Snake Creeps Up
April 29, 2022
I want to welcome back Ulises. He joined right before the Covid shutdown and has come back. Welcome to our dojo.
I had the honor to oversee kyu tests on Saturday April 23rd and want to congratulate:
5th Kyu: Linda Rosario, Natalie Noya, Allen Alaya and Klaire Karol
4th Kyu: Patrick Morrow
3rd Kyu: DJ Thomas, Eva Morrow, Duerte Nobre
1st Kyu: Drew Harteveld
I am sitting, Sunday afternoon, after the tests in the dojo eating leftovers from yesterday’s party while processing the paperwork to promote everyone. Five of the students who tested are not old enough to drive for maybe 5 or 6 years. The tests were great. We had maybe 40-50 people show up to support them and enjoy a BBQ/potluck party celebrating their day. Congratulations to all.
Lehrman Sensei in Puerto Rico – Monday May 2, 7:00 pm. Yes, you read it right, Puerto Rico. What is a Brooklyn Sensei doing in Puerto Rico on a school night? I will explain. I will be away this weekend in Puerto Rico at Paul, Hal’s son’s wedding. I have known Paul since he was two and we all were neighbors in Brooklyn. As usual, when traveling, I looked up the local USAF dojo. The closest is in San Juan, PR. Javier, who is also attending, called to check on the schedule. Talk about coincidence, Valquez-Bravo Sensei will be away that weekend in NYC. He was hoping to go to the NY Aikikai and take Lehrman Sensei’s Friday class. Javier broke him the news. He picked the wrong weekend to be in NYC. To make a long story short, we all will be at the San Juan Aikido Dojo where Lehrman Shihan will be teaching class at 7:00pm. If you are in the area, please feel free to join us. And I want to thank Valquez-Bravo Sensei for the wonderful invitation.
Dean Sluyter-Hosted Meditation – Sunday, May 1, 8:45 am-10:00 am. Dean Sluyter, cofounder of ASNJ's Sunday morning meditation program, returns to lead meditation and discussion, and to present his new book, The Dharma Bum's Guide to Western Literature. No charge for the program, open to all.
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. We will host Lehrman Shihan and Konigsburg 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.
If you like this newsletter, come to the seminar at ASNJ next month and meet me in person. You know, the guy who writes this email. Every week. Week after week. I will sign copies. And while you are here, practice Aikido with amazing Shihans.
Please join us on Saturday, May 21 for our Vernal Seminar with Lehrman Shihan and Konigsburg 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.
What do most Jews do on Catholic/Christian holidays? Go to a movie and eat Chinese food. Don’t believe me? Go to your local temple and ask. Last week was Easter, and it was also Passover (and Ramadan. Talk about a mono-theistic holy weekend). Rachel and I went hiking on Sunday at Greenbrook Sanctuary, a 150+ acre private park on the Hudson River. It costs $60 per year for a family membership, and it is a few minutes from Aikido of North Jersey near the GW Bridge. Since it is private, it is never crowded. There are lots of trails, the views are breathtaking, there are picnic tables, bathrooms and it is a great place for nature watching. (I sound like an advertisement). We saw a male turkey trying to woo four hens with his plumage in full display (that’s him in the picture). He was doing his best to be noticed, feathers puffed out, tail fanned in full display. He got zero attention from the ladies, nothing. A total aviary dis. We both felt sad for him.
Then my wife found a hibernating tree frog hidden under a rock (yes, my wife turns over rocks look for such creatures. She leaves no stone unturned?), a white wing vulture (very cool and big), a cooper hawk (a fairly small guy. Maybe a mini cooper?), lots of robins, an eagle (not bald. Not sure what kind), and the coolest sighting of the day was not even there.
That morning, when heading out of the house to run errands and go to the dojo (The dojo closed for Easter. I had some time alone to catch up.). As I was leaving, a man was taking a picture of what I thought was our house. Always a Brooklyn boy, I instantly went over to him (no Type A personality here). He pointed to a bald eagle in a tree in our yard you could see over the roof of the house. It was huge. I mean really big. I have seen many bald eagles in Maine but never that close. I invited the guy with the camera into our backyard as we watched huge bald eagle snacking on, what appears to be a fresh, high-grade, Wagyu squirrel. OK, it was just a dead squirrel, but I wanted this eagle to be special, it was in our backyard not 40 feet over our heads. It was there for 30 minutes. We watched it finish lunch, defecate on the driveway and un-ceremoniously, fly away without even a ‘Ciao’ or ‘See ya.’ Cool Easter, huh? How many of you have fresh bald eagle poop on your driveway?
Snake Creeps Up
In the Tai Chi Chuan’s Form, the one technique (you do it twice in the Form) which is universally hated, is Snake Creeps Down. I, the optimist, call it ‘Snake Creeps Up.’ You need to do a one-legged squat while keeping your back straight and then, while near the ground, shift all your weight from the right to the left foot. Think a Tai Chi Chuan version of koshi. We worked on this technique for over half an hour. (This is just foreshadowing. Part of my expanding my literary skills. I can write about more than squirrels and horseradish. Impressed?)
Saturday, I was in the office, paying bills, when Derrell, teaching one of the Kid’s classes (we have four Kid and two Adult classes on Saturdays), comes in and asks me for help…on the mat. I told him I am not in my gi yet. That was not a problem, he said, there was a snake (see the foreshadowing?) in the dojo, and they figured I would know what to do. (You thought things were strange at ASNJ with the “A Dance Mom, A Light Bulb, A Plumber, and A Squirrel” letter?) That made perfect sense – There’s a snake? Get a sensei! Not just any sensei, but an outdoorsy sensei. Like one with a camo hakama. (Yes, I have a camo hakama made for me by my son, Zachary. And it has pockets. Now you are jealous?). You know that a camo hakama-clad sensei would have no issue with wild animals in the dojo. Is this all making Sensei sense?
I came out of my office trying to be subtle. That was a waste of time since the kids have already seen the snake. Danny yelled (from way over the other side of the mat, I may add) “It’s just a garter snake.” Did you know that, when threatened, a garter snake will release a foul smelling musk. It’s not nearly as bad as the musk released by a northern water snake (which are native in Greenbrook Sanctuary), but it will get your attention. I went across the mat, wearing jeans and an Aikido T-shirt (no camo hakama at that moment). The nearly two foot-long trespassing reptile was tranquilly relaxing behind the kamaza. Almost meditating – Sssssssss…oooohm. I grabbed the docile snake; garters are mostly harmless. They can bite but, from experience, it is not painful. I carried him (From the biblical reference, as well as phallic, I assume all snakes are male. I was not spending the time to check its gender.) to the side door and casually tossed him in the yard. Derrell, behind me in a panicked voice, asked “Why didn’t you throw him over the fence? He could just slither under the fence, it’s snake!” Derrell slammed the door shut and made sure it was locked (Don’t ask me why. I can’t see a snake unlocking the door. I never gave it the key). I offered to go get the snake if Derrell wanted to throw him over the fence himself. That ended the conversation quickly.
Why do these things always happen during the Kids’ classes? I hope in the future, the only snake in the dojo is in the Tai Chi Chuan Form (twice). Interesting that a snake shows up right at Easter and Passover. Talk about major Old Testament biblical reference. If a red cow shows up, I am leaving.
Push or Be Pushed
I tried a new lesson in Tai Chi Chuan class. We worked on shifting too far and discovering what 100% is (See article on 100% for more details). Then in a simple Push Hands exercise, we had a partner slowly push you to cause you to go to the 100% spot and beyond. The same result, different motivations. The consensus – Is this the word you mean? I don’t understand what you are getting at in the class, everyone preferred to shift on their own. The Pushing model was experienced as combative.
In my experience, you will easily and fully achieve 100% when someone is pushing you, so why the aversion? When we discussed it, it came down to ego. I don’t like it when some else is “in control.” The issue with Tai Chi Chuan (and Aikido) is we blend, we harmonize, we follow. That requires you “give up and follow others” as stated in the Tai Chi Classics. When you give up, when you drop your ego, you follow but you, two, become a system. Both uke and nage agree and become unified (harmonize). That doesn’t happen with ego, that is domination. A very different experience. We need the attack to blend, we need the other person’s force to make the technique work. The attack is a gift. You can 100% see this.
Who Cares If I Win?
I was working with an instructor on moving his center instead of his shoulders in a technique. Every now and then he got it. It was unsatisfying. “I want to feel it,” he professed. I told him he had two choices: he can try to have the sensation of a victory, or he can actually be victorious. When you get that magical moment in Aikido when your uke goes flying and it feels like nothing, that is victory. If you feel the struggle, so does uke and uke can fight that. “So, you can always be victorious or you can have the feeling of winning. Which do you want?” I asked him. “Can’t I have both?” was the response. Oy, where did that snake go?
‘To compete in techniques, winning and losing, is not true budo. True budo knows no defeat. "Never defeated" means "never fighting."
- Moihei Ueshiba, the Founder of Aikido