theaikidad

Aikido, Parenting and Everything in Between

Talk to the Hand!

Talk to the Hand!

Harry sensei is very particular with how your hands ‘should’ be. Can anyone guess which is the ‘right’ kind of open hand for practising Aikido?

There is no wrong or right answer, some schools teaches this some school teaches that, but Harry sensei is very specific and often nagged at us for going into our default hand.

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Default hand

He says that the ‘default hand’ is soft, and while he didn’t say that it is ‘wrong’ he did say that ki cannot flow. it will be stuck at the palms, or worse, wrist, elbow or shoulder. This is soft, and he doesn’t want soft aikido. Soft aikido has no life.

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Aikido hand

Harry sensei constantly reminds us to keep our hands extended and relaxed, like pictured above. He says this way, the hand is extended ki can flow underneath the pinky. such hands is not ‘stuck’ nor it is soft, but when we encounter a partner who gripped our hands tight, the tension in the grip around the wrist will cause the ligaments and muscles inside to get pulled and close the palm. Hence focus on keep the palms open and extended helps us counter that collapse and open the wrists to movement and oppose the constriction.

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Fingers will start to curl under a tight grip

While there is no scientific proof that opening the hands like how Harry sensei suggested can improve ‘ki’ flow, he has however demonstrated in every lesson how he can displace a younger stronger person. simply by opening the hand.

He says he walks like that too, with the hands extended and like us, he sometimes forgets and goes into the default hand.

Different dojo teaches different ways of extension and how your hands should open, some may not find it effective doing what Harry sensei suggested, but it is a way he has discovered that allows him to train and still consistently displace his students.

While I am still on the way to discovering my own Aikido journey, there are certain truths to Harry sensei’s way of open hand. With his teaching on how the hand should be held open, I am able to extend and displace my partners, and not just get stuck at the point of the grasp.

United we Stand, Divided we Fall

Harry sensei also advise against us, opening out our palms like that. He wants us to keep all the fingers close, like sticking together, instead of spreading them apart, where the ki will dissipate into 5 different directions. He often says ‘United we stand, divided we fall’. as an analogy to explain why we need to keep the fingers together.

Ki as a water hose

He explained that ki is like a water hose that flows out from our hands, and not having the correct hand extension, restricts the ki at a specific spot, the wrist, elbows or even the shoulders. Proper extension would mean that you can extend beyond the physical limits of your hands. Improper extension, he describes as a runaway hose, out of control, spraying water all over the place.

We all need to bring that hose into our control and that can only be done by understanding ki flows from the under hand, through the pinky.

Hitchhiking

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Hitchhiking thumb

Of  course that is not the only way, he has also shown the hitchhiking hand gesture. And used the thumb to stab towards the direction he wants to go. He is able to direct the energy through his fingers and you will follow, holding his hands, going wherever he wants you to go, and more often the trip ends up with me on the mat.

 

 His logic of explaining direction and ki flow is quite normal and seems like an everyday thing. However in the dojo, in practice we all seem to be caught up in the habit of overdoing it, and making things worse, instead of simply listening to his instructions.

 

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One on One-An Interview

I still keep this little black magazine commemorating the 15th Anniversary of Aikikai(Singapore) dated 18th September 1995, which I guess was about the time I started Aikido.

This is an interview with Harry Sensei, typed out word for word, in true fidelity.

“One on One -An Interview with Harry Ng Sensei, Chief Instructor, Aikikai (Singapore)”

Q- Sensei, how long have you been practising Aikido?

A: I started when I was twenty-two or twenty-three, so it must be more than thirty years by now. In the early 1960’s I used to practice 3-4 hrs a day. That went on for about 4 years.

Q- How did you get started in Aikido?

A: During those days, I used to go down to the Orchard Road YMCA to exercise. One day I saw an Aikido demonstration by the founder of Aikido Singapore, Nagazono Sensei, and became interested in it. In those days, it was not very popular, and moreover you needed a recommendation from someone to join Aikido. the membership was low, but the fees were high! We paid about $25 and there was a certain period when we paid about $60 per month, and in the 1960’s that was a lot of money! Many members came and went, but only those who loved Aikido stayed on.

Q- Sensei, what are your thoughts on the growth of Aikido since then? Are there any differences in the students of today as compared to those in the past?

A: During those days, we had about 20-30 regular members. We have 3 dojos now and the membership is much larger. We still have members who come and go: Aikido is a martial art that takes time to practice and understand. People like to look for something easy. “instant”. When people join or watch an Aikido performance, they are impressed, and join hoping in a short time to be able to do exactly what they have seen. In that sense, the student of today is no different from the students of the past. They are all looking for a “quick-fix” – achieving a skill with minimum effort.

Q- Sensei, do you have knowledge of the other martial arts?

A: No. I have not really learnt any other martial art. I practiced Tai-chi for a few months, but that was a long time ago. I took it up only because the instructor was a colleague ans well as a friend of mine and the lessons were free!

Q-Why doesn’t Aikido have sporting competitions and tournaments?

A: Aikido is a martial art, not sport. In a competition, in a “you or me” kind of environment, the focus can be limited and narrow. Moreover, Aikido is about harmony. The essence of what the art is about becomes lost if there are competitions.

Q- The most popular topic in Aikido must be ki. Everybody talks about it. Sensei, what is your understanding on the matter.

A: Yes, that’s true. Everybody talks about it. My personal view on the matter is that ki is not so simple to understand. It is more than “internal strength” or power . When mind, body and spirit are harmonised together, the ki will be there. Most practitioners, especially the young, concentrate on the physical aspect, on the mechanics of the throws. When they become older and more matured in their understanding of Aikido they learn that they can no longer compete physically with those younger than them. That’s when they try to develop the mental aspect of the art. Then they realise that even that is not enough, and so they will try to make their Aikido more spiritual. but this is something very hard to talk about, especially to the young.

Ki is like air: you can’t see it, but you can feel it. Ki is also not just about power. All of us, all living things have ki. If you have no ki, you wouldn’t be sitting here talking to me, you’ll be dead! If you want to feel ki, you must take the time to practise and practise and practise.

Q- So how do we know when we are using ki in our practice?

A: When you are very relaxed, and do not tire easily; when you can move and throw your partners easily, that’s using ki. Also, when you can feel and know what your partner is going to do next, and you are prepared for it.

Q- Sensei, what advice do you have for the students of today?

A: They should come and train with their heart and mind and be regular in their training. Just keep on training and they will be strong. Just enjoy the time they are spending in the dojo. In this way they will discover true Aikido.

Q-Finally, Sensei, what would you wish for the future of Aikido in Singapore?

A: I would like to see Aikido becoming more popular in Singapore. All of us who have been involved with Aikido all these years will have the same wish, I’m sure.
The Aikido instructors (including me), in Aikikai (Singapore) are not professionals. They have been sacrificing their time and effort to spread this art. I wish they will continue to play their part in promoting Aikido.

First Published on: Mar 20, 2011

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Supernormal Stimulation-When real is no longer real

I just learned about this ‘super-normal stimulus’ recently and instantly connect to hows and the whys and the contemporary challenges in learning an art like Aikido.

I will no delve on the subject of Supernormal Stimulus, you can read it up at:

“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supernormal_stimulus”

or you can refer to the excellent comics drawn by Stuart McMillen.

“http://www.stuartmcmillen.com/comics_en/supernormal-stimuli/”

Why do I specifically say contemporary challenges?

And when we talk about contemporary, how do I define that?

I guess it all begins with the word ‘super’. And of course the proverbial evil dollar.

I guess, humans, like all biological creatures are endowed with ‘supernormal stimulus’, it is closely linked to our fight/flight response. When we are still not so intellectual to analyse a specific threat, on hindsight, we simply respond.

But when we start to develop language, and start to analyse things, we get recounts like ‘The Sabre tooth tiger’s teeth is BIGGER than my HEAD!” or “the artillery round was BIGGER than my car!” When things gets exaggerated, you know there is something being ‘surprised’ in there.

Why? We need that attention, we need that drama, we need to be captivated by something. Normal mundane life, well, seem like normal mundane life. And when one captivates, one sells more! In our capitalistic world, the more you sell, the rest is history.
Success in life is now very much ‘surprised’. Everything is, and the advertising industry is not helping, in fact they are perpetuating it! Why? It boils down to a marketing term call ‘a share of mind.’ Or a share of whatever you want to call it. This ‘share of Whatchamacallit’ is perceived as a limitation of a human’s ability to absorb the larger picture of things.

So when a stimulus gets ‘surprised’, it hypes us up, and that is exactly what the perpetrators wants, a hyped up sense of being so that they can capture our attention and holds our reality hostage. And a hype gives us a sense of high, and that sense of high gives us a feel good feeling. But that feel good feeling, never feels good for a long period of time. It will become mundane once again, and when that happens, we look for a new high. And another and another, until we become saturated with highs, and we avoid the lows. The higher we gets hyped, the less grounded we become. The less detached we are from reality.

Aikido is as close to reality as you can get. Why is it unique from other arts, is precisely due to its non-competitive nature. When you compete, you stimulate a fight/flight response, things gets suprised. Opponents becomes bigger, we get fixated at finding out their weak moves. We get fixated on winning. Everything else does not mater anymore.

Aikido allows you to be, just be. Attacks are not really attacks but it is mean to give you a reasonable amount of stimulus. But not overly. It is calibrated according to skill levels. And all Aikido moves looked the same, generally a beginner’s irimi nage looks the same as an advanced practitioner’s irimi nage. The only difference is the level of speed and the ‘smoothness’ of the technique. I wouldn’t really consider an Aikido practice as ‘intense’ unless you are in the practice yourself. Anyone observing Aikidokas in practice will seldom describe Aikido as ‘intense’.

There is a reason for Aikido’s design. It is to help us regain our balance. bring our supernormal stimulus back to a manageable manner. Bring attention back to reality. Bring reality back to our lives. The contemporary challenge is that an Aikido class will last, at best, 2 hours. we have another 22 more hours to be super-stimulated. and right now with the world going 24/7 to 24/365, there is no more room in us to find that equilibrium. We perpetuate from one highs to another, and keep on finding issues to relate our identity to. At what costs? To what end?

Aikido is telling us, life. That is all to it. And life is much larger than the supernormal stimulated self, settle down and go to an Aikido class.

First Published on: Feb 18, 2014

A Mirror with No Reflections

A Mirror with No Reflections

I was hit with an epiphany 2 days back.

What if you can take a picture of a mirror, standing right in front of it, and; there is no reflection of yourself?

We have all heard about this popular metaphor.

When you disturb the surface of a pond, you will not be able to see a clear reflection of yourself. But when the water is still, you can see your own reflection.

Hence, the inference to a ‘still mind’.

We need to delve deeper than that, agree that though a still mind reflects, it takes more than that to project.

If you are an angry person, a still mind will reflect that anger, yes. that reflection might bring about an awareness to the realization of anger, but it does not necessarily bring about the cessation of that anger. It might not attend to the cause of the anger. See the reflection of an angry face, might even exacerbate the anger. All you need to do is to YouTube the phrase “animals looking in mirror” and you can see a variety of animal reactions to mirrors. Of course you can argue that humans behave otherwise, but do we really?

A still mind, might not be a peaceful mind. A robber, sitting still, is no peaceful mind. There is no action of a robbery, but the intent is there. The stillness cannot be misinterpreted as a solace refuge.

Therefore, we need to be more than a still pond, simply reflecting off whatever that comes along. We have to be a pond of peace. We have to project the inner-ness of the pond, the fishes swimming serenely in the pond. the peaceful sway of the seaweeds, the entire ecology of the pond, giving life, giving peace. When an angry person look at the pond, the angry person can see beyond the reflection, they can see the peace within the pond, and that perhaps calm the anger. Perhaps, the angry person lost something valuable, something the person might have dropped into the pond, a precious gold ring. So the clarity of the pond can allow the person to look into the pond and see the ring lying in the bottom of the pond, and reach out into the pond to retrieve the lost ring, and reunite what is lost with the one finding.

Similarly, we must see past our angry partners. Sometimes, we are the source of their anger, we are angry first, and when we are not conscious, we think that others are angry first, when truth to the matter, we are ‘patient zero’. But when that happens, we need all of our training and wisdom to see past that reflection of anger. To see that our partners have good, have value, and we can find our lost gold ring in them. And they also have lost gold rings in our ponds.

So it is pointless, to have a surface calm, to be still, and reflect. A still and calm pond is pretty much useless, if, the waters are murky and muddy and hides the contents in it. If you cannot see into the water, a reflection is, merely a reflection.

First Published on: Apr 21, 2014

The Secret Super-hero Aikido Ah Gong

The Secret Super-hero Aikido Ah Gong

img_2040.jpgWe chatted about his life as an Aikidoka, and while he has more than 50 years under his belt, and me less than half of that, but we pretty much faced similar issues; almost none of our loved ones really know what we do when we don our gi and hakama.

It is almost like we put on a super-hero cape and become an alter-ego Batman, or Spider-man. except that we don’t have a hidden identity, nor do we really save the world from bad guys.

Not me, perhaps, but Harry sensei, maybe.

So let me write this for Harry sensei’s grand kids.

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Dear Grand children of Harry sensei,

You may not know me, but your grandfather(Ah Gong) is my Aikido sensei, and he has been my teacher for the past 20 years.

You may know him as your grandfather, and I know him as my sensei. There are things you know much more about him than I do, but there are things about him as an Aikidoka, you probably didn’t know about.

As his grandchildren, you know; he is a perfectionist, as an Aikidoka, he demanded the best out of us. More importantly, he made himself an example, by training much harder than his students. When he was younger, he trained everyday and even some visiting Japanese sensei found his skills of remarkably high standards, perhaps even higher than some Japanese sensei!

While we can all marveled at his skills, it was his leadership that helped pave and grow Aikido to what it is today. When he took the helm over from his sensei, there was a lot of struggle to keep Aikido training going. He has to rush from work to class and back, Typically his days don’t end until 12am, at the earliest, everyday. That was his commitment to make sure that Aikido continues until today, where it is widely accepted and classes are run in many community centres. In short, he saved Aikido from going down a deep dark path of oblivion.

His Aikido greatness comes at a great price. He did expressed regrets that he didn’t spend enough time with his children, your parents; all he did was to sign report cards from school. You parents were fast asleep by the time he got back, and gone to school by the time he woke. The fault is his to bear, but as an Aikidoka I can never thank him enough or repay the lessons he has imparted to me.

Your Ah gong teaches me more than Aikido. He taught me life and how to balance it. He taught me how to be a husband, and not to neglect my wife. He taught me what I can achieve if I put my mind, heart and soul to an endeavour. While he is nearing 80, he continues to inspire me, by turning up for Aikido, never calling it quits, never say die.

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You, as his grandchildren has to be proud of him, you carry his bloodline and good genes. But it is his quiet Aikido legacy that you, as his grand children never get to see. He never told you all, but Aikido is very central part of him. Harry sensei has always been a quiet kind of teacher who never bragged about his contributions. He just quietly chugged along, and not a lot of Aikidoka in Singapore these days knows about your granddad, and what he and his peers did back in those formative years. Under his leadership, Aikido in Singapore flourished.

So the next time you hear about someone in Singapore training as an Aikidoka, you can be assured that some part of what that Aikidoka learned, came from your granddad. The entire Singapore Aikido community owes it to your Ah Gong for going above and beyond the extra mile. All Aikidokas in Singapore, past, present and future, all stand tall, on the frail slender shoulders of your 公公 and his peers.

If he has been a stern Granddad to you, let me tell you that he speaks very fondly of his grand children. He glows when he told me his grand daughters traveled the world, and still remembers to buy a little something for the 公公.  He is a simple man, who only needs simple love and affection.

Sometimes it is not easy for us to understand what our elder generations went through as they usually likes to keep these memories to themselves. We get confused by that silence, so we came up with our own insecure conclusions about how things happened. He love his family as much as he loves Aikido, and as his grand children, he loves you all a lot, and while he is thinking of winding down his days as an Aikidoka, he will never stop being your 公公. It is a matter of eventuality, I will lose my sensei, but you must never lose him as your 公公. Please spend time with him as much as you can, and love him for all he has done as your 公公 and for what he has sacrificed for Aikido in Singapore. He is the hero Singapore Aikido needs and you will always carry that proud legacy with you. Your 公公’s Aikido story is remarkable, and pivotal, so don’t let anyone else tells you otherwise. In my eyes, your 公公 is the greatest Aikidoka Singapore will never see for a long, long time to come.

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My sensei teaches more than Aikido

My sensei teaches more than Aikido

This is the view for me for the past 20-odd years. The irony of my life is that I know my Aikido sensei more than I know my father.

My parents divorced when I was 15. I started Aikido when I was nineteen-ish, and just like that, I’ve spent more than 20 years in Aikido, even longer than I know my wife.

I was never Harry sensei’s ‘favorite’ student. When you trained long enough with him, you know the kind of students he like; and by the virtue of my physique, I’m not his uke by choice. I got to where I am, because I hung around long enough, longer than those ‘better’ students. I got here by attrition, you can say that.

Along the way, I learned quite a few things from my sensei, and without him, I have no Aikido, and no such blog. My mind will not be open, the way he did, gently and patiently. Without his quiet guidance, I won’t be the person I am today.

Loyalty and commitment

It is Harry sensei’s bragging rights. He trained incessantly, 50 years, Mondays to Fridays; these days. Back in those days, he trained 7 days a week, 4 hours. These days who can say they did what he has done, 50 years and counting? He mentioned in his soft voice, he only stopped Aikido twice, once for his mother’s death, for a month, the other time he did, I didn’t catch what he said.

While many people can and like to mention lineage, to soup up their own dojo’s marketing prowess, mentioning that they trained under who and who and which and which Japanese Shihan, Harry sensei simply mentioned that his sensei is the late Teddy Lee sensei, He took the helm from his sensei, and continue to practice Aikido, the way his sensei taught him.

I’ve never heard him trained under anyone else, perhaps with Nakazono sensei, who first brought Aikido to Singapore. More importantly he has never failed to mention his sensei, he has never forgotten his sensei and the teachings. That is his loyalty, and he don’t give a f**k about winning the popularity contest.

He is committed to Aikido, and still comes to class, rain, shine, good health or otherwise. He just mentioned today he had a bout of shingles. Had he not mentioned, we wouldn’t have known, he is still as fit and ki still flows from his fingers. He is committed to teaching and it doesn’t matter if one student turns up or none. Of course he will berate us for being absent, but he knows our commitments and he never asks more from us, but he continuously gives us his commitment, more than we can ever accept.

Family and Sacrifice

The world is fair, there is only 24 hours, Harry sensei is no exception. While he devoted his time to Aikido, his wife has to suffer, his children has to suffer. He will miss their important dates, significant milestones. All for Aikido. He was never there for them in the evening, by the time he got home after training, his kids would have been asleep, the next day, he would have to go to work.

After 50 years, there is no way to reclaim them back. he has to choose, and he sacrificed his family time.

Harry sensei got to become Harry sensei, because he did what he did. His success showed me how not to be a whole person. My family needs me, just as much as I need my Aikido. It is never an easy decision, and I learned to follow my heart.

Sometimes I have to sacrifice Aikido for my family, and Harry sensei would understand where my priorities are.

Regret and Fate

Time has been spent, it cannot be recovered. We spoke briefly, and Harry sensei agreed he was very ‘lucky’, his children and wife stuck by him, although he did mention that his wife is getting even with him these days, after so many years of neglect.

Call it fate or luck his wife didn’t leave him and took his children along. His children are still filial to him. His grandchildren still buys things for him, when they travel overseas. Things could have gone awry for him, his children could have rebelled, as technically speaking, he wasn’t really clocking his time as a dad. As a dad myself, I know had I done what Harry sensei did, my wife would have to pick things up in my absence, and double hat my role.

As a dad myself, I have my moments of regrets, when I missed some of my children’s significant moments. As a sensei, he would have missed more, much, much more.

Photo courtesy of Vincent Asjenwi, Kiryokukai Indonesia

Aikido is good Karma

Let’s not get superstitious here, I’m using ‘karma’ as a generic term. Loosely speaking, Harry sensei did good. While he hadn’t been much of a dad in the evenings, his practice and commitment to Aikido, showed his family and loved ones, that he is truly and purely a good person, doing good stuff with Aikido. His only flaw is; his undying love for Aikido.