What makes a good Aikido instructor?
1- Teach what you know
2- Aikido is circular
3- Never show off
Published: February 11, 2014
What makes a good Aikido instructor?
1- Teach what you know
2- Aikido is circular
3- Never show off
Published: February 11, 2014
Getting COVID earlier this month puts me out of action for a fortnight and being away from Aikido gives me the space to think about what we are going to do and where we are going. This is a reflection on my earlier post “Where do we go from here?“
Clarity as we go along
There are many factors I was mulling and in the due process, all the issues, players, external forces, internal inertia all came together and the result is overthinking. Where do we go from here implies a point A to point B, and outcome, destination and endgame; this is the wrong mindset; putting the cart before the horse. You don’t get to go anywhere in this mode.
This is a ‘here’, we can only get to the where when we have the horse pulling the cart, and that in itself is the journey, not a destination. I was fixated on a destination and therefore completely missed the whole spirit of training. We need to focus on the now, and the where will take care of itself- this is the message Harry sensei keep telling us and this is his legacy. He never cared about the future, he cared about is the now.
Let the Jones be the Jones
Comparing myself with social media Aikido only helped to prey on my fears and played on my insecurities, of course I can never be as good as those guys showing off their Aikido skills on Tik Tok, Facebook, and/or Instagram. Damn, those guys are skillfully slick and so well trained. Me? Nowhere near that level! Ha!
So time away nursing a recovery from COVID gave me time to think. Keeping up with the Jones is a zero sum game; looking outwards too much weakened my resolve.
Aikido and Shoshin Aikikai
So does the world has a place for a flowy, almost fakery martial arts like Aikido? Or shall we all go and learn MMA? Until now I still feel that for fighting; MMA would definitely be a better form of applied violence which will work in a violent situation.
Pulling back my lenses a little closer and I look at Shoshin Aikikai, the style Harry sensei left us, and is it a form of Aikido that is on par with other styles of Aikido? Is it an effective form of Aikido? Should we all go and learn anther style of Aikido?
The Answer is on the Mat
While I work on my answer, purpose and existence on the mat and off the mat, I could sense that we do have a distinct existence and contribution to the world. I started Monday’s class looking at my fellow Aikidoka, we bring a certain proposition to the world, one of peace, harmony and love.
When I think about our time on the mat, and how each and everyone of us off the mat, we bring a bit of Harry sensei’s Shoshin Aikikai into our lives, and because Harry sensei left us a style of Aikido that is peaceful, non-violent, and focus on not resisting, everyone brings this spirit into the greater sphere of life. We apply what we learned on the mat, on our everyday lives, and it touches the people we meet off the mat. We treat people with decorum, dignity and respect, well, I try to as much as I can.
Keep trying, never quit, never give up
This is perhaps my own small way of honoring Harry sensei’s style of Aikido, this small band of us are really not interested in the pecking order, not interested in belt chasing, our sensei told us to DROP OUR EGO! We made it our life purpose to keep trying, we come to the dojo to continue the practice, because our sensei inspires us to keep training when he was alive. He never quit, come to training come hell or high water. As long as we keep training on the mat, we embody his commitment, and doggedness, we never give up trying to make our Aikido a little better, not perfect, but better.
It humbled me when I look at my fellow Aikidokas and see beyond their tiny sliver of time on mat, and how our practice and camaraderie influence the bigger world out there, and the people who they come across off the mat. So while there is only that little of us left who is keep Harry sensei’s style on the mat, this little band of us continues to bring good into the world and in every little thing we do, we strive to bring peace, love and harmony to all we meet, I know, at least I try to.
I recently learned a new word call ‘Einstellung’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Einstellung_effect) Generally it means how we will use the most efficient method solution to problem solving, even when it appears that there is another more efficient methods available.
I think we can understand it as ‘ When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem will look like a nail to you.‘ cliché. This is very true to Aikido practitioners, because we train so hard in a specific discipline that we get confined by what we define. How many of us can see the inter-connectedness between sentient beings when we train? All we want to do is to neutralize the ‘attack’. Not every ‘attack’ looks like an ‘attack’ and not every ‘attack’ is an ‘attack’. We need to be aware of The Einstellung effect every time we train.
Which is why we train in the first place! so that we can consciously discern the minutiae of life! No one single moment in life is the same! Once it has pass, it is passed! As valuable as The Einstellung effect is in helping us mechanized our life, so that we can deal with the larger issues on hand, we need to know not to over rely on The Einstellung effect. It will happen and it happens all the time, we just have to be mindful to exercise discretion if what we are doing is actually the best way or is there a less best way, but a more efficient way? Not all best ways are the best ways, some less best ways are sometimes just as good as the best ways. This is what it means to be human, and this is why we go to an Aikido dojo for training.
Published: July 13, 2013
I was hit by an epiphany.
All I really learned from Aikido was to be nice to myself and to be nice to other people. That means you do not take advantage of people when they are down, or injured.
It is probably the only martial arts that does that. You really have to treat your partner with respect and preserve your partner’s well being so as to make sure he or she turns up for training the next time!
Those who are movie buffs would have remembered the climax scene from both the original as well as the latest version of The Karate Kid. In both movies, we have the bad guys fighting Ralph Macchio or Jaden Smith. Both of them were severely injured no thanks to the bad guys and, the bad guys capitalised on the injuries.
Well, that is life, you can put it that way, survival of the fittest.
If you are in a Kumite and it is the championship round, you know your opponent is probably nursing a cracked rib from his previous bout, would you have decide to not to attack his cracked rib, or you would go specifically for the wounded area, so as to incapacitate him and win the bout?
As far as where I am practicing, when my partner is injured, or I have knowledge that there are some injuries, I’d be mindful not to further aggravate that injury. It is not me being noble, it is something I see happening in Aikido; your partner will take care of you, if you need to train when you are injured. There is a genuine level of care, we want our partners to be well.
I think we all go to our dojo, ‘wounded’ one way or another, and if we are conditioned to compete for a win, foresaking our opponent’s vulnerability, we are also foresaking our own vulnerabilities. If we cannot help our partners heal their wound, we cannot open ourselves to help from others, to help us heal our wound.
I’d like to go to a dojo, knowing that I can be myself, that my fellow students will take care of me. instead of going to a dojo with a brave front, hiding my injuries, so that I will not be taken advantage of. It is a lot harder for me to learn in such an environment.
Published: January 26, 2015
We all know Aikido as a harmonious, peace-promoting, and world loving art, people commonly sees Aikido as a kind of dance, and almost everyone who sees Aikido questions its efficacy in actual ‘combat’ situation. Is it an effective self-defense martial art, or is it a ‘martial’ art at all? It looks too soft, too wavy, and the attacker seems to be cooperating with the defender.
Or so it seems.
Does it work? Why does our attackers seemingly stupidly always falls? Will the movement stand up to a real attack? Does all the turning, twirling and circling around effective?
Everyone, including Aikido practitioners missed out the most important part of Aikido.
We constantly handcuff harmony to Aikido, but we all know there is little harmony in practicing Aikido, there is a constant struggle, internal battle waging in us as we try to manhandle our partners in a feeble attempt to form a coherent looking Irimi-Nage.
Harmony can only happens when we learn to yield. We keep preaching to harmonise our attacker’s energy and neutralising it with circular motions and while that all sounds nice and dandy, you cannot do nuts until you yield.
Physically, to yield is to accept that the incoming force is greater than what we can handle, therefore, instead of the fighting option, we look at the flight option, and in Aikido context, flight means to brings our attacker along, and as long as they come with us for the flight, both of us sees little or no reason to fight.
Which is why learning Aikido is so simplistically tricky. We are taught ‘powerful’ technique, but when we apply them, it feels so useless. Other impact martial arts, such as Karate, MMA seems more effective, granted that we’ve seen how a simple punch, roundhouse kick can dramatically knock out a person.
While fighting art seems to look more effective, a fighter cannot win all the fights, no one can stay superior forever, there will always be another champion, and another contender to knock the champion out, this is the forever cycle of quest and desire which Aikido walks away from. We simply yield.
In English, it meant that there’s always one mountain taller than the other mountain, and we will eat ourselves empty if we continue on our chase for a higher glory, one medal after another, one conquest after another, we will fall eventually. when we become weaker and can no longer compete on sheer power, we will resort to guile or cunning, and when that fails too, what happens next?
Life isn’t a chase for glory or medal.
While we can pummel a lesser opponent to pulp, try that on your boss, or your wife, or the police officer giving you a parking ticket. We cannot keep fighting and winning, there will always be a greater force which you cannot overcome. Try fighting a volcano eruption.
So we have to yield eventually, and the sooner we realise that the better our lives become. Once we start to learn how to yield, victories become easier as we look for the most economical way to win our battles, and when we yield, we give, and will be given more than we gave out.
Yielding is peaceful
In Aikido, we don’t seek to beat up our attacker to pulp, our attackers do not behave like deranged killers out to inflict maximum hurt on us, when we practice Aikido, we are not looking at a duality of kill or be killed. We are looking for a singular outcome where both attackers and defenders can walk away safely and at best learning something about each other.
Therefore we yield, or try to. As we become more competent, we might want to use our skill and experience to gain an upper hand over some of our more junior Aikidokas, a lot of Instructors does that when they demonstrates their apparent superior techniques over their students, but of course that’ll be the case, but when a better trained student comes along, and shows superior skills, the sensei will be left an embarrassed and bruised ego, struggling to maintain his sensei status.
To yield is to accept that we do not know everything and we have to accept that there will be a better, more superior entity outside of us. When that happens, we have to flow and weave around instead of fighting a battle that is already lost.
I never had such a problem keeping me up at night. All I have to do is to go to the dojo, follow a certain respectable old man do Aikido and go home. Simple.
Now that I am in that shoes and people are following me, there is a certain standards, quality, direction, style, ethos, pedagogy, sub-culture, teaching, curriculum that I have to dish out, someway, somehow, one way or the other.
As my friend Steven always says it “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.” Ain’t that the truth.
It’s never far from my mind that this position I held is an extremely privileged one, I didn’t put myself there, someone I respect a lot asked me to be there, and now that I am here, the weight is on me to do something, moving forward. My friends in the dojo put their trust in me to take this place forward and I’m burdened constantly not to let them down. The weight of that responsibility is serious shit.
No Easy Day, No Easy Answer
Such is the cruel reality of change, we are all forced to change. Legacy held us in good stead, knowing we came from a respectable past, but how we move forward will determine how we continue to keep that past respectable.
Deep down inside I do still feel like a phony, Harry sensei’s spot is too big to fill, I know that I have no plans to fill it, faintly even trying to do that is will be preposterous. Then the next question begs to be answered, how do I write my own story? Do I even want to see myself 80 years old 7th dan, dedicated to Aikido? Or can I be who I am, 3rd dan, 80 years old, dedicated to Aikido?
In the world of pecking order and sexy new martial arts, I don’t think I can compel many people to follow an old 3rd dan, still running a dojo 10-15 years from now. It’s not a great selling point, I will age (am aging) and will falter, like Harry sensei did, will people still turn up at the dojo out of respect, sympathy or a little bit of both?
Even if I were to advance in grade, so what? So freaking what?
I still cannot see myself at the epitome of Aikido, like the shoulder of the giant I’m standing on. So should I avoid the risk of desecrating Harry sensei’s legacy by running a sub-par class? Or should I chart my own way, and risk desecrating Harry sensei’s legacy the same? Damn it if you do and Damn it if you don’t.
No help in finding the answer either
Sorry no sorry, I don’t think there is anyone out there who can help me solve this. That’s the other thing that has always been a me problem, the solutions lies only in me, myself and I. Once I found the solution (which will come to me eventually, I just got to be patient) then I can move. Until then I can only hobble along haphazardly, be the stand-in until the stand-in, stood out permanently.
Right now all I can do is to use my imagination and think about how Harry sensei could have done it under the circumstances when he took over Teddy Lee sensei back then more than 50 years ago; the challenges he faced, the acceptance and rejection he has to face, building up Aikido the way he did. The problem is that there are no cookie crumbs, he left no ‘how-to’ guide on how to run a dojo and take the dojo forward; all I got from him was his teaching, as fleeting, unreliable memory in my head, and that’s all. I constantly ask myself how do I go on when all of our interpretations of his teachings differs widely dependent on people’s perceptions.
Not exciting at all
I can’t build any excitement out of this heaviness at all, perhaps I took this role with a very serious responsibility, and maybe I do want to make Harry sensei proud and when people comes to his dojo, they can say that Harry sensei did a good job, his bunch of Aikidokas are a skillful lot. That’s perhaps my lofty goal and I’m not sure if I am up to it to see it happen.
Until I find a way, I think I’m gonna be kept awake more often than I like to.