Spiking the Punch
September 22nd, 2021
I want to welcome back the people, mostly kids, who took the summer off. Also, we had an energetic young lad joining our kids’ program. His little brother is waiting to see how his older bro does before jumping in. Welcome all.
I wanted to congratulate the following on their successful kyu tests
Melissa Valoura- 4th kyu
William Jaworski – 4th kyu
A Memory Candle
This past week Wednesday/Thursday was the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. I did not teach my normal Wednesday class as I was home, fasting. This is a somber holiday spent atoning for what we feel we need to from the past year. The part of the holiday that always affects me the most is the tradition of lighting a yahrzeitcandle in memory for both Rachel and I having lost both our parents. We light two candles each that burn for at least a day and say a prayer in memory of each of our parents. This is always an important moment for me to remember my folks, the wonderful (and some not so) memories and the past. We stand there for a few minutes, each in our silence, I have my arm around Rachel’s waist and we share our moments alone, together. That part of the solemn holiday is the one moment I took forward to each year.
Halloween Class – Sunday, October 31, 11:00 am. Come to class in a costume (all day). Make sure you can roll in it (My sumo costume from last year was problematic to say the least.)
Veterans’ Day Class – Thursday, November 11, 7:00 pm. Open to all members and guests. We will be honoring our members who are veterans at that class. Please come to show your support for those who have served our country. Details to follow. We will have refreshments and will make a toast after class for all those that have given their lives for our country.
The class is doing well, and we are constantly developing and fine tuning the curriculum and teaching methods. Everyone involved has my everlasting gratitude and respect. I will be writing a letter dedicated to my experience in that class. Now that we have a strong curriculum, we are looking to expand enrollment. We will have a flyer soon but if you know of a school age child that can benefit, please let them know about the program.
There is a post floating on FB about a sign in the Iwama dojo (Saito Sensei) that says “Attention. Using force to stop your partner from completing the techniques is prohibited.” I have mixed feeling about this. In one regard, a dojo is a laboratory where you are able to experiment. I was a bio major and took lots of lab courses. Sometimes the experiment is very boring, and you end up with some yellow liquid and other times it blows up. But the goal is to learn from trial and error. If everything is safe and predetermined, what is there to learn? On the other hand, if everything is adversarial, then you are only trying to survive and will never have a safe moment to try something out. You will only be faced with a muscular struggle a clash of bodies and wills.
For me, it is a mix. Most of what I learned about how Aikido can really work is from being frustrated with an adversarial uke. My son is that person for me now, he can truly be frustrating. If I can throw him, I know I can make a technique work. But if he gave me this style of ukemi when I started, I might have quit out of frustration. When I started back in the early ‘80’s in Brooklyn, 90% of the throws were into a break fall and everyone gave you resistance. But they did not go out of their way to stop you. When I went to the NYA, it was harder, more physical. You got much more resistance. When I saw the FB post with this sign; it hit me. It is very specific. Lehrman Sensei reminded me that back in the 80’s, Yamada Sensei went around and practiced with everyone. He would always take ukemi and he would fall, but if you were trying to be strong, he got very heavy. He did not stop you, but you knew you were doing something wrong. He used force but he never stopped you from completing the technique. That is the brilliance of that sign.
When I teach, every uke I bring up, I tell them to use as much force as they can. I want to learn, and I want everyone to know Aikido works. But that is me. I also tell them not to do that with other people. For me, that is the lesson: moderation. The sign does not say – Don’t Use Force, it says not to and stop nage from completing the technique. It took me a while to read it that way. If uke’s intention is to help their partner to learn, good for you. If uke’s intention is to win and defeat their partner, well, you may just be a jerk.
Let’s Push It
Leland, who is both a beginner Aikidoka and Tai Chi practitioner, asked me about a class on fighting. My Tai Chi Chuan practice has always included fighting/sparing. It is usually taught after learning the Form, spending time in Form Correction learning how to do the Form and then, spending a few years doing Push Hands. We have only been doing the TCC class for a year and only once a week. Since I take requests and I have always answered all questions, we delved into the ideas of TCC sparring, albeit way early in their TCC practice.
I explained, from my own opinion, what you need to have learned is to to use TCC in sparring. Relaxed arms (you really need a relaxed body, but I think you can get away with it if your arms are pliable), the ability to move (shift and turn) from your waist (we studied this in the previous week’s class and letter and how difficult this is) and a root, the physical connection with your body and the earth. This is demonstrated when you can stand on one leg, and someone cannot push you over. There is no instruction on how to discover your root, you find that one day over time when practicing. Then you lose it but that is another letter on its own.
In class, one person slowly punched the other. The goal was while shifting forward, have the arm, again slowly, come up to meet the punch and fold, shapelessly, around the attack to hit your opposite. You do this with your whole body, the arm is only expressing the movement of the entire body from your connection (root) with the ground. The relaxed arms express this movement. But the arm has no shape, if it meets something (the incoming punch) it folds around it, like water to a rock in a river, and hits the attacker with the force of your body shifting. This is way easier for me to demonstrate than describe.
One of the things that makes this difficult is the obsession to focus on the attacking fist. (I discuss this in length in the Letter – Internal Combustion Engine). If you do that, then the uke becomes the nage. The attacker’s goal is to shut down your universe into nothing but their attack. Tunnel vision. You lose sight of the rest of the attacker’s body, the room, and the universe. You become focused on the four squares inches of uke’s fist. In Aikido, we focus on the empty space and move into that making the attack a gift of uke’s energy. In Tai Chi Chaun, we move into the emptiness in our foot and move around uke through them (that part is not pleasant) but the idea is to stay open and relaxed, not to constrict into the one small thing in the room attacking you.
One student, a philosophy professor, said he is not wired that way. He is wired only to focus on the fist. I corrected him that was not the case. He was taught that way. A two-year-old does not cringe from a quick movement, only after they are hit. He is not wired that way but taught to be that way. At our Tai Chi Chuan (or Aikido) class, you are given the opportunity to learn a new way. Not to become controlled by an attacker but to see it as nothing out of the ordinary, another opportunity. The universe is much bigger than the attack. It is just one aspect of, well, of Everything. That is why we Root for uke. (Get the double meaning? Root? Subtle, huh?) Lets not Push it.
“Throw your partner by not throwing, pin him by not pinning.”
- Moihei Ueshiba, the Founder of Aikido