Start of a New Year
January 20, 2021
I have not written a “regular” letter in a while, so I feel a little out of practice. My last two letters reminisced about 2020 and shared my impressions of Vanessa’s test. It has been a while; not since last year, to be exact. (That’s a dad joke, as I am sure my kids will let me know. They may edit this out.) So, we need to welcome a new Marrow family member, Amanda, and two additional youth members. (If you are reading this, the dad joke survived).
Aikido Movement of the Day
Since we have a few beginners, I have been focusing on the beginner’s curriculum in my classes. With the help of Derrell, we formalized it and posted in the dojo. While the new folk do cross hand techniques, everyone else is doing Tski (punch) with the same throw. It is really cool to see the broad range/varieties/spectrum of movements.
Right now, I am working on the idea of polarity of Aikido. I have taught the concept of using empty spaces instead of “pulling” (bad word but I will clarify later, hence the “ “ marks) on throws, but this is not the whole story. Pulling is wrong, it is confrontational, do not do it. Put that thought away but let’s use that word for now. Think of “pulling” as receiving an attack or catching it. It is more of a sword cut that uke is along is taken along for the ride. It often involves stepping back. Let’s think of pulling as someone throwing an egg at you (I was in a fraternity in case you wanted to know where the egg idea came from), you need to match the speed of the egg to catch it, so it doesn’t break. When you exactly match the speed and direction, you can alter the flight and, like uke, the egg does not experience any change – harmony. Just imagine uke is an egg.
The other side of the technique is entering and creating a vacuum. Entering is when attacked, you move into the attack and create a new empty space that uke falls into. The concept I am working on is doing both together: egg and emptiness, doing both opposing actions together: stepping in and stepping back at the same time. (How yin/yang! See? It’s starting to make sense, right?). Or just turn your waist. (I feel combining the Tai Chi Chuan concept of polarity broadens the depth of Aikido.)
Try to enter, create emptiness while receiving/catching/following the egg/uke all at the same moment. This expresses polarity in action of many techniques for me. Simple? It is one thing to have an idea, it is another to be able to explain it. (Not sure I did that here, but I am trying).
Life in a Nutshell
Rachel and I went up to Maine for the three-day weekend for five days. (Counting is subjective sometimes). We had a few inches of snow up there so hiking was difficult, but we persevered. We did spend a day cleaning and organizing the basement. It was amazing how many cans of old paint left by the previous owners that we threw out. I am also, with the help of my neighbor, finishing hooking up the electric supply to an offsite generator so we are prepared for the next power outage. Even in a black out, we will now be able to flush our toilets without melting buckets of snow (I am not being dramatic, see the letter – “April Showers Bring…Black Outs” for more details). Ahh, it is the small comforts.
We returned Tuesday. Following a seven-hour drive, my favorite thing to do is to take an aikido class. But, after unpacking, at home, the last thing I want to do is get back in the car (or anything else at that moment) to drive further south, but it is the best way to unwind and get the kinks out of my joints, fall down.
I love taking class in our dojo. After class, I thanked my partner who said how much I helped him. (I did discuss the duality thing I was working on.) I told him I got a lot from this class. “Yeah, right. You’re the Sensei,” was his reply. I pointed to the 12’ long sign that reads, “Beginner’s Mind” and told him that sign is for me, not him.
It’s a Marathon
Now that we finished the Tai Chi Chuan Form last year (Still with that dad joke. I am challenging my editors. [Eds: If we took out the Dad jokes, what would be left?]), we are focusing on Form Corrections and Push Hands. I am considering starting a new Form class. If you are interested in learning the Tai Chi Chuan Form, please let me know.
Form Corrections is working on the parts of the Form people are struggling with and, universally, it is four corners. It’s understandable as you are required to balance on one foot and step almost completely behind you while keeping your balance on that one foot. It is bordering on impossible.
I took some time to show people how single whip is much easier though similar. Everyone was able to perform that step with little problem. I reminded them that six months ago no one could do single whip, then it seemed “impossible.” Six months from now, four corners may still be difficult, but won’t feel impossible. It is good to see how we all improve over time and with practice. It is a marathon.
That is all part of my job: Not only making the “impossible” doable, but also to remind you that you did it. Chen Man Ching used to say that tenacity was the most important quality to learn Tai Chi Chuan.
--Sensei Jay Tall
“Marathoning, The triumph of desire over reason.”