theaikidad

Aikido, Parenting and Everything in Between

In the year 2065

Dear boys,

Our Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong talked about the next 50 years of Singapore lately. And I sat that afternoon at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre having my packed lunch, and I wondered how much will remain 50 years from now.

Singapore as a country that is constantly changing. The Singapore in the 90s will be very different from the Singapore, now, and it will be different again 10 years from now. We, as a country is the best example of the evolutionary principle. We got strong, remain strong through constant self imposed change. Long before things need to be replaced, we’ve already replaced them.

Anyway, while I sat down to have my lunch, I looked at the Esplanade Bridge, it was build in 1997. That means the bridge is 18 years old. And will it still stands 50 years from now? Will the building, One Raffles Place still stands? Will the CBD still looks like the CBD 50 years down the road?

I will be 89 then, your mum 87, Ian will be 60? And Wayne, a ripe young, 57! So many things will happen that has yet to happen.

During my time, my generation of Singaporeans grow up listening to rather staid stories about how we were founded by Sir Stamford Raffles, and the fable of how a prince lost his way in a storm and saw a Lion (there was never a record of that magnificent beast in Singapore!) and named our island ‘Singapura’, we also hear a lot of our pioneering generations’ struggles, racial riots, world war 2, and other stories that will probably become tales and fables 50 years from now.

More importantly, boys, tell stories of your own, there will be many more challenges ahead, many more social events, there might be another world war, there might be other calamities, there may be other social political unrest, revolutions, and other events, these are stories that will make up your life. Tell these stories to your kiddos, tell them like how I tell you, because our heritage will be passed on from mouth to mouth, stories we tell our kids are the stories of our nation.

First Published on: Jul 16, 2015
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More about Kokyu-ho

I ended class with Siew Chin on Thursday evening. And she always finds it a challenge exercising kokyu-ho with me. So I shared with her a few pointers.

Be Ready.
It is not about ‘getting ready’, which to me means a state of transition from ‘not-ready’ to ready. There is a stage of preparation that mean there was a stage of un-preparation. This is not acceptable in life as we must always be prepared. Taking time to get ready for something is a waste of time because you can never be fully ready for something. Aikido has taught me that no amount of training and preparation will prepare one for whatever that person is preparing for. There will always be something not done ‘right’, something fall ‘short’ on hindsight.

The attitude in Kokyu-ho is about being ready. Be ready. To be ready will cease the stage of not-ready. and hence minimize weakness. Be ready is also a state of relaxed awareness, not too sure of what to expect, but at the same time confident in oneself to handle whatever may come.

One habit she has is that she clenched her fists, repetitively open and close, in a pumping motion, which I personally would discourage, as it doesn’t really ‘relaxes’ the hands, by playing with contraction and expansion. In fact, it transfers more tension downwards and makes the fingers loses its sensitivity, something that is very important in Aikido, kokyu-ho.

Handshake
Kokyu-ho is like a mutual, opposite handshake. You cannot shake a person’s hands, stiff. Palms open, fingers hyper-stretched is not a handshake. A ‘handshake’ hand is relaxed, open for the contact, not anticipating anything else other than a candid friendly open contact. No one anticipates a handshake, it either happens or it doesn’t. The contact, the distance put into a handshake is important.

Similarly, think of Kokyu-ho as a handshake, nothing more, open your palms, wrists relaxed not ‘cocked’ or ‘locked’ in any direction. just let the person wrap his hands around your wrists, not worried about moving him/her now or later. Your uke moves when the movement comes.

You, not me.
It is not about geometry, where you tilt a person off angle and then easily topple your partner, of course geometry plays a part in kokyu-ho, but if you meet a centred person, you cannot simply, tilt, leverage, angle the person off balance. Whatever. tilt, leverage, angle you hope to achieve will be absorbed into the person’s centre.

Project your energy to achieve what you want and you will stall. The funny thing about Aikido or kokyu-ho in specificity, is that the more ‘you’ want to do it, the more difficult you face in doing it. The stronger the ‘I’ the weaker you become. If in your mind you think ‘I’ want to do kokyu-ho. I want to off balance him/her. Or he/she has to be tilted, off balance so that I can execute kokyu-ho.’ I’m sorry, all you will get is all the ‘I’ you wanted. You will tilted. You will be off balance, it’s never about you. If all you get self absorbed in kokyu-ho, you will be absorbed by the self. That is not the point of Aikido.

0-100km/h
If there is a start, there will be a stop. If you can start it, someone can stop you. In Kokyu-ho, power can be felt, commencement can be detected. It all starts with a jerk, a muscular tension that happens suddenly. My reaction is simply that a reaction to an action. As long as you jerk, the acceleration can be felt, I can stop it. Tension begets tension.

So try to small start if you can, in your kokyu-ho. make the acceleration as small as possible. so small that your partner cannot detect it, and by the time your partner detects it, it is too late for your partner to do anything, other than to succumb to your directions. It is not the big movement that kills, it is the accumulation of small moves that leads a to often dramatic ending. People sees the dramatic ending, but not everyone sees all the small movements leading up to the climax.

So in Kokyu-ho, think small, the slight move of the wrist, down to the finger nail tip, not even the finger tip. your muscle twitch must be so imperceptible that you can move at ease. It is stealth in movement.

So that is my thought for Kokyu-ho.

First Published on: May 27, 2012

Kokyu Ho and Fear

I learned something about myself last evening when I exercised kokyuho with Siew Chin. there was something i cannot figure out from last week’s session I had with Gaynor.

I thought I was doing my usual kokyu ho exercise with Gaynor, when Harry sensei comes along and explained that ‘We should not be preventing our partner from learning.’ Gaynor gave me a feedback similar to that and I couldn’t comprehend what he said. It was something about the way i am resisting him and reacting to his actions.

I got my answer last evening, and I realised that I was afraid of Gaynor, hence I was reacting to him rather than resisting him. There is a subtle difference as reacting will negates his actions, preventing him from doing the technique. I carried my psyche with defense and instead of allowing him to conclude his technique and trying his best to exercise, I snubbed him out. Basically I draw him into my centre and there was no way he could do the technique. Whatever he did, I countered.

So last evening, when I exercised with Siew Chin, I resisted her, because I was not afraid of her. And without that fear in the way, I could open myself up and allow me to resist her while she tries to exercise Kokyu ho. It didn’t make it any easier for her, but it sure as hell didn’t frustrates her.

So why do I fear Gaynor and not Siew Chin? Admittedly, it stems from my inferiority complex, and of course the e-g-o. There is an uncertainty in my confidence that Gaynor IS going to be better than me. So I go on a defensive and block him out. And why not Siew Chin? For obvious reasons, my logical mind justifies that she is ‘no threat’ to me, in short I deemed that I am ‘better’.

But to be fair, it was my practice with Siew Chin that allowed me to learn this so that the next time I practice with Gaynor, I can keep this feeling in check. It is silly to classify who is better or worse than who, but these kind of judgment can creep in subtly and without constant practice, we might one day be clouded by such little irrelevant voices in our heard.

Published on: May 27, 2012

Intellectual Vomit-Kokyu-ho

I’m running a fever, my wife last check 37.9 degrees, further more than that, I’m running an intellectual vomit. when I close my eyes, there’s so much about Aikido swimming inside that I have to put it in writing. The Chinese have this saying “三天热”, is this happening to me?

There’s this particular situation that caught me and I want to share it. I was down at NUS that specific evening, for the hell of things, (by the way, for the hell of it cost me $10 bucks). anyway what happen was probably a non event but it gave me such an impression that I cannot put it in words anymore than what i am doing now.

We ended the class with the usual kokyu-ho. My partner was a brown belt, young chap, stocky fella. When it was time for me to be the Uke and hold his hands, I held on and he did the technique. as he continued to complete his turn of four, by the time he reached the fourth turn, he cannot lift his hands anymore. I simply held his hands in place, what went through my head was a mixed feeling of puzzlement and curiosity. He simply cannot raise his hands and complete the kokyu-ho. I can feel the ‘physics’ of the movement, he tried his damnest to leverage with his shoulders, but the hands stayed. No amount of force and energy could make him move the hand.

There was no struggle. not for me and not for him either, he simply is moving something immovable. did I played a part in it? Sure. I did, but not my ego. I held his hands, that’s all, not tight, just hold. Its not a matter of one being superior over the other. If that has happened then, there will be a struggle, because the less advantaged will struggle against the advantaged and swing the entire situation around. In that event, we are equal. My level of understanding now is that the point where our hands held are neutral, the one who brings and intent or ego to the hand will struggle. The one with less intent struggle less. I know this for a fact because I still struggle against Harry sensei, the same way the brownie struggle against me. Harry sensei has a clearer intent, less ego. So he is more neutral, struggle less.

Its a feeling of amazement because I cannot comprehend the simplicity of the whole situation. There is really no struggle, no need to. simply do the technique of kokyu-ho with a good intent, appreciate the movement all the way to the end. It really doesn’t matter how it end, it will end eventually, so our job is to appreciate it at the end, with or without orchestration. It is my first true experience where physics stays in the realm of physics and could do no more, I’m a small fella, the brownie’s a big fella, he should be able to move me, no sweat.

The kinesthetic description is the sensitivity of the palm, all the way down to the very tip of our fingers. I placed my curiosity there, the touch I held the brownie with was one of learning. I want to know what he can do. not so much as to counter him with what I know. at that moment, what i know didn’t matter. I didn’t matter. he matters. It doesn’t matter if he can bring me down, it doesn’t matter if he cannot, what happens, happens. Nothing more nothing less. The ‘isness’ is so spontaneous and immediate none of us struggled. He tried his best, but I’m sure he is not uncomfortable. He got so caught up trying to bring the hand up he didn’t stop to think what has actually happened. So do I feel powerful over the whole thing? No, in fact, the more powerful I feel, the more he can feel me. I just feel very human. There was no power in my grasp, just a feeling I transmit, in that moment nothing else matter except the part where out hands meet.

It is like a satori, the Ah-ha! I knew it, I knew I got it, it cannot leave me anymore. that doesn’t mean that I can consistently harness that because partners change, mood swings, people learn. One thing for sure is that once I have it, it’s with me for me to harness it. Its a very personal thing and it gives me the kind of satisfaction to know that such skill and knowledge is achievable, I am no one special and yet i can learn it. The paradox is that its nothing special since someone as ordinary as me can learn it I’m sure anyone can, but this ‘ordinary’ skill is so unique to me, it will manifest itself in me in a manner that is different from anyone else.

First Published on: Jul 8, 2010

How long have you been training?

I’ve often been asked, ‘How long have you been training in Aikido?’ Sometimes I would reveal the actual chronological investment I’ve made. More often than not, my response was ‘Long enough.’ The period of time often does not accurately indicate the amount of skill a person has. Especially in martial arts.

I understand that now with the ubiquitous ranking system, being a Kyu or Dan actually meant something to some folks. Generally it should indicate a level of proficiency, But its a nice concept for the more logical mind to grasp. as it gives people a sense of progress. In our go getter, result oriented world, visual progress is important. in businesses, we always have metrics and indexes to measure result against the goals we set. KPIs, or Key Performance Index is one of them. Many folks migrate this kind of quantitative measurements over when they take up martial arts. How many medals taken. For boxing, how many wins, KOs, loss. So in Aikido, do you set a goal to attain a dan grade by…?

For modern Aikido, we have our own KPIs too, ‘Ki’ Performance Index? Upon getting a dan grade, you’ll get this Yudansha booklet, a passport size book where you can get Shihan to stamp and endorse your participation in his training. So theoretically speaking the more stamps and ‘autographs’ you got, the better you are? So does it helps to measure a Aikidoka ‘KPI’ when you have the entire book filled? Pardon my ignorance as I’m still figuring out how does having the whole book filled measures a practitioner’s competency. I mothballed by Yudansha the moment I got it, and it will stay that way for as long as I live.

I’ve followed Harry sensei from the time I started until now, and I probably would do so until one of us dies first. There is so much that he has to teach that I cannot absorb fully for me to learn from another sensei. My learning from him is never complete, neither his teaching. It’s always work in progress. Sometimes he still finds difficulty transmitting his idea and experience to us, because at our level we do not comprehend what he sees at his level. So what does that says about him as a 6th dan? And what does it says about us? Does it mean that being a more senior belt, we display more competency to absorb his transmission? So what if I’ve practised for such a long time and yet I’m still as ignorant and clumsy as ever?

Kotegaishi Story

There’s a time, when I was a brown belt working in as a retail shop assistant. My colleagues didn’t know about my martial arts background.

One of my colleague was a funny, peppy fella who knew what Steven Seagal and his martial arts flicks. He was impressed with how Steven Seagal took out people using his fighting skills and I asked him to show me one of his moves.

He promptly went to show a kotegaishi and I asked him to try it on me. He took my hand and deftly did what he has seen on TV and I helped myself with a break fall, which looked pretty dramatic.

Until now I can still remember the look on his face, when he saw me flipped and landed as he did his kotegaishi. It is just one of those crazy things you did when you were younger.

First published on: Jun 25, 2015

Handling with Weapons

Handling with Weapons

In this safe island city of Singapore, when will be weapons be used in a violent confrontation? And when we do, do we know how to use them?

In Aikido, we handle ‘classical’ weapons like Bokken, Jo and Tanto. These are made of wood to minimize injuries, but we still need to handle them like the real thing. I ‘cut’ Sunny’s left eyebrow when my Bokken slipped during after class training many years ago. Bokken, although blunt, but when used applicably, it is still a weapon.

Rules are rules, always use common sense when handling anything labeled as a ‘weapon’ or anything seemingly dangerous.

1- Always be alert, and never take it for granted, be it a training weapon, an M-16 rifle, or a rubber knife. When in training, always practice due diligence. Training time is not playtime. Weapon, any weapon, is not a toy.

2- Know the weapon parts well. We all know the ‘bladed’ part of the Bokken is actually not the real blade. Duh. Train with an attitude that the ‘bladed’ part is the REAL THING. If you are not careful, you WILL lose fingers.

3- Practice safety distance. know your ma-ai well. Empty hand ma-ai and weapon ma-ai is very different. Footwork, body movement changes as well.

4- Never fear the weapon. Practice point 1,2,3 well, apprehension should go away. A weapon is simply a manifestation of the user’s intention.

5- Train long and hard with your weapon. Time invested in conditioning will help us become more familiar we become with it.

To sum it up, weapons training extend our reach and improve our understanding on how it works, so that we can be skillful when we use it, and when it is used against us, we have some understanding on how to deal with it.

Its not much to take away, but then again its never, ever enough.

First published: Jul 28, 2010