My sensei teaches more than Aikido

My sensei teaches more than Aikido

This is the view for me for the past 20-odd years. The irony of my life is that I know my Aikido sensei more than I know my father.

My parents divorced when I was 15. I started Aikido when I was nineteen-ish, and just like that, I’ve spent more than 20 years in Aikido, even longer than I know my wife.

I was never Harry sensei’s ‘favorite’ student. When you trained long enough with him, you know the kind of students he like; and by the virtue of my physique, I’m not his uke by choice. I got to where I am, because I hung around long enough, longer than those ‘better’ students. I got here by attrition, you can say that.

Along the way, I learned quite a few things from my sensei, and without him, I have no Aikido, and no such blog. My mind will not be open, the way he did, gently and patiently. Without his quiet guidance, I won’t be the person I am today.

Loyalty and commitment

It is Harry sensei’s bragging rights. He trained incessantly, 50 years, Mondays to Fridays; these days. Back in those days, he trained 7 days a week, 4 hours. These days who can say they did what he has done, 50 years and counting? He mentioned in his soft voice, he only stopped Aikido twice, once for his mother’s death, for a month, the other time he did, I didn’t catch what he said.

While many people can and like to mention lineage, to soup up their own dojo’s marketing prowess, mentioning that they trained under who and who and which and which Japanese Shihan, Harry sensei simply mentioned that his sensei is the late Teddy Lee sensei, He took the helm from his sensei, and continue to practice Aikido, the way his sensei taught him.

I’ve never heard him trained under anyone else, perhaps with Nakazono sensei, who first brought Aikido to Singapore. More importantly he has never failed to mention his sensei, he has never forgotten his sensei and the teachings. That is his loyalty, and he don’t give a f**k about winning the popularity contest.

He is committed to Aikido, and still comes to class, rain, shine, good health or otherwise. He just mentioned today he had a bout of shingles. Had he not mentioned, we wouldn’t have known, he is still as fit and ki still flows from his fingers. He is committed to teaching and it doesn’t matter if one student turns up or none. Of course he will berate us for being absent, but he knows our commitments and he never asks more from us, but he continuously gives us his commitment, more than we can ever accept.

Family and Sacrifice

The world is fair, there is only 24 hours, Harry sensei is no exception. While he devoted his time to Aikido, his wife has to suffer, his children has to suffer. He will miss their important dates, significant milestones. All for Aikido. He was never there for them in the evening, by the time he got home after training, his kids would have been asleep, the next day, he would have to go to work.

After 50 years, there is no way to reclaim them back. he has to choose, and he sacrificed his family time.

Harry sensei got to become Harry sensei, because he did what he did. His success showed me how not to be a whole person. My family needs me, just as much as I need my Aikido. It is never an easy decision, and I learned to follow my heart.

Sometimes I have to sacrifice Aikido for my family, and Harry sensei would understand where my priorities are.

Regret and Fate

Time has been spent, it cannot be recovered. We spoke briefly, and Harry sensei agreed he was very ‘lucky’, his children and wife stuck by him, although he did mention that his wife is getting even with him these days, after so many years of neglect.

Call it fate or luck his wife didn’t leave him and took his children along. His children are still filial to him. His grandchildren still buys things for him, when they travel overseas. Things could have gone awry for him, his children could have rebelled, as technically speaking, he wasn’t really clocking his time as a dad. As a dad myself, I know had I done what Harry sensei did, my wife would have to pick things up in my absence, and double hat my role.

As a dad myself, I have my moments of regrets, when I missed some of my children’s significant moments. As a sensei, he would have missed more, much, much more.

Photo courtesy of Vincent Asjenwi, Kiryokukai Indonesia

Aikido is good Karma

Let’s not get superstitious here, I’m using ‘karma’ as a generic term. Loosely speaking, Harry sensei did good. While he hadn’t been much of a dad in the evenings, his practice and commitment to Aikido, showed his family and loved ones, that he is truly and purely a good person, doing good stuff with Aikido. His only flaw is; his undying love for Aikido.

 

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Bandung Aikido Seminar

Bandung Aikido Seminar

Thanks to our friends in Kiryokukai Indonesia, we got a chance to visit the beautiful city of Bandung, and also enjoy the wonderful hospitality put up by the various sensei.

Training.

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Training was held at the Maranatha dojo which is actually a university of a high prestige, I learned it from the taxi driver when I told him ‘Maranatha something’ he uttered something in Indonesian Malay as good and reputable.

Training was on a Saturday afternoon, and the place was air conditioned… thankfully!

The warm up was lead by Ketut sensei and we went through a series of ukemi exercise, which gradually advanced in difficulty. While I had never done such exercise in the dojo before, I was thankful that my curiosity lead me explore my own ukemi online and I did learned a couple of feather falls in youtube, very similar to those practiced by our Indonesian friends.

The ukemi exercise was great as it was the first time I have the aid of a living person. most of the time I did the feather falls, holding onto my gym bench. It worked, but a person would have been much better.

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Harry sensei’s class

Harry sensei took the later 2 classes and he went thought the basics, which was mostly concentrated on making sure that our Aikido exercise don’t kill or maim us prematurely. Harry sensei explained that the testament of him still an Aikidoka at almost eighty, was his ability to evolve and find the best technique to protect ourselves.

We might be young and we can say with gusto that we can take the pain, when we get hurt. Harry sensei’s logic is “You can get over the pain, but you cannot get over the injury!” For a sensei who has seen his fair hare of injuries over the last 50 odd years in Aikido, you cannot argue with that!

Simple but difficult moves

Trademark to Harry sensei, he does no fancy stuff. It was all basic techniques, done in very small circles at a very advanced level. There is perceptively very little movement, it looked like an innocent tsunami about to happen.

As his students, we have to present ourselves in the best light, and also train hard with out fellow Indonesian Aikidokas.

“You can get over the pain, but you cannot get over the injury!”

Pin

When Harry sensei pins a person, the person will not get up ever. He did it to me, and got one of the Indonesian Aikidoka interested and he had a long chat with Harry sensei, asking about how it was done and all those stuff.

Harry sensei did it again during kokyu-ho, and this time he pinned Vincent sensei with his right had, and later with his left, dominant hand. Vincent sensei couldn’t get up, at all.

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Kiryokukai aikidokas

The students are very earnest and hungry to learn. Those on the mats don’t mull around, they will go forward with their catch and there is no hesitation. The lack of English wasn’t a barrier at all as we all speak ‘aikido’. Some of them with better English will ask pointers in positioning and hand movement. They were a bunch of learners and they will go far with that attitude.

The fundamental learning curve of a junior belt don’t go away, most of them came too close, and I have to kick one of the junior belts at the shin. He got the message and adjusted his distance. Some have stances that can be improved, which they did the moment I correct them, they are quick in their learning too.

The senior belts there are very experience and dynamic in their movements. Their catch is strong and the movements are those of seasoned, well trained Aikidokas. I learned quite a fair bit training with them and it was a good and happy environment, the perfect place for Aikido to grow, and foster goodwill.

Demonstration

We ended the session with a demonstration, and Harry sensei used James, Tri, Vincent sensei and myself as uke and he gave the Indonesians a glimpse of the level of Aikido Harry sensei practices at.

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My First Photo with Harry Sensei

It was in this trip that I finnaly pluck up the courage to ask for a personal photograph with Harry sensei. I have been in Aikido for more than 20 years, and never once taken a photograph with Harry sensei. I told Edna, it was like a kid on Christmas day, getting his long awaited, hard fought present. I was beaming from ear to ear. It is always such a joy to train with Harry sensei, despite of his stern demeanor. He makes me a happy student and being happy is a good place to practice Aikido.

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