By Dale Miller
By Jim Soviero
By Suzanne Parmly
By Tony Costa
By Jim Soviero
By Jim Soviero
By Chris Ednie
By Lynne Crystal Here's what our kids and their parents have to say about practicing Aikido.
By Jim Soviero
By Dale Miller
My attempt to learn martial arts in my early 40s is no midlife crisis. Being a teacher of both swimming and drums, I've seen many adults looking to accomplish something they have always been interested in. My passion to accomplish this particular goal is no different.
Over the years I've had a few introductory classes in various martial arts. Sometimes it came to logistics, time, or money, but for the most part it was their aggressive nature that kept pushing me away. Yet somehow, I still had a deep curiosity about them. One day, I remembered my cousin had studied Aikido back in our youth. My grandmother, who used to take my cousin to the class, used to say it was for defense only. The goal is not to hurt the opponent, but to put the practitioner out of harm's way.
Into the fire
Our Sensei has created a pleasant atmosphere and somehow is able to instruct everyone to their own abilities, even though there is a wide difference in skills. In many ways, I've been thrown into the fire. It is the custom, apparently. Luckily, everyone I have asked for help has been willing to explain small details and technical points, as there are times I feel quite lost. Classes are for all skill levels, and the patience of the more advanced participants has been more than I expected.
There is some difficulty on my part. I have epilepsy and there is a fair amount of rolling. I find the constant rolling makes me feel as if I'm heading towards a small seizure. Not something I was really looking to accomplish by taking this class. Sitting out can be frustrating, but at this point I am not sure what I really can do. I find most of my fellow students understand when I explain to them my reason for sitting out, but I've yet to discover a way around it. I guess it is not much different than many older students who have their own ailments. They simply try to avoid what causes them pain.
A long journey
Through this short time studying I've also seen the similarity in Aikido to both swimming and drums. I know this may seem odd, but all seem to be about repeated basic motions, memorization to the point those motions become second nature, balance, being fluid, finding what works for you, and more than anything staying relaxed. You would not believe how many times I've used that word with my swimming and drumming students. Now if I could only apply this to myself when doing Aikido.
It will be a long road learning this art to a level I would feel comfortable using it, but this journey is not simply buying a Harley Davidson and riding around the country for a summer. It is a dedication in wanting to accomplish something new. I am looking forward to see my growth not only in the art, but as a person as well.
If you are getting started later in life and are interested in a martial art, I highly recommend Aikido. Though I still have a lot to learn, I'm encouraged by my progress and know that despite my age I (and you!) can still learn to protect myself and my family. You should, too!
Aikido as Gratitude Practice
By Jim Soviero, Chief Instructor
We are all guilty of it, at one time or another: focusing on what we don't have instead of being grateful for what we do. If only we had more money, a bigger house, better car, better job, better spouse, backstage passes - our lists are endless - then all will be right with our world. But the truth here is that the more we chase around corners seeking what we believe to be happiness, the more corners keeping popping up.
When we put our attention on wanting what we don't have or not wanting what we do have, we perpetuate a scarcity mentality that keeps us in situations we judge to be undesirable. But at the risk of being cliche, "Be careful what you wish for . . ." If we simply shift focus instead to being grateful for what we do have, a sense of true gratitude begins to bloom, which tends to lead invariably to real joy.
Unfortunately, this is sometimes facilitated when we observe the tragedy of others, as in witnessing the devastation in the Philippines. We begin to really feel blessed, and fully embrace what may be our relatively modest circumstances, perhaps becoming humble ourselves. And in such a state of humility we are vulnerable and therefore open to greater possibility, which ironically often leads to accessing an abundance we had not imagined before, making the previous wanting seem childish.
Gratitude, Abundance and Joy
Aikido in this way is a gratitude practice. When uke grabs nage's wrist, if all nage can do is focus on the sudden lack of use of the arm and try to wrench free with physical strength, uke has their whole being. But if nage can relax and let go of the arm's current situation and focus in a grateful way on the freedom of the rest of the body, they'll quickly discover that they not only have much more than they originally thought, but the arm quickly returns to their favor, rejoining the body and restoring the whole.
This abundance mentality extends then beyond nage's body as a technique continues with proper musubi, or blending, and uke's body becomes nage's servant (though in the greater picture, the roles dissolve and two become one).
Always be grateful to your dojo, to your teachers - which include every one and thing that crosses our path - and to a practice available everyday that allows us to grow in gratitude, abundance and joy!
To test or not to test
By Suzanne Parmly
Does anyone like testing? Is it just another mountain to climb that brings you closer to another goal or is it a continuous journey that brings you strength and knowledge through practice? When I started to practice ten years ago, Aikido became a major part of my life. Retirement was fast approaching and my job as my mother's caregiver would soon be apparent.
At the beginning, testing was far from my reality. As time passed, Sensei asked me to test for 5th Kyu, which started my journey into testing. My immediate reaction was that of panic and a reluctance to do it. This occurred with each Kyu test that followed. In Aikido testing is an extension of practice. It is not, as I thought originally, a terrible experience to be feared. Sensei always says that he wouldn't ask anyone to test if they weren't ready.Having achieved my 1st Kyu, I can say that his words are true.
Flowing into the next level
Aikido is a living moving, path of highs and lows. Sometimes you move through space with precision and acuity, hoping that you would remain in that state of free expression and not sink into a period of indecision or confusion. All of these emotions plague the tester. If you can clear your head and remember what Sensei says, you can enter the test with a clarity of what is to be done. Though I was extremely reluctant, I did snap into shape as soon as I started moving.
The test can become an insurmountable mountain that gets bigger with each minute. Over inspection is always a problem and not the testers friend. One has to look at Sensei, who is probably one of the kindest, most nonjudgemental and supportive people that you could know, to realize that testing is not the dragon in the lair. It is a way of f lowing forward into the next level of clarity, blending with your partner as you do everyday on the mat
I would never have tested without the constant support of Sensei. He has created a nurturing environment for everyone supported by a competent , caring staff. Testing is important but only a small part of an enjoyable life long practice.
Testing: It's not a competition
By Tony Costa
As soon as you concern yourself with the 'good' and 'bad' of your fellows, you create an opening in your heart for maliciousness to enter. Testing, competing with, and criticizing others weaken and defeat you" - O'Sensei
In the world we live in today that's a hard idea for us to grasp, when everything in our world is based on competition and who is 'good' and who is 'bad'. But when we enter the dojo, when we step on the mat, we are supposed to leave that all behind. I know it's difficult for me. I have to constantly remind myself that it's not a competition, that I am not trying to be better than anyone else, that I am just trying to be the best 'me' I can be.
It's definitely easier when you work with those of a like mind, and of course harder when working with those who do not share that mindset. As James Shaffer Sensei always says, "Don't be that guy," as he demonstrates the 'tough guy' way to do Kokyu Dosa. I have watched my practice progress much more quickly when working with a 'no competition' mindset.
Practicing in Partnership
Prior to my last kyu test, Adam and I spent every Sunday afternoon leading up to the test at David's prep class. I was fortunate to have had Adam to work with as a partner, because that's what we did - work as a partnership with no competidingly. When it was my turn, I did the same. After four weeks of this intense work, I wasn't nervous for my test but I was calm and confident instead. I felt Adam was too. I know that if we did not have that partnership, that pairing, that 'harmony' between us, I would not have been.
If we had competed, we would have only weakened and defeated each other. By working together in harmony, we moved up in our practice. I thought it was a great thing. Now, to just carry that off that mat . . .
Nervous about testing? Nah, just excited!
By Jim Soviero, Chief Instructor
Anyone, myself included, who tells you that they enjoy testing and that the idea of it doesn't make them nervous is not being honest. Whether it's for 6th kyu or sandan, the process and associated feelings are more or less the same. But interestingly, the feelings are the same when we're nervous or excited. The feelings themselves are not us, and we choose to judge whether they are positive or negative. So if you choose to rename a typically negative feeling like "nervousness" to "excitement," you'll likely have a far more positive testing experience.
When people tell me I must be relieved that I am longer tested, I have to laugh. Truth is that any worthwhile practice like Aikido is conspicuous by the daily presence of challenge, testing us at every tenkan (turn). And my own practice is no exception, which includes teaching as well as taking class, and that keeps me returning to the mat. I am especially tested as the chief instructor of a dojo whose students go before Yamada Sensei and members of the USAF Technical Committee to take a yudansha test. If there are any issues with the candidates performance, guess who gets a talking to? Certainly not the candidate!
See how much you've grown
But of course, don't work hard to prepare for a test only to make your teacher proud and your dojo stand out. Do it for you - as a milestone along the timeline of your life's practice. As a natural byproduct, your teacher and dojo will be proud. Just before commencing tests for both children and adults alike, I like to compare testing in Aikido to having a photo taken of yourself. It's how you look at that moment in time along your lifespan. You'll inevitably grow and change from the moment the photo is snapped, which you'll see in subsequent photos. Testing is no different - use it as a litmus to see how your practice has grown. Compare yourself to you and not to another who is going for the same rank, whose path is not yours
In general, the concept of testing is usually anxiety-provoking because it tends to
pit us against others through excellence comparison, which inspires a certain degree
of judgment, from ourselves at least as much as from others. Because unfortunately
we've been conditioned to judge through general testing, it becomes a deeply
ingrained habit. Of course breaking or at least weakening this habit is no
easy feat and can usually only occur through years of dedicated . . .
Practice is perfect
By Jim Soviero, Chief Instructor
"Practice makes perfect," the old saying goes. Another suggests, "practice is perfect." Since we all know, more or less, that perfection in any absolute sense while here in the relative, physical world is a myth, living the second saying seems far more attainable than the first. It suggests that all we ever really need is to show up and be present. From there, trusting in the process takes care of all. Woody Allen said "80% of success is showing up."
In general, Western ideas of practice tend to be achievement oriented, that we practice something in order to get better in order to reach some goal in order to gain acceptance, understanding, love. And somehow, even when we apply ourselves to something in this way and achieve all the goals set, there seems to remain a specter of dissatisfaction, a let down that suggests that maybe fulfillment is elsewhere. So we search for and immerse ourselves in something else to get better at, convincing ourselves that attaining the goals we set in practicing this new pursuit will surely bring the satisfaction missing from those previous, only to be let down again and perpetuate an unending cycle.
Practice to become the art
Aikido practice really is just that - practice. Aikido just is. We don't necessarily get better at it. It gets better through us, through practice. We train our bodies to become faithful servants with whom we work as conduit or antennae to receive and transmit the Aikido that already is. This is no different than fine tuning your stereo antennae (those who don't stream online) for the best reception possible.
A case can be made for reincarnation when we consider how on a cellular level our bodies are in a constant state of death and rebirth, awaiting further instruction. Left unchecked, our old habits are kept alive in the new cells, and so we call ourselves "hardwired," feeling we are incorrigible. That is why (forgive the almost as-constant cliches and proverbs here), there is no time like the present. Download and run your new program with the new cells that are born right now, create new habits and practice daily.
This is how you truly "become" the art. You just may learn that all along, you've been perfect as you are. As 20th Century Zen master Shunryu Susuki Roshi famously said, "You are perfect the way you are...and you could use a little improvement." So come to the dojo...and be perfect!
Build your ukemi tool bag
By Chris Ednie
When we think about our Aikido practice we often focus on performing techniques - and throwing our partners - at the expense of learning to improve our own ability to take falls. However, Yamada Sensei writes, "In order to improve your techniques, you must have good ukemi."
As beginners we all learn basic back rolls and forward rolls. As we progress, we need to continually develop those abilities. That way our ukemi skills will grow along with our technical skills. This broader set of ukemi skills then becomes your "ukemi tool bag" that you can use in different situations. Yamada Sensei adds, "We practice to do techniques properly and also how to protect against techniques." To improve your ukemi, you should challenge yourself to learn new skills on a regular basis. You should practice your new ukemi skills on your own until they become ingrained in your muscle memory, and you can react naturally. A great time to practice is after class when you're warmed up. You can hone those skills during regular class while you're working with a partner.
Throw . . . and be thrown
Yamada Sensei suggests that beginners ask advanced students to throw them when they have extra time before or after class. "The only way to improve ukemi ability is by being thrown by nage," Yamada Sensei writes.
It's not just beginners, though. Advanced students have an important and active
role too. As an example, advanced students need to be able to dictate through
the power of their throws if uke will need to take a simple roll or a break fall.
That means advanced students need to practice their throwing techniques for
students who are learning more advanced ukemi. It's especially important for
advanced students to learn how to throw uke for break falls by delivering the
proper amount of power while providing the necessary amount of support as uke
completes the fall.
It may seem like work, but when your ukemi improves, practice is more fun.
Kids roll Aikido into life
By Lynne Crystal
"Congratulations! This is your day. You're off to great places! You're off and away!" So says Dr. Seuss.
We all start out small. Our path to a successful adulthood is strongly influenced by our role models. Of course you want your children to grow up to be loving, successful, confident and safe. We do too. Welcome to The Children's Program! Here, life-affirming aikido principles and techniques practiced on the mat easily roll into real life. Discovering the power within, that comes from handling themselves wisely in any situation, is a vital gift. Aikido is the gentle and powerful martial art. It protects everyone and inspires lifetime confidence. It creates camaraderie, sets boundaries and resolves conflicts. Children learn to trust their instincts and interpret others' signals. From the playground bully to workplace bully, our children deserve to be prepared. We must see to it that they are.
Kids say . . . "Aikido is fun!"
To measure their training"s effectiveness, I asked our own 6-12 year old experts. They say: -"It makes me calm." -"It's cool ... it just is." -"I know I can protect myself." -"I have friends here." -"I feel strong." -"Remember to stay calm and breathe." -"It is fun." -"I like silent class" -"Call 911" -"You have to stop them from hurting you without hurting them." -"You have to know how you feel. When you feel something is wrong you have to trust that feeling." - "I protected myself using kotegaeshi." (No one was hurt) -"Thank you for class."
Parents say . . "Aikido is impressive!"
-"I like the influence this is having on my children." -"Gave complete attention throughout class." - Focused!" -"Feels fits in here." -"Shows much more confidence now." -"It's impressive." -"Tried different activities and this one was a perfect fit" "The kids play and help each other." -"Looks forward to coming to class."
I say: "It is my pleasure and privilege to serve as The Children's Program Advisor." It's a gift to instruct these bright, enthusiastic and creative kids. They learn from me as I from them. I hold a 2nd degree black belt in aikido and conduct adult and children's classes. As a business owner since 1988 I globally train advanced management skills to senior executives and their teams. Previously I was a corporate executive, speech pathologist and a teenage performer. The path connecting childhood experiences to adult success is very clear to me.
Dr. Seuss says: "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go."
By Jim Soviero, Chief Instructor
Though I'm likely biased, "aloha" is one of my favorite words in human language. It conveys so much, and only the most positive sentiments. It has always been a beautiful sounding word to my musical sense, and upon deeper research I've discovered more about why I feel so moved by the sound of it. According to Wikipedia (Wiki, Hawaiian for fast), though Aloha is commonly used as hello and good-bye, it means love. And not exactly romantic but an expression of concern for another's welfare and happiness. It can even convey Divine love. In some contexts, "Alo" can mean "front" or "face." It seems to suggest a couple of its other meanings, "presence" or "share," when paired with "ha" - breath or essence of life - to form "Aloha."
Why, you might ask, would I open my debut contribution to our first official newsletter with a breakdown of such a phrase seemingly unrelated to Aikido? Aikido literally means the way to harmony with spirit, where "way" - the "do" - is the path or journey, the practice.
Not much room for interpretation here. "Ai" - harmony, and "ki" - spirit, can get a little grayer and lend creativity to the beholder. Ai can be harmony in a way that is harmonious with the natural order of things, restoring balance and goodness when they falter. But it can also be interpreted as simply harmonizing with what's going on (someone coming at you with a sword might die by the sword) without regard for consequences.
"Ki - spirit or energy - can refer to one's own, where Aikido strives to cleanse and connect you more deeply with the awareness of it, where as Hinduism says, "knower and known become one." It can also refer to Great Spirit, as O-Sensei practiced, the energy that is Everything, All or any other more sectarian term that works for the practitioner.
It is this breakdown of the phrase Ai-ki that resonates so strongly with me when I hear and say "Aloha." It is why I practice, why I've devoted my life to it and consider myself its ever-faithful servant in giving all I have to the dojo community, i.e. all of you!
Aikido of Red Bank, 2013.
Matt Sempai (Matt Wavro, Nidan) was tired. Matthew Kohai (his son) asked for help. Did Matt Sempai say, "I just removed my hakama - I'll help you tomorrow." No.
Taking those few extra moments to respond to his son's need, Matt helped Matt on the mat. See the clearly pictured result: Trust, Learning, and yes . . . Gratitude. May we all offer those few extra moments of our attention for the asking and reap the same great rewards
We are grateful for our children who deserve every moment of our attention. Their eyes, their
imitation of our gestures, and their smiles beam their gratitude. For your attention ~
Thank You ~ Mahalo ~Domo Arigato
Kyu testing in November
Congratulations to everyone for a great round of kyu tests!
Congratulations to Kaleb and Natalya on their yellow belt tests!
I couldn't wait to get my yellow belt, but I was nervous to take the test. I am so happy that I have my yellow belt now. It was actually fun! - Kaleb Olivier
Aikido is a fun way to help me focus and be calm - Josie Maguire
Group Visits Help
On June 28th a Junior Youth Group from the local Unitarian Universalist Church in Lincroft, NJ visited the Dojo. An instructional workshop led by Jim and Lee with Josie and Fiona Maguire as Sempi, was enjoyed by 12 participants.
Please contact Jim if you have a group that you think would benefit from leaning about Aikido. Scout Groups welcome, it might even earn them a badge!
Aikido helps me feel secure about my body, my bad knees are getting stronger. Aikido helps me feel safe. I love my Sensei and my friends at the Dojo - Fiona Maguire
Community Meetings This Fall
This Fall Jim Sensei will be hosting two community meetings. One will be a family and child centered forum and a second will be a non-black belt forum.
The meetings will be a formal opportunity for you to hear about all the good work the Dojo Volunteers are accomplishing, and maybe find a role you would like to fill! It's a time for you to bring your ideas and suggestions as well. Dates will be posted and invites extended soon!