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.
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.
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.
Ian bellowed across the supermarket aisle at the frozen section.
Sometimes it is not the best way to tell people about your serendipitous wealth.
The Law of Finder’s Keepers.
Your mum told me about something like this when she was about 5, your little brother’s age. She was with her mum, on a Sunday going to the market, her mum was walking in front, when your mum was blocked by a $50 note lying on the ground in front of her.
She too shouted for her mum. This time she said: “There’s a $50 on the ground!” repeatedly, whilst her mum was gesturing repeatedly at her to pick it up and shut her gap.
She did, pick up the wet note and her mum took it away from her.
That was her.
For us, I saw the lonely $2 on the floor, unbelievably, no one saw it, and it is not as if the aisle is vacated. I walked a pick it up and kept it, of course. But not without Ian telling the whole world your dad’s keeps.
Well, boys, it isn’t the easiest thing to do as to explain the law of such finds. I mean, what is someone walks up and say, hey that is my $2! What can I say? What can you say?
This is one of life’s grey area, there is no right no wrong to it, but you cannot simply just leave the $2 buck on the floor! If you don’t pick it up, someone else would and guess what, finders, keepers!
Netflix is fine, as long as it is the last thing on your task.
As we draw closer to the end of 2022, there are still a few things on our plate to complete, for Wayne, it will be his final year exams. For you Ian, well, you have an uphill task ahead as well.
Despite of these big hurdles looming, I come home one day to see both of you on Netflix.
Since the both of you are already of age, I cannot kick anymore sense into the both of you, except to urge action.
What did Newton says about action? Or was it motion?
An object at rest remains at rest, and an object in motion remains in motion at constant speed and in a straight line unless acted on by an unbalanced force.
That leads us into this interesting thing about human dynamics
Humans or anything organic for that matter, does not stay still. Everything in this world is constantly in a flux, whether you see if or you don’t. Things are constantly moving, changing, evolving, and growing. There is always action, somewhere, somehow. Nothing is fully ‘at rest’.
What happens when you don’t move? You decline. You wilt.
That’s why your dad is constantly exercising, moving and getting some activity, any opportunity given. If I can sneak a 20-lap swim during my lunch time, I would; if the distance is not too big, I’d cycle to work, and I’m doing that twice a week. Aikido every Monday. Anything just to move, because if I don’t I know my bodily woes will catch up. I will fall ill, I get hurt and won’t heal so quickly. Mentally I won’t be ship shape, its a gradual downhill that will lead to an uncontrolled free fall.
Atrophy happens if you do not stay active and stay in motion.
Even if we constantly stay in motion, we stay constant, and consistent, then we are doing the bare minimum, keeping our lives happily humming along. Everything is find and dandy, watch Netflix all day and nothing will happen, sun rise, sun set. Things stays in equilibrium.
That’s where we plateau, on this large flat featureless surface, where nothing is challenging and nothing is challenged. It’s a pleasant plain vanilla where you just watch the clouds go by. You won’t degrade, but you won’t progress as well.
Just a word of caution, life eventually catches up and one fine day your homeostasis might lead to atrophy even before you can say Oops!
This is where fear, unknown, trepidation, round-the-corner monster, resides. If you can constantly challenge yourself and find a higher calling, you will look up and you will climb. Hopefully you have seen what your better self can achieve and aim for it.
Growth is not about ‘constant motion’, it is about deliberate, activated additional actions, decisions, planning and go-getting. It is tiring, takes effort and sometimes, you fail, plans goes south. Murphy’s Law comes to play.
You boys have strived and achieved goals before, not big goals but goals you both can be personally proud of, you own personal bragging rights. Use these achievements to build your confidence on, and climb. Small wins leads to big wins.
That’s life’s non-negotiable fact, you don’t climb, you’ll stay still, and if you stay still long enough, you’ll slide back, and once that happens un-arrested, then good luck, you’ll hit the infinite bottom and the climb back up is going to be another hell of a story to tell. I hope we don’t have to tell that kind of story.
Life’s like riding a bicycle
This is very much a cliché but it is true, you stop cycling, you fall off your bicycle, it is, really as simple as that, so please, for your own excellence and growth, never stop hustling,pedaling, grinding and striving.
Last week, we did a technique, Ryo Katatedori Kokyunage. It started out as a simple technique and to add in some difficulty, I decided to apply the ‘unbendable’ arm as an uke so that the nage can have an increased level of challenge.
Mingjie, as the nage, couldn’t do it, so I switched role and be the nage, and he did what I did, using the ‘unbendable’ arm, and I couldn’t do it. No matter how hard I try, Turns out, that method of kokyunage, is ineffective.
It does bugs me a bit, but I have long said, I am not perfect, and some of techniques I do will fail, as it has many times, but this time it makes me think deeper. Perhaps the label as a ‘sensei’ comes with the expectations for me to be able to do every technique, or teach, overcome roadblock or barrier. I couldn’t.
That is a reality check for everyone, particularly myself, of course my ego was bruised.
More than that, this inability exposes my learning path, which I must overcome.
There is 2 ways to look at this inability.
1- I have not attain the level of proficiency to do this technique, hence this technique is more advanced and beyond my current abilities. Harry sensei can do it, and of course, he comes with many more decades of experience.
2- This technique is ineffective. Try as hard as I could, I cannot make it work, Mingjie couldn’t make it work, Choi tried and couldn’t make it work, and checking YouTube, nobody does it the way we did it on the mat that evening.
That is of course not a exhaustive list and perhaps Harry sensei could because this was within his technical ability, or we have been charitable as ukes. Or it is really not an effective way to do it.
It bugs me because, I have seen this level of incompetence before, in me. There were some technique I couldn’t do in the past, I could now. There are things I didn’t understand in the past, I made an effort to learn and now I possess the knowledge to certain subject matter to hold a conversation.
While I was compelled to write this off as an ineffective technique, the stronger compulsion was to dig deeper and…
Investigate, Probe, Learn, Explore, Discover
It can be so disappointing to those on the mat to see me fail, well, I did. and I explained to the rest that hey, I do fail. and we need to learn from it. the Dojo is a place to learn, and we will fumble, and have our incompetency exposed. It is fine for me, as taking a class is not a performance, I do not expect myself to conduct a ‘perfect’ class. There is no such thing.
Every time we come for class, even as an ‘instructor’ I also learn and at a very different level. While I want to instruct, there are times I couldn’t. Of course the students pay money to have the best possible instructorship, I hope they can also lean something when this instructor fails. I have no intentions to hide my failures, using excuses or some lame justifications. I’m not competent about it, and I am not shy about it either, the only way to overcome it is to train harder, investigate into the whys.
The good thing is Mingjie is on the mat every Monday, and I have to opportunity to work this with him, until we both learn to overcome this, together.
One thing we learned in our planning is that we need a lot of communication, constant talk, and making sure that we communicate our expectations, goals, obstacles, challenges, adversaries and friends. This kind of communication is important all round, because it helps you keep close, tactical, on the ground tab on what is happening and if you would be able to meet your goals as planned.
This communication is starts with yourself!
Self talk has a lot of taboo. People thinks that people who talks to themselves, sometimes a bit too loudly, are crazy people. Well, your dad is one of those crazy people. When I was younger, I would break out into a crazy dance when I’m in the mood with a song.
Then again, I learned that self talk can bring out a different creature in you!
I used to scold myself, and belittle myself, with a lot of profanities and vulgarities. Constantly playing the role of a ‘Drill Sergeant’ to myself, nothing I did for myself was good enough, and everything I did was bad enough for a string of profanities, all aimed at myself.
Then as I grew older, I learned to love myself more, accept me for who I am and the things I can do and cannot do. Well you call that maturity, I call that meeting reality once too many times!
The bottom line is this, you have to have constant objective feedback to yourself, is your plans working, is your goals achievable and is what you are currently doing helping you work your ways towards your goals? you have a chance to learn and get exposed to many things I only learned in my twenties. You have a head start, and you need to tell yourself that you have an advantage over your dad’s generation and you need to work hard to make sure that you use that edge!
Please talk to yourself more, make yourself your own best friend, and learn to negotiate with your own expectations. And make sure that you talk to yourself in the best possible language.
In the constantly changing Singapore landscape, another one of your dad’s past has bitten the dust, literally.
I grew up at this address: Blk 49 Bedok South Ave 3, 11-220 Singapore 1646, until my parents divorced back in the early 1990s. This address holds a lot of fond (and not-so-fond) memories, nonetheless, it has nostalgic values to me.
This plot of land certainly holds no nostalgia to the Singapore government as they finally figured out what they want to do with the whole place. While I didn’t track the progress, Google map showed the place was in the process of being torn down back in Aug 2021.
I’m not sure what is the grand scheme of things in the Government’s playbook for this place, but I’m glad I captured some memories back in 2009 and 2018.
Back in 2009, it was already a kind of laid back, old neighborhood feel, there is still a people staying there, and it felt like it will stay like this forever, albeit the place getting quite staid and stagnant.
There is certainly a deep sense of memory for me, lots of childhood experiences there, of course my friends and classmate were all around the neighborhood. I went to the nearby school Bedok View Secondary School for 2 years before I dropped out. By 15 years of age, I have to grow up real fast, that’s a story for another time.
There was however, a different fate planned for my Block 49, as the place was barricaded as if the end is near. I couldn’t go up the block, so I went to Block 47 instead to take some pictures. While Block 49 was completely vacant, and locked out. I could still go up Block 47 and took some pictures.
Of course such skyline picture no longer exists, as the whole estate is now nothing but a flat grass field.
I chance upon a visit back in 2018, again for reasons I cannot remember, and the whole place seems to come to life again, as the government has rented the place out for foreigners to stay. Even my Block 49 was open for residency.
There’s some sense of life, and perhaps the place has found new uses.
The street Directory view 2001, 2007 and 2022
As you can see from the 3 copies of Street Directories, they whole estate Blk 45, 46, 47, 48, 49 and 50 was still around back in 2001, still there in 2007. Bedok View Primary School in 2011, which I attended from Primary 4 to Primary 6 was still around as well, but come 2007, my primary school disappeared, the blocks are still there. But come 2022, my former primary school has been repurposed to become APSN (Association for Persons with Special Needs) school; and all the blocks are gone.
This is just and empty field.
Gone are any semblance or trace of my old estate, not a single shred of evidence that many families was raised there, people lived and died, grown up, or grown away. All the carparks, old rain trees, jogging tracks and shelters are gone.
All that remains is my fickle memories to hold on and tell stories about my life when there was still Blk 49, Bedok South Ave 3, #11-220 Singapore 1646
I wanted to write about this because one evening, we were talking, and Wayne said ‘Tomorrow is going to be a good day.’ Yet, knowing him, there is always a caveat.
Of course during the day, somethings might turn up, screw up our ‘good day’. We might meet an obnoxious person who piss us off, and mess up our ‘good day’. We might get our results back to find out that it is a ‘fail’, that is not going to be a good day.
It is all in the perspective, boys. What we focus on gets magnified. even things we ‘don’t want’. This is the classic law of attraction, and it has happened to me so many times. especially when I’m riding trails, the more you tell yourself, ‘don’t slam into that tree, don’t slam into that tree, don’t slam into that tree,’ what happens, you end up slamming into the tree!
So I will train myself to look ahead and plan the route to take, usually it is quite a successful endeavor but being on a mountain biking trail is anything but predictable neither ‘successful’.
Law of attraction
Which is why we need to be very conscious about what we think about. It’s fine to say ‘Tomorrow is going to be a good day.’ and leave it as that. BUT, adding, ‘I hope nothing bad is going to happen!’, and you can be sure something ‘bad’ will happen and you will be fixated over it instead of what other good stuff that has happened.
It will happen especially when we don’t want something. The more we don’t want, the more we select reasons to justify our don’t want-ness, and we look around for more situations to put ourselves in, just to say: ‘You see lah, everytime like this one! I always get what I don’t want!” Just truly and earnestly think about what you want then, and let the magic happens!
Boxing yourself in thinking about dying.
Wayne, there was a period of time when the argument or scolding isn’t going your way, you will think of dying. or killing yourself.
So during one of those heated scolding, you brought this up again, as you sense that you are cornered, boxed in and everything is your fault. So you say that you might as well kill yourself. And I gladly entertained that thought, let go into killing ourselves. We imagined a few scenarios, how sad we will feel if you die, and how people needs tremendous amount of energy, focus and will power just to kill themselves, or throw themselves off a building. Why not, focus all that energy, on being good? Save yourself and not kill yourself?
We explored focusing on living, the wonderful gift of having a chance to better ourselves, despite of making mistakes, despite of losing, despite of looking stupid, we have life and another chance to try again. By focusing on death, once you are dead, you are dead, there is no more chance to try again, make a better day, or simply enjoy being loved by your brother, mom and dad. No more mummy tiger to hug, or smell patchie boy again.
The elephant in the room
It is a taboo, I want to address it with you boys, while we grow up, we need to be very careful what thoughts we bring into our mind. Some of these thoughts, we brought them in, some others, people planted it there. So by talking about death and suicide, we properly addressed the matter instead of treating it like a taboo, because the more we don’t want to talk about it, the more it will surface and the larger it will become, so much so that it will be too powerless for us to talk about it. So now we got such zero sum game out of our mind, we can focus on growth, focus on the good day, magnify the awesome, and build on the phenomenal.
Our negativities will not go away, being upbeat and cheery isn’t a façade, thinking and focusing on good stuffs means when we are hit with bad stuff, we know how go to a resourceful and open state to handle a rough patch well and emerge from such episodes no worse for wear.