Condolences on the Passing of Yoshimitsu Yamada Sensei

The instructors and students at Nashville Aikikai send their deepest condolences to the family, friends, and students of Yoshimitsu Yamada Sensei, who passed from this world on 15 January. One of O’Sensei’s uchi deshi (live-in student), he moved to New York City in 1964, where he was Chief Instructor of New York Aikikai and the Chairman of the United States Aikido Federation. As a teacher, he emphasized pure technique and strong basics, “It’s part of what I meant when I say that aikido today is too free. It’s important to be responsible with that freedom and remember the basics – irimi, connecting, harmonizing. And if you have those basics and they are strong, then you can be fancy.”  (Yoshimitsu Yamada: On Freedom and Responsibility by Josh Gold, Aikido Journal, July 11, 2022). One of our senior students, Andres Bermudez, who had the opportunity to train with Yamada Sensei at a number of seminars recalls Yamada Sensei as “good natured and encouraging . . . as a person and as a teacher.” His home dojo, New York Aikikai describe him as, “A great proponent of individuality and full-hearted training, his classes soared with the harmony and power of a symphony, inspiring all to give their best.” We can best honor the memory of this great aikidoka, teacher, and human by training with that same spirit.

RW

Upcoming Introductory Courses

Here are the dates of the upcoming Introductory Courses for Nashville Aikikai, for those who like to plan ahead! These will be the classes offered Monday and Wednesday evenings from 6:30 – 8.

January 9th to March 1st – This is the New Year Special course, with a reduced price of $120

Later Courses – ($150 for the 8 weeks)
3/6-4/26
5/1-6/21
6/26-8/16
8/21-10/11
10/16-12/6

Please note that the later dates are tentative!

December 9th 2022: Second Friday

Our “Second Friday” social class will be Friday, December 9th.

These are classes that begin at 6:30 for training, but end a little earlier than the usual 8 so that we can clear space and set up for communal dinner!

This will also be Kumiko’s last Friday class before she moves.

This time, it’s potluck style! There is a sign up spreadsheet link in the email. If you hope to attend, but are not on the email list, please contact us.

As usual, we have plenty of plates, napkins, and plasticware, and we will continue the usual tradition of bringing our own drinks. We also have folks signed up already to bring spiral ham, tabbouleh, a rice dish, and pie for dessert!

There are still openings for plenty of other types of dishes.

If you aren’t sure what to bring, please be in touch.

Micromanaging your partner

We have many conversations around “teaching on the mat.” It is done with the best of intentions. How will my partner get better if I don’t correct what they are doing “wrong?” They need to know that the “wrong” foot is forward, or that the hands should be positioned “just so.” I would consider reframing the argument. Teaching on the mat does not help people get better. In fact, it likely has the opposite effect and may ultimately drive folks away from Aikido by making them feel unsuccessful.

How do adults learn? We know that didactic teaching is an ineffective form of teaching for adults. This is the reason that, for example, most of the employee education programs designed to help you learn a new process or a new skill involve some sort of interactive component. I can tell you how to do shihonage until I am blue in the face, but you are not going to learn it until you do it and do it and do it – 10,000 times. I know that the “10,000 times rule” is overly simplistic, but it is a useful concept when considering how mastery is achieved.

Another important concept in achieving mastery is that the individual receives feedback from a qualified coach. If you want to learn to play the trumpet, you go to Tom Sensei for lessons. He listens to you play and gives you feedback on ONE THING that you need to work on next. You then go off and work on that ONE THING for a week or two, come back and have another lesson, and Tom Sensei gives you feedback on how you are doing with that thing. If you still need work, he may make another suggestion on how to approach that thing. If you are doing well, he may move on to the next thing. What is important here is that there is an identified coach who has a global view of your skill set and who analyzes your technique and tells you ONE thing to work on. If Tom Sensei critiques how you play every note in a piece, then you will just be overwhelmed, likely will feel like a failure, and likely will just give up. If Tom Sensei can identify that ONE most important thing for you to work on right now, then, even though the rest of the piece may be horrible, you will be able to make demonstrable progress over time, you will feel successful, and you will stay with it. Importantly, Tom Sensei’s more advanced trumpet students are not throwing in their own 2 cents about every little thing based on their own experiences and what worked for them. Or to make it simpler, I don’t know anyone who likes to be micromanaged at work, particularly by their peers.

Improvement takes time and dedicated practice. If Sensei gives you a correction today, then you are going to work on that during class. If it is something simple, you may be able to make the correction in one class. But if it is something more complex, then it may take several classes or even several weeks or months for you to work on that thing and make the change in your technique. If you correct the person every time they do it “wrong” in class today, that is just going to be frustrating to that person and, again, make them feel unsuccessful, and make it likely that they will leave the practice of Aikido. I know that for me, I almost always have to “sleep on” a new skill before I can make any progress on it. I tend to be very uncomfortable about that, because I feel like Sensei must think that I did not take their instruction seriously. I have found that our Senseis know when we are trying to do what they ask of us and understand that progress takes time. Rome was not built in a day.

Bottom line. To make progress in Aikido, I have to dedicate myself to my own training. You cannot make me better by telling me every little thing that I do wrong (and I do a lot of things wrong). We all started out with 2 left feet, doing techniques backwards and upside down, and generally having no clue what we were doing. We did not get better because our partners micromanaged every little thing we did. We got better because, with guidance from our Senseis, we identified step by step over time, what we needed to work on and we worked on it. For those who have been in the art long enough, I would ask you to reflect on Choate Sensei’s approach. He used to say that he would find one thing and work on that for 6 months. Then once he had mastered that thing, he would find another thing to work on for 6 months. A great example to emulate in developing your own practice and supporting the development of others.

RW

Juneteenth

“Absolute Equality” – A mural in downtown Galveston, TX commemorating and educating around Juneteenth and the legacy of slavery in the U.S. As a country, I hope that we will embrace the concept that the first step in making change is admitting that we have a problem.

From an Aikido perspective, I am reminded of the words of Saotome Shihan:

“The goal of Aikido and O’Sensei’s dream is that all the peoples of the world live together as one family in harmony with each other and with their environment.”

MItsuge Saotome Shihan

For my White Aikido brothers and sisters, If you have the opportunity today, stop and LISTEN to your Black brothers and sisters. Try to see the world through their eyes, at least for one day. One day is a start. Follow that day with another, and another, and another. Those of us who experience white privilege have no idea of the struggles that our Black friends and colleagues encounter on a daily basis. We think that we do, but we do not. I recall a Black senior faculty member. He is such a proud and dignified man. He provides loving care to every patient, even those who he knows are prejudiced against him. Since I am what I privately refer to as, “a stupid White person,” I often wondered how he could be so gracious. For myself, I knew that I would harbor great anger about the injustice that he must face on a daily basis. One day, he confided in me how angry he is about the injustice that he faces on a daily basis. Yet, somehow, he finds a way to make his life a manifestation of love. May we be inspired by his example to find in our hearts love for all of mankind.

Change starts with understanding, followed by a commitment to make your little piece of the world a better place. I may not be able to change the world, but every small act, for good or ill, has a ripple effect that extends far past that moment in space and time. I am not so naive as to think that we can all achieve then enlightenment of the Dali Lama or Gandhi. We can seek inspiration from these individuals to strive in all of our interactions to move from a place of love. Just as hate begets hate, love breeds love. This Juneteenth, let us seek to first understand. Once one understands that “The Other” is human, just like me, love must surely follow.

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Nelson Mandela, Long walk to freedom

RW

Sprint to the Finish

This is a rapidly changing topic.  The information presented here represents the best information available at the time of writing.  The views expressed herein are my own.  I am not representing Vanderbilt University Medical Center in this forum.  Finally, this article is not meant to provide healthcare advice.  If you have any questions pertaining to your own health, including concerns about whether you are infected with COVID-19 or should receive vaccination, please consult your healthcare provider.

In the war against COVID-19, we are in a race between vaccination and the more transmissible and, in some cases more deadly, SARS-CoV-2 virus variants.  Europe is seeing a third wave of COVID-19 infection and death.  In the past, an increase in cases in Europe has preceded an increase in cases in the US by about one month.  We are seeing some hot spots in the US, particularly in Michigan and New Jersey.  In the Nashville, TN area, where I live, the transmission rate is 1.06, meaning that each person with the virus is transmitting it to more than one person.

In the US, we are now seeing about 55,000 newly diagnosed cases of COVID-19 per day.  The 7-day moving average number of cases is down 77.2% compared to the peak on January 11, 2021.  However, over the past 7 days, the number of infections has increased by 6.7%.  We are still seeing about 1000 deaths per day from COVID-19, a continuing national tragedy.   

However, there is good news.  Mortality from COVID-19 among those 65 years of age and older, the population with the highest proportion of vaccinated individuals, has decreased from 16 per 100,000 in January to 1 per 100,000, confirming the effectiveness of the vaccines.  Currently, about 14% of the US population is vaccinated.  Approximately 2.5 million people are being vaccinated in the US every day.  

As a healthcare worker, I was among the first to get the vaccine.  I well recall the euphoria that my colleagues and I had, despite some more than mild flu-like symptoms following my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.  It was all well worth it to see this virus defeated.  We looked forward to declining hospitalization and death rates and a relief from the pressure on an overburdened healthcare system.    

Many of my fellow Aikidoka are vaccinated.  Like you, I want to go back to my normal life NOW.  I want to get back on the mat, at least with my vaccinated friends.  But the virus is sort of like that poor little fellow in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it’s not dead yet.  If you have been vaccinated, you are among the fortunate few.  Most Americans don’t qualify for vaccination, although that issue should be resolved over the coming weeks.  Even among those who currently qualify, many do not have access to vaccination and others do not want it.  For example, in some of the more conservative counties in Idaho, the vaccination rate among seniors is less than 40%.

Ok, so why should I care?  If I am vaccinated, then I should be able to do what I want without a mask with other vaccinated people, right?  The problem is that we still don’t know if vaccination fully prevents mild illness or asymptomatic carriage of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.  If you are vaccinated, you may not get severely ill or die, but you might transmit the virus to someone else.  Because of this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends that individuals who are fully vaccinated, that is people who are two weeks or more from the completion of their vaccination series, may “visit (emphasis mine) with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing.”  Because the risk of transmission is higher in certain settings, the CDC continues to recommend that during public social activities, specifically including going to the gym (even less contact than Aikido), fully vaccinated individuals should continue to follow all the usual guidelines, including wearing a mask, maintaining at least 6 feet of distance, avoiding crowds, avoiding poorly ventilated spaces, and frequent handwashing.  In thinking about re-opening your own dojo, you should, of course, also follow any applicable state and local guidelines.

On a personal note, the way I have thought about my behavior in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic has been less about my personal freedoms and more about how I perceive my responsibility to society.  If there is a significant possibility that I could unwittingly transmit COVID-19 to someone else, who could transmit it to someone else, who might get seriously ill or die, then I don’t want to take that chance.  Vaccine availability will roll out to everyone over the next couple of months.  In my opinion, once everyone who wants to be vaccinated is vaccinated, my moral obligation is fulfilled, and I will joyously meet you back on the mat. 

In the words of O’Sensei, “Be grateful even for hardship, setbacks, and bad people.  Dealing with such obstacles is an essential part of training in the Art of Peace.”

May you be safe and well,

RW

References:

CDC website (www.cdc.gov), accessed March 28, 2021

Nathaniel Lash, Opinion: Will we struggle to reach herd immunity?  The New York Times, March 26, 2021 (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/03/26/opinion/vaccine-hesitancy-deserts-oases.html).

Rochelle Walensky, MD, CDC Director, Today Show, March 25, 2021

Aikido and Flexibility

What is the importance of flexibility in Aikido? Certainly, flexibility helps to prevent injury. For example, most Aikido warm-ups include exercises to promote wrist flexibility to decrease the risk of injury when receiving techniques such as kotegaeshi.

More importantly, flexibility is crucial to good ukemi. Only by being physically flexible can we smoothly respond to nage’s movements. This enhances uke’s ability to protect themself. Further, if we are able to relax and follow nage, then we can more accurately feel the technique, and our own nage waza will improve.

These concepts apply in our daily lives, as well. By being mentally flexible we can better adapt to the vicissitudes of life. An open-mind is better able to learn new things. So, in Aikido and in life, flexibility can both protect us from harm and help us to learn and grow. I encourage you to cultivate both physical and mental flexibility on and off of the mat.

RW