Your dad has a regular go-to spot where he cycles to get some space and get away from the hustle and bustle of life.
This spot is a scant 10km away from our home and the thought of getting there is already putting a kind of peace in my mind. Cycling there is also quite a therapy as it is a place of space, solitude and the view is quite something.
So there is this spot on top of the knoll, and barring COVID, I can string up my hammock and just chill at the hut. The breeze is good, view is awesome and there isn’t a lot of people around. There I can be an anonymous nobody, and yet recharge by getting connected to nature.
It is open 24/7 and the vibe is so non-judgmental and welcoming. I can go there anytime and more often than not, the hut is empty, and if it isn’t, it is fine as well, because I can string my hammock around a tree and still chill.
That’s the connection my cycling has for me, and brings me regularly to this place for my own space. Doing this often helps me get my exercise (minimally) and also a sense of peace which is not too far away.
The view do help me relax and having the breeze blow through my hammock is an awesome experience, you can really fall asleep and lose yourself to the big beautiful nature.
If there is anything anyone can learn from Aikido or any martial arts, it will be the virtue of patience. It can be an on the mat patience, or it can be a lifetime of waiting. Holding on, acting on the right moment takes practice, discipline and a knack of getting the groove of things.
Patience determines Punctuality
While we would like to be punctual all the time as a form of respect to those who waited for us. Important events requires us to turn up on time as it is considered rude in most cultures to be late. The famed Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi displayed excellent tactical use and abuse of patience to win duels. He would frequently turn up late to irritate his opponents and disrupt their psyche. There are also times he would turn up very early just to surprise his enemies, cutting them down before they have time to settle down and prepare for the fight.
So while in our peaceful time, most people respects being punctual and we try often to do that, on a very transactional sense, we need to have a good sense to hold our tongue and not speak too soon. Or sometimes, we need to jump the conversation and seize the topic so that we can get an edge over the negotiation.
Outwaiting the belligerent
This happened to my friend who was a part-time lecture with one of the universities, during his tenure, there was a change in Head of Department (HOD), and unfortunately this new HOD was a kind of loggerhead with my friend, and of course, the new HOD made parts of my friend’s life difficult in the campus, and he got his classes cut down by more than half.
There was nothing my friend could do, but to ’embrace the suck’, and carry on. This goes on for a few years before the HOD was left, and the current faculty members welcomed by friend back to teaching. It turned out that the HOD was also making things difficult for many of faculty members.
We both agreed on hindsight that we owe partly to our martial arts training to wait out the unbearable. He was a old school bare-knuckles type of karateka and he has suffered fair share of injuries and indignity of collapse, so enduring this overbearing HOD was something that has to be done with stoicism.
Patience is Timing
On the mat, Harry sensei has always emphasized on making complete turns, go the full circle. He really took his time to show us, properly how a technique is done. When he does his technique, I find it difficult to resist him, and you will go along with his arc and trajectory.
Going the full circle on the mat, means that his technique are very clean and often graceful. He is able to properly displace a larger, stronger and younger uke by taking his time to do the technique properly. There is no rush, nor short-cuts. He hates short-cuts.
Our younger selves can’t help it, as we lack the temper of age to understand timing properly. We are not able to arrest our fears and trepidation when we face our opponents, we fast forward to execute our techniques quickly and go for the ‘kill shot’.
We often forgot that the entire waza (技) is a journey, it is a means to an end. Our impatient selves put the cart before the horse and see it as an end to a means. So we rush through the whole technique to come to the throw. Without being patient, and properly draw the uke out in a full arc, without making sure our turns are circular, we turn a very graceful Aikido technique into a shallow movement, filled with linear and weak positioning. Of course the throw will be spectacular, but who are we kidding?
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 2nd 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 Harry 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.
I’ve heard more than once, “I wouldn’t want to bring a child into the world full of pain and suffering.” so says a newly wedded couple, or a childless couple.
Initially, I wasn’t ready for a response, but as the narrative sinks in, I guess I have to kind of address for it you boys to understand. First of all, we have to understand the complexities of the current world, and how the demographics have changed, and the demands have evolved.
It is in all living beings biological drive to reproduce and carry on the gene pool. even a bacteria knows how to do that. It is a natural order for a male and female organism to get together and create the next generation. It shouldn’t have been different for humans. But we choose to use our greater cognitive prowess against ourselves.
The Me, Myself, and I Generation
These days we are looking at a world where companies are out to sell us stuff, that makes us feel good, look good, and be good, all the goodness in it. There is a plethora of services and solutions that people can pay to make themselves feel good. People are earning enough to pamper themselves to kingdom come and high heavens.
We have reached a self-gratifying generation where people are not encouraged to do anything above and beyond what is needed to do. There is no need for anyone to do anything selfless like parenting. Why bother to raise children when I can have all the time for myself?
Is the world really that bad?
Our perception shapes our reality. Opinion might differs as a matter of a cup half full or half empty. The news agencies would certainly like to paint a sour picture as bad news certainly sells better than good news, which is the irony. Which it isn’t. Dramatics and violence always sells, and captures the attention of the masses.
The news and media agencies are cashing in on our Selective Negative Bias and our addiction towards it, somehow negative bias stirs our emotions, captures our attention, and jolts us to action. Poverty, War, Death and Destruction are all tools the media use to sell their existence. Try to find a newspaper that is totally dedicated to good news.
Too much of anything
We must always learn to strike a balance on how our reality is. Some might argue that the world we are in, the challenges we are facing, global warming, crime, war, COVID19 are all completely justifiable reasons for us to protect our future generations from, by not bringing them into this world.
The world we live in can never be completely bad, neither can it be complete good. There is always a mixture of both and we have to decipher the reality correctly to continue living. The virtue that our race is still here, means we are so far doing a decent job.
Our World, Their Reality
You boys might not have heard of Boyan Slat, but I’m sure you’ve heard of Greta Thunberg, and I’m sure their parents did have plans for them to reach their level of influence, but they did and rise above and beyond what their parents to achieve during their life time.
As your parents, I can only hope that the both of you turns out to become decent adults, never mind that you might not save the world, or clean up the ocean, but there is always a chance that you might raise children that do.
With every iteration of the human race, we raise people who brings good to this world. Of course, there are also maniacs out there, who took all the darkness and destroys the world, Adolf Hitler’s parents wouldn’t have had him if they’re gonna see the kind of death and destruction their son brought upon the world. Then again, that’s debatable, I certainly don’t hope to see you boys head that direction of notoriety.
I’m your dad, a guy, and a husband, and your mum, my wife told me more than once she wants to have my children. I can only guess that whatever I’m doing, gives her a safe haven, comfort and confidence for her to feel it is worth it to risk her life to bear children for me. That’s the logic part of me, perhaps it is the love between us, the bond we have for each other that is so intimate and deep, having kids of our own is a manifestation of that love.
I certainly hope that both of you boys grow up to become men who can provide for your women, make them feel safe, sheltered, protected and love, so that they can build a whole family with you with kids.
So we all have to come up with ways to continue our training, away from the mat.
Thankfully, I’ve sort of ‘future-proof’ my training. you see, I was away from the dojo for quite a long bout when I was settling down to start my family. If I remembered well, my hiatus was a year or maybe more.
So with this COVID19 where I can’t train in a dojo, I’ll have ways to continue my Aikido training away from the mat.
And if you are the kind of Aikidoka, who needs to go to a dojo to get ‘Aikido training’, then you really need to reacquaint yourself with your idea of what Aikido is to you. Aikido is not a fix, it is not a bar where you have to go and hang out.
Social Distancing = Ma-ai 間合い
This is one public education message the authorities are trying to get everyone to do, and thankfully, as Aikidoka, I’m already doing this before it became fashionable. It is called Ma-ai 間合い.
So now when I go out and join a queue, I constantly watch my Ma-ai, and observe a good stand-off distance from my nearest human being. Ma-ai is more than physical distancing, it is about awareness of our surroundings, and in cramped confines where social distancing cannot be observed, observing Ma-ai 間合い helps me look for ways to move away from the proximity, very much like the opposite poles of a magnet, at this current COVID19 moment, I’ve become hyper-aware of safety distance, very much like how we do it on the mat.
This is an activity that can be done alone, even if you don’t have a mat at home, you can still do a very slow, roll. Having a carpet or thin yoga mat will help, and this is a great way to relearn body awareness and get the finer details of rolling tuned.
Cardio, Run, Swim
Aikido, is about movement, so if we cannot go to a dojo, we can jog, swim, get on a bicycle, walk, hike, rope-skip, climb the stairs, and many, many more other heart pumping activities. Keeping up with general fitness helps a lot with mat fitness.
Of course, the majority of these activities are solitary in nature, but it provides excellent opportunities for you to figure out the deeper reflections of life.
(This post was written in March 2020, the heights of Singapore’s Covid-19 Pandemic Quarantine Measures)