May 13, 2022
Sorry for no letter last week. We were away in Puerto Rico. More on that later. Right now, I want to welcome George to our Adult program.
Tests – Part II
I had the privilege and honor of promoting to yellow belt, David, a student in our Adaptive Aikido program. David is a remarkable young man and passed his first Aikido test which included six techniques, from katatori ikkyo through katatori sumitosh. His test was great and the first in this program. I want to thank Danny, Derrell, Jeremy, Frank, Megan, and Zachary who all regularly help with the class and the test.
Lehrman Shihan – Wednesday, May 11, 7:00 pm. Lehrman Shihan 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.
Dojo Clean Up Day - Sunday May 15, 1:00 pm. Come join us in our Spring (or Vernal) Cleaning Day. We will start at 1:00 and go until late afternoon. We will have pizza and refreshments. Iaido will be in the parking lot and the Aikido class is cancelled.
Spring Seminar – Saturday, May 21, Noon to 6:00 pm. ASNJ will host Lehrman Shihan and Konigsberg Shihan for a very exciting seminar. This is their first time together since Covid. They will be alternating sessions exploring wherever Aikido leads. It is not often you have two Shihans sharing their personal perspectives. Here is the flyer. Please come join us for a great day of Aikido and friendship.
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.
Summer BBQ and Kyu test – Saturday, July 30. We always have a big barbeque in the summer. Isn’t that what summers are for? So, I figured out we might as well throw in testing to work up our appetite. Meanwhile, Paul found out he can barbeque a guinea pig. Don’t tell him that is not where you get bacon from. [Ed note: Currently, guinea pig is not on the menu for the Summer BBQ.]
If you like this newsletter, come to the seminar at ASNJ later this month and meet me in person. Yes, I am a real person and not just an experimental AI program like HAL (The 2001 Space Odyssey HAL, not the Shihan. More on him later). And while you are here, practice Aikido with two amazing Shihans.
Please join us on Saturday, May 21 for our Vernal Seminar with Lehrman Shihan and Konigsberg Shihan. You thought frog chirping was exciting, imagine two Shihans each teaching and working off the others’ Aikido ideas, going back and forth for four hours. Followed by a party? You know you want to be there.
Please register here:
How to Throw a Wedding
What is better than a destination wedding with people you love? Combining that with visiting an Aikido dojo to take class somewhere new. When Hal’s son, Paul, announced he and his lovely bride-to-be, Linnea, were getting married in Puerto Rico, Rachel was immediately online shopping for a tropical formal dress. The Lehrman clan is part of my extended family. They are regulars at our seders and have been a part of Rachel and my life since, well, even before there was a Rachel in my life. When Rachel and I began co-habituating over three decades ago, they lived down the block.
A few days before we were to catch a plane, I was on the USAF website researching dojos in Puerto Rico. Wouldn’t you know, the San Juan Dojo was 40 minutes from our hotel. I called Javier, a very old friend, and asked him, a native Spanish speaking person (My Spanish is limited to – Yo tengo un lapiz. Mi lapiz es Amarillo.), to call the dojo in Puerto Rico. I thought Javier was better suited to have a conversation in Spanish. Javier spoke with Valquez-Bravo Sensei, the dojocho of the San Juan Dojo. And who would have thought, he was planning to be in NYC that weekend (hoping to catch Lehrman Sensei’s Friday noon class at the NY Aikikai. Oooops.) Noticing that we were traveling with a Shihan (doesn’t everyone travel with a spare Shihan?), Valquez-Bravo Sensei asked if our over-qualified father-of-the-groom could teach the Monday class. Wouldn’t you know, Hal was free of wedding obligations Monday evening and happy to teach class.
Monday evening, we three gathered in San Juan Dojo, along with Matt Dormser, who just happened to be Puerto Rico visiting family where he had read my letter and was excited to take class with us. The people in San Juan Dojo could not have been nicer or more welcoming and, what great Aikido. I made sure to work out with everyone there. Luckily it was a two-hour class (I was thinking that the next day when the soreness reminded me it was a two hour class). We had a blast. Two hours later, completely soaked through (you know you’ve sweated a lot when your hakama is wet) we peeled off our soaked gi’s, said good byes, hugged our new Aiki-friends (after we put our normal clothes on) and headed back to the hotel to grab a well-deserved cerveza and a late dinner. This would make the third dojo I have visited while traveling for a wedding: Henry Smith Sensei, may he rest in peace, in Philly and the Bernath Senseis’ in Ft Lauderdale. If anyone is getting married near a dojo, let me know, I’ll bring a gi.
Get a Spine
In my exploration of Kokyuho, I see a common issue with my students. I love that technique; my observation is in the way some people do the technique. I often watch a student do a beautiful opening, getting uke to drop into their front foot taking away their balance. The technique then raises up and I watch nage plant their elbow and push against uke trying to shove them over pushing their strength into uke’s strong back foot. The opening: wasted. I like to do Aikido using as little strength as possible maybe because I am not a big guy. No, not really. The reality, I am lazy. I like to do as little as possible. So why push when you can take away balance and let gravity do the rest? I mean that Isaac Newton guy (Who, by the way, did not invent the cookies. Nope. The cookie is named after a town in Massachusetts. I learned that on The Big Bang Theory from Sheldon.) went out of his way to discover gravity using an apple (Not a computer for you Millennials). So why not use it?
After the initial opening, raise your arms, both of them (some people bring the second hand to the belly. That is perfect but a different lesson), as you sink into your legs, until you see uke’s spine change shape. When the spine begins to curve, uke leans back so that a feather can knock them over (it helps sometimes if the feather is still attached to the bird with some ukes). Then, and only then, shift and turn your waist (Newton also stated the force is NOT required for motion to continue -Momentum- which is kinda what we are talking about here. Make sense? Have a cookie.). If you shift and turn before their spine changes shape, you are pushing against their strength (we call that conflict). It can work but you need a lot of muscle. Looking at uke’s spine is very simple and very available.
We went through many techniques, with the concept of not using force until you can see the change in their spine. It made it easier for everyone to be lazy this way and after being thrown, they thought you were one tough cookie.
Aikido is an expansive practice. Expand your awareness, expand your posture, expand your energy, expand your center. While this sounds wonderful, what does heck does this mean? There are many details to touch on. The Tai Chi Chuan Classics talks about expanding the back. It is crucial to keep your head up and your spine straight when expanding or rounding the back or you will look like a human question mark. This has always been a difficult lesson. I thought of this after watching people doing Koichi Tohei’s breathing exercises at the beginning of a class. Some do the exercise, not as a centering practice but as a sort of strength thing (which makes no sense since no one thought Koichi Tohei was such a big guy). They open their arms and pull their shoulder blades back and tense everything. Doing that cuts off the path of ki that circles around the outside of your arms and around your back. This exercise should feel like oshiro without an uke. The back is rounded or uke crashes into you.
I have taught this idea in Tai Chi Chuan for years with little success until this week. I had an idea. As we did the breathing exercise in class, I went up to each student, braced against them, chest to chest and reached around and actually grabbed their scapulae (shoulder blades) and pulled them apart. My chest kept their back straight and they experienced their back expanding and rounding. It worked, everyone, and I mean everyone, experienced the openness and could feel the expansion. We practiced separately for a while to let each student become aware of their shoulder blades. I then demonstrated how this worked in Push Hands. With my back closed, you can push me. With my back rounded, you can’t, as I can transfer your force to my spine when my shoulder blades are open. Then we played a little with irimi when you turn your thumbs down at the end of the throw, that hand posture causes you to expand and round your back, to make your shoulder blades separate. There is a beautiful synergy to practicing Tai Chi Chuan and Aikido together. You can see many of the details in your body when in slow motion. Try this when you do your breathing exercises. Please keep it around.
”Focus on stillness, rather than on movement."
- Moihei Ueshiba, the Founder of Aikido