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  • Writer's pictureSensei Jay

My Last Letter of 2021

December 31, 2021

While driving to work with Rachel last week, we were talking about our upcoming trip to Maine when she mentioned I had to write my Year in Review letter. My first thought was I had nothing to add. I re-capped a Year of Covid six months ago, what else could I talk about? I reviewed my letters from 2021 and I could not be more wrong. There is so much to talk about that happened in 2021. I will wait until we are up in Maine as I love to write by the fire. Another year behind us and another year to look forward to.

When I wrote my letter of 2020, I was trying not to focus on the events of Covid and its effects on our lives. This year I will do the same (and I did a Covid letter this year). I am happy to report we are thriving, and New York Aikikai and Aikido of Park Slope and a myriad of other dojos have re-opened.

We were able to do many things this year and I have a lot of ideas and goals for next year. Now to my annual tradition: the things I want to remember, the exciting events, and the blessings I want to give thanks for all from 2021 at Aikido Schools of NJ.

· Starting the Adaptive Aikido program. It is one of the greatest things I think we have ever done as a community and as individuals. I have to thank Frank, Danny, Jeremy, Zachary and Megan, Cory and most of all, the kids and parents who are part of the program.

· December 2020 Kyu tests (I know, last year but I did not include in last year’s letter) with Sharon Dominguez Sensei. We gave kyu ranks to fourteen people: 5th Kyu – Bill, DJ, Eva, Melissa, and Shariff; 4th Kyu – Mariella, Michele, Sergio, and Sophia; 3rd Kyu – Vanessa; 2nd Kyu – Harold, Jeff; 1st Kyu – Naelys, Shanaia

· March 2021 Kyu tests with Lehrman Sensei. We gave kyu ranks to nine people: 5th Kyu – Michael, Duarte, and Ryan; 4th Kyu – Ben Isaac; 1st Kyu – Luka and Jeremy

· August 2021 Kyu tests. We gave kyu ranks to nine people: 5th kyu - James, Patrick; 4th kyu - Eva, Shariff, Derrell Jr. (DJ), Duarte; 3rd kyu - Mariella, CSI Frank, 2nd kyu - Anthony, Kelsey; 1st Kyu - Chris

· Every other month for Kids’ tests, I sit on a pillow for an hour and smile ear-to-ear watching the cutest kids show their stuff while my legs fall asleep and knowing that the future of Aikido is safe and well-invested in these young Aikidoka. One highlight was that we added Bokken disarmament to the 4-6 year old kids program.

· Hosting the first Teen Movie Night. Helping to make the Aikido leaders of tomorrow enjoy the dojo as a place of their own. They picked the movie; we provided the pizza.

· Having one of my favorite philosophical conversations with Harold and Jeff about the history and related philosophy of Catholicism. It was one of the fastest four hours I can remember. It reminded me of all the amazing academics and diversity we have at the dojo.

· Surviving a reoccurring shoulder injury and still teaching for months with one arm. You could have said I was trying to hide my injury but I kept writing about it. I learned a lot about not using my arms and relying on my body and legs. Talk about necessity is the mother of invention. I did a seminar without my left shoulder.

· And reinjuring my ankle again (I have ankle braces stashed in the dojo, home, Maine, my car, and my gi bag. It happens a lot. It is the reason I was forced to quite gymnastics at 16.). I was walking out of physical therapy for my shoulder, looking at my phone, and tripped in a pothole. Nothing good about this one. It sucked. But it was on my list.

· Hosting the Summer Fling Seminar with 4 sensei - Paul Manogue Sensei, Jerry Zimmerman Sensei, Hal Lehrman Sensei and moi teaching. It was a free seminar to celebrate Aikido in NJ. It was a high point this year to see people on the mat that I have not for quite a while.

· Spending Christmas and New Year in Maine with my family. I know I am Jewish, but I still think of this season as Christmas. It is great to have time with our boys knowing the dojo will be taken care of by the great group of instructors.

· Hal Lehrman Sensei returning to teach again at ASNJ once a month. It is a great time for all and an invaluable resource for the students and me.

· Those countless hours hanging out in my office having a drink after class. Some of the best conversation. It has become a normal part of Tai Chi Chuan class.

· Adding Yoga classes to the schedule as Connie is now a certified instructor. Great to offer that along with all the other programs (Aikido, Iaido, Tai Chi Chuan, Meditation). Thanks Connie (and for all the turkey chili and cookies).

· Having the TV at the reception desk making announcements. Thanks to Drew for making us look so hi tech.

· Establishing the Woman's group and the activities taking off. They have had three events for the Women of ASNJ (as well as any family or friend). Thanks to Vanessa and Annie for spearheading this.

· New Junior Deshi (how do you pluralize that?). Derrell Thomas Jr (DJ), Eva Morrow and Shariff Brown joined the program and are helping to make ASNJ’s Kids’ programs the best they can be.

· We added Veterans Day to our program to honor all Aikidoka that have served (Eleven ASNJ members included). It will be an annual event. Thank you, Andrew (the Colonel), Danny and James for your help setting this up.

· Watching my son, Jacob, excel at his college in the Musical Theater program and perform on stage again.

· All those Sunday NYT crosswords with Rachel (In pen! Without Google! –well, maybe a little Google).

· Teaching the Junior Deshi class once a month and listening to them groan as I tell dad jokes. They are amazingly talented kids.

· Remembering all the classes I have taken, all the hours I have practiced, all the things I have learned with our great instructors. I am so happy to have this dojo as a resource. It is place of learning and a wonderful community.

· Tai Chi Chuan class has grown and now we are focusing more on practicing it than learning new techniques.

· Watching the Iaido programsgrow thanks to Derrell. We have had a bunch of new members, one as young as 13.

· We have started asking the Junior Deshi’s to teach Kids’ classes in addition to assistant teaching. It is a great way for them to learn how to teach. The kids program is thriving thanks to Frank for his tireless work.

· Kelvin getting his own class to teach.

· Saying “See you soon” to Luka who went to college. It is tough to watch them grow up and abandon you (I have no issues with my kids having done so. No, nope, none.)

· Learning ASL every week with my wife, Rachel, due to her hearing loss. It is nice to have a “secret” language we can use to talk behind our kids’ backs. We took Mandarin classes back in the early 90’s when I was an adjunct professor at NYU and got free classes. After two years, we could only tell each other we were tired or busy. ASL is already going much better.

· Promoting Jeremy, Shanaia, Naeyls and Chris to first kyu (skipping 2nd kyu).

· Having the opportunity to write the forty-five letters this year and watching the readership grow. I am always amazed that people take the time to read these and comment. Thank you all. (You know who you are, you are actually reading this now.)

· Listening to Kelvin and Kelsey play violin and cello at our holiday party.

· Saying goodbye to Bill McCarthy, one of our students. A great guy, a wonderful student, an amazing father, and the guy who has made the best smoked ribs I have ever eaten. Rest in Peace, my friend.

I am sure I am missing a bunch of memories, but I send out enough emails during the year for you all to just go re-read them and let me know what I missed.

I am still honored for the opportunity to be your Sensei. My life is better for all those memories and for the faith you put in me. I want to thank Hal and Cathy for being my partners in this adventure as well as the special relationship Hal and I have. I don’t think there would be a letter without our conversations every day. I want to thank all the instructors for making this possible. I work 60 hours a week and am at the dojo 5 days a week. I teach 3-4 times a week and like to be on the mat a couple of times besides that. We have almost 40 hours of classes. I cannot do this without great instructors. Frank, Danny, and Derrell help in too many ways to mention. I want to thank Yamada Sensei for making this possible. Without his foresight and leadership, there would be no USAF and ASNJ. To all the other Sensei out there that support us, that give us strength, the community that adds to the ever-increasing Aikido world and knowledge. I must thank Rachel, my wife, with putting up with all the time I spend at the dojo and having to listen to my stories at dinner every night. And most importantly, to you, the students, who bring the desire to learn and to one day, continue to carry the torch that O’Sensei lived.

Here I sit at the dining room table (you should have seen the four turkey toms this morning not ten feet from the window. For those who know me, you would be proud of my restraint: all four walked away.). I’m watching Jacob, Zachary, and Megan play a mean game of Parcheesi; Rachel is on the couch drawing, snow is lightly falling. There’s a big pot of homemade split pea soup warming on the stove. A fire burning. This is a perfect moment. This was a wonderful year.

Hope you had happy holidays and a great new year start. Looking forward to spending 2022 with you, in letters, at ASNJ and maybe at a seminar or two. Let’s see what the world brings us. Thank you and God bless you all.

--Sensei Jay

“May you be happy

May you be well May you be peaceful and at ease May you be filled with loving kindness And compassion for all beings”

- Moihei Ueshiba, the Founder of Aikido

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