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  • Writer's pictureSensei Jay

What is a Portsmouth?

(And why is it so important they named a city after it?)

September 15, 2023

What’s Happenin’

· The Women’s committee will host the first Women’s Self-Defense class on Sunday, October 22, 4:00pm to 5:30pm, and will meet about every four months. Free to ASNJ female students and $30 for non-members.

· Our good friend, Crystal Aldrich, opened a dojo – Aikido New London. She is hosting Jerry Zimmerman Shihan and Marie Shaffer for the Grand Opening Seminar on October 14. Please help support her. I will be there, too!

· ASNJ Fall SeminarPenny Bernath Sensei – Saturday October 28. Mark your calendar!

· Veterans Day Class Saturday, November 11, 10:00am - The class will be taught by ASNJ’s veterans. Thank you all for your service.

· Kyu TestsSaturday, November 11 – 2:00pm Wheel of Ukemi, 3:30pm tests, potluck celebration to follow (Yes, this is the same day as Veterans Day – Double party!).


I know what a port is and I know what a mouth is but what is a Port’s Mouth? I understand that a mouth is the outlet of a river to a lake or an ocean, but why is a port there something special? It is just another port on the ocean.

We went to Portsmouth Aikido last weekend for a seminar taught by Hal. I hitched a ride with Linda (more on that later) because, you see, Rachel and our dog, James, were going to meet me after the Saturday class when we would head up to Maine and I could join Rachel on the rest of the drive.

This is my third seminar at Aaron Case’s dojo in Portsmouth. I love his dojo: great people, great Aikido. (You may recall, ASNJ and Aaron’s dojo were fast friends after they were stranded by United Air lines on their way to Japan. See more in this the letter – Lemonade.) Aaron is always bringing interesting senseis to teach seminars. And he is on the way up to Maine. Life is perfect. Drive, Aikido, drive, Maine (Almost a bumper sticker?). Linda and I arrived safely (Why did I mention this? more on that later) Friday evening and went to meet Aaron, his welcoming wife, Yuka (also an amazing Aikidoka), their two great kids, and a local student, Peter, for dinner. Hal and Parviz were delayed getting out of NYC after Hal’s Friday NYA class fighting the long weekend traffic.

The class was great, the Aikido was amazing, and the students were a pleasure to practice with. I can’t say enough to Aaron and his peeps for their warmly embracing us (pun intended) and thanks to Hal for the 20 minutes of nikyo.

Oh, and the drive up, it was uneventful. I napped, took Linda (a librarian by trade) to lunch at Travelers Restaurant and Bookstore (A family favorite: you get to choose free, used books when you eat there!) and drove the last leg of the trip. Full of traffic, Labor Day weekend traffic.

Another Saturday Night and I Ain’t Got…

I am listening to Cats Stevens while writing this. Specifically, the song Another Saturday Night. You see, I am in a self-imposed sequestration. Sitting in my dojo office, alone with my computer, a cup of oolong tea and Cat Stevens. I cannot sample the mini bar as I am on duty. Typing away.

You see, this evening is Teen Movie Night, the dojo is filled with teens who have taken over the dojo, and recently consumed a multitude of Chinese delicacies from the local take-out restaurant (mostly fried -- their choice, not mine. I was just there to pay; I didn’t even eat any.). I advertised the event as "chaperoned.” That means me. Sitting. Alone. Shades drawn. In my office. They need to feel adult-less so they can watch Free Guy freely.

We have a nice sized population of teens and I want them to experience this as their dojo. The little kids feel every room is theirs; the adults have the space for most of the time. The teens, even at their classes, they are led by adults (most of the time, our Junior Deshi do lead classes). So, a couple of Saturday evenings a year, we give them the dojo to hang, bond, eat, and watch a movie on the big screen and have the place all to themselves. But it needs to be chaperoned.

Me? I get to sit alone. Now maybe you can understand my listening to Cats Stevens. Anyone else see the irony? Not Cat Stevens, the big picture. The kids are watching “Free Guy” as I am self-imprisoned? Free Guy, not me Guy. I think the album is setting the tone for my writing. Don’t feel too bad for me? I will meet Rachel and my younger son, Jacob, at Ambeli’s. One of the best Greek restaurants I have had the honor to dine at. And it is only is five minute's drive from the dojo, if you follow the MoonShadow. You see, I am not Miles From Nowhere at the dojo Where The Children Play. Even though it can be a Wild World. Jacob is joining us, it will Father and Son tonight. Slicing into the grilled octopus, The First Cut Is The Deepest (Yes, that was also written by Cat Stevens). And, dare I say, Rachel will join us, A Hard Headed Woman…..Sorry, had to get the song in there somewhere. It has been a long day since the Morning Has Broken. I only have an hour left for Teen Movie Night. If you want to prevent this tragic writing, come hang out with me for the next Teen Movie Night.

Oh yeah, the kids had a great time. They put their phones down. I heard tons of laughter over Cat Stevens. They cleaned up at the end of the evening and all had a great time. They made the dojo their’sdojo for a night. Oh, and I have to mention, at the last class of the day, Natalie discovered her love for Akitosh while we were working on Henka waza. What does that have to do with the article? Nothing. I just wanted to mention it. (And all the kids in the class will be smiling now).


Remember this great scene from the movie Big? “Machine: Zoltar says make your wish. Josh: I wish I were big.” We learned from that Tom Hanks’ Movie that the best thing is not always to be big. True in Aikido. You always want to extend but you don’t necessarily want to be big. But when you are, be very big.

After thinking about the spherical Yin/Yang from a previous letter, that was what was on my mind. I taught an advanced class last month and asked everyone to be bigger than they ever have. Completely fill the space including uke and everything else. The only attack was tski. Make the sphere really, really BIG.

We started with kokyu ho and when uke thinks about punching, you should be filling the space with not just your arm but your whole body. Be big. The idea is the technique, then to kotegaeshi, make the movement big, to omote iriminage, just move way past uke after the attack. Keep it big. Sounds easy but it is not.

When uke attacks, especially with a strike, their goal is for their attack to be your whole universe, for you to focus on their fist. This makes your world, your sphere tiny. The size of their fist. When you have a big sphere, you disregard the attack. It is tiny in proportion. Just move off the line and get big. When you do this, uke feels very silly as you are not regarding their attack as “everything.” This almost brings uke to the point of feeling insignificant. Not only do you have no regard for their attack, which is the most important thing to them at that moment, you ignore them as a person, then move through and past them.

You see, for me, this is one of the main essences of Aikido. Uke brings conflict and Nage meets that with harmony. This only works if you do not get involved in what uke brings but stay in yourself. It has nothing to do with how it looks but everything about how it feels to you. And you must be in your center to experience this. Uke wants to draw you out of that.

Don’t Forget the Knee-dy

I wanted to send out love and good luck. Hal is having a knee replacement the end of the week. He kneeds a new Knee. Two, actually, but they are doing them one at a time). He is going to Take a Knee for the team. Kneedless to say, please keep him in your prayers and send him good wishes. Even if he did excessive Kneekyo on you. One day, he may award you KneeDan.

All kidding aside, he will be off the mat for a while, and we all wish him well.

--Jay Tall

Sensei, Aikido Schools of NJ

“Everyone has a plan until they are punched in the face.”

--Mike Tyson

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