Are you able to let go?

Does Aikido defines you? Gives you a sense of meaning? Purpose? Responsibility? Makes you a nicer person? Give you character? And all the other nice things? Does Aikido also provides you front and side air bags? If Aikido is really that good to you, like a cuddly teddy bear, then can you let it go?

I’ve not been attending class lately, perhaps it is simply a matter to reaching that ‘plateau’ again, where I don’t see myself ‘progressing’. The sense of plateauing has happened to me before, I’m not sure if it had happened to you, the last time I felt it was when I was in my 3rd kyu? Or later.

Right now I can look back and understand, again, the sensation of plateauing. It is a play of the ego, where the ego is not getting that adrenaline kick anymore. There is a sense of mental fatigue and no matter how hard I try, an irimi nage will always still be an irimi nage.

This time, it is not a sensation of the plateau. It is a sense of the self is telling me to give it a rest. Too much time and energy is spent on Aikido that other parts of your life is lacking. My presence in Aikido dojo, would means an absence at home as a father. It is a zero-sum game no matter how I look at it. I can only be at one place at a time, and sometimes I need to pull myself away from my regime to spend more time doing my other duties.

And this clinging, even to something as good as Aikido, is bad.

This is happening naturally, I don’t really miss Aikido, and frankly, when I’m in dojo, I don’t miss being a dad. There is sense of ease in the role and when there is an over-balance, the body, mind and spirit will automatically redress that, without any sense of angst or reluctance. Even though I said it is a zero sum game, I don’t feel a sense of scarcity, I just do more of this and less of that, and later time, more of that and less of this.

That gave me an epiphany, because we so often hear people say, that when they don’t get to train, they’ll feel uncomfortable. If they don’t go to the dojo and sweat it out, something don’t feel quite right. That means that deep in you, you hadn’t been able to let go. And this clinging, even to something as good as Aikido, is bad.

Nothing last forever, not even Aikido training. We must be able to let things go without attachment, only when we are able to do that, then we can take our skills, our life skills to the next level. Our Aikido existence is not a be all, and end all. Well if Aikido really matters that much to you, then you have to look somewhere else and see what other good stuff in your life you have been missing, doing your Aikido thing.

Getting Educated on Education

Getting Educated on Education
Your dad’s Bachelor of Arts in English with Psychology

Dear Boys,

Studying is hard. Education is hard. Sometimes what we study is seemingly irrelevant to what we do in daily our daily lives. We study math, we study algebra, we study history, some of these subjects we take, or are forced to take; keeps us up all night, all day. And if we don’t do well, we will encounter the dreaded ‘F’ word. F-A-I-L.

And things gets worse when we step into the working world only to realise that much of what we have learned are practically useless! So we learn, painfully by hindsight that, there is something call the academia and there is something call the ‘applied‘. Sometimes they mix well, more often they don’t.

Take my experience in Aikido, being in it for such a long time, there must be a good reason why I do it. Much of it can be considered ‘academia’, as there is a discourse, there is a curriculum, even a pedagogy. Is it applicable to real life? The verdict is out there.

 You will become educated by education, only to hate the very education you were educated in.

Much of what I learned in Aikido, is ‘irrelevant’. The movement, the technique, those moves, I can get that through exercise, through jogging, or other sports and activity. And yet there is something in Aikido that keeps me going back. That is for me to know, for you boys to, find out.

You will come to this eventuality, what you learned in school is practically useless.

So when you come to that realisation, I hope you realise something else as well.

You can only get where you are through education.

That is the cruel irony. You get educated by education, only to detest the very education you were educated in.

You can let that the bitterness of realization waste more of your life away.

Go back to the books that you hated so much, those thick, thick textbooks.

  • They were written by people.
  • They were printed by someone.
  • Your parents bought them, paid your school fees.

Someone out there thought that education is a good idea, that it is one of the best ways to make our lives better.

It is.

Education is not perfect, it never was. But it gave us knowledge, and hopefully turns into wisdom.

Change the world, save the world

With education, knowledge and wisdom, can one hope to change the world. You parents and countless of people went through the strive of study, because we all harbour a secret hope that with knowledge we can change the world, make the world a better place, for you, for our children.

So we make you boys go through the same thing. Knowing that more often than not, you cannot see the ends, to justify the terrible means; the mundane, boring, words after words, exams upon exams means. And it all apparently come to nought.

People who studied more than your parents came out with those thick, thick textbooks, also secretly harboured the same hope that those books they written can change the world, through the hands of those students holding it. They wrote those books with the best intention of arming their readers a learned mind.

Transfer of knowledge is never easy

While learning, as the both of you already knows, is not easy. Being a teacher is many times harder, as the teacher tries the very best to impart knowledge to the student. I can understand this because I can see many times, the frustration Harry sensei has trying to make us understand what being ‘relaxed’ is. His best intention is often not best delivered, and of course, not best received.

And yet the teacher strives

So before you complain the irrelevance of knowledge, and justify that life can be pretty much lived without having to be put through lectures, classes, assessments, exams, homework, project, assignments and other dreaded torture tools they use in school; please see that everyone strives to put what you have, on your hands. The books and knowledge you held, is not perfect, and probably cannot put three meals on your table. You cannot buy things by ranting off a string of mathematical formula. You have to go out and work, and earn a living.

Schools and schooling are only as dead as you want them to die.

Or you can change the world

You can write a better textbook, you can be a teacher better than the ones who tried their best. Strive harder, strive better than your teachers, because, as your parents, we do want you to be better, smarter than me, richer than me, save the world better than your parents could, build a better world for yourself, and your children.

So with what you have learned, go out there, bring knowledge to life. Schools and schooling are only as dead as you want them to die. Lessons are only as relevant as their students deem them to be. Knowledge can become a bias, it can become a dogma, it can make you stupid, if you only see knowledge as relevant as the grades you get from answering the correct questions.

Disclaimer

I hope book makers, writers, authors, sribes and wordsmiths can put a disclaimer in their publications.

“Please be forewarned that the contents in these pages are meant to be taken in by a competent, open and receptive learner. Anyone who decides to read it and become a bitter person, the author(s), while is sadden by such an unfortunate turn of events, cannot be held responsible for the wanton stupidity, any irresponsible individual can potentially make. Long story short, Books does not make one clever, but it can potentially makes many, stupid.”

 

Aikido as an art of self defense

Many, many people sell Aikido as a self defense martial art. Even Harry sensei likes to use this cliche. That Aikido is an art that you can use to defend yourself in the unfortunate event of a combat. Or if you get mugged, or raped, or life and death situation.

Let’s be frank, in that kind of situation, anything, and I mean anything works. Beer bottles, claw, nails, wedding rings, scratch, kick, scream. In a real situation, in a fight, it is Applied Martial Arts, and anything goes to preserve life, mainly yours.

“Aikido is an art of self protection.”

I was struck with this epiphany. Aikido is a self protection art. You strive to ‘protect’ the self, which is a very different wordplay from ‘defense’. Protection is active, defense is reactive. You defend against something. You protect something. Defense is implied as a win/lose, attack/defend duality. something has to happen to justify a defense. When you protect, you simply protect, you can extend that range of protection, or you can protect others so that you protect self. You can collaborate with others to form a collective act of protect.

You do not have to wait for an attack to happen, before you protect. If you know the attack will be coming, you will protect your assailant, by preventing the attack from happening, because once the act of attack is initiated, it will only result in a consequence of attrition, everyone will get hurt.

Protection ironically is not about the self, but the world at large. We want to protect the ecosystem, we want to protect mother nature, we want to protect our loved ones, because in protecting these ‘extrinsic’ elements, it justifies our existence. If we fail to protect our loved ones and the person’s life is lost, what good is an art of ‘self defense’? When those people who validates our lives gets wiped out, what can a self defense system do? You need to protect them from harm, sometimes even at the expense of your own life.

This is the true meaning of Aikido, and I’d dare say, martial arts. You are willing to go the extra to protect what matters, sometimes you give up your resources to allow others to be protected. When you understand the concept of protection in a martial arts, you will readily give up your life to protect others, so that others may live. It is not an act of courage, but simply acting in the true spirit of Budo. Understanding why we must protect others to protect self, will bring you down to the most humble and harmless level, you will totally disarm yourself, and no one will be able to muster the ability to hurt you, because you can protect them from harm, and protect them from harming themselves.

If we think that the person can hurt us, then they can hurt us, and in order for us to prevent that, we will revert to self defense, in an attempt to protect us, but by then it is too late as we would have fallen into the duality of attack and defense. There is no opposite in the true spirit of protection. With our capability as human beings we can protect a lot of things without having to defend them from attack.

“self protection is about equilibrium”

Always remember, self protection is about equilibrium, we can protect ourselves and others, we do not need to worry about the various, immeasurable varieties of attacks, you simply protect. Attack and defense will swing, protection does not. You can offer protection longer than you can defend or attack. But protection needs the development of courage, having no fear or favour to attacks and defense, you come up with a quiet confidence to just protect, giving up attacking and defending for something more sophisticated and superior

Many, many people sell Aikido as a self defense martial art. Even Harry sensei likes to use this cliche. That Aikido is an art that you can use to defend yourself in the unfortunate event of a combat. Or if you get mugged, or raped, or life and death situation.

Let’s be frank, in that kind of situation, anything, and I mean anything works. Beer bottles, claw, nails, wedding rings, scratch, kick, scream. In a real situation, in a fight, it is Applied Martial Arts, and anything goes to preserve life, mainly yours.

“Aikido is an art of self protection.”

I was struck with this epiphany. Aikido is a self protection art. You strive to ‘protect’ the self, which is a very different wordplay from ‘defense’. Protection is active, defense is reactive. You defend against something. You protect something. Defense is implied as a win/lose, attack/defend duality. something has to happen to justify a defense. When you protect, you simply protect, you can extend that range of protection, or you can protect others so that you protect self. You can collaborate with others to form a collective act of protect.

You do not have to wait for an attack to happen, before you protect. If you know the attack will be coming, you will protect your assailant, by preventing the attack from happening, because once the act of attack is initiated, it will only result in a consequence of attrition, everyone will get hurt.

Protection ironically is not about the self, but the world at large. We want to protect the ecosystem, we want to protect mother nature, we want to protect our loved ones, because in protecting these ‘extrinsic’ elements, it justifies our existence. If we fail to protect our loved ones and the person’s life is lost, what good is an art of ‘self defense’? When those people who validates our lives gets wiped out, what can a self defense system do? You need to protect them from harm, sometimes even at the expense of your own life.

This is the true meaning of Aikido, and I’d dare say, martial arts. You are willing to go the extra to protect what matters, sometimes you give up your resources to allow others to be protected. When you understand the concept of protection in a martial arts, you will readily give up your life to protect others, so that others may live. It is not an act of courage, but simply acting in the true spirit of Budo. Understanding why we must protect others to protect self, will bring you down to the most humble and harmless level, you will totally disarm yourself, and no one will be able to muster the ability to hurt you, because you can protect them from harm, and protect them from harming themselves.

If we think that the person can hurt us, then they can hurt us, and in order for us to prevent that, we will revert to self defense, in an attempt to protect us, but by then it is too late as we would have fallen into the duality of attack and defense. There is no opposite in the true spirit of protection. With our capability as human beings we can protect a lot of things without having to defend them from attack.
“self protection is about equilibrium”

Always remember, self protection is about equilibrium, we can protect ourselves and others, we do not need to worry about the various, immeasurable varieties of attacks, you simply protect. Attack and defense will swing, protection does not. You can offer protection longer than you can defend or attack. But protection needs the development of courage, having no fear or favour to attacks and defense, you come up with a quiet confidence to just protect, giving up attacking and defending for something more sophisticated and superior

First published: Nov 9, 2015

Ukemi Night

A couple of evening ago, I took a class and emphasized a lot about falling. Which I feel is one of the most important hands on technique. If anyone comes to Aikido, and walks away learning nothing, I hope the person learns how to fall properly.

Getting the Perfect Ukemi

The problem learning how to fall properly is usually a matter of compromise. Sometimes as the beginner learns, we as the seniors relent to a kind of movement that vaguely resembles a fall. That is fine, a little rough around the edges, but we can still recognize a passable ukemi.

As times goes by, if there is enough training and practice, the bad movement will usually gets weeded out. I trained very hard and long in how to take an ukemi, sometimes, going non-stop on forward roll, back and forth, back and forth, an intense constant, ironing out any kinks in the way I roll, I was never satisfied. I need the roll to be perfect.

Unfortunately, for the NUS students, it never gotten down to that level of practice, and intensity, so technically the bad habits was never weeded out, it continued and set in. And that is where the problem starts.

The proverbial hamster wheel

Using bags as barriers to roll across

One thing I learned in Aikido is a matter of constant self-polish, this take a certain level of dedication, obsession, and willingness not to accept status quo. When you clock a certain mileage, you will automatically gets elevated to the next level. You will feel that your body is sufficiently trained to handle a more advanced technique. You build your own platform to accept a more superior level of training.

If you are constantly stuck in the unaware, and despite of being pointed out, the mistakes continue to persist, so even if the window opens for you to learn a new, more advanced technique, you realized that your knowledge and experience is woefully insufficient to step up; and when you try to, you’ll end up injuring yourself, or worse, others.

It is like driving, and if you keep driving the same old way for the next 10 years, you will not be ready to drive a more advanced car. Open yourself to learn new ways to improve your current level of experience, constantly try to learn how to better drive your current car, you will come to a point where your driving skills exceeds the capability of the car, then you will realise that you are ready for a new car.

Uke’s ukemi

Typically, I will always try to work on the uke, as I feel the technique lives and breaths with the skill and capability to the uke. And there is only one job the uke needs to do, UKEMI. All the uke needs to do is; fall.

The uke needs to know how to fall properly, confidently. I showed the class, that as we do the technique, it died; because both the uke and nage are stuck at the end. There is a fall, and the nage will makes the uke fall. Not always so.

As I explained in my previous blog post, the whole experience is a ‘Goldilocks scenario’; not too hard, not too soft. For the technique, therein lies perfection, and it takes both to do the waza well. More so the uke.

When the uke is skillful in falling, the nage can execute the throw on demand. Case in point, I asked a new white belt to come out and I acted as uke, he was so new he didn’t even know what to do, I held his hand and he move forward backward, I followed and when my balance is sufficiently disrupted, I fall.

The falling point

So I made the class tip themselves, on one leg, until they feel that balance is lost, and fall, forward. It was a slow deliberate feel of one’s balance and the lack of it as the forward motion gradually shifted the weight, until the fall happens.

Some of the students fell, too hard, too high. I advised them their point of falling is too far, so the body falls forward, not round enough, so the shoulder came into contact with the ground, impact.

It is at your feet.

The point of the fall, is in front of the feet, so a proficient Aikidoka will be able to take a ‘phone booth fall.’ That is how compact a fall can be, if you can fall there and them you can take a leaping fall, easily, no problem.

The Nage/Uke tension

If one is not proficient in falling, we will have to get prepared for the fall, and in doing so, there will be tension, will not be able to follow our nage, wholeheartedly. We need to get primed to fall, get ready, and sometimes, the fall doesn’t happen, or it doesn’t happen the way you’d expected, and all your preparation will be in vain.

Being confident is a better asset than being prepared. Confidence comes from effort and practice. Then you will know that whatever the nage dish out at you, you will be able to escape unscathed, you can give the nage confidence in throwing you, so there is not tension, there is flow. The uke can fall on demand, and the nage can throw on demand, when that happens, it is a very good feeling.

Harry sensei’s wrath

Harry sesei has constantly berated us for ‘focusing on the throw’, and we are too ‘ego’ and of course, us being forever stiff.

That is what happens when the Uke is not well trained to fall properly, and confidently. We are fixated about the end, because we keep telling ourselves that if we don’t fall properly, we will get injured. Contrary to that, if we do not execute our technique properly, we will get injured. It is not about the fall, it is about how we execute the technique that leads to the fall, the fall happens naturally when we act on the technique properly.

This is only one part of the problem.

We take turns and when we become the nage, we held on to the uke’s mindset and as a nage, we too focus; on the fall, because we worry that if we do not throw the uke properly, injuries will happen. We need to let that go, and let the uke fall. Our focus as nage is on the technique. The uke has only one job, which is to fall, so let the uke do what the uke needs to do.

The ends does not justifies the means. It is the means that justifies the ends. As long as we do well in our technique, the fall will happen, naturally. So the uke needs to have enough experience in falling, then the fall will happen at the point of falling, no a minute too soon, nor a second too late.

 

No Idols

Taken during one of Steven’s Birthday celebration

Dear boys,

I was having a chat with Steve and him being him, there are people who commonly pass comments like ‘I want to be like you!’ or things like ‘You’re my inspiration!’ People always look up to him and somehow, a lot of people want to ‘be like Steven’.

Not me.

I told him that.

Sure he is an inspiration to a lot of people, me included, but I never want to be him. Granted that he has done a lot of cool things, he is relatively successful, goes places, and live the life he wants to live, but I am not going ga ga over his life and his lifestyle. He has a nice house, flashy car(s) and other cool stuffs, but the fact is, no many people knows the sacrifices he makes to have all these, more importantly, while many ‘idolise’ him, not make are prepared to put in the hours, effort and sacrifices to get what he got.

No two same lives

His life and mine are different. No two lives on Earth are the same, not even twins. We live our own lives. We may know of powerful, inspiring people, who gives us a glimpse of a life lived better, but that is only a glimpse. We still have to put in our hours, we still have to make our own mistakes. We will still achieve what we set out to conquer, and that will be our victory, not Steve’s. Steven’s victory is his victory, not mine. While we can celebrate with him, we need to remember; victories is a very personal, selfish affair. Your victory, other people can admire, or gloat, but ultimately, they are yours. Same goes for your defeats and set backs.

No Uchi Deshi

It is very easy to hero worship in the kind of martial arts I am in. We are conditioned to look up, at our sempai, seniors and Sensei. In Aikido, there is a culture of ‘uchi-deshi‘, these are the ‘lived-in students’, sort of an internship, but at a very personal level. The student literally stayed with the sensei and take care of his needs, in exchange, the sensei will teach the student his craft at a very personal level. In Singapore, no such culture exists, so people tries to be an ‘uchi-deshi‘ of sort, but more often than not, it gets misconstrued into some kind of boot licking or sucking up.

We do not have this practice with Harry sensei. While we still folds his hakama, and wait on him, he do not want anyone to ‘suck up’ to him in any way. He knows Aikido-economics 101′; we are all paid students and at no point in time, he expects ‘service’ from us.

So in that spirit, Harry sensei does not asks, nor imply that he wants such a culture. So I treat him with respect because I want to, and I do not aspire to be him. He is not my Aikido Idol.

Steven, my friend

Collectively, I look at my life, I’ve always been on my own, since my parent’s divorce, there is no one else taking care of me, other than me, and after marriage, your mother. I don’t have a mentor, no father figure, no person whom I look up to. Anyone who comes close to that, would be someone like Steven; but even for him, I considers him a friend, simple, no complications. He is someone who makes it in life his way. I want to make it in life too, my way. He serves as a guide, nothing more. He has his ways of doing things, that differs from mine, and I have no aspirations to change mine just to be ‘like him.’ He is his own man, I am mine. In that way, both of us can enjoy a equitable relationship, we are not above, nor beneath each other.

It is perhaps, because of my relationship with Steven, that shaped how I deal with people. Between us, there is an age gap that qualifies him to be my father, but we treat each other equal, or when he met me, more than 20 years ago, I was a young punk, just starting out in Aikido( Where I met him) and he has never put himself above me. He has never judged me, or present himself as superior. For me, being young and impressionable then, he could have dominated, be an alpha, which he is, but he didn’t acted that way.

Treat people fairly

So I have never looked at anyone, senior or junior with a slant of bias, well at least I try not to. Usually, I can carry a conversation with anyone, with ease, and non-discretion. I don’t look up to very successful people, because I know the quiet struggles they went through to become who they are. I don’t look down on people, because I know the quiet struggles they are going through. Everyone goes through shit, so don’t worship successful people, nor look down on people.

Let them be who they are, and you just be yourself, really successful people are the most down to earth folks, and will treat you with decorum, when you treat yourself with truthfulness. ‘Fake’ successful people will have a bubble with them, an air of ‘exclusiveness’, so when you come across such people, be thankful you are excluded, because you may have to pay through your nose just to be ‘in the club’ and at the end of the day, you might find all of that, a bubble, waiting to be burst.

Perhaps, how I walk my walk, excludes me from such ‘exclusive clubs’, which is fine by me. I like wealth and money, but I like them at my own terms, if I have to get them by sucking up, hero-worship then perhaps, I am no longer the father you boys can look up to.

Everyone goes through shit, so don’t worship successful people, nor look down on people. 

 

Finishing moves

Finishing moves

‘When we have an ego, we will always want to throw our partner.’

Harry sensei not focusing on throwing the uke. The uke fell on his own merit

Harry sensei always scolds us for focusing on throwing our partner, which points to our overly inflated ego. He always says that, ‘When we have an ego, we will always want to throw our partner.’ We want to look good throwing our uke, and in that myopic quest, we missed out the more salient focus, improving ourselves, our technique.

I’ve long known that we need not worry about our uke, as long as we do the waza properly. The uke will fall if the technique is proper and complete.

What I failed to understand is what Harry sensei is driving at. It is not about the technique, properly executed. It is the finishing.

Where is the point of finishing?

As we continue our practice in Aikido, it seems like a lengthy, longitudinal continuum. Practice never ends, or we actually do not know where it ends. Or more microscopically, we think our technique ends when our partner falls, and we end up focusing on the throw, and gets scolded by Harry sensei, for doing our technique improperly.

In a metaphorical sense, Aikido is like life. It is never ending, a circle. There is no beginning, nor ending, so we keep doing our waza, day in, day out, and gets scolded the same way, so much so we are numb to our sensei’s nagging. It all sounds the same. Not it is not the same, once there is a level of epiphany to open our minds to what our sensei is actually saying.

New level of understanding

There is an ending and beginning in a circle, we as humans, sees it, as the Earth revolves around the Sun, day will end and night will begin, as a part of a continuous process. As Aikidoka, we train to become discerning to where it ends and begins.

So our waza does not end wiith us throwing  our uke.

Our uke takes an ukemi as the consequence of our finishing.

Where we look at the problem, is the problem

That is very much a cliché, but it is true, in this aspect. Harry sensei has seen this happening for decades; techniques that are too fast, or too slow, to jerky, too stiff, not soft enough (one of his pet gripes), not relaxed and the list goes on.

All these problems point towards the focus on throwing our uke. We as the nage wants to throw, lock, pin our uke, as in a role, our uke is ‘attacking’ us, and we need to ‘defend’ ourselves. This thought process does not escapes us in the technique and we get arrested by the thinking that we have to successfully defend ourselves, by throwing, locking and/or pinning our uke. We seal the deal, even before the uke commence the ‘attack’.

Aikido is continuum

Aikido practice is much bigger than that, as part of the continuum of life, we need to discern and decide where our waza ends, and it ends at the point where our uke takes the fall. After that, everything belongs to the uke, which is the falling. The problem begins, when we extend our influence into the uke’s fall, which is totally unnecessary, and that is where the ego rears is head.

it is the form, not the falling

So we do not decide when the uke will fall, of course, in an irimi nage for example, we will know, from practice; when the fall comes, and we focus on that ending. So we need to free ourselves from that, and let the fall comes, when it comes. We are not determinant of the fall, we can’t, that is the uke’s job. Our job is our job, to execute the technique and focus on improving ourselves using the good grace of the uke’s participation.

When we have an uke who is selfless, skilled and totally devoted to the role of an uke, we as the nage cannot mess things up by stepping into and influencing the uke’s ability to take a fall. Let the uke fall, we just focus on improving our technique, and constantly polish again and again with the help of the uke.