Meeting My First Aikido Sensei

Lim Joo Lay sensei, 3rd Dan, Aikikai
Left, Lim Joo Lay Sensei, 3rd Dan, Aikikai

I almost forgot my first Aikido sensei, until James mentioned that he was Harry sensei’s sempai.

It occurred to me that Harry sensei seldom mentioned anything about ‘Takemusu Aikido’ and back then Lim sensei mentioned quite a bit, as he was directly schooled by Nakazono, who first introduced Aikido to Singapore. That got me thinking about Lim sensei and James passed me his number so that i can contact him.

I tried a couple of times to reach him and he finally replied my SMS. It was a good feeling and we chatted a bit over the phone, and agreed to meet him at his place. He hadn’t moved since the last time I dropped by to visit him during the Chinese New Year festivities, probably decades ago.

I told Tri about it, and he was keen to go. I knew he would because he has a keen interest in the history of Aikido in Singapore. Lim sensei can provide us some links as to how the old Singapore Aikido was in the past.

The Meeting

It was a good meeting, Lim sensei still has a good grip and a mighty pair of hands, despite of leaving Aikido more than 15 years ago, due to a bad knee. We chatted over a lot of things, and also asked about how he has been these years.

Good Old Days!

He reminiscence the good old days where things were much simpler. Techniques back then were of course, a lot harder. There were no tatami mats, so they have to find the next best thing, sawdust; which they apply in generous amount, and draped a canvas over it. When they fall, ‘poof!’ sawdust flew up!

Training was 5 times a week, and Sunday was reserved for senior belts and instructors only. they would try all sorts of techniques on each other and with them gripping so hard, they started to grow hairs on their wrists.

Still has it!

He showed me a few moves, and asked me to strike his him hard in shomen uchi; he still has it in him! His wrists is still tough and hard. His emphasised that the wrist must not meet uke’s attack straight on, a slight rotation, will help to glance the force off.

He also showed a few elbow locks and it is of course, very close contact, and very effective.

Hard Grip

In class, I’ve always been notorious for my hard, tight grip. It ha always been how I trained, and I have always thought that, that is me. Until I meet Lim sensei and remembered he liked his uke’s grip to be hard and tight. He still holds on to old style, hard Aikido. Meeting him helped me remember why I am such a hard gripper, Lim sensei taught me that!

Beginner’s mind

While sensei, at a ripe age of mid eighties, he hadn’t forgotten his techniques, he can still move, tenkan still good, and wrists still tough as hell, from those decades of training. The body remembers all those years of training, but his mind has all but forgotten the names, dates and places.

So while we all talk about beginner’s mind, the truth is, you can only reach The Beginner’s Ming when you have given up, and abandon the names of the techniques, the hows, the whens, and the whys. All you possess is movement and that is enough. Why would names and mental attachments matter? When you become proficient, you simply move, the body simply comply, then there is spontaneity, and life. Life is not all about thinking, and remembrance, it is also about moving.

Returning to Source

Without his guidance, I wouldn’t have continued in Aikido, and it wouldn’t have lasted 20 odd years. This  a quiet, gentle, nice man, who simply did what he did, teach and train Aikido, he didn’t ask for anything in return. Many, many Aikido student came and went, influence by his teaching and wisdom, and like me, almost forgotten where I learned my Aikido from. Returning to meet him, helped me remember the me when I first started, that scrawny white belt, not know what he was doing.

Scan0005.jpg
When I was a white belt, first time on Aikido demonstration in Takashimaya

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