As kids you will be able to make the most in-animated items as fun as any toys. Having siblings helped I guess. When you bounce of the most ridiculous ideas off each other, anything can come alive.
We got you these pair of foam dinosaurs from the Science Centre (www.science.edu.sg), when we went for the Titans of the Past Exhibition. I mean, as your dad, and as an adult, it is simply a foam cut outline of a Dinosaur. Not to the both of you.
Throughout the journey back from Jurong home, we’d expect Wayne to fall asleep on the train, since you 2 looked beat from the whole day of fun. But no, you boys were playing and playing with your foam Dinos all the way back! There was so much things a T-Rex can tell a Diplodocus! Well, Seeing how friendly T-Rex was to the Diplodocus was interesting, because in the Dinosaur time, one would be predator and the other, prey.
This fun and play continued noisily when we boarded the bus home. You 2 took a single seat and was busily playing, there was another boy perhaps a little younger than Ian, looked on at the both of you, pensively. I observed him for a while and shared with your mum, either he was looking with a sense of envy that you boys had foam Dinos, or he was looking at the kind of fun 2 two have. From my observation, he, who appeared to be the only kid (He was with his parents, with no evidence of him having another sibling, but I could be wrong) in the family and it looked like he would like to have the same kind of fun. Having a brother, or sibling to play with certainly helps!
Anything, and everything comes alive when your 2 boys put your imagination together, otherwise, a foam dinosaur, will remain a foam dinosaur.
It looked like any typical Monday class and I wanted it to be as such, so on the facade, there is little or no difference, I’m taking the class, 8pm, my fellow Aikidokas will take their respective places and we will start class, like we have done so for many years.
Internally, there was a huge inertia, a massive reluctance to assume the position in front of the class, as sensei. I wish Harry sensei is still alive and hoping that I can continue being the facilitator, wishful thinking I was entertaining.
I looked long at Harry sensei’s photograph which I put up on the shelf, quietly asking him for divine guidance and still wanting that affirmation from him that I will be doing fine. He is no longer around to do that, so I have to take all that he has taught me, taught us, and carry on from there. With that thought, I walked up to the front and become sensei, for the first time in my life.
The Imposter Syndrome
This is a feeling for sure, and yet it still feels strangely familiar, very ready, and I think I have Harry sensei to thank, he has been grooming me all along for this position. While he was alive, he would be the earliest one, turning up to vacuum, dust and mop the place all by himself while he was still fit. The few of us made a point to come early and help him with all the chores. As long as I am coming to class I will make sure I do all this with him until a point in time I was doing them by myself, for him, as he watches, smoking his cigarettes.
Now that he is gone, I am the one turning up earliest, doing all the vacuuming, mopping and dusting, laying the mats, getting the place ready for class, all by myself. So I know the dojo very intimately, every dirt, spot and dust is very familiar to me, working on it after so many years.
Being consistently his uke perhaps is also another way he was grooming me. While he never said that I was to become a sensei after his death, by being his uke umpteenth times has made me understand his moves, his nuances, and his unspoken expectations. Maybe by being thrown around by him the most, I’m considered remotely good enough to continue. After all, why would he continue to call me to be his uke, even for demonstrations if I am not ‘good’ enough? Perhaps there is no one else.
It had to be me
Strangely familiar as I know this is real, I didn’t voluntarily put myself there, I didn’t fake this, make this up myself, my fellow Aikidokas trust me and look upon me to keep the class going, giving me good faith that while I am still not good enough, somehow I can lah. Showing them the techniques, and sometimes the wrong ones, they will correct me, we discussed, how Harry sensei did it, and of course how we perceived the way he did what he did. We call can agree that his technical perfection to the Aikido techniques are second to none, owing to his many decades of training and dedication.
Being an Aikido sensei is not something of my choosing, there is no career path, this is just the way it is. It is terribly lonely taking that position up front, the weight of the entire class, or even school rests on me. I can’t take it lightly, somehow, sensei’s spirit and reputation lies with Shoshin Aikikai, and right now when people think about who is the sensei in Shoshin Aikikai, the guy who took over when Harry sensei passed away, that guy turns out to be me.
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!
Every time I take a class, I position myself, not where the sensei would sit, but along the line with my fellow Aikidoka practitioners. As I have principled, I am the most ranking student in class, and therefore I am not the sensei, but a facilitator, or ‘class monitor’.
Officially, I have told James, my senpai, and maintained that I would prefer to have Harry sensei give me a blessing, best in writing, that I am given the responsibility of instructorship. Well, this is a ‘me‘ thing as I do not want to assume things and make myself ‘sensei’ while Harry sensei is still in effect, The Sensei of Shoshin Aikikai Singapore. There is no ifs and buts about it.
These will change now that he has passed away, and without his verbal, explicit expression as to how the dojo should continue, we are left to our own devices to decide.
His son, Lionel did express that it was perhaps his father’s wish to make sure his Aikido legacy should continue, which means Shoshin, the dojo he founded should carry on, and I will need to take the initiative to continue.
It is never easy with changes, and we have a few ‘closed door’ discussions with the dan grade members of Shoshin and many favoured closing the dojo, which we did, for the later part of 2021, and then James told me that it will be reopened, and he would want me to take a class, on Monday. I obliged. While I never officially heard it from Harry sensei that he consented, I’d trust James that he is carrying out sensei’s interpretations the best he could.
Harry sensei did turned up a few times and witness me taking class; he didn’t objected in anyway of sorts, so I’ll take it that my instructorship is okay. It’s surely a hot seat with him sitting there looking at me taking class, I don’t want to fumble and look bad, making him look bad or regret his decision in anyway!
Also there was a new infusion of interest from David, an Aikido instructor who is keen to take Shoshin forward. So together, we will run the class and continue practicing Aikido at the present dojo.
Initially for me, I wasn’t sure about this path. I told myself that I’ll decide again after Sensei’s passing, honestly, I’m not that keen to continue Aikido in any form or function if Harry sensei is no longer around. I am also really not keen to be a sensei of any form or function.
The feedback is that my involvement is wanted, and Shoshin Aikidokas past and present prefers to have someone who have trained under Harry sensei to continue. Many would argue that what is Shoshin unless it is passed down to someone who has trained with Harry sensei and knows his style.
While there are many students who have trained with Harry sensei, none has stepped up to take custodian of the dojo.
Shoshin is 初心
初心 in Japanese Kanji means the ‘Beginners’ Mind’, Harry sensei choose the logo to be that of 2 open hands. He has said many times that we need a beginners mind to see things properly, and not let the ego get the better of us. Practice with a Beginner’s Mind.
While it appeals to me that Harry sensei’s style should continue in Shoshin, we must also regenerate the dojo with a beginner’s mind and see Aikido new again. Not disrespecting Harry sensei’s legacy, but to really honour him by starting things fresh, taking it to greater heights.
No one can match Harry sensei’s greatness and commitment to Aikido in Singapore, and it would be ridiculous for me to even try. His style is unflinching precision, come what may, he dispatches his uke large and small with ease. All I can do is perhaps interpret his style with my own limited understanding and render it in spirit and principles.
Life is a Curve Ball
As always, you will never know how things will turn out. All I wanted to do was to follow Harry sensei and until his death, I’ll be free to decide my path. I would never expect myself to be thrusted and entrusted into this very privileged role of taking Shoshin to the next level.
I’m not sure what I will do, but with what my sensei has taught and guided me in the past, I’m sure things will turn out fine.
The past 2 weeks was rough, I have to bear witness to the death of 2 persons very dear to me. The first one was kind of a shocker, and yet not, Harry sensei died on 25 April and your 四姨婆 died 2 May.
Harry sensei’s death hit me particularly hard, and I struggle to contain my emotions, and barely having time to manage my grief, your 四姨婆 died. It is a kind of double whammy and I think these back to back deaths matured me quite a bit, and I can fully absorb the emotions of grief and mourning.
It is a very reflective, deep thoughts and moody process, and often cast a dark pall over me, I think everyone can see it, especially the both of you and your mum as well. Having to still go to work, and interact with people, I have to compartmentalize my emotions and continue with my profession. My colleagues asked me: “How’s you weekend?” I can’t get myself to say: “Yeah, my sensei just died, and guess what? My wife’s aunt died as well!” It’s just not something you go around telling people so I simply replied: “Great!” (Please don’t dig any further, I’m barely holding it together.)
Please Excuse Me While I Grief
Of all the deaths in my life, I felt the heaviest when it comes to Harry sensei’s passing, and this sensation is particularly painful at the ‘heart’ area, it’s not a sharp pain, but that deep throbbing ache which threatens to reduce me into a heap of tears. I sigh a lot, there is really no mood for anything else, and apart from the necessary interactions, I kept to myself, and I looked at the floor more as I walked around, probably to avoid eye contact, for fear that people can see that sadness in my eyes. Emotionally I am running on empty.
This was the first time I became truly acquainted with grief.
There is no obvious logic or rationale to grief, it cannot be articulated, it is just pure raw emotions and your mood can swing from kindness to selfishness, almost with a kind of, ‘DO NOT DISTURB‘ sign hanging around your neck, not wanting to give a ‘F’ about the world for the time being. Thank you very much.
While death is a closure to many, it introspectively opens up a kind of sensitivity I am learning to live with.
We are all vulnerable
There is no escaping Death, I long felt it when I was young, and I wrote about it “Death“, an experience I felt when I was merely 19 years old. I was younger then, and youth, are often associated with a lack of perspective and a crude pragmatism, I take my ‘Death experience’ naively as a privileged to me or perhaps it was a ‘shield’, protecting me from actually feeling grief.
That is until someone I really treasure and love dies, and these 2 deaths really pried me open to the full vulnerability of grief. You feel helpless, hopeful, heaviness, all in one.
Yet the vulnerability I felt cannot be fully worded, with Harry sensei’s and 四姨 passing, and all the good I have seen them do, and now that they no longer can continue doing, appeals to me that I must carry on, be nicer to people, be more caring, be sensitive to others, be humble, be everything Harry sensei and 四姨 has taught me, by showing me. I want to be nicer to people, so that if they’d asked, I can tell them, I learned it from my sensei, I learned it because my 四姨, who is no longer with me, was one of the nicest person alive. Wanting to make this world a nicer place is perhaps my own private way of honoring their memory.
Vulnerability is very powerful
Everyone is vulnerable, period. No matter how strong, tough or successful a person is, there is a quiet silent part where we all feel somewhat lacking, inadequate and falling short of. Having gone through 2 funerals in 2 weeks exposes me to this part of humanity which connects all of us. While we all celebrates big dramatic wins in life, nobody really wants to be with us when we are hurt, down, beaten and vulnerable. The irony is that at our most weakest, we are most connected to the raw spirit which fuels our existence. Death binds us all.
I found myself back in the warm, dark embrace of Death again, thinking about my own mortality, what to do with my life. There is a certain limitedness of our lives, and yet, those who have passed, came, did great things, show love, wisdom and kindness, challenged Death by fully living, and when they die, leave behind a huge momentum of good, for us to continue living.
There is this very famous Star Wars quote by the fictitious character Yoda, a Jedi Master.
Essentially it means that you need to ‘Do’ and not ‘Try’.
We were concerned about your carelessness which is typical with kids ‘these days’. When you prepare for school, and packing your bag for the day, you’ll miss out your iPad, you’ll miss putting your school pin on your uniform, you’ll miss your pencil case. When you are back home, you can forget taking out your water bottle, your lunch, your dirty P.E. tee, you’ll put the socks with the laundry, despite of me telling you for the umpteenth time not to. Well, the list goes on.
Academically, you are missing out concepts, key words, and things you should know and will impede your progress until you can use them skillfully when tested.
We had a talk and you were quite dejected, citing that there is so many things to remember, and when you try to remember this, you forget that, and you are on the verge of giving up.
Giving up what?
So we had a talk, and this comes down to this 2 concepts. Try and Do.
So far, I know you have been trying your best, and despite of that, you are still forgetting things left right centre. You seemed to be overwhelmed by the myriad of things you need to get right for school. it’s just too much!
You tried, we can see you really try. Even in your math or science paper, despite of your best trying, you still got careless.
Trying is outcome based.
You couldn’t understand the difference between trying and doing. Well, let me break it down for you, trying is aimed at a specific outcome. You will try to win, you will try not to lose, you will try to be careful, you will try to finish your meals. More often than not, the outcome turns out to be a downer. It didn’t usually happen then way you wanted it to, despite of your best effort.
Trying gets worse, when you try to beat the other guy to the first place. You try to sabotage your friend so that you can look better, you try to retaliate.
Trying is fixated on a duality event, either or, you get it or you don’t, more often than not, you don’t.
Doing is process based.
This means that the ends justifies the means. Which can be scary when you know you are not good enough yet. so just doing could means that you will screw up, it can also mean that you succeed beyond your wildest dream; and you have no idea why.
You might think that doing and trying is pretty much a word play, it is not, think of it as a mindset. We have seen you do great things, when you put your mind to it. especially when you are playing with Lego.
We all know Lego is no fun ‘trying’, Lego is all about doing, getting your hands into the little plastic bricks and building things. You like that and you never need to ‘try’, you build it in a flash. doing means you have confidence, knowledge and skill. Sometimes you don’t, and you asked for help, sometimes you make mistakes and you’ll have to tear the bricks down and rebuild it, and before you know it, you’ve completed the model!
Doing is taking it one step at a time, trusting your ability to figure things out, and working the problem, and when you encounter an unknown, you can make a decision, and step by step you get to the finish line. You are aware of the outcome, but not fixated by it. You take the road, and sometimes there is a detour, sometimes, you need to cross a river, or something that is on the ground isn’t on your map and you need to work around it, despite of all that, you still reach your summit. This is doing.
Switching from Trying to Doing would means we can get a better gauge about your knowledge gap, when you are trying, it will be difficult because you are overthinking too much, there is too much gears going in your head, so much so you cannot get it right, and you start to panic. This happens precisely because you want to not get it wrong, and that is exactly what will happen, you get it wrong.
Doing helps us reflect after action as to what you know, what you don’t know, there is a balance between working it out, making mistakes, and learning from it. Doing is often followed by reflection. Trying is often followed by an emotional roller coaster, you did well, WOOHOO! You didn’t do well, bummer…
Easier said that done!
It takes a level of maturity to just do, and get the flow, have the courage to make a decision, and accept it as incorrect later on as you might have a knowledge gap, which upon reflection, leads to a closing of the gap through learning. This doing and reflecting is a constant polishing of your learning and it never ceases, and the constantly doing will lead to a more sustained energy, and of course lead to a wiser, not just smarter Wayne.
For long time Aikido practitioners, it is can be difficult to discern what is a ‘beginner’s class’ and an ‘advanced’ class. Since most of the techniques we do, looks pretty much the same from the day we started training. Unlike other martial arts, where there are advanced katas, or even a special ‘elite’ group within a school that trains more intensively or exclusively for competition.
As far as I know, I haven’t heard of something like this in Aikido, as Aikido predominantly doesn’t encourage competition.
What is prevalent is this ‘advanced’ class segment, and what do we learn?
Same same, but Different
I’m not sure about other schools but for us, we are still looking at doing the same thing, irimi nage, shiho nage, the 5 Principles/ Teachings (一教 to 五教), and the usual stuffs.
The only difference is the movement, our tai sabaki is different, at different levels of proficiency, and years of practice, it will be smoother, more familiar and we are more confident with our positioning and placement. As with conditioning and muscle memory, it gets easier doing these moves day in, day out.
Herein lies the difficulty, when a beginner join us, we are not too particular with the specifics, as long as a shiho nage, looks vaguely like a shiho nage, it will be passable, and beginners are not conscious about ma-ai, stiff and uncomfortable with the movement, proximity and all that. So we would not want to overload a beginner’s sensory experience during the formative years in Aikido.
A similar example will be one of sword forging, a swordsmith will hammer a block of iron, and form the basic shape of the sword, constantly banging and banging until a crude shape of sword starts to emerge. Also removing any excess parts, constantly shaping and shaping.
Good Habits, Bad Habits
As we progress, habits are formed, some bad, some good, but without being too critical, we know what a good clean technique looks like and we work towards a high standards to executing a shiho-nage.
So in an ‘advanced’ class, we are looking to fine tune our technique, get rid of anything extra. like a small steps we take, or an extra back step, the hands might not be optimally rotated. Hips not squared nor centred.
Personally, I don’t prefer the word ‘advanced; Aikidoka, as it robs us of our focus on the beginner’s mind. Advance can distracts us from the reality that we are simply just beginning to discover our own body in relation to the waza. Advance might be a lie that we are closer to perfection, where we are much further from the truth. ‘Long time practicing Aikidoka’ sounds like a mouthful but it works for me.
Of course you’ll see on social media, dynamic and dramatic high falls, and hip throws, fast and fluid movements in Aikido demonstrations. The reality is these folks trained very long and hard on the basic techniques, there is nothing additional in these techniques. There is no secret to how it is done. These techniques look amazing because these Aikidoka continuously polish themselves, ruthlessly removing any extra steps, deleting self doubts, cancelling out unnecessary movements and filtered down to the pure essence of body movement. They don’t move for the sake of moving, nothing is extra, everything is necessary.
Back to the swordsmith example, once the basic shape is hammered out, the sharpening and polishing begins, and the swordsmith might put the blade through many many rounds of fine grinding and minute sanding to get that shine and sharpness.
Also once the sword is made, and sharpen, it will need a regular level of attention to re-sharpen, for continuous use, fine minute adjustment here and there, regular maintenance of the entire sword, but essentially the structure is already made, it’s just the daily fine tuning here and there.
Aikido in the advance years of learning is the same, in the formative years you build the rough cut of a waza, then as you progress, you’ll make micro adjustments here and there, as you become dissatisfied with your movement, and realised that certain position is not optimal, or your uke exposes a critical flaw in your technique.
Similarly, I implore our long time aikidokas to look at themselves to reflect, self correct, and check themselves. An honest and sincere uke is an external instrument to help us keeping ourselves grounded, ensure that we are constantly practicing, polishing and never settles for the fallacy of expert, nor perfection. There is always room for improvements, we just need to clear our clutter.