When the Rockets Red Glare
July 5, 2021
I’ll Say Hello Later
I wanted to thank everyone who sent me a note about my last letter – Covid Reopening – A Year in Review. I enjoy writing these, but I enjoy hearing from you more.
This is a little different opening to my letter. I am not saying hi. I will do that in a minute. This may seem a little abnormal, but Rachel and I are up in Maine. A couple of friends from Brooklyn are coming up to visit. I have stuff from two weeks ago in this letter as last week was the Covid Year in Review. So, there will be two weeks of stuff in this letter. But, after rambling for a paragraph, what I want to do is to wish all a wonderful July 4th. The Dojo will be closed for the day.
I realize that I only talk about the new faces. Gino who, from the day he walked in the door, was part of the community. The days he wasn’t in class; you would hear a “Where’s Gino?” He is moving to Georgia and will no longer be practicing at ASNJ but will always be part of our family. Gino, there will always be a bottle of Hennessy in the dojo mini bar waiting for you.
I want to welcome a lovely and shy 8-year-old girl into our kids’ program. Thanks Shanaia for helping her feel comfortable. I also want to welcome Dan (perfect name for aikido). He is a 3rd Kyu who moved from Bulgaria. He has not been on the mat in five years but watching him you would never know. Also, an interesting story: We had two visitors for our Sunday Iaido class. A dad with his teen who will be attending Rutgers in the fall and wanted to continue practicing Iaido while at college. They currently practice Iaido in Pennsylvania, three hours away. They took a long drive to check out our program as their Iaido dojo also practices the same style of Iaido, San Shin Kai. Welcome to our NJ program, good luck at Rutgers, a great school.
Correction: Recently I wrote we were just about at 125 members. I reviewed the enrollment and found we had not removed a few people that were on leave, so we are at 121.
Teen Movie night – Saturday July 24. 4:00pm to 8:00 pm. THIS IS A NEW DATE. The teens realized a bunch would be away, so they moved it back a week. If you are 10-18 and want to hang out watching Jumanji 2 with your fellow Aikidoka, contact Shanaia or Naelys. The dojo will supply the pizza.
Kyu Tests - Saturday August 21, 2021 – Are you reeeeeaaaaddddddyy for a kyu test (say like you are at a WWF event). We are having the Wheel of Ukemi Class, Kyu Tests and our Summer BBQ / Potluck party. If you wish to test, please speak with Danny, Derrell, or Frank for evaluation. We are having tons of prep classes to help you get ready.
Hakama Class – Sunday August 29th, 11:00 am. Open to student’s 3rd kyu and above and mandatory for instructors.
Family Fun Day
Wow, that was fun. The BBQ was smokin’ (pun intended) and the dogs and burgers a-plenty. With two of the three regular Saturday instructors on vacation, Danny, Omar, and I taught the six Saturday classes.
We had quite a few visitors join us on the mat. They were easy to spot: people wearing T-shirts. It was fun to see some of our kids throwing their parents with a vengeance (is there a DYFS for parents?). Paul started serving the burgers (with six different cheeses to choose from) and hot dogs around noon. Kazu brought some delicious sausages that were almost as good as his kotegaeshi. Just when I thought everyone was done eating, Duerte showed up with a few pounds of Picanha, a tender cut of Portuguese steak. People moved very slowly from the combination of being tired and full.
On the mat, we had a two-year-old in the kids’ class (she is my Baby Shark officemate.) She wanted to be like her four-year-old yellow-belted big sister. After class, she spent the next 20 minutes sitting on my lap or on shoulders while I took care of dojo business. During the second Adult class, the little three-year-old brother of Kelsey and Kelvin, two of our teens, and son of Cesar, spent the class running up and down the mat. Amazingly, everyone knew where he was and there was never a close call. Omar used the adventurous tot as uke. He did kotegaeshi, got to the end and said, “fall down.” The tiny uke recreated a very impressive breakfall, or at least his rendition of one. Great day.
An instructor Called.
I got a call from one of our instructors who was taking a class the other day. Side note, all our instructors MUST take classes, myself included, or they cannot teach. To be a teacher at ASNJ, you must also be a student. He was having trouble doing ikkyo on a large, strong beginner. You all know, one of those guys who is a little scared and does not know the technique well enough to just fall and make you happy (My favorite kind of partner). You must be gentle as to not hurt the beginner, but your technique needs to be dead on to cause them to fall. Often, they do something totally out of the expected with a twist or turn and you end up looking at them with doe eyes trying to figure out why your Aikido was off that day (Blame it on the Uke).
I told the instructor to bring their arm over their head in a classic Lehrman Sensei version of the technique. Light bulb. He got it and was excited to try it out. Then he said he had another technique fail with the same guy. I told him the big strong uke was leaning forward because he was scared, so, the instructor needed shift onto his back leg. Another aha moment. Then we went into this a little deeper. I explained that when I practice, I do not try to stick to a strict interpretation of a technique. I am a long-time student of Lehrman Sensei. I experiment. Try going a little to the left, to the right, open your hip, shift into your back leg, etc. Do it exactly like the instructor showed you for a few cycles then play. The more you do that, you find what works with different people. There is no exact technique that works on everyone. Some are tall, short, strong, relaxed, obnoxious, overwilling, etc. The formal technique is a starting point for you to work on Aikido. Experiment. Don’t just fall for the technique.
Monday last week was the 6th anniversary of the passing of Rick Stickles Sensei. I invited all students on that Monday to the dojo and we took a few moments to silently remember how he had touched our lives. I had a long talk with Hal Sensei that day about all the ways Stickles Sensei affected each of us. Hal Sensei has a unique experience. He knew Stickles Sensei before he started Aikido. They were in a play together. Hal, an actor, Rick the stage manager. As Hal Sensei pointed out to me, Stickles Sensei and I share an interesting separate history, we both were introduced to Aikido by Hal Sensei.
While I was never a direct student of Stickles Sensei, I did have one of my biggest Aikido epiphanies at a seminar he taught. I watched his sword technique and at that moment, I saw clearly how his Aikido movements were a representation of our bodies doing the motion of the sword. It was the first time I had a real understanding of the relationship that I still practice to this day. Rest in peace, Sensei. You are very much missed. You had a great effect on many people.
“I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.”
– Abraham Lincoln