One evening for dinner, you asked us “Why is kor kor first and I’m second?”
Wow, the question seems so ‘duh’ yet we are kind of stumped as to finding the right answer.
You see life isn’t really about queuing up, it is more like it happened first, that’s why it is first! Time is linear, yet somewhat random. If you happen to come first, which in reality you never will, you will be the kor kor and you will be subjected to a different set of experiences compare to your time now as a di di.
Perhaps to put this in perspective, you didn’t come second, you came at your own time, your elder brother came at his own time as well. There is a timing which will take time to happen, in a sweeping statement, life’s like that!
It has never dawned to me that Eeyore‘s creator A. A. Milne has created such a melancholy character filled with such love and affability. But in real life, characters like Eeyore are often shunned, avoided and sometimes hated. Humans typically like to hang around positive energy, and will do what we can to get more of that, less of the negativity. So the knee jerk reaction to shun characters with depressive states is understandable.
This post challenge that understanding, when we read Winnie the Pooh’s adventure, we like to read about Winnie, Tigger, Piglet, Kanga and Roo, Eeyore usually stuck out in his own depressive way, perhaps something like an anti-hero of sorts. He is not the main character, but he has his own unique way to complete the ‘family’, Reading Winnie the Pooh without Eeyore, just don’t quite sound or feel the same.
Despite of his depressive trait, his friends didn’t leave him. They stuck with him, and involved him in their games and activities. They didn’t judge him, tell him to change, improve him, send him for therapy, counselling, treatment, detox and other stuffs to help him get ‘better’. They are friends of Eeyore, they didn’t want Eeyore to be ‘better’ so that they can be friends.
This is the metaphorical attitude of being ‘unconditional’ towards your friends and loved ones. You be with them for who they are, not for who they are going to become, because of your influence. You cannot manipulate your friends to become someone you think you might like to hang out with.
‘Change comes from within, not without.’
It is like how people always categorically puts it ‘Change comes from within, not without.’ You cannot change people by asking them to change, using your influence, Jedi mind tricks, hypnosis, peer pressure and other extrinsic methods. Eeyore’s friends never asked for him to be any other guy, other than Eeyore.
I have read to you boys some stories about Winnie the Pooh, watched a couple of movies about it, but I’ve never thought of Eeyore like this until I saw this post. It is very profound, telling how quickly we stereotype people, and make often ‘callous’ comments like ‘Why don’t you cheer up?’ If the person is brooding, let the chap brood, be there, be present for the person, if the person is worthy to be your friend.
Honestly, you cannot get ‘infected with depression’, by hanging around depressive people, it is all in you. If you get depressed around depressed people, the problem is you, not them. you have to ask yourself, why do you let external factors affect you and change your mood?
Not forgetting what we are discussing here is a 2 way street.
Whilst it is not in your power to cheer people up, others do not have the power to ask you to cheer up, when you don’t feel like it. When you become depressed, your friends will ask you to cheer up. You would want to cheer up, pretend to look cheered up, so that you don’t disappoint your friends. Honestly, sometimes, it is okay to stick with the group norm, fake it to make it a bit, but sometimes out of those friends, you might come across a friend, who is okay with you being sad, okay with you being happy, okay with you for being you, then that friend is someone who has the maturity to accept you. That is a gem of a friend.
In Eeyore’s case, he has quite a handful. He even has Tigger, who is poles apart in character with Eeyore. But they never quarreled about it, they literally ‘agree to disagree’, if I’m allowed to use that very abused cliche.
So this is not a post that says, boys, it is okay to be yourself as who we are as ourselves, are often constructed by the friends we hang around, and if you have friend like Pooh, Tigger, Roo, Kanga, even an Eeyore will learn to have fun when feeling depressed.
In our constantly engaged world where Social Media rules, it is very easy for everyone to look good and sometimes even looking bad on social media is also done for the sake of looking good, milking for sympathy!
It can’t be helped that we feel judged all the time, there’s exams to pass, and failure would bring a detrimental consequences. There is a constant need for us to look good, nevermind that we often are crumbling inside, a silent scream for help, and connection.
In martial arts, or Aikido, we are very conscious about this ‘Ma-Ai (間合い)‘ thing, which basically means the distance you have with your opponent, within striking distance, kicking distance, so on and so forth, and when you wield a weapon, the stand-off distance will be adjusted accordingly. Too close to your opponent, you get hit, too far, you’ll not be able to hit your opponent, adjustment is constant, fluid and dynamic.
There is a lot of frantic processing in the head especially when there’s multiple attackers closing in and you are pressed to prioritize them quickly, before they overwhelm you. You have to work and find a space that allows you to move and weave between individual attackers and slip between them to gain a better position to navigate the attacks. So ma-ai is not just about the physical stand off distance you hold against your opponent, it is a mental and spiritual stand off distance and head-space you hold against yourself.
We are our own worst enemy
We often want the best for ourselves and the best way to get it is to be critical about ourselves, so that we push ourselves harder, blame ourselves first before anyone else does, own up to our mistakes first, because we are ‘reflective’, give ourselves a beating we can be proud of. We train ourselves harder, so that we become better than the rest. We stand independent and hold our values and virtues with integrity of a solid pillar.
C’mon! Gimme a break! So uptight for what?!
The DRILL SERGEANT
I’m not sure when I changed but when I went jogging, the old self dialogue goes like this:
“You can do it! FASTER!”
“Just a bit more, sprint you piece of ‘bad profanity!!!‘”
“pump those stubby little legs!”
Phrases that would make me a very good drill sergeant.
Me versus Me
Of late I’ve changed to a new tone, more of a talk, between more nurturing, understanding and patient Randy to a younger exercising Randy. It’s a weird concept but basically, the chill self conversation doesn’t reduce the intensity of the jog instead it removes the unnecessity of being my own unrealistic demanding jogging shadow, so the output is a greater sense of situational awareness, not just a matter of completing the jog in the most expeditious military timing, but just completing the jog, as a form of fitness and exercise.
“It’s okay, anyway it’s just 5km, and you’re almost done!”
“There’s no rush, you’ve done it before, you’ll do it again.”
“it’s okay to slow down, there’s no rush. enjoy the run, enjoy the moment.”
Let’s be real
Creating a safe space means it’s a mental and psychological space where you can be really open and non-cynical, non-judgmental to yourself. There’s no ‘Shouldda‘, ‘couldda‘, ‘wouldda‘. No hypotheticals, no imagine beating that idiot’s face into a pulp. Sometimes we want that kind of psyche and angst, but eventually the hype is short-lived.
A more sustainable way is to create that sanctuary for you to be you. No beating yourself up for your silly mistakes, no self-reprimanding, self depreciating statements. Just allow yourself to be objective, take the persona out of the personality and give space for a mature, calm self assessment and learning.
This safe space allows you to build a kind of quiet confidence that infects and affects the world around you in a positive and constructive way. Safe space allows you to think creatively and critically in the most imaginative way possible. Sometimes, we can be hurt so deeply and badly that our fragile baby steps to recovery needs that protection and safe harbour from the cruel acrid reality of the world. Be that safe harbour for yourself and when you can do that, you’ll be able to weather the worst of storms.
Sometimes, under duress, you have the habit of closing up, clamping down your pent up emotions. I’m not sure if you have a loss for words, or when the stress gets to you, you just simply shut down. This kind of emotional withdrawal can be difficult for us to understand how you feel and it often frustrates us, as we cannot find out what we can do to help you. This is quite pertinent when you are dealing with difficult exam questions, and you revert to a downward spiral of a negative emotional abyss.
It took me a while to figure this out but during my one of my recent digital courses where I learned about Design Thinking and Continuous Improvement, I came across a few concepts that I think can help us better manage your emotional expressions
Design thinking is customer centric, so I asked you during a period when you are in a receptive and open mood what kind challenges and emotions you go through when you are dealing with a particularly difficult questions. From the feedback I gather, I came up with a few visual cues for you to quickly absorb and change your emotions from a not so constructive one to a more can-do attitude.
You’ve made many glaring mistakes on some of the seemingly easy questions and while we know you know how to do it, we need to find out why you continue to make mistakes when you shouldn’t. So I came up with this simple visual cues to prime you, as you’ve told me that you have a tendency to assume the question is easy, gloss through them and become careless, resulting in anyhow doing the questions, with obvious consequences.
Subsequently we also realised that there are papers where you got stuck and cannot finish the questions, which is equally bad, because you glanced through and realised that the questions is difficult as it is a long paragraph. You’re lazy to read the whole thing, and quickly concluded that it is difficult, and you become sian to do the question.
After ‘interviewing’ you, I realised that you know the questions, you just need to read one sentence at a time, and break the bulk into bite size chips. Use annotation, it is a technique your mum has taught you but you cannot internalize it, so I came up with this visual cues to prompt you and prepare you to think in this approach.
When you realised that you have spent too much time on a single question, you tend to panic and quickly rushed through the rest, again with undesirable outcome. So I use a simple phrase to help you focus your energy on completion with panic.
I got this off the internet to prime you on the importance of being organized in though as well as in your ‘hardware’ such as pens, stationeries and make sure you have everything where you want them to be. This will help you get into a more collected psyche so that you can better deal with the matter at hand, which is your question papers.
Planning also means that you flip then entire question paper at the get go to better sense of how much you have to do, how many pages there is until you finish, since one of the many issues you have is working on the questions, and coming to a realization you have another 5 questions, and less than 20 minutes, PANICK BIG TIME.
Managing your emotions
We also have to address your ‘going into a cave’ when you are stressed up. so I used emoticons to help us navigate a pathway to a better understanding of how we can help you, and how you can help yourself express your frustrations.
I pulled out more than 20 of the more common emoticons so that you can pick one to express your current feelings. We do this before you start your tests so that we can better gauge your response. While I didn’t get a statistical data out of the frequency you pick ‘Nervous’, ‘whatever’, ‘focused’ and others, it does help you give us a label which we can work on.
Work in progress
I put all these visual cues into our iPad and you can swipe them and pick the closest emoticons reflecting your mood, it does helps us better understand your feelings and while I don’t have a conclusive feedback from you if these method works or not, I do observe lesser occurrence of negative emotional melancholy meh.
While I don’t want to be critical or judgmental, we still have to get s**t done even when we are meh, especially when we are meh, but knowing that we are meh, can help us bring some level of awareness on it and we can try to swing that mood around. The exams won’t go away but if you can manage your meh, you can shift the mood and influence the outcome, which is a baby steps towards arresting that habit of a downward spiral into negativity.
Sometimes the words we use often has an impact on how we see the world and in turn how the world ‘see’ us. This is particularly important because if you don’t get this right, you’ll spend a major part of your adult life trying to fix what you have already sub-consciously conditioned yourself into thinking and acting.
This can be a creativity-killing-word, and using this adverb carelessly will always ensure you relinquish your decision making to a conditioned state.
‘I’m always like that what!’
‘You always never turn off the lights!’
‘He always like that one!
We all encounter such statements and make many more ourselves, all the time. We do so out of efficiency and more often than not, laziness. We make quick statements like these so that we can get to the outcome quickly. So if you forgets to bring your masks out, you can resort to ‘You’re always the forgetful one!’ which followed by a ‘hmph‘ and entertain a self depreciating thought of how you have limited memory of a mouse, you’re getting senile and then ha ha and LOL.
Such confirmation bias helps us soothes our lives small little mishaps and sometimes even cushion us from the larger ones, by assigning blame to conditions that is beyond our control. It helps us manage our lives’ daily minute ups and downs and it can be a helpful coping life skills.
Not Always So
This is a Zen saying I learned sometime back, and I’ve forgotten much of it, I think it was by Shunryu Suzuki, a Zen monk who coined this ‘famous’ phrase. The point is, it helps us untangle ourselves from our daily, often self-limiting speech-act.
We need to know that we can make decisions, life changing decisions which can helps empower us beyond our feeble inconsistencies and insecurities.
This three words is the antidote to our ‘always‘ culture, paradoxically, it includes the very word we try to untangle ourselves from.
Every time, we do something that seems like a mistake we made before, or we got lazy and left the dishes unwashed, we can blame it on laziness, we are ‘always‘ procrastinating, or we can ask ourselves, Is that always the case? Am I always like that? Not always so! We can change, reflect and make amends, fix things, grow a new habit and exercise our decision making faculty.
Nothing is Fixed, and Nothing can be Fixed, Everything is Constantly Fixing
So we need to know that while we form habits which shapes our behavior, nothing is fixed, except our decision to set it. Even that can be changed, of course there will be consequences when it comes to a fixed habit, as well as fixing a habit, but as human beings, we must constantly make decision, that will change the range of choices that leads to a wider variety of outcome.
So to me it is not the faculty of choice, it is our ability to decide, when we make a lousy decision, we can then make another decision to correct it, or we can lament that we are always making shitty choices, which leads to a downgrade of personal empowerment, and then a replay of our entire life’s mistakes, failures and boo boos. Or we can decide to make another outcome, take another route, do it again, and again, and again, so that we get it right.
Life is about making one decision after another which takes us from one outcome to another, by constantly exercising our decision making muscle, we will never be short of choices that can take us from where we are to where we want to go.
Lt Gen (ret.) Winston Choo
Our very first Chief of Defence Force Winston Choo was a farmer, who became our country’s most well known soldier. Had he maintained that mindset that he was a ‘farmer’, will be farming, and always be a farmer, he will never have risen to his full potential.
Has he always been a farmer? Not always so!
As human beings we are here to make sure we keep doing what we can to better the circumstances we are in, otherwise we will always be homo sapiens. So learn from our country’s longest serving military chief, be something more that we we have always been, never settle for always, keep questioning our being, our ability, move quickly from our mistakes, learn from them and make our problems a source of solution and experience for us to become a better me.
Decision making are the breakfast for champions
In my dictionary, there is no good choice, no bad choice, no bad decisions, nor good ones, as long as it brings you closer to your outcome then that is the decision to take, not right nor wrong. Sometimes you make a decision that seems to take you to your destination, but we end up going another route, which serendipitously enhances our learning and experiences, in turn helps us revaluate our earlier decisions. Nothing is fixed unless we decides to fix them.
We often look at achievers and think why are they always the ‘smart’ ones making all the right moves and choices? Frankly, it all lies in our decision making and our ability to correct our decision quickly, so that we avoid making the ‘always‘ self-defeating statements.
‘Tom is always so lucky!’
‘Dick always gets good grades!’
‘Harry is always getting the promotion!
So if you want to have an always, have an always striving, always learning, always getting better, always the hardworking one.
So, boys, condition yourselves to make decision, constantly evaluate your ability to make decisions, and sometimes you might make a lousy stand, don’t die with it, don’t get emotionally or personally attached to it, change, make another decision, get new information, find out and study what you are lacking that resulted in you not making a quality decision, and please don’t dwell on self limiting conversations, you are never ‘always‘ like that or like this, unless you really make a decision to be!
P.S Lt Gen (Ret.) Wiston has a book out, titled A Soldier At Heart, is published by Landmark Books and is based on 40 hours of fresh interviews, oral history transcripts, speeches and Mr Choo’s writings, said a statement from the local publisher.
I hadn’t been writing for a while, due to a few reasons. And I want to start writing again, as I e-learned something from Seth Godin. He asked his friend, the great Isaac Asimov who was a prolific writer and published more than 450 books in his lifetime. How does he write so much? Seth asked him one day, to which Isaac replied that he starts the day at his manual typewriter, and type for till noon; it doesn’t matter what came out, good, bad, and ugly, there is no judgement to it. There is no such thing as a mental block, writer’s block or any kind of block, it is all in the head, and your mindset.
The epiphany didn’t happen instantaneously, it still took me a while to start again, as I need to overcome excuses and latency, and plain old laziness.
Of course with all the COVID19 that is going around, we cannot help but put a lot of our usual things on hold so that we can get a hold of ourselves and watch in trepidation as the world spins out of control and into craziness. Your dad also have to deal with personal, career issues along with other things. So it’s not easy to just continue like nothing has happened when there is so much happening around us.
Overtime, all the tumultuous turn of events can simply wear us down, or we can decide otherwise, while there is a lot of madness going on out there, there is also an equal amount of good and grace there has risen to the challenge. There is a greater awareness of mental health, amidst a rise in suicide cases in Singapore, people are beginning to see beyond work and school grades. There are social movements that is attempting to influence institutions and companies to look beyond profits and performance to really take care of their people and employees, my own personal take is that COVID19 is really the great leveler, no one is immune to it, CEO, Presidents, Celebrities, Rich and Poor, of course the poor suffers more but COVID19 kills all, regardless of how important you are.
So it is okay, to take a break, give yourself mental head space to take a step back.
If you have a mental block? No problem, just chill.
Writer’s block? Hang up for a while.
Toxic people in your life? Walk away, even when you think you cannot.
Let’s start again, and again.
So back to writing, hopefully, I can endeavor to display more consistency in putting my thoughts for you boys, as there are a lot of things I wanna tell you all for your future and for my past. Well, let’s just put pen to paper, or for my era, keyboard to screen and see what happens from there.
We started our Aikido class first week of September, after months of shut down due to COVID19 (I’ve lost count!). I was blissfully ready to start class as early as next year, which is what my sensei has in mind. The Singapore Government recently relaxed the requirements for physical training and this gives us an opportunity to try and resume class. From what I’ve learned, other Aikido schools have also commenced limited classes, with compliance to Safe Management Measures.
My opinion was safety, safety, and safety
It might sound like a nag, but there is a lot about this virus that the medical and scientific community has not idea yet, and while we are keen to resume training, we need to make sure that we practice in accordance to the safety measures spelt out by the government. The last thing we want was t0 have a COVID19 cluster coming out from our dojo, so let’s not jinx it.
We can only gather in a group of 5, so we stick with the same mantra for the clean-up crew. Siew Ching, Radek, Melvin, Shin Woei and myself turned up on a Friday to clean up so that the premise is ready for lessons on Monday. As you can see, we were still masked while we clean. Which is not such a bad idea given the level of dust floating all around, and our noses and respiratory would have certainly been attacked if we weren’t masked up.
The Cleaning was quite a tedious process, as our dojo is an open air, sheltered roof top. It is susceptible to wind, rain as well as dead leaves, and other dirt. So we had to go through a few cycles of cleaning, not to mention under the COVID19 situation, we cleaned even more.
That how dark the waters looked after a few rounds of mopping, we have to clear some dead leaves and it took us quite a bit of time to clean it up to pre-COVID19 standards, so that we can prepare for post COVID19 standards.
Our approach to safe distancing
There’s a few changes we implemented to make sure we can train safely.
1- Weapons training- We practiced with Jo to extend our Ma-Ai and safety distance, we try to avoid kata-te techniques which is entirely possible.
2- Masks on at all times
3- Rest and slow pace. We conducted lessons on a slower pace, and also allow more rest time
4- Wiping the mats with disinfectants before and after class, also providing hand sanitizers for our fellow Aikidokas
5- Separate Mats with a max of 5 Aikidokas per mat, with no inter-mingling
6- Wiping down high-contact areas with disinfectants
Training Safely, and Sustainably
As the most senior student in the class, I was tasked to lead the class and when I bowed, I humbly asked for O’sensei’s grace and guidance to make sure I conduct the lessons safely for my fellow Aikido brothers (There wasn’t any ladies in the class last week). It certainly felt good to be back on the mat, rolling around a bit to shake off that rust. I do not take the privilege of leading the class lightly and my friends’ well being is my responsibility.
So far, I hadn’t forgotten my basics, and despite of wearing the mask, I can still do most of the techniques and oxygenate myself properly. With an additional Jo, I was especially naggy to make sure everyone pay proper attention to the extra training apparatus as people do get injured by it, if they’re not careful.
We do not know how long this COVID-19 situation will continue, but we have to go on with our lives at the same time realistically acknowledge that this will probably never be the same again for a long time to come. Whatever it is, we must incorporate the changes into our daily routine and not let disruption, disrupt us.
As you both know, I don’t have a family past which I can be proud of. My parents, and my elder brother, well…they’re difficult to manage, they have never been in my life, for the good times, and they’re always there in my memories when I think of the bad. That’s a fact.
The Letter-it’s not that bad…
The story of my life is one of waiting, for the dreaded. When it finally came, well… it didn’t feel so bad. So…moot point, nothing in reality is as bad as you imagine it to be. Whatever happens, you can deal with it.
The letter was from the government, sent when my mum went to them to get money from me. My dad did that to me about 7 years ago. I’ll go into the details later in future, but the gist of it was both my parents think of me as a kind of ‘gold mine’ where they can milk money out from. This leaves me in a bad mental state, and oh let’s not talk about my elder brother.
Wishin’ and Hopin’
So I carry them as my ‘family history’ as a burden on my shoulders, always gnarly and bitter about not having a more supportive and loving parents. Well I guess I am always kind of wishing for something better, the wishin’ and hopin’ was actually not doing anything good for me. There’s really nothing nice I can say or mention about them, they are not my source of pride and joy.
Whoever or whatever they are or were, they are literally poisoning my personality and reality without even being there. The best part was I was allowing them to do so, lurking in the fringe of my mind and psyche.
Turning the bad to good
The relationship is so aloof with them that they’ve never found a good reason to contact me, and this caused me to develop a doubt over the good things that has happened in my life. That cynical person in me (usually my mum), who is always suspicious over a positive turn of events. ‘Cannot be! There must be a catch!’ ‘How can it be so good! You just watch it, it’ll always turns bad!’ And things always do.
While I was thinking about the bad stuff they’ve caused me, bad personalities they’ve endowed me with, twisted stories my mum (especially my mum) and dad has told me; a silent voice in me grew louder of late, whispering softly to me that they also did left me with something good. I just need to find out what that is, while my dad was a failed businessman, who was probably a bankrupt, he was after all an entrepreneur. My mum was at times a good judge of character, she has a wonderful smile in better days. Even if all they left me was something bad, I didn’t turn out bad, I learned from the bad things they left me with. The trap was I was learning so much, I was slowly turning bad. I was learning to avoid the poison, by eating them to get rid of them, not very smart right?
From what it seems, they’ve very much unwittingly done me wrong and left me a little twisted. If we were to move on, forgiveness is a mental closure for everyone to heal and become a better person. Sometimes our perpetrators might be self vindicated, to think they are right and you are wrong. and you are the one who have hurt them, therefore they hold the ‘key’ to your forgiveness, and they’ll punish you and hold you psychologically hostage, by not forgiving you for the hurt you did to them.
Relationship is always a 2-way street and for my case, I don’t think I can get them to forgive me, and I don’t think they will ask for my forgiveness, after all, I cause them the hurt, didn’t I?
I forgive them
I forgive them anyway, never mind that they’ll never know I did, ignorant to the reality that they have left a son, a younger brother alone, lonely and a little bitter almond seed in my heart.
I forgive them anyway, as I have to accept the judgement they’ve passed to me. I’ll never be the good son, or little brother in their lives. I’ve punished myself enough to try and live up to that fantasy, and the reality is, I am a good husband, decent dad, and okay guy.
I forgive them as I need to forgive myself, for being unfilial, for ditching them, and for being the bad guy in their narrative. I don’t live in their narrative, I live in my reality. I have to forgive myself for playing this sad sorry tune in my head for the longest time.
Always give and quit asking for it
If you are waiting for people to give you their forgiveness, you’ll always be begging. While in a healthy and balanced relationship, you can ask the person whom you’ve hurt; for forgiveness, and it’ll heal faster for both the victim and the instigator, when you give forgiveness, ask for forgiveness and gets it. Nonetheless, if you ask and you’re not given, it’s okay, forgive them for not forgiving you and move on, some things are never meant to be solved and some sour relationships are meant to be sour, no matter how hard we try to better it.
Don’t do what your dad did for the past 20 odd years, waiting in vain for my history to better. History is history, no matter how hard we try to rewrite it. What has happened is not something we can understand, I can never fully understand why my elder brother is the a**hole, he still is, why my mum tells lies to everyone about everyone. People are people, they’ll change to their whims and conveniences, a lot of us live like this and will be like this for as long as we live, you boys can be better, and start being better by learning to forgive yourself, and forgive those who have hurt you.
And boys, if I’ve hurt you, please forgive me, I forgive you for any and all the hurt you’ve caused me.
The whole world is no longer the same. We all heard of the cliche ‘The only constant is change.’ Heraclitus said that, a long time ago. Human beings are stubborn creatures embracing homeostasis long after being stoic means to be dead.
Aikido along with all other marital arts, or contact sports, are forced to change, there is no more choosing or delaying. Change is unceremoniously gate crashing onto us. COVID-19 has made all physical contact near impossible, and as human beings it is near impossible to refrain from physical contact.
What is the new norm?
Honestly I’m not sure. Many Aikidoka suggests we do weapons training, which naturally gives us social distancing, but what about kote gaishi? What about irimi nage? From where I am in Singapore, the authorities has banned groups of more than 5 people. For an Aikido class, that means, the instructor, and 4 other students. Yay…soooo exciting. Other instructors has gone hi-tech, and holds virtual classes, and yet, these are still contactless.
So what happens to the rest of us who are left out?
What happens if we have no access to Zoom, or hates Aikido E-learning?
Or if we are the 6th person?…oops… too bad, next class then!
Does that means that with all my 20 odd years in Aikido is all for nothing?
I’ve been out for Aikido for the past 4 months (or more, lost count!) and many of us has more pressing bread and butter issues to deal with than to think about Aikido training. Many lost their jobs, me included, or worse, lost their loved ones to COVID19, and are constantly fighting a day to day battle to keep themselves upbeat. or just simply pay the bills. The last thing on our mind is training.
So put it plainly, Aikido, is in fact, pretty much useless in this pandemic, Ki cannot fight the corona virus, only our brave healthcare workers can help us with our fight. Honestly, even if O’sensei is alive, I bet he would be at a loss as how to handle this situation. There is simply nothing a martial art system is capable of dealing with this. It is almost like bringing a pen knife to a gun fight. so we all have to heed the advise of medical professionals, be good boys and girls, stay away from physical contact as much as possible, wear a mask, sanitize and keep good personal hygiene. Even O’sensei have to do that, if he is still alive; he is, after all, only human.
The irony is Aikido never left our psyche even when we have other pressing issues to deal with, it is a necessary luxury that keeps us going mad in this crazy time. O’sensei might not have any answer to a COVID19, but he left us with something more valuable, our humanity, in a form known as Aikido.
Practice, practice and practice
While we cannot physically practice, we can still practice the precepts and virtues of Aikido, which is peace, love and harmony. while we cannot enter a physical dojo, we have to enter the dojo in our mind, Aikido is simply an end, we have to find other means to get there.
Similarly in a dojo, where we do not want to wish our uke harm, we have to engage the people around us with peaceful intent. If harm comes our way, we have to engage it constructively, tenkan (転換)-turn away to neutralise the harm, physical or verbal. Or irimi-tenkan-enter and turn, agree to disagree, allow the person to enter and then turn him or her towards a more peaceful and constructive resolution. We must try to change and convert an incendiary situation to something less destructive.
This is difficult for me to do, as I have a critically cynical mind, which I am learning to self-disarm. So I try to practice peace, even more so now when we are faced with Covidiots- who refused to wear a mask in public, and will continue to refuse, no matter what. Remember, it is the virus that’s trying to kill us, not our fellow human beings.
This one is really tough, even in the dojo, when our uke attacks us, do we want to ‘love’ our uke? Not really, our constantly combative mind will want to turn even the most harmonious Aikido waza in to a man-killing, harm neutralizing technique. We constantly think that our uke is the ‘attacker’ and we need to ‘protect’ ourselves from ‘harm’ at all cost, or at least, more harm to the uke than to me? That’s what self defense is, isn’t it?
So the concept of Love in Aikido levels the playing field, the nage and uke are just elements in contact and play, and now that we cannot have contact, we can still play. Love means we need to be less spiteful to someone who do not understand, refuse to understand the seriousness of the matter. Some might even think it is fake news, and some government cockamimi to control us.
Practicing Love in Aikido mean that we look at what matters to us most. Skeptics are skeptics because they fear change, and like to keep to a constant ‘known’ where they can feel safe and secure. In some sense, as Aikidokas, we are also susceptible to becoming a skeptic, so we have to learn to love ourselves, allay that frightened little skeptic in us and find the right answers to help us learn and become more knowledgeable.
We all try to maintain a harmonious aura in the dojo, which is quite easy due to the tight culture in a dojo, there is a sensei, there are senpai(先輩), there are kōhai (後輩), and there is the uniform and the martial arts curriculum, it’s a school afterall and it helps keeps us sane with a structure where we can follow.
The world right now is in a tumultuous stage, and we need all the harmony we can get, and it starts with us. We need to bring our dojo out to the world and understand that, while we learn the Way of Aiki in the dojo, we need to learn the Way of the Virus, Covido, to put a pun in it. The virus is virtually invisible, like ki, if ki is the ‘life-force’; the virus is the ‘death-force’, we can only defeat it by learning more about it. The senseis and senpais are the good people in the medical profession, saving lives while trying to find out more about the virus, and the possible cure. Our kōhai are the people less educated about COVID19, our job is to keep them safe, help them learn about COVID19, like how we are helping them learn Aikido, manyof us turn up in the dojo skeptics and it is our senseis and senpais that helped changed us. We as Aikidokas, or martial arts practitioners let’s bring the harmony we practice in the dojo, out and spread it to the world, which needs it more than ever.
After all these years in Aikido, I’ve had my countless injuries, and thankfully, nothing serious. Sometimes you’ll get injured without knowing why, or how the injury comes about. What’s interesting is that after a while, my body will ‘tell’ me how that injury came about.
One recent muscular pain in my left forearm baffled me. I couldn’t understand where that pain came from. The pain was a deep, dull one but nonetheless, I knew I had somehow injured it.
As I continue with my daily chores, the realisation came to me out of the blue. I must have pulled a muscle doing this stunt.
Which was to me at that time, seems like a kind of fun, but I was putting my entire weight on that arm, and I thought the first thing that should go was my wrist, but it didn’t, it was my forearm that probably got twisted and hyper-extended in a bad way. It’s fine now.
Physical Pain, Mental Answers
Well, one thing I learned these months was that my body, or psyche, can tell me what went wrong, and how I got injured, my mind can do the same thing as well.
It came to my realization one day, that I lacked Self-Compassion. I didn’t know that came from, the message just floated out into my mind and it got stuck. I know I was onto something. Somehow, I was mentally hurt, psychologically maimed and just limping around, pretending everything is fine, or hiding behind a thin vile of pseudo-positivism. Besides, in our society, we need to project happiness, strength, independence and look great not just good on every front.
My Own ‘unbiased’ Self Assessment
While I am an overall nice guy, the one thing that lurks beneath that niceness, was a sense of dark, melancholy brooding. My defense was everyone has a ‘Harvey Two-Face‘ like the character in Batman. We all have a good guy and a bad guy persona. That’s true.
What is also true was that the ‘dark’ side of me was becoming toxic, making me cynical over the good and gloat when things turn bad. It is beginning to taint my ability to interpret reality objectively and tell a more holistic self-narrative. My wife, your mum do tell me that from time to time, but it really takes yourself to know yourself.
I am an A**hole
I used to say that in a jest and shrugged it off nonchalantly. It’s like telling people don’t expect me to be nice and it’s a given if I misbehave! While it was a social defense mechanism, it ultimately worked best against…me. I was giving myself an excuse to be bad, and look at good things as a bonus. While I thought I was being pragmatic and brutally realistic, I didn’t realise that in doing so, I am also missing out the other colours of life.
Self-Narrative: The Good, Bad and the Ugly
Like I said, generally I am a nice guy, and nice things should happen to nice guys right? Wrong.
It’s all the self narrative that I am telling myself in the head, and I realised that I am not giving myself space to just be. It was always something about ROI-Return on Investment, or Cost Benefit Analysis, or something of a quid pro quo. There’s always a condition, a cause and effect. Something’s gotta give, oh yeah, there’s karma, BIATCH! Being a working adult, you’re always looking at dollars and cents, cost-centre, profit centre and all that. My self narrative keeps telling me to be productive, effective and efficient, and I get wound up tighter and tighter and I turned into this uptight, cynical, often hypocritical person who cannot see the good, bad and the ugly as it is. There is always a value adding and it’s getting heavier and heavier.
Why are you so hard on yourself?
I’m not sure how it began but I guess the current cruel and harsh reality really began to wear me down, mentally, emotionally and psychologically. There’s really nothing good in the news these days, and really nothing productive or positive about the COVID-19 era. It is as bleak and dreary as I can imagine. Everyone’s down and there is no way to fake it, there is nothing upbeat to look forward to.
Then one day, I felt this thought floated up, that I am very hard on myself for reasons I cannot really put my finger to. That sub-conscious thought of constantly comparing and measuring myself against this and against that. There is always something external which I can match with my internal psyche, and after all the measurement, and keeping up with the Jones, I realised that it is all crap.
Then the word Compassion came about.
(This is where I stopped typing…to contemplate the word C-O-M-P-A-S-S-I-O-N)
okay, let’s get back to it… 🙂
In all true sense, there is nothing wrong with my life, sure there are ups and downs, and right now, I’m actually at the down…though in reality, I’m not in a crazy free falling down. It’s a controlled descend and I have whatever in me to stop the descend and climb back up when the time is right. I am fine, really, really fine, and I’m only lousy from all these past bad shit that has happened to me, but it isn’t happening to me now. I’m just bracing myself for bad shit to happen, and in bracing myself, I’m unable to relax and stay open to how life really is, happening.
Thinking about compassion helps me control my sense of helplessness. The internal dialogue in me started to change, it is no longer performance driven, it’s just performing, nevermind the outcome, we can fix that when it happens. It’s about being present and not let a past historical story about the poor sad sorry me get in the way of what is really happening now. I’m still a realist, and being compassionate helps me become more grounded, without the extra historical backstory and baggage, sure they are there, but they stay where they are, in the past. I only use it as a reference point, and not a paint to ruin my ability to see things as it is.
Being Kinder, Not One Kind
It is a more forgiving dialogue, and thinking about giving myself compassion, lets me be me. I’m kinder to myself, and when that takes place, I interprets the world in a kinder manner, and when the cold harsh truth comes, I didn’t get as defensive as before, or let my old angsty story gets in the way and put a scowl on my face.
Being prepared for the eventuality-Death
As I’ve mentioned in my previous post- Death, I had this epiphany that we’re all here on borrowed time, and unfortunately for me, I interpreted the message wrongly. I looked at it with trepidation and bleakness. It’s a simple fallacy of ‘why try when we’re gonna die anyway?’ I lacked the compassion, guidance and wisdom to see the message in a more positive light. All I saw was the end, and nothing more, just waiting, waiting for expiration.
It’s not a Race! Give some Space!
There is no guessing, we are all gonna die, and I thought I was kind of a special to have that sort of death vision and qualifies me to be a little wiser and more introspective than the general population, and of course I wasn’t, I was just outsmarting the person I am meant to be.
We all need space, mental space and physical space, and personally for me, compassion gives me my space. Internally, I am able to tell myself it is okay to f**k up for the umpteenth time, as long as it doesn’t kills me! I can always try again, and succeed at my own time and place. When I do, there is no need for public triumph, just an inner contention that it is what it really is, nothing more, nothing less, because the ultimate success we can find is our ability to stop hurting and start healing ourselves.