Where are my Glasses?
May 16, 2023
Kyu Test Prep Classes – Every Saturday 9:00 am. If you are interested in testing or just want to sharpen your technique, Danny will be giving personalized lessons to help get you ready for the upcoming tests on May 20. There is no charge for this class.
Spring Testing – Saturday May 20, 2:00 pm. Sensei Jay’s Wheel of Ukemi Class; 3:30 Tests. Potluck celebration to follow. Those interested in testing, please speak to Frank, Danny, or Derrell.
Sharon Dominguez, Guest Instructor – Wednesday, May 31, 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm. Sharon Dominguez 6th dan Shidion will be teaching class. Don’t miss this class.
Kid's Tests – June 1, 11:30 am. Please fill out forms at the front desk if you wish your child to test.
Lehrman Sensei is teaching class Wednesday, June 12, 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Dojo trip to NY Aikikai – June 17– Join us as we head to the NY Aikikai to take class with Steve Pimsler Sensei. We will announce more information shortly.
Feeding the Masses
Saturday are busy days at ASNJ. We have six classes from 10:00 in the morning to 4:00 in the late afternoon with 45 minutes open mat time. In reality, ‘open mat’ is our secret code for Lunch. We get hungry. We usually order pizza and wings. I know what you are thinking – “How do I get me a slice?”
Many parents leave their kids at the dojo for much of the day. The older kids help with the younger kids’ classes and then take the teen class. Their younger siblings also stay through the day. We are a community so when we have a group of kids here, we feed them (Every Jewish Sensei’s dream). The delivery of pizza is an important moment on our Saturdays. We calm the mini gi-clad aikidoka with the tantalizing rewards of melted mozzarella, sauce, and dough.
Derrell is the usual master of ceremonies. He has all the kids wash their hands and stand in line for their slice of dojo culinary joy (I know it is only pizza but work with me, I am trying here.). Danny recently bought a very high-quality (code for expensive) pizza cutter (Who knew such a thing existed?). I think Derrell was happier receiving the pizza cutter than his last promotion Either way, he is the proudest Shidion food server in ASNJ. He stands on a chair (Don’t ask me why…) brandishing (Maybe because he teaches Iaido?) his pizza cutter and distributes pizza to the young’uns. (Do this make you want to try his Iaido classes?)
I love being the sensei here.
Let’s Just Put It All Behind Us
When I was a carpenter in the late 80s?, I made concrete forms one summer. A concrete form is what holds the concrete to the exact shape and size of what is being built. You often see it when you look at new buildings going up. I was taught you had to think inside out and backwards. The form (the shape/container) was the opposite of what you got. If you had something sticking out of the form, it made an indent in the concrete wall. I often think of Aikido like that. Inside Out and Backwards, but like concrete form, in a good way. (I made a lot of money that summer, so concrete forms are a good thing!)
When you want uke to go up, you go down, when you want them to move forward, you move backward. I have written about this in a bunch of letters, and you can read in previous letters here, but my point (yes, editors, I have one) is Oshiro (Obviously).
When students/aikidoka practice oshiro (attack from behind), I often watch the uke, acting obediently, run behind nage grabbing one wrist and then the other. All of us practicing have seen this. I have been in a few fights, a lot of official dojo sparring, more unofficial dojo sparring, very few (my kids might read this) street brawls (I grew up in Brooklyn. It was normal. We had classes in street fighting in third grade) and some I will not discuss. In all my altercations, I have never had someone try to run around behind me. I have been grabbed from behind, kicked in the back, hit with a bat, but never had anyone do anything like oshiro to me in ‘real life.’ So, then, why do we train oshiro attacks? Why run behind someone's back?
We don’t. Or uke doesn’t. Nage causes oshiro to happen, not uke. It is not an accident. You, the confident akidoka make that choice for uke. Uke attacks. They come at you with some nefarious and unsavory motivation (Great dramatic writing, huh? I wish I could add music to this letter. Think theme of Jaws – Duh Na. Duh Na). As they approach, (Duh Na) your right-hand swings out (across the body) and to the right side of uke's head (Duh Na). Uke either gets smacked in the side of their head (Serves them right for being nefarious - I had to look that word up. I like the way it sounds. And it makes sense here.) or they try to not get hit by putting up their right arm and leaning back to avoid the blow. (They can also try to duck but if you are rushing toward someone, that is not easy to do unless you were trained in high school or college to wrestle. I was but that’s another story. It would require talking about wearing a singlet. Too embarrassing.)
So now you see the beginning, someone (we will call them uke) comes at you (we will call you nage), to you cause them to grab your right arm with their right hand while the theme of Jaws is playing in the background. (Dah Na).
So now you have this uke, grabbing your arm off balance and you have many options, you can continue to advance toward them and do Ai Hamni Katatetori Ikkyo, a basic technique or any other cross hand wrist hand techniques. But this is an oshiro class, taking advantage of their loss of balance, you step back and turn toward your back drawing uke (Dah Na, Dah Na) behind and around you. You keep uke moving behind you as you turn your body you draw them off balance across you. Your left (the ungrabbed arm) is held out as a place for uke to use to not fall on their face (Dah Na, Dah Na, Duh Na). And you finish with whatever technique you want. (Music stops in silence as the shark has eaten uke).
Oshiro should not be about being attacked from behind (that is another class), it is about you drawing uke, not behind you, but across you to your other arm. They just happen to travel behind you. The entire time you have your attention in front of you as that is when uke ends up. Like going up to go down, they are only behind you to wind up in front. You are using all the space around you to make that happen. Oshiro for me is not about uke attacking me from behind but how I think about using the entire sphere around me.
If you practice this enough, you can become an oshiro shark (Dah Na).
Please Give Me A Hand
I recently had an internal epiphany. I discovered how to extend my hand without any tension. It was amazing. I have been doing the Tai Chi Chuan Form for more than four decades, and it just happened. My root felt more solid than it ever has been (What does my hand have to do with my foot. Keep reading, Grasshopper!).
I have been working for years trying to have my hand fully extended while totally relaxed. I even found my hand closed when I sleep, and since I have been working to keep it extended while slumbering. One aspect of keeping your hand relaxed when fully extended is when your hand is fully extended but you cannot see your metacarpals under your skin. Are you looking at the back of your hand now? Careful, it is addictive. You can see this in videos of O’Sensei, Koichi Tohei, Sugano or Chen Man-Ching. It happened one day. It worked. Not only was my hand totally relaxed and extended but my root was much more connected than ever before. It was amazing. Then it was gone like my glasses (more foreshadowing.).
Let me explain, your hand is connected to your foot – left to right and right to left. Tai Chi Chuan and Aikido are about what happens in your foot and expressed in your hands and your body is what connects them. For me to discover how to have this relaxed extension in my hand, I needed to allow my foot to support it. This only happens when I am relaxed and open between what I have closed and blocked the connection opened. (In this case, it was my lower back in my structure.) What did I do or more accurately, what did I stop doing? I kept looking for it again and then it was gone. Little by little, I am finding it again. Frustrating?
The lesson is in our bodies, we are doing things that keep us from doing things. We are our own problem. When we learn to relax and open what we are holding closed in ourselves, our Aikido, our Tai Chi Chuan, our martial arts work better. I learned to have a better extension of my foot from my hand by, not by holding my hand stiff, but by not holding a place in my lower back. My hand is relaxed, and my root is stronger, and my lower back feels different.
AHA. I love this. Hands down.
I Can’t Find My Glasses
I do not learn Aikido and Tai Chi Chuan linearly. It is an ongoing experience of mini discoveries. I am not talking about memorizing a new technique but a discovery that makes my techniques work. I have Aha! moments. (Can you all see the light bulb? No. LED bulbs do not work in my imagination. I need a tungsten filament. I’m old school.) The problem I have with Aha! moments is what happens after. Something becomes so clear; at that moment it all makes sense and then you try to do it again and…. It is gone. Like trying to remember a dream after you wake up, and it is gone by the time you clean the dry crunchy stuff out of your eyes. It was so vivid and then you can only sorta remember the gist. (I read a theory about dreams that says when sleeping during REM, we convert short-term memories to long-term memories and our dreams discard the short-term memories we no longer need. The hippocampusis the organ in the brain that is responsible for long-term memory. The word is Greek for sea horse as someone thought the hippocampus looks like a seahorse but I think it looks like a jelly roll, (which does not have a Greek translation so they stuck it out with hippocampus). The hippocampus is most active during the REM state of dreaming.
What does this have to do with glasses? I will get there.
When I have an Aha! moment, I often cannot find that experience again. I try practicing and practicing and I keep trying to find it, but nothing. I must stop thinking about it. I must relax, be present, and just practice. Stop trying. It is like when you lose your glasses. You can’t find them anywhere. You look and look, and they are just gone, lost. You finally give up and stop looking and there they are. Right on the top of your head.
It is only when I gave up, I did that thing with my hand again. And then lost it. I discover my hand extension more and more, sometimes during breathing exercises, sometimes during the Tai Chi Chuan Form and every time I get the same experience in my root. It comes and goes but it is there more and more. I need to stop looking. Now if only I could find my glasses.
What is perfect? Nothing. Sorry to break the news.
You can never do an Aikido technique perfectly. You can never do the Tai Chi Chuan Form perfectly. You can do good, you can improve, you can be amazing. Perfect? Sorry. Not going to happen.
Taking that into account, we can all allow ourselves to be wrong, to screw up, to not be able to be perfect. When I teach someone something new, and they cannot do it immediately, they always bang their proverbial head (sometimes literally) against the wall. Let’s give ourselves a break and accept the lesson in Aikido and Tai Chi Chuan that we will never be perfect. Since you will never be perfect, can you please give yourself permission to screw up? It is OK not to learn everything immediately. It is OK to do the technique wrong. Just keep practicing. It is part of the program.
Sensei, Aikido Schools of NJ
"After realizing a principle, unless you learn it with your body, you cannot expect to get true understanding. Scholars in particular tend to learn in theory only."
-- Koichi Tohei, 10th Dan