Yesterday is always better/worse

Yesterday is always better/worse

Your future and my past is very different

Dear Boys,

In your lifetime, you will certainly hear this from other people, and it usually goes something like:

“Back in those days…” or “In my time, things were a lot tougher! easier! better! worse!” Or “compare to our times…”You youngsters had it easy!”

Well, your dad, will probably pull the same script on you from time to time and I have been told umpteenth times by folks from all walks of life, young and old, the same thing.

People will always try to compare things. And when they compare, there will only be 2 outcomes that will influence their decision making;

1- things were better in the past, so if currently things are worse off I’d better do something.

2- if things were worse in the past, and we have it better now, we’d better do something.

We all have to do something, irrespective of how well or bad things were in the past. You job, as the future, is to make things the best you can, with your resources at your given specific time and space. Sure people like to reminiscence things, tell you things of their good ‘ol days, don’t be fooled into thinking that you had it better, you will not. Neither did you had it worse, you didn’t.

‘In my days’, when I was in national service, I wore helmets dating back to the Vietnam War, Kevlar helmets was considered a luxury, and our instructors used that as a motivation for us to do well in our obstacle course, saying we get to wear ‘Air-con’ helmets, owing to its more cooling design. Nowadays, all helmets in the Armed forces are Kevlar, and the newer ones are even better than the ones I had. I’m telling you boys this, is not to tell you that you are going to have it better. Well that is a given, but the task at hand is still very much a challenging one. It never has been any better.

So the point is, don’t envy, if someone had it better in their heydays, don’t gloat if someone’s worse off than you. That was that, this is now. Your future and my past is very different, I will tell you boys stories, my experiences, do some of these “in my days things’ but please understand it from your context, not mine. Use my experiences as lessons, understand that problems then were different, solutions to those problems are different too. You will have your own set of problems and requires the solutions that is only appropriate at your time. Take away one thing though, the spirit, attitude to problem solving is the same, you must apply the same tenacity, dedication and focus to solving them, the problems you have now and the problems you will have in future. And when you tell you children and the newer generation your ‘In my days’ story, please remember, that was in your days, not theirs! So give them a break!

First published June 15, 2015

Aikido is equilibrium

Aikido is equilibrium

Aikido is not about using your partner or enemy’s strength against him. Neither is it about harmonising with your opponent.

It is about using energy at its equilibrium.

Energy has no proprietary. We all have it. In strength, in vigour, in ‘ki’. We say he is ‘strong’ or she is ‘quick’. The issue here is the personification of an attribute which is generally, universal. A person does not possess his ‘strength’. The strength he possess does not belong to him. No one owns strength, vigour or anything at all. Everything is universally shared. It just simply resides in a person for a specific period of time.

In order to truly tap into the virtues and paradox of Aikido, we need to understand that nothing is this world belonged to anyone. Only when we can do that, can we become aligned with the universal path.

Take for example a Shomen Uchi technique. When your partner raises his hands to strike, do you raise in anticipation, or to let the hand fall and ‘catch’ it in its downward momentum and using the downward energy to your advantage?

None of the above.

You meet the hand in equilibrium. At the apex of the energy, where the upward, forward energy is about to transform into downward, forward energy. In other words, you meet the hand at the point where the upward and downward meet. That is the apex where your uke’s momentum is at its minimum, or at its ‘weakest’.

From there if you can perfectly meet your uke’s hand, you will be able to effortlessly bring the hand down, safely, without hurt or harm to both parties. Of course, if you are able to do that, your partner will also be able to do that, So he who is able to detect and use the ‘space of momentum-less’ to act, will be the one who prevail. However, he who rein supreme, will be one who is able to create that space. He who is able to create that space will be one who dictate that space. And in order for one to create that space, one must be egoless, selfless, in action and in reaction, all become one.

When that happens, the opponent no longer becomes your opponent, but all will become in sync. Synchronicity is ultimate law of the universal, where everything relates to everything is a smooth seamless symphony.

First published 1 Feb 2014

Take a bow

We bow in Aikido, towards the front of the dojo, where a photograph of O sensei is usually hung or placed. Some other dojos hung scrolls instead of O sensei’s photo. In our old Bukit Merah Dojo, we hung O’sensei’s photograph and that of the 1st doshu, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, and a huge scroll.

Right now in NUS, Harry sensei replaced O sensei’s photograph with a scroll, as he doesn’t want the students to mishandle O’sensei’s photograph.

“Bowing before class starts is like a recharge for me”

Anyway, we bowed to the front, and that for me starts my session in class, long before Hary sensei officially starts class. The first bow in class, for me is the most important bow. It is not religiously motivated, no I do not pray towards O sensei. I bow because there is a deep reverence I have in me, and for me to practice Aikido well, I need to be mindful of that reverence.

As I bow, I think of many things that has happened. I extend my thought towards people I cared about, matters I cared about, sometimes, I bow to surrender to the day, I bow to get ‘turned on’ and mentally psych myself for the Aikido class ahead. It is no longer as simple as a bodily bow. when I bow my body, I let my mind settle on mindfulness of a couple of things, matters, situation people I care about or have came into my awareness.

I’ve long learned that the ‘beginner’s mind’ for me is to constantly return to the basic human fundamentals, my humility, my connection to the earth, my connection to people, to myself. Nowadays we are so connected to external devices that we no longer connect inside of us. and we continue to chase what is outside, using our precious energy in us to do that senseless chasing.

Bowing before class starts is like a recharge for me. I divorced myself of all those things that bothers me, and reconnects with the inside of me which is the more sustainable part, the more silent and deep part, where my wisdom resides. With a deep and long bow, I can connect and find the energy and calmness to handle class, the patience to deal with things.

First published Sept 23, 2015

Tips from a Taxi Driver

Tips from a Taxi Driver

IMG_0187Dear Boys,

Taxi rides can be some of the most interesting life lessons you can learn. Some of the Taxi Drivers are a chatty lot and they are most willing to catch up with you on what their life has been, their grapevines, nuggets of their taxi story.

We took a cab home one night after visiting your Uncle U-Wei for Chinese New Year and we had to hail a cab home. We got a cab and I took the ‘shotgun’ seat next to the driver and the three  of you (mum included) climbed into the backseat.

Conversations in Taxi are usually serendipitous, it is not all the time you get to chat them up, some Taxi Uncles are not chatty by nature, so you’ll play by ears, sometimes you are too tired, and don’t want to strike up a conversation, the taxi uncle will sense that and leave you alone. But my chat with this taxi uncle was good.

2 daughters

He has been driving long since his 2 daughters were born and based on what he said, that should be more than 20 years of driving experiences. I remembered that I just told you boys something about work; sometimes, you just have to be frugal and work, even when you are earning the lowest of income, you can still send your kids to university. Many taxi drivers and other hardworking ‘blue collar’ workers does exactly that, so work hard, spend little and you can raise a generation.

Anyway, he told me that both his kiddos has completed tertiary education and the youngest one has just recently gotten her Bachelor’s degree and will be going off to Japan with her friends on a 1 month free and easy. At that point, in my mind was going stereotypical, she must have used her parents’ hard-earned money to go and have her fun. That I was wrong, his youngest daughter has an entrepreneurial spirit and has been selling cosplay items and collectibles online, and she has been making a tidy sum, enough to self fund her $5000 trip to Japan. Not bad.

SONY DSC

Cosplay

Both daughters are into cosplay, and the younger daughter even met her boyfriend in cosplay, and has been in a steady relationship for about 5 years now. Well, I’m not exactly a big fan of cosplay, but here I am sitting with a taxi driver dad, who has 2 daughters doing that! He was being pretty open about it, and said that the kids are grown up and there is nothing much he can do as a parent to influence them, they are independent and has their own thinking.

 

Taxi driving tips and techniques

As a taxi driver, he has his ways to earn his money. For Chinese New Year, he drove on the first day to make sure he covers the cost for the taxi for both the first and second day of the New Year; his taxi rental is $130 per day, so in order for him to go out for his Chinese New Year fun and not drive on the second day (初二) he has to earn about $300 buck for the first day.

He also has his maths done. I asked him about the new car which comes with a higher rental (most gripes of taxi drivers), he said while the rental is more, it used to be $100, but the new cab is more fuel efficient. The same cab for a 400km trip, needs about 40liters worth of full tank, the new cab is about 32 liters, and not taking into consideration that it used to be $1 per liter and now it is at 70cents. So the new cab do help him save a bit.

Long trip versus short trip

He said that he prefers to pick passengers with short trip, rather than long trip. For his statistics, he prefers to pick more trips, short trips to longer trips. The fare increment for short trips gives him a better advantage over long trips. He would like to cover more short trips with fares about $5-$8 which will be over in about 5-10 minutes than to take a long cross island trip that cost $20-$30 which will take more time. He has his sums done up.

Lunch time crowd versus night time crowd

He also shared that lunch time crowds are better for short trips. There are office workers going from Shenton Way to Suntec City for lunch; four people will hail a cab instead of taking their own car, and for a far of $5-$8, splitting it between 4 people, helps them saves time and hassle of MRT trip.

Nightime, however, he will pick up more long trip passengers. who perhaps goes from one side of the island to another. Perhaps late night drinkers going from their watering hole at Clark Quay back to home at Pasir Ris?

Its nice to talk to him about his life in such candid manner, being a taxi driver is a tough life and I’m glad I, as his customer was able to let him have an easy drive

It was a nice experience talking to this Taxi Uncle and not only was my chemistry with him good, his road sense was impeccable. It is seldom come across a Taxi driver who knows where I stay down to the carpark. when I told him our address, he clarified it down to our block number and took us home, without me telling him much about how to get there.

It certainly made my day with such a pleasurable ride!

Why Ip Man 3 is the best martial arts movie

ip man 3 1

I watched Ip Man 3 with my wife and it was the best movie you can catch if :

1- You are a martial artist

2- You are a martial artist, and a husband

3- You are a martial artist, and a husband and a father

I don’t what to be gender stereotypical but I’m a guy, I’m a husband and a father. If you are a woman martial artist, a wife and a mother then perhaps this movie can connect with you in a different way.

The movie is highly realistic in the portrayal of pragmatic difficulties any aspiring marital artist face. Any decent martial artist, having a family, with kids, given the same 24 hours, the same decent martial artist is torn between many, many roles.; to train hard and be good at our discipline, to be a good spouse, and a good dad, and if it is not too much, start a school, contribute to society, make a living.

Ip Man 3 showed all that, the tension is real. As much as I love Aikido, I cannot practice it as often as I can, my family is intertwined into the fabric of my martial arts training and vice versa. Sometimes The Wife will need that attention, kids do fall sick. House do need attention from time to time. In order for us to have a balance in our art, we need to have a balance in our life. Without a balance in our life, there cannot be excellence in our discipline.

For any marital artist to be successful, the spousal support is the spine. Without the wife’s support, Donnie Yen, who play Master Ip Man so brilliantly, will not be able to achieve his mastery so completely.

Knowing when to let go

There are times where we need to drop our training completely, this is one of the toughest test for a martial artist. Because we are under the constant fallacy of wanting to pile the ‘mileage’ into our training. If we stop for a protracted period of time, we might ‘lose’ our edge.

But there are times where we have to let go, so that we can pick up other parts of our lives which is just as important. True that martial arts is important, but it is not everything. Ip Man knows when to let go, and did so, so graciously. His wife is more important, and putting his wife first, even when his reputation as a martial artist is challenged,  makes him a man of great strength and character.

There was never a choice, you never see Ip Man choose, or deliberate over a decision. He knows what to do, his wife, who is dying, comes first before anything, even his Wing Chun. This is a testament of a real Martial Artist, a highly enlightened individual who is able to see priorities clearly, and decisively, no regrets, no lament.

No deaths

For such an action packed movie, there was no killing, no one died. (Well actually there was one death, and it was not a direct outcome of any martial arts move.) Which proves that for someone as powerful as Ip Man, he can control his output, and preserve life. There are many situations where the circumstances are greater than him, but he didn’t lose it, he didn’t kill; he could. But he didn’t as he probably knew that if you take a life, there will be a larger, more uncontrollable consequences that will ripple out beyond his control. Call that ‘karma’ but if you don’t believe in it, you have to believe in the Long Tail of Cause and Effect. You may not bear the direct consequences of your actions, your children or your children’s children might.

While we must inflict harm on others to prevent harm from being inflicted on us and our loved ones, we must be skillful not to take life. We are trained martial artist, there are ways to end violence without the loss of life, and we must hold true to that belief, because if we don’t then any form of violence applied will be suffice, no need for years of marital arts training.

Ip Man 3The Wife

Lynn Hung who played Mrs Ip Man in all 3 Ip Man film, filled the role in the 3 installment very powerfully. Mrs Ip let the husband practice and be consumed by his passion with Wing Chun, and kept her stomach cancer diagnosis to herself, until she can no longer hide it. From then you can tell that Ip Man has decided to drop everything and spend as much time as possible with his wife.  Her role as Mrs Ip Man is so subtle and yet so pivotal, so poignantly powerful.

It was the Wife, who told him to pick up the challenge and continue practicing his Wing Chun. For any martial artist who has a wife, this tension is real. My wife would like to have me home, be the husband, the father to her children, more often than she prefers. But to take me away from Aikido is also to see me less happy, which is also something she doesn’t want to see. And yet, more often than not, she will not be able to understand why we martial artist do our martial artist thing.

So for a martial artist to thrive, we need our spousal support, and we also need to support our spouse, for without our spouse, we will not have time to practice, and concentrate our our art. We are also tested again and again, if we are willing to let go of the very art we enjoy so much, so that we can appreciate something greater than marital art, that which is our life, our wife and our family.

Without a balance in our life, there cannot be excellence in our discipline.

Appropriateness

Appropriateness is the key, to be able to use just the right amount of energy to get things done.

Do you slam the door? Not when you are angry, but even during times where you are not angry.

How long does material items last in your hands? Sometimes the way we handle daily things can be an indication to our inner psyche. It may not be deliberate, which compounds our ability to see clearer. How many times did we protest in innocence ‘I didn’t mean to do it!’ when we broke something ‘accidentally’.

A door is a door, if you want to close a door, application of excessive force or not will close it. Of course there are times where the hinges are stiff, so more force is needed. Some hinges are so rusty that applying more force, will only risk injury to ourselves. We need to oil the hinges to make it move-able again.

It may seem like sure a duh! thing to say, well. Sometimes, these minute things slip our mind. We might think that its ‘normal’ because we are ‘rough’ or things break easily because things are ‘delicate’.

Appropriateness is the key, to be able to use just the right amount of energy to get things done. When physical work is needed, do physical work, not like a sissy, neither like a macho man. If needlework is required, get it done with appropriateness. Look at the task and ask what is needed of me to get it done instead of “I will get it done at all cost!”. How often do we harmonize with our daily items like our wallet, pen and even our socks?

To be conscious of appropriateness everyday may seem to be a burden. Why should it become that eventuality? If it becomes a burden, that bearing in mind has become excessive, thus becomes inappropriate as well. Appropriateness in the state of mind, in our psyche, flows into our physical form, and we behave and use material things appropriately.

Please Call Me by My True Names- Thich Nhat Hanh

Please Call Me by My True Names- Thich Nhat Hanh

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.

~Thich Nhat Hanh

published on 2 Aug 2010