I have only One Aikido Sensei

I have only One Aikido Sensei

This is quite a common phenomena, students becoming teachers. It happens everywhere, and it is most likely a good thing.

So why is this an issue then?

It is when a student assumed the role of a teacher.

Harry sensei is a very nice teacher, and he love all his students. You will become a very competent Aikidoka under his tutelage, many people can vouch for that. You can get very senior, 3rd Dan, 4th Dan, and sometimes, part of the package is a huge ego, and Harry sensei isn’t the greatest in managing egos.

While Harry sensei is a very competent Aikido sensei,  he is not so great when it comes to administrative things, and without my sempai, Nasheer and James helping out in the day to day fee collection, administration, paperwork, it will be quite a challenge for Harry sensei to run the school properly.

Over the years, there has been many sempais that has done the administration for him. Some even went as far as thinking that they can run the school adminstratively, they can be an Aikido teacher, and seize control of the dojo, booting out Harry sensei out of the school he took over from. I won’t go into that dark murky details of Singapore Aikido history.

Like I said it, Harry sensei is very nice to everyone, so much so, some will take advantage of his kindness and starts instructing even in his presence. It is an ego thing, just because when some student got a Dan grade, that doesn’t mean you can teach. It sometimes does annoys me, when Harry sensei is walking the mat during class, like any sensei would in a dojo, there is another person in hakama doing the same. I know Harry sensei enough to understand when he does nothing to stop such behaviour, he is him, this will be his life problem, I cannot solve his life problem. By letting another of his senior student walk the mat during class like he does, creates confusion, and it will undermine his authority.

I can only be clear about one thing myself, there is only ONE Shoshin Aikikai Singapore sensei, Harry Ng. He did not and has never appointed assistant instructor(s), instructor(s) or allow anyone to instruct under his school, that is as far as I know. We are a small Aikido school, and Harry sensei is a hands-on kind of teacher. There is no confusion, we all learn from him, and him only.

Maybe there is something else I don’t know.

That doesn’t matter.

What matters is; I know I have only one Aikido sensei. Not anyone else, and nobody else.

It will be this way for as long as Harry sensei breaths and as long as I breath. That will not change even if he pass the baton of the school to another person, he will still be my sensei, period.

As students, we have to remember, while we become very competent in Aikido, that doesn’t mean we can teach. Get Harry sensei’s blessing, before teaching, and teach in a new Aikido premises, not in his dojo, not in his presence, he is still The Sensei, not me. There is a pecking order, and often Harry sensei don’t quite care about the pecking order, we must, as this is very much a how we conduct ourselves and respect our teachers, even when we become teachers.

Unless one decides to open a dojo without his knowledge, because there is the money to do so, then that will be another interesting story to tell altogether, wouldn’t it?

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Aspire

Dear Ian,

On your PSLE ‘graduation’ you got your certificates and there were some performances as well. Back in my days, there weren’t such fanfare, but I guess over the years, we have learned a couple of things along the way in encouraging our children and developing a healthy self concept in a child. Well, I am not a qualified child psychologist, so I won’t go into that kind of mumbo-jumbo.

Usually with every graduation, there will always be a continuum of recipients, this case long line of Primary Sixers going up the stage, and while the line snake, the claps from parents waned, with ups and downs like the sound of a never ending rain.

One thing that caught my attention was on the big screen, flashed each individual kid’s ‘asiprations’, from what I gather, a lot of kids, still wants to be doctors, lawyers and engineers.

There were also some who wants to be arty, and aspire to become a singer, I guess this is no thanks to those reality TV singing shoes, like the American Idol, and UK’s got Talent. It is nice to see some deviant amongst the mainstream.

And yes, Ian, you wanted to be a film-maker. We’ll see about that.

You protested that it wasn’t your initial choice, but what was flashed there, serves as a testament.

'I aspire to be a Filmmaker'
‘I aspire to be a Filmmaker’

There is nothing wrong aspiring to be that, and certainly nothing wrong either if you fail to become one. Life is fill with success, as just much as it is filled with failures, they are both impostors of the same thing, experiences.

Other Aspirants

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A Doctor
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A Doctor and an Investor 
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Tennis Player and Computer Engineer
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Philanthropist and Teacher
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Engineer and Doctor
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Lawyer and Teacher

Pardon the natural born skeptic in me, who happens to double up as a parent.

We all know there is noting wrong with aspirations, but does the kids knows how to get there? What steps to take? And sometimes, being a Lawyer isn’t as big-shot as one thinks, life as a Lawyer is T-O-U-G-H, sames goes for doctors. Life is never one sided, the good side, you have to roll with the punches, taking the bad as well. Just saying it here, for everyone to see does nothing constructive for the children.

There is a lot of hot air

It is a shallow affair, and our culture as become such. We all want our children to become somebody, and being a nobody is a terrible existentialistic problem. From young, we ask our kids “What do you want to be?” There were the usual policemen, doctors, soldiers, and other roles.

While we grow our kids, we need to understand that the children just needs to be children, that’s all. If you have a dream to take to the sky, we can work on your Aeronautical Aspirations. We can push you to do that, and you are motivated to become one. Film-Making? Not yet. Not even close.

So why did the kids say what they say?

We all need to fit into roles in society, and we start that young. Singapore is small, I have yet to see a kiddo’s aspirations being flashed as “ I aspire to bum around. LOL.” That would have been entirely unacceptable and brings shame to the parents.

Don’t ask me how I will react if you put that up, I guess I would laugh it off, and I guess you would have told me before you do such an ‘audacious’ thing.

But it is perfectly alright to bum around, my policy for you boys is the same. You can be a minnow food hawker and earns a decent living. The only thing that will make me come for your blood is when you cheat, lie and steal, becomes a sociopath, becomes a thug of society. That I cannot condone, it is not so much about throwing away my face, it is more about you being a responsible person, and even if you cannot be a responsible person, you do not turn into an irresponsible one.

Life is not always about doing

While aspirations is a lot about doing, it is also a lot about dreaming. By all means bum around. Your aeronautics dream might be work in progress, while you are at it, it is okay not to be at it. Sometimes not chasing your aspirations could be the best blessing, so that your aspirations can catch up, or other dormant aspirations can surface.

One sided affair

The crux of this is, these are just labels, doctors, engineers, lawyers, and all. Doctors are medical engineers, and Lawyers need to diagnose a case. It is all word play, and being fixated to the singular role and title, will makes us a very narrow-minded, task oriented organism, no different from machines. We’re better than machines, and learn to realise that we are unique because while we aspire to be one, we can actualize to become many.

So learn to cross-aspire. You can become an Aeronautical Film-Maker, and shoot films in the sky, in places airborne. Learn multiple skills and do many things, sticking with one is fine, just don’t lose sight of the bigger life.

Drunk? Never, ever

Drunk? Never, ever

Dear Boys,

It is not a matter of bragging, it is a matter of fact, for the records.

Your dad has never gotten drunk. Ever.

High, yes; Drunk, no.

What a Karate Master said

There was a book I read, by this Karate master, Gichin Funakoshi, he wrote in his book and one subject delved a little about drinking and that mantra stayed with me till today.

“When you drink with 20 friends, you will be drinking with 20 enemies, when they are drunk.”

Something to that effect.

It is not the enemies I am afraid of, it is me, becoming my own enemy, that keeps me sober. Given that I am trained in a specific martial arts discipline, it is important that I remain sober and aware of my senses and surroundings, so that I can remain effective. Being drunk clouds your senses, you can’t think straight, say stupid things, do stupid things and get into trouble you can easily avoid, just by staying sober.

There is also no excuse for me, since there are plenty of excuses for people, getting drunk and doing stupid things.

I want to be lucid, and in full control of my existence.

When I was high.

Being high, is another thing altogether. I know my alcohol limit, and when I reach a sensation of tipsy, I stop. Being high has a nice, light sensation, where you feel very relaxed, slightly happy and kind of like…fluid. Such a state is a wonderful tool for sleeping. I always have a good sense to know when to stop, and not cross that imaginary line. The brain just say stop, and that’s that.

So there has never been any period of my life where I am not ‘me’. Since I have never been drunk, I never knew what it feels like, or feels curious to try.

Solitary drinker

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Perhaps it is how I take my alcohol. I don’t have drinking buddies, and going to bars and pubs to drink is, such an exorbitant waste of money, and time. Besides, it is my stereotype that incidents of fights are highest in those places. Well, you don’t call a ‘bar fight’ in a school right?

Trouble brews in such places, and the best way to get out of a bar fight is not to be there in the first place.

So I usually take my beer at home, probably once a month, a can or so, at dinner with you and mum. That is what ‘drinking’ is to me, a relaxed place, alone. And just a can for flavour.

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There is also a short period of time I was exploring lazing in a hammock, a beer by the beach. It was a nice, chillax idea, but the problem is, you are still consuming liquid, and not long after that you will need to leave your cozy spot to look for a loo!

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As much as I like my Cabernet Sauvignon, I always struggle to finish a full bottle, and it is quite pricey to get just a small one, so I end up stick with a can of beer or two.

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You dad is boring as hell

So while you boys become older and perhaps taking my lifestyle as staid, just remember, alcohol like everything else, is best taken in moderation. Getting drunk and then doing stupid things after that is not the best way to live your life.

There are other ways to get a high, like going for an intense workout, mountain biking,and other activities. Sitting in a dark noisy place, with a bunch of drinking people, waiting for trouble to start, isn’t the best way to live a life.

While I am sure, there will be people who disagree with me, just remember one thing, I am entitled to my opinion, and you, when you are older. Most regrets happens when a person sobers up after a bout of drunkenness, so to take away having regrets, don’t get drunk in the first place.

Letting things play out

Dear boys,

I’ve learned of late that there are much in life that we cannot control. We spend a lot of time in our lives trying to do things, influence people, get people to like us and we try to be the all positive ‘proactive’, constantly taking initiative and trying our darnest to get sh*t done.

 Sometimes you just have to let things happen. As a Recruiter, my job is to match people with the right job. This Client of mine wasn’t going to pay a the Candidate, the salary he wanted, so the deal was lost, or so I thought. Candidate rejected the offer, and the Client wasn’t keen to raise the salary offered.

The Client came back 2 weeks later, and gave the salary as to what the Candidate wanted, and I closed a deal.

The lesson here I learned was not to get so upset over the lost deal. It wasn’t meant to be, it never will be. It is of course so much easier to have it said. When you are in the hot seat, and everyone is expected you to act, and you didn’t or you did the wrong thing, that kind of mounting pressure can be immense. And so it takes a lot of confidence to let things happen.

I learned to let that deal go, have it lost. It turned around and came back. On hindsight, of course I could have done this and that, influence the candidate to take the initial offer, or even persuade the Client to up it, Either way, I would have come across as hard selling, manipulative and burn both ends and lose the trust and the deal eventually.

In Aikido, we are also faced with the same judgement call.

Sometimes, when our partner, poised for attack, can be unnerving. You would like to take initiative and strike first, but sometime first strike would be disadvantageous, and you might be caught in a situation you could have avoided by not doing anything, or allowing your attacker to strike first.

Of late, I allow myself to open and face my partner, and let the attack comes, knowing that I have whatever I have in me to deal with it.

Allowing the attacker to come, you allow the energy to get played out, and fully expends. That is where you can use your energy and control the situation when your opponent is at its weakest.

Dealing with anger

It is easy to tell a pissed off person, ‘Don’t get angry lah!’ Easier said than done! An angry person would tell you!

Sometimes, let the person simmer and get over with the anger, let it all out, and when the anger has dissipated, then the mind is in a more calm and open mood to receive logic and reasoning.

Dealing with matters that way looks quite retrospective, and lacks a lot of drive. You basically sit back and somehow let things happen.

It is not what it is.

Letting things happen, when you can do something, is learned helplessness. When you can do something, do it, but when you have reached a stage where you can no longer do anything; allow yourself to sit back, and have a bit of faith. The world works in a very curveball way you seldom sees beyond your horizon so don’t worry so much when things don’t go your way, after all that you have done. Just do what you can and let things happen.

Allow!

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Photo credit to Steven Lim

My friend Steven, came to this  epiphany a long time back, he allowed life to happen. This is only apparent when things don;t go your way, despite of all that you have done, what else is there to do next? Sit back and allow things to play out. It will.

It’s chess, my dear children…

Chess is a back and forth game, played between 2 players, right now if there is you, the other side is life, we can only make one move at a time, that’s all. After we made our move, it is the other side’s to make the move, and beyond that we can think and visualise our strategy, but not forgetting our opponents can pull a surprise. And when we have planned enough, and we are rich with experience, we can deal with surprises. But we still need to sit back, after we have made our move and let the other side play out, then we come back into the game and make our next move, then let it play out again.

We cannot stop our opponent from moving, life will move on, and to disallow, we are only stopping ourselves, making lives miserable for us. When we do not let things play out, the situation gets pent up.

In Aikido, if you stop an attack, you allow that energy to return to the attacker, and that energy, stored can be reused against you. Once the energy is initiated, let it travel the entire way and just be at the end to meet and change the course in your favour. That is allowing the play to happen, and in doing so, you will be able to turn things to your advantage.

Learn that and you will not have to grief much in life!

The Perspective of a Breakwater

The Perspective of a Breakwater

Dear Boys,

Life is always a about perspective. In any point in time you think life is a meaningless ‘Groundhog Day‘, you need to read this.

I like to go to Marina South Pier during lunch time as it is a nice place to go to, you’re close to the sea, and it is usually not very crowded. Far from the maddening crowd, as I would like to put it.

There is this long strip of concrete that is extended out into the sea. I know it is a kind of breakwater. So I didn’t think much of it, well a breakwater is a breakwater right?

It looks something like this up close.

So it is an innocent strip of concrete that is extended out to sea, as a layperson, I was just thinking how nice it would have been for an angler to go all the way out and fish!

The big picture

It was not until I moved into my company’s new office that I see the entire picture, from the 24th floor. What an epiphany!

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The view of Marina Bay Cruise Centre

That long strip of breakwater was build in relation to the Marina Bay Cruise Centre. You see when the Cruise Ships dock to the left of the Cruise Centre, the breakwater protects the Cruise ships from the waves, so that the ship can dock in calmer waters.

 This is is even more evident when we see it from Google Maps.

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What has all this got to do with life?

The point is, very often in life we are thrown into some mundane things to do, and we don’t know the reason for doing it, remember this picture. We often do not see the big picture like how we do not see the use of this long strip on concrete.

There is always a purpose and the purpose will reveal itself a little down the road. You may not see it now, you will be able to see it later. So don’t take the things you do as meaningless. There is a purpose and meaning in everything.

We are on this Earth to do 2 things:

1- Find out these meaning

2- Give meaning to these task, events and situations.

And even when we are tasked to do something, that has no apparent meaning, we still need to devote our effort and time to it, and do it the best we can. What we do now may not bear fruit immediately, it often does not, but you still need to do it nevertheless.

Aikido is the same thing.

Boys, my journey in Aikido is the same. As Aikidokas, we can be doing the same technique again and again, with no apparent reason, or practical application. One thing in martial arts is the ability to bear faith and be disciplined. Thankfully I have a steadfast sensei who is able to guide me and provide that beacon, Harry sensei constantly points to the big picture, so that we can focus while we roll with the mundane task.

Right now, after so many years of training, I began to see how those little times I spent doing meaningless things comes to make sense.

It is very much like in the movie Karate Kid, the original as well the the later version, there is a ‘wax in, wax out’ moment in the movie that does not make sense, you are made to put down your jacket, and pick it up again, over and over again, with no apparent reason, until the reason appears very much later.

Take a look again

Look at the picture again, and you can see from a distance, the purpose and importance of the breakwater. And when you are there, all you see a long strip on concrete that extends out to sea. You will never get that perspective when we don’t see things from afar.

So be patient at time when you appear to be lost and don’t know what you’re doing. You will still have to do it first, and let the knowing comes to you, later, sometimes much later.

 

White Belt’s Expectations

I took a class last Friday and for a change, I asked each and everyone of the students what would they wanted to learn that evening.

Some say they wanted to learn extension;

Some wanted to learn Kotegaishi;

Another one wanted to learn how to slam, or take a break fall;

One of the white belt want to learn something ‘practical’.

So I took class, and hopefully, everyone was happy that they got what they wanted.

At the end of the class and while I was about to pack up and leave, I casually asked that white belt, who wanted to learn something ‘practical’ if he’d got what he wanted.

Apparently he didn’t

So this is my message to the white belt, which is basically how the conversation went down.

Dear White Belt,

You told me you didn’t quite got what you wanted in terms of something practical, that’s too bad.

You went on to tell me “When Han Tiong used to teach, he would teach how to deal with a straight punch…” And you lamented that the class is not as ‘tough’ as it should be.

You also implied that the class is not challenging enough and you don’t seem to learn anything new.

The class is not ready

Well, I told you that as an instructor, regardless if I am a stand-in or otherwise, there is a responsibility to teach according to the capabilities of the class, the general skill, level and fitness.

That student who wanted to learn how to slam? She couldn’t even take a ushiro ukemi properly, she is too heavy at the wrist. Had I attempted to throw her so as to teach her how to do a break fall, I might have broken her. Injury is the last thing I want, The burden does not only goes to me, but it goes more to Harry sensei, if anyone was injured under my charge.

The class is not skilled enough to be pushed. Of course I can make the session a little more strenuous, but at the end of the day, the range of fitness in the class varies, and I need to make sure everyone gets a fair share of exposure.

Some fitter ones will find the class slow, the less fitter ones will find the class a good challenge. For an instructor, it is not easy to get that balance.

I barely broke a sweat

This is not bragging, I told you I barely broke a sweat. It is not a tough class for me, and most Aikido classes isn’t tough for me. You also, lamented that the class is not fast enough. I told you I’m probably only going at half-speed, maybe a quarter speed. You, White Belt, hadn’t seen me gone fast, when my partner is a senior Aikidoka, who is fast, skillful and dynamic.

You train to the pace of your partner, and when the class is going slow due to the fact that the majority, including you, are beginners, who are still so rough around the edges.

Sure, I can go brutally fast, what is going to happen?

Speed certainly thrills, and speed can kill too.

We need to come to class to make sure everyone practices safely, and everyone go home with no less for wear. It is not about your speed, White Belt, but the speed relative to your partner. If your partner has a slipped disc, you need to take care of that. Speed is not everything. Everyone who whats to be a decent martial artist, focuses on technique, and method, speed comes naturally. Before you can be faster, you need to be methodically correct. Being fast doesn’t mean that you are good, being slow doesn’t mean you’re lousy either.

You said that because the class isn’t challenging enough, that’s why most of the seniors left.

That is their problem, not yours.

Besides, White Belt, you’re staring at a senior who is still turning up to train. This Black Belt who turns up, while others have dropped out, does it because I want to train with my sensei, Yes, simply put it, loyalty. I’ll continue to train there, fast, slow boring or not, simply because Harry sensei is teaching there.

And people leave for various of reason, they might have to start a career, a family, or Aikido simply is taking too much time. Or they could have simply lost interest, regardless of how  interesting the class might be. People will still leave.

The classes don’t teaches enough ‘practical’ technique.

White Belt, you told me the classes don’t really teaches straight punch to the face. Well, Aikido is a martial arts, it is not a self defense system. Go and learn MMA if you want to know how to protect yourself from such and such an attack. Aikido is a Japanese martial arts, and it has its own design and curriculum. It is not a be all and end all martial arts. You love it for what it is, warts and all. If you don’t the Aikido is full of weaknesses and holes that it is simply not effective. White Belt, take it from me, I had a little MMA training, and what I learned is a heck a lot more effective, than Aikido. Go and learn BJJ while you’re at it.

So if you asked me, why am I still in Aikido?

I’ve said enough of that.

 

Softer and softer

Softer and softer

Dear boys,

The world is getting softer. There is some truth when the older generations before us, told us they had it tougher, and our lives are much better than theirs. They can reminiscent their good old days, and they might be right about it.

Machines and automation

The Industrial Revolution can be blamed for starting the long spiral down. While I am no historian, we started making machines to help us do more, and build greater things. There is nothing wrong with that, being lazy in this instance is a good trait. Don’t forget though, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.industrial-revolution-in-great-britain-1-638

When automation comes along, things when slippery down; quickly, while machines helps us make things easier, and reduces our work, automation comes along, and attempts to make things the easiest, and takes away all of our work.

Without work, what is humans?

What is work?

As a martial artist, work to me means a reasonable amount of sweat, effort and physical strain. There is no way to automate martial arts, you can create a martial arts robot, but that does not make a human who created the robot a martial artist.

Sure a machine, in the near future might be able to beat a human in a karate kumite, but the robot cannot justify its own existence. Humans can. It is because we put work, into work. There is an effort in it, and a satisfaction out of it.

Softer martial arts

Even martial arts is getting softer. It cannot be helped as the general over-riding trend is less physical activity, and for some, martial arts is perhaps the only activity one does, other than walking to the subway or an occasional dash for the bus.

We as human beings no longer exert our physicality. There are escalators, elevators, automatic doors, automatic windows, automatic cars and all sorts of machines that helps takes work out of effort.

This cannot be all that good.

While it is good to have years of peace and peace brings about prosperity, it also brings about a skewed sense of existence and reality. Everyone has soften, life has gotten good, nobody knows how to do the hard stuff anymore, nobody wants to do the hard stuff anymore. And when someone is doing the ‘hard stuff’ it is deemed to be something derogatory, or dirty.

It’s been the same for me, I have never gotten into an actual, dirty, messy fight, never got caught in crazy violence, but I’ve never been deluded that violence has become extinct. Violence, death and hatred can sprung up anytime, I’m always prepared and ready, as much as I can. I too, can get lulled in by how nice peace is and peace is here to stay and violence has died, the world will never see violence again. That cannot be further from the truth.

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People getting fatter and fatter, lives longer and longer

We are indeed heading the way of Wall-E, the 2008 animation film about us humans many hundreds of years from now. All fat, fed by machines, and nothing else to do, and doing nothing much, we live off a massive spaceship that keeps us alive, the machina sentinel who reports to the fat captain, but is actually doing all the work for us. Heck, the central character of the show is a machine! Wall-E!

It is an endearing film, but it is a telling prediction, we cannot escape from. People are getting fatter, and lazier, and there is no-one else to blame except us.

Humans- the Original Swiss Army Knife

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Humans are the original Swiss Army knife, we are build for a great many things. My exposure to Aikido, lead me to running, swimming, hiking and other physical stuffs. Humans were never made for a single, specialist role, and while automation helps us do a great deal of other things, the whole purpose is to free us from the great deal of other things, to do things that actually means a great deal more to us.

Let’s get physical!

So boys, please expand your physicality, when you pick up an activity you love, do it, and do it well. get physical, get moving, don’t get stuck behind a desk for too long, let yourself have one core physical activity. for you dad it is Aikido, from Aikido, your dad expands to other physical stuffs. The learning never stops, humans are learning creatures, and we best learn when we are physically able to, so never allow yourself to become disabled, physically.