Our mat! That’s who.

This past Sunday, over 20 members of the dojo met and installed our new mat. Paul Manogue Sensei of Aikido of Raritan Valley, our dear friend, showed up with one of his students to lend a hand. Paul Burt’s church had seven rolls of foam mats in need of a new home. You may remember seeing them sitting at the front corner of the dojo for a few weeks (or months). We used one of them at the recent Church Fair demo and thought it was very nice so, we installed them over the existing mats. Then we had a new canvas cover made by Blacher Canvas Products in Dunellen, NJ.

You see, we opened as soon as the State of NJ allowed us during Covid. We sprayed the mat with a bleach-based disinfectant after every class. It took its toll on the canvas but it was worth keeping our Aikido practice alive. I bought the new canvas a few months ago. The huge canvas bag (They made a bag for the new mat) was a favorite seat of Hal Lehrman Shihan while teaching – well, until he gets a new knee in September.

Like a well-oiled machine, we had the old canvas removed, cleaned all the dust and detritus that had collected under the canvas (scary!), checked floor underneath for any issues, squared out the corner, installed the 2nd layer of foam and installed the new canvas by 12:30 in time for a “job-well-done” pizza lunch. (you may see the connection from the Zoo article above. Yes, I am using pizza as a means of motivation. It may not be original, but it works)

I must confess, when the canvas fit, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I am good at measuring, it is part of my job, but that does not mean something couldn’t go awry. The canvas fit, even over the added 1-1/2” of foam, and it looks GREAT! It is much nicer having it a little more forgiving. The one downside is the new canvas is a little rough, so we all felt a few mat rashes. Like a new pair of shoes, they need to be broken in.

Here are a couple of pix but if you want to see more, I posted them on our Facebook Page.

--Jay Tall

Sensei, Aikido Schools of NJ

“I live my life on the mat.”

-- The Iron Sheik, Professional Wrestler

"I always say my biggest competitor is myself because, whenever I step out there on the mat, I'm competing against myself to prove that I can do this and that I am very well trained.”

-- Simone Biles, Gold Medal Gymnast

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