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  • Writer's pictureSensei Jay

My Next Letter

 

May 13, 2024

 

What’s Happenin’

 

●       We added a Test Prep class on Saturdays, at 9:00 am.  

●       Kids Testing Saturday June 1, 11:30 am. 

●       Spring Kyu Testing, Saturday, June 1: 2:00 pm Wheel of Ukemi, 3:30 pm Kyu tests, Potluck party to follow. Speak to Frank, Danny, Derrell, or Tom to be approved to test.

●       Seminar with Lehrman Shihan at Aikido of Northampton, MA, Sunday, June 2. We have at least one car going. If anyone is interested, please let us know and we can see if we can get a second one to make the trip.

●       Dojo Trip, Saturday, June 8 to Aikido of Park Slope of Shihan Lehrman’s class 12:15 pm class. Please speak to Frank for carpooling information.

●       Lehrman Shihan will resume teaching monthly classes at ASNJ on Wednesday, June 12, 7:00 pm-8:30 pm

●       Hakama class – Sunday, June 30, 11:00 am. A dojo meeting will follow. This is mandatory for all instructors.

●       Camp Riverbend, Teens will once again spend a day learning Aikido at ASNJ on July 17.  Volunteers needed, please!!

●       Aikido Summer Camp will be held in Montreal from July 21 to 27, 2024.

●       Lehrman Shihan Seminar at Portsmouth Aikido, Saturday, October 12-13.

●       Dues will be changing on July 1 (first time in over ten years). You should have received an email outlining the changes. If not, please talk to Paul.

 

My Next Letter

Have I run out of pithy, funny titles? Am I out of puns? Writer’s block? Or just tired?

 

I am reading ‘The Aikido Sensei’ by Dan Linden, who has a dojo in Florida and writes books in his spare time. He and I FB-message on occasion and he also has a place in Maine.  We have these things in common. The point is, I like his no nonsense plain English titles and I like his books. Simple, direct and to the point, like my Aikido (not my humor).  So, I have his book on my desk, you are presently reading ‘My Next Letter.’ and because I can’t come up with anything else. 

 

Who is Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

Not Virginia? (Too much a literary reference? A little trivia: The author Edward Albee did not win the Pulitzer Prize because the Board of Columbia, who awards the prize, thought it was too controversial. How times have changed.). If you are scared of your uke, you already lost.  It is over.  I am not saying you need to have steel-like internal organs of a Marvel (no hate from you DC fans) superhero or a Zen-like state of existential bliss, I am talking of the fear of a person or a thing. If you have that while doing Aikido, then you have lost. Don’t freak out and burn your hakama, there is hope.

 

Not that I have your attention and possibly your ire, there is a difference between feeling fear and being scared of someone or something. One is the experience, a sensation; the other the thought about the experience. The thought is like an uke attacking your mind. Solution? Own the thought!

 

We all experience fear. It is a primary emotion (fear, anger, joy, sadness, disgust, contempt, and surprise) and a part of the human condition from the understanding we are all going to die (just ask Nietzsche). We have a drive to protect our very existence. We also have Budo. Budo is the ‘martial way’ within martial arts. Besides studying our forms, techniques, movements, and posture, we also study Budo to teach the understanding or acceptance of our own human condition, our own mortality through martial arts.  Everything ends, even us.  We need to own this idea and not put that responsibility on someone else.  Learning to understand that this is a choice we make.

 

The leading cause of death in American is heart disease (21%), followed by cancer (19%).  There are many conditions that will drastically reduce our chances of dying by these two leading causes of death. Do you think about this? Are you trying to reduce your risk? I would hazard to guess for the vast majority of you the answer is no.  Yet, when attacked in a ‘safe’ environment (a dojo) you fear the attacker.  You tense, you focus on the fist or the boken and not yourself, your center. Death by murder in the US is less than 1% of the annual deaths. Yet we give up our center and leap headfirst into fear when attacked in a dojo where the attacker has agreed to not hurt you. (At least in most of the dojos I have been to.)

 

7% of deaths occur from accidents, the largest cause is falling (the best part of my OSHA safety course was reason people die on worksite. OMG, the pictures.).  Ukemi is seven times more important to your safety than surviving an attack. As a total aside, if you do insist on being scared of an attacker, the vast majority of murders in the US occur by someone the victim knows. So, make sure to worry about everyone you know. So, next time you are feeling scared of being attacked, find a stranger, you’ll be fine.

 

It is important to understand and be in contact with your emotions, your feelings.  Just not to be ruled by them. And not just wolf them down. Maybe find a stranger named Virginia?

 

KaPow

Any Adam West Batman fans? I loved that show. It aired in the 60’s.  When I see someone hitting a punching bag, I see ‘Bam’ and ‘KaPow’. Tom has installed a chin up bar and is putting in a punching bag soon. We have a small punching bag on the wall, kinda of like a sand-filled Makiwara. Tom asked me if he could install a heavy bag.

 

Let me back up. Many of the instructors at ASNJ have done other martial arts.  We learned how to punch, and I think this is an important skill. I promote its learning and asked instructors with rank in striking arts to teach the skill. Sometimes when I see some tski, I cringe.   Not that I think people should be taking full swings while learning Aikido. The practice needs to be safe, but I think you should be able to punch where at the least the recipient says ‘ouch’ and in the optimum, they no longer can.

 

O’Sensei wrote that Aikido was 50% atemi (strike). There is a lot to unpack here and I am not going to in this letter but let us agree that it is an aspect of the practice of Aikido. Some thoughts on atemi: If you do it in an Aikido technique, it must be done while constantly moving in a technique.  If you stop to punch while doing a technique, then you lost uke’s movement when you atop to punch.  The strike usually causes uke to move again.  Unless you do major damage, all you did was end up where you were before you hit them and probably just pissed uke off. If the atemi is part of your fluid and continuous form and technique, then it adds to the technique and augments uke’s balance loss.

 

Like all of Aikido, everything you do, you do with your whole body. This is the same for punching and why I like the punching bag. Train with your body relaxed and the punch comes from the bottom of your foot where you meet the earth (unless you are in outer space) and with your whole body.

 

As students of Aikido, we need to be healthy and in good shape.  We should be able to run up a flight of stairs without needing oxygen at each landing (We do have a state mandated defibrillator at the gym in case you want to join and can’t make it up a flight of stairs).  We need to be relaxed but healthy. I love taking classes and having sweated through my gi

 

If you are in the dojo, do a few chin ups (you need the step stool to reach it, by the mirror) or better yet, hit the bag. Don’t sweat it, the bag won’t mind. 

 

Tai Chi Chuan and Aikido

I started this series a few letters ago and left it out the last one after I took a four-month break from writing these. I am blaming the NY Aikikai.  I am half kidding.  As many of you know, I am the GC for the renovation of the NY Aikikai and while we are in the pre-construction phase have not started knocking down walls yet, I have been consulting on the design, planning the phasing, legal, real estate, and finances helping them as I have done in many of my various ventures and other dojos.  I am a very busy guy. I credit my training in Aikido and Tai Chi Chuan with allowing me to be so busy. At the moment, my wife is away for her work this week, so I have a little time to write letters.

 

Why am I writing about this? No reason at all except it’s 4:30 in the morning and I have time to do so.

 

One very common lesson in both Tai Chi Chuan and Aikido (and I discussed above in KaPow) is ‘one movement’.  Whether you are doing a technique in Aikido or the Form in Tai chi Chuan, from start to finish, it is one movement.  From the moment you begin to shift your weight from one foot to another, the movement is continuous and nonstop (like good airplane tickets).

 

This common instruction is way more important than just how we move on the mat; it controls how we do everything.  It lets you do too many things each and every day. The ability to move continuously and smoothly is how I accomplish so much every day.  The lesson we do in Aikido and Tai Chi Chuan is about how we move in our life all the time.

 

Pay attention to how you move on the mat. Work on your awareness.  Are you stopping and starting during your technique, if not, why do you stop and why? What is causing you to lose your momentum. And if you stop in your technique, so does your uke.  When your uke stops, your uke gets their balance back. This means you have given up your center. You are lost.  Use this concept in both arts to learn how to keep in the center of your universe in your everyday life.

 

--Jay Tall

Sensei, Aikido Schools of NJ

 

 

 

“Life is growth. If we stop growing, technically and spiritually, we are as good as dead.

 

-- Morehei Ueshiba, the Founder of Aikido

 

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