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.
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.
We were undecided about going for a holiday for last year’s December holidays. Firstly, Ian has already gone to Japan for his school’s learning journey, and I was planning a trip to Japan this year, 2020 for the IAF, International Aikido Federation meet, happening once every 4 years. The last time I was in Japan was back in 2000, it would be an epic journey for me to return after 20 years.
Your mum told me that if we were to plan for a December holiday, I will have to scrap my trip, money’s (or the lack of it) is the issue. We decided to go ahead with a short getaway so that Wayne will not feel FOMO, now that his big brother had an awesome trip with his school to Japan. Besides, I decided to YOLO, as we will never know what will happen in 2020 (look what happened!!), we’ll cross the bridge when we get there, if I get to go to IAF2020, it’s be great; if I don’t get to go, at least my kids and wife gets to go on a holiday in December 2019. So we made some plans and calculations and ended up going to Desaru, Hard Rock Hotel, which was an awesome trip, no regrets there.
We had a good time there, and I’m thankful we went; because COVID19 happened.
Travelling will no longer be the same
I was just thinking about it while I was cleaning the toilet, it was a good call to go. Now that the new COVID19 world, global travelling will be severely curtailed, and we can only reminiscence the good ‘ol days, where we went here and there.
Oh, my solo IAF trip shelved as well, as most event and meets worldwide are put on cold storage, anyway the Olympics 2020 was pushed forward to 2021 too.
Travelers worldwide will have to take stock of how to restart the holiday business again. We may be able to travel and visit places, but I don’t think it will be with great ease like before.
So I’m really glad Desaru happened in December 2019, as this year, I don’t think the world have a solution to deal with COVID19 yet, and so holidays are going to be holidays at home. We can only look at the videos and photographs we have on our trips.
Saving Money and Spending Money
While we do make plans to save and it is important to do so, we were glad that you boys enjoyed your fair share of travelling, taking planes, flying here and there. We want you boys to have beautiful memories of the places you’ve been as a family as as brothers, these are shared experiences that build the bonds you both will have that will carry through thick and thin.
We could have been stingy and saved every penny for a great big trip, something epic, and once-in-a-lifetime, for example my IAF2020 trip, but all that saving is sort of in vain, now that this global phenomenon is upon us, we cannot travel like before, even if we have tonnes of money.
It’s a balance, and YOLO (You Only Live Once) is an acronym used to describe The Millennials and their lifestyle, spending like crazy, living just for today (Live Once), and not worrying about tomorrow, not saving a cent for rainy days. As parents we do worry about your tomorrow and I feel that your mum and I managed to achieve a good YOLO for you boys, we don’t spend like there is no tomorrow, and yet we don’t save like misers, making you boys FOMO all the world-travelling fun. Now with the new COVID19 world, we will really FOMO some things we’ve done in the past, and take for granted. And I’m glad we had our share of fond memories.
COVID19is a seemingly invincible and invisible killer putting the entire world in fear.
Aikido, like many other martial arts and sports, requires close contact, and a lot of dojos out there are closed, to avoid unwittingly infecting other people and of course, honour Social, Safe Distancing in a bid to slow the spread of this deadly virus.
Here’s my take.
STAY AT HOME, DO NOT GO TO THE DOJO
YOU WILL NOT DIE NOT PRACTICING AIKIDO,
BUT YOU WILL KILL SOMEONE WITH COVID19 GOING TO THE DOJO
Bullshitdo- not Aikido
There are some Aikido practitioners out there thinking that they can be brave, not fear the COVID19, and continue to practice Aikido, when in reality they are practicing a true form of Bullshitdo, the fallacy of invincibility.
These folks think that they are somehow immune to the virus, a delusional ‘not me!’ thinking. It’s similar to sexually promiscuous men thinking that they won’t get STD from unprotected sexual intercourse and when they do, they feigned surprise and suddenly feels vulnerable; and stupid.
Dear Aikidokas out there, please don’t be stupid, because if you do and you get the COVID19, you can become a silent carrier, as many of the COVID19 patients do not develop symptoms, and you can bring the virus back home and spread it to others who are more vulnerable, loved ones like your elderly grandpa, or your dad, or your baby sister.
As long as you have the COVID19- and you touch someone, someone will die, do you want to live with that your entire life?
It is a VIRUS
Please don’t think that some mysterious ‘ki’ can protect you from it. It is a VIRUS, it kills, as long as it is able to, and it has shown to be a very competent killer. Your knowledge of Aikido, ki or other martial arts is virtually useless protecting you from it, you get it, you get it, you die, that’s it. It’s non-negotiable, end of the story.
There is no known vaccine against it so the only defense is, defense. You cannot go out there, continue to socialise and thinking that having a kind of ‘herd immunity’ can help protect you from it. There is no Herd Immunity, only mass deaths, please don’t become another statistics.
COVID19 has no agenda, no plan other than to continue surviving. It will kill any highly skilled Aikidoka, as much as any Special Forces soldier, it will kill as long as it can have a host to kill. It will kill as long as there is contact, close proximity between a COVID19 carrier and another victim. No amount of love, peace and harmony of Aikido can stop this spread, if you continue to go to the dojo and hold people’s hands.
DOJO- the perfect breeding place
Earlier on this year while the virus was still developing, I too, was one of those stubborn ones, thinking that ‘hey, I was still training when SARS hit.’ ‘I was still training when H1N1 hits.’ I was in the thinking that ‘It won’t happen to me.’
In Aikido and in many other contact sports, we all continue to train when we have some minor colds, fever and all, sniffy noses where we will wipe the mucus off our sleeves and continue training. Personal hygiene was never top of the agenda, blood, sweat, mucus, body fluids of all sorts are freely exchanged, and everyone went home okay.
This time, it is different as the situation is highly unpredictable and COVID19 is a cunning killer, as mentioned, you can be a silent carrier, and bring death to your fellow Aikidoka, without you even knowing it, until it is too late.
Some Aikidokas continue to practice using surgical masks, and thinking that a policy of using hand sanitizers will help mitigate the risk of infections in the dojo. It doesn’t. You can wear a mask to cover your mouth, your noses. You’ll rub you eye, you sweat, our skin have pores, we human beings are a bunch of badly designed, porous, poorly ventilated organism. Unless you can train in a HAZMAT suit, don’t bother turning up.
Our Dojo is close for the entire month of April 2020.
It’s quite a bummer not able to train, but we know the situation is much bigger than all of us. We are a close knitted group of Aikidokas and we are all a bunch socially responsible folks, one of my Aikidoka friend decided to self impose her own distancing for 2 weeks as she was nursing a cold.
But fact of the matter is, COVID19 still don’t care, it is capable of staying in the shadows, and strike when least expected. Our sensei is into his eighties and to continue training will put him as well as others at risk, we love our sensei and granted the current situation, let distance makes our Aikido-heart grows fonder, instead of coming together and risk killing our fellow Aikidokas.
By the way, if you think you are still so invincible, go visit your nearest hospital, get yourself infect with COVID19 and see if your Aikido skills is any good getting you cured. If not, you’ll become another burden to the already stretched medical services, so do everyone a favour, stay at home or stay in a hospital, and then stay in a photo frame!
This conversation will never cease, and probably I’m just adding to the fray.
I’ve asked myself such questions from time to time to make sure that my knowledge and understanding stays relevant. It is important for me to do that so I don;t begin to assume things, and become dogmatic in thinking, at the same time I need to see how the art can evolve or become ‘bastardized’ into something else, not Aikido, yet called Aikido.
So what is Aikido?
There are plenty of explanation out there, for me I prefer the more traditional one. As long as you practice a style with a specific lineage, and belongs to some major school of Aikido style then, yes, you are practicing Aikido.
Most of the Aikido practitioners have a sensei and their sensei has a sensei, so on and so forth. You can basically trace a source back a couple of down lines to where your Aikido style comes from.
It is getting more difficult these days, when dojos are sprouting out faster than a 7-Eleven can, so tracing a linage can be a problem.
What is NOT Aikido
This is a huge grey area, as Aikido is such an open art with a very open interpretations. There are many variations of the art, as many of the masters tends to explain the mysterious ‘ki’ in their own way according to their own experience and interpretations. Many of these so called masters trained narrowly and the only training partners they faced are those limited in their dojo.
Some others might like to hijack ‘Aikido’ as a brand name and use it to define their own arts, there could be some vague resemblance to the traditional mainstream Aikido style, but these folks try to differentiate themselves by wearing an all black Gi, or have some fancy, aggressive, and dynamic looking logo, of a skull, fist or something else.
Since there is no copyright doe ‘Aikido’ as a brand, there is no way to control it. what I’m saying isn’t about control, it is about the ability to discern ‘not Aikido’ style from ‘Aikido’ style. And it is not a problem unique to Aikido. As of today, there are many Shaolin schools that teaches ‘authentic’ Shaolin kungfu, where there is actually only one place to learn Shaolin Kungfu, which is the one and only Shaolin Temple.
Me-Too Marital Arts
This points to the popularity of these martial arts so much so people what to copy it, so that they can get something out of it, be it money, or fame. These me-too martial arts while cashing in by attaching themselves to these arts, can mislead students and the general public about what these arts are.
While I welcome the evolution of Aikido, with newer understandings and emerging variations, hijacking the name Aikido, just because someone knows an Ikkyo or two, or have taken a brief class in Aikido, mixed in with Systema, and some other arts, and for a lack of a better name, decides to call it ‘Aikido’. That is something not so welcomed.
I did MMA many years back with a very good school Fight G. I think it was for 3 months, once or twice a week.
It was in one of those training sessions that I realised Aikido has a value in MMA, although more often than not, using Aikido specifically to win an MMA bout would be next to impossible, well that is my opinion.
I was on the ground with this guy, or rather, he was on the ground and I was up. In terms of MMA, we were both kind of a novice. In terms of martial arts, I can tell, he has little or no prior martial arts experience.
He was a fit guy, but while we sparred, I got the better part of it, and started my ‘ground and pound’, and out of instinct, he grabbed my wrist. It was more like a ‘Gyaku Hanmi’, opposite hand grab.
That sets it up nicely for a nikyō, The MMA gloves was thick, but I knew I got the lock, and began to apply pressure. The poor guy, probably pumped up with adrenaline, has no idea what is his predicament, with his free hand, he tried to make something out of it, but it was in vain.
I applied pressure, the lock was there, but I decided to let it go. I would have severely injure him, had I continue.
That incident never left my mind.
The martial arts world is wide, there are many many moves out there that we have never heard of, or even think was possible.
Catching that guy in a nikyō, in an MMA training taught me that anything can happen in a fight. Aikido locks are almost never taught in MMA, and when someone in MMA encounters such a lock, or pin, they usually have no response or reaction to it. Which is a dangerous indication that the training has gone past the learning stage, right into dogmatism.
Letting it go
I let the lock go partly also because we are all kind of a recreational MMA students, we are not fighting for keeps. The guy was like me, just going there for ‘fun’, imagine, going home with a broken wrist, or worse, a wrist that is permanently broken. That would have been on my conscience for the rest of my life. It was just practice, so let’s not injure each other with malice.
The greatest thing you can do in a dojo, any dojo, is to observe, observe and observe.
It is not just observing the sensei, which is the obvious thing to do, we, as students have to observe one another, and if your dojo happens to have a full length, and breath worth of mirrors, good for you. But you cannot be looking at the mirror, while you do your waza, right?
So the next best thing is to observe each other, other than the sensei.
There are many good and not so good things we can learn from observing one another. After all, we are all humans and are endowed with the same bunch of tools, hands, legs, hips, spine and all, so geometrically most of us move in the same way, most of us do irimi nage the same way, and if we observe carefully, we will notice we all makes the same mistakes, the same way.
Same same but different
Well, other than observing the similarities, right and wrong way of doing things, we have to look out for some of the different ways we do things. Some of us while trying to follow sensei faithfully, but we always have our own interpretation of what we see and our actions is never 100% accurate. We are not machines.
So we need to see with our own eyes, how our training partners move, and why they move the way they move.
Recently, I’ve been kind of obsessed with observing my fellow Aikidokas in the dojo, I will stare and stare at how my partners move, and try to understand their physical interpretation of sensei’s techniques.
I want to observe until the observer melts away and while that is not always successful as there is a critical part of me remains while I looked at my partner’s techniques. Why is he/she moving like that? And why is he not able to see his own mistakes? Why is his/her circle smaller than necessary, so much so the uke can stop him/her?
Call it nit-picking but that is what we need to do for each other when we are on the mat. We have to help each other be our own worst or best critic, depends on how you look at it, and in doing so, helps us correct what we cannot see.
It is also perhaps my own personal way of getting back to basics. Remember when we were all white belts and coming to the dojo is a matter of monkey see, monkey do? We as beginners, will not be able to understand the intricate whys, hows, or the rights and the wrongs.
By observing intensely how my fellow Aikidokas work, I am trying to deplete myself of the self, and understand Aikido at a fundamental level. While we all want to critic, and point out what is wrong with who’s technique, it really takes an open mind and heart to drop all that opinion and just observe.
Sometimes I succeed in that, often I don’t. It’s a habit of mind, to make distinction so as to justify our ‘self’. It is a wonderful feeling in those rare times where my monkey mind can silence itself and just move with what I’ve observed.
Aikido in Singapore has evolved since the first day I joined more than 20 years ago.
For the most part, it has made the Aikido ecosystem very vibrant and multi-faceted. As there is no one fixed way to climb the Aikido mountain, these schools gives Aikido students a plethora of ways to experience the art and find the teacher that most suit their personality and timing.
The list is in no way exhaustive as there are Aikidokas giving lessons on a free-lance basis. These listed organisations has their own stable dojo, training facilities and followed a structured martial arts curriculum.
Disclaimer: These information was complied off a Google, a public domain; based on the information on the school’s respective website. Please inform me of any errors and clarifications, and I’ll correct them soonest.
Two days back, there’s the annual Inter-University Aikido training at NUS and you will get to train with a lot of new folks from other universities, as well as bumping up with a lot of old pals, chronologically these pals are still significantly younger than me, so the ‘old’ in the pals here, refers to them as familiar faces from other university dojo.
For an Ikkyo-omote waza, I paired up with this petite girl from Singapore Management University. Harry sensei was showing a kind of a leading hand technique which will be quite technically difficult if there is no blending.
With this girl, there is no blending.
She was asking me if she was doing it correctly, and I replied. ‘Wait, there’s a problem I need to sort out.’
One of us is too hard and one of us has to soften.
No prize for getting the right answer.
Anyway it is not a matter of ‘seniority’ or ‘superior’ skills. She’s quite hard, and there’s no way that I can make her follow my leading hand, it’s a slippery fish analogy, the hard I try, the worse it becomes and eventually, both of us will walk away unable to execute the technique nicely.
So I soften, and try to blend; it was still awkward for a few cycles, then I caught her vibe and rhythm, and the technique begins to work. As a nage, she was quite hard and linear which is not what Harry sensei wanted us to do, nonetheless, I followed and let her leading hand, lead.
When it was her turn to be uke, she couldn’t follow, too hard.
So I soften some more and things begin to work, I could lead and she could follow.
And eventually we managed to get along with the technique, and enjoyed the session.
It was a problem
After class she came to me and we chatted a bit, and I found out her name was ‘Shuling’, so I asked her if she’d figured out the problem, she admitted that she’s too hard.
To make a fair argument, that’s life. She is not ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ being hard, neither am I the ‘better’ one being soft, I just want the technique to work, and the technique not working is a problem I need to fix with her. It is not a competition to see who is better than who. Which is why there is no element of competition in Aikido. We want to work with people, and make the situation work, so in order to work with people and get the best out of a situation, we open up, soften our stances and try to understand the other party, and help the other party open up as well.
We try to understand how our partner works, and help them help us. In a myopic spirit of competitiveness, we try to understand our partners, so that we can exploit them, and their weakness, so that we can win, the competition, the medal, the glory. What and who did we end up destroying, for us to become a champion?
Every time we partner someone, we have to calibrate our synchronicity, no two person is the same at any given time. Every touch point is unique and very much one in a gazillion event of a lifetime. It is a very precious connection and it is also a problem, because even with familiarity, it doesn’t always works. Even those Aikido friends’ I’ve been training with for years, I mentally prepare to meet them for the first time, every time. That’s beginner’s mind for me.
We can never fully understand our partner. In an Aikido context, how Shuling worked is only one part of the equation. Of course, I being more senior to her allows me the luxury of choice; to slow things down, soften and go along for the ride. I could have bumped into a chap more senior than me who is oblivious to how skillful he or she is, in that aspect, I as the uke/nage, too have to blend, in a soft way in a hard way, depends on the partner you got.
So we have to solve that working problem, and the technique can be the killer breaking up the work, or the technique can be one that brings two differing people together. One has to back down so that another one can step up, and once that person has stepped up, he or she can help the other one who backed down in the first place. So this is Aikido in a back and forth movement, nobody wins, but everyone one wins big. If you compete, there can be one winner, with a bigger problem. Isn’t it a better idea if everyone comes together, forget about the competition, solve the problem and win bigger?
You can’t choose your partner
Well, actually you can, but you have to wait your turn. I told Shuling that the dojo mimics life. How many of us has friends who became not friends, and our ‘enemies’ coming to our aid? Sometimes, as much as we mentally choose our partner, it is also a kind of cosmic fate that chooses our partner for us, and who we end up with is who we need to blend with, hard or soft, it all boils down to how hard and how much you treasure that brief fart of a connection you have with your training partner.
It might not be much, but that’s all we’ve got to give.