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  • Writer's pictureSensei Jay

Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall

Feb 2, 2021

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It has been a busy week, five new students. We are welcoming two wonderful boys, ages 7 and 10, to our Kids’ program. Olivia has joined our Adult program. And Melissa, who just tested for 5th kyu, has enrolled her two children into the Kids’ program.

To Hakama or Not to Hakama, that is the Question

I reinstated an old class from Sensei Stickles day, the Hakama class, for members 3rd kyu or above. We had our first one this past Sunday. Attendance was great and, surprisingly we had a couple of students that came to just watch and listen to the live version of these letters.

Aikido Movement of the Day

A highlight when visiting Italy is the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We have all seen pictures of it aslant in tourism photos of Italy (interestingly in 1272, they added three floors and the tower started leaning in the opposite direction). We all find ourselves mimicking it at some point. Why? We are taught how a straight back and balance are keys to Aikido, soooo, why lean? One reason is we can’t reach a goal (like moving uke to fall and go boom). So, we lean. Makes sense but why not just move our feet to achieve the same objective? Our goal is not to emulate the tilted Pisa when you can stay upright.

We lean as that is what is going on in our brains: Leaning forward, trying to get somewhere faster; backwards, staying away. It is a “natural” learned reaction. In Aikido, we are taught to remain centered; to act, not to react. Think of it another way, leaning is pushing forward or holding back. Aikido ultimately is designed for multiple attackers. If your technique ends in an off-balanced leaning stance, you are not ready for the next uke. Staying straight is your only hope.

During class, we practiced moving our feet (and legs) to remain upright when we needed to reach somewhere to see how that affected our Aikido. The consensus was the throw felt effortless, using no strength. There was no conflict (funny how being in the moment does that!). It did not matter how big or strong uke was, moving our legs worked without effort. Someone commented “But it doesn’t feel as good!” Aha! The need to feel uke’s defeat? We will delve into the need for ego gratification another time. But using all that strength, for me? I am getting too old for it.

How to Build a Wall

As I watch people progress in Tai Chi Chuan, they are starting to discover some places in their bodies where they are holding onto (wait for it) tension. During Push Hands, the spots where tension is held become more apparent, that is where your balance is lost. The area of tension is where you are not flexible, not aligned, and where your body pivots (instead of shifts) when you receive an attack. It is the same in Aikido, but often you are moving too quickly to have time to notice.

Why do we have these areas of tension? It (your body) starts with a lack of awareness of tension. Sometimes we feel the pain from tension and blame anything but ourselves. “It is my job, the virus, the Jets” (as a lifelong fan, they are a constant source of tension). But the truth is, it is us. Our problems start from our head down. We create the illusion of hiding from the unpleasant experience by generating tension in our body. In essence, we are using our minds to build a wall to stay away from ourselves. It takes energy (tension) to keep the wall up and the result is our awareness is buried. (I own a construction company. We remove walls. Call me.)

Our practice is to become aware of when we feel pain from tension, pay attention to that, and look for what is behind the wall. Experience what you are avoiding and allow that to become part of you. In martial arts, we don’t need walls, just a mat to cushion the fall. Do not build walls. Leave that to the professionals, like me.

--Sensei Jay Tall

Lean on me When you're not strong And I'll be your friend I'll help you carry on...

--Bill Withers

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