Who do you bring to the dojo?

It’s not about your girlfriend, your friend, or anyone else out there.

It is about you. who do you bring to the dojo? do you bring a martial artist to the dojo? Do you bring a dancer to the dojo? or do you bring a meek mouse?

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We may have different hats to wear in our daily lives, but there is certainly a dominant one, or a couple. It could be a role where we are most emotionally attached to, or a role we pay the most emotional dividend to. The more emotive the cause, the more dominant the emotional attachment.

If you are a cop, going to take Aikido, chances are you are looking at the art with a value of self defense, through a cop-eye. If you are a victim of a bully, you will either think of the art as a form of salvation. or it also can be a form of justification for your role as a victim; you go to the dojo to get bullied, just like how you are bullied outside of the dojo.

These are very powerful subconscious. it governs everything we do. If you have a militant psyche. even if you jog, you will think of the activity as a form of fitness to help you get away from trouble. It is not merely a form of fitness. If you are a cyclist, you will go to the gym in hopes of improving your cycling fitness.

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Therefore, we will always come up against weakness, against limitations. because we do not see thing as it is, but we see thing as it should be. Of course if we see Aikido from the eyes of a triathlete, it looks like valueless. If we approach a piano, learning to play a guitar, the results can be predictable, certainly both are musical instruments, but we cannot full milk the instrument in question by making another impression fit onto it. A piano is a piano, period. Your understanding of a guitar helps, but please put it down when you are going to play a piano.

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Of course the curriculum of Aikido is pretty much ‘dead’, it is up to us as students to bring it to life, and in order for that to happen, we need to let Aikido embody us first, instead of us trying to embody Aikido. Put down our soldier, policeman, nurse, pickpocket, teacher, student, man, woman outside, come in and experience Aikido, as it is.

First posted September 17, 2012

おねがいします!!!

おねがいします!!!

We all say this at the beginning of our class. What does it mean? Well you can Google it and get the general meaning of the term.

Harry sensei told the entire cohorts of new NUS Aikidokas last Tuesday about おねがいします, and well, it was like anything that you’d tell a beginner, the meaning, the protocol in a dojo. Somehow this time it made a little difference in me.

おねがいします is not just a phrase, it is an attitude of life.

Why don’t we try saying おねがいします! in the morning the moment we wake? I mean, if おねがいします loosely means ‘Please take care of me’, ‘Please allow me to receive your teachings.’ ‘Please allow me to receive your gifts.’ Would’t it be a great attitude to begin your day with?

I was thinking a little more divine that evening when Harry sensei says it. I mean, I’m not a religious person, but to utter おねがいします like a prayer, would bring about a whole new attitude of humility, openness and joy. It allows your psyche to open up to divine assistance. おねがいします is non-judgmental, you cannot say oh! I would おねがいします to this and not おねがいします to that! It is simply おねがいします, and you cannot refuse, you can only receive.

Much like in the dojo, we train with whoever we train with, like it or not, we tap our partner and say おねがいします! sometimes I turned to the person next to me and tap the person’s sleeve and say おねがいします! I’m not really concern who that person is, junior, senior, tall, short, guy, girl, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if my persona like that fella or not, when we おねがいします, we おねがいします, period.

I think this is a good attitude to begin your day with.

おねがいします!

Fist posted September 11, 2014 

The Reality of Fitness

Well we have seen men and women in their peak physical form, they seem to have boundless energy and are able to perform magnificent feats of superhuman ability.

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Well, here’s my take on fitness. Really really fit people, are not really fit. In fact there is no such thing as a really really fit person. Any athlete will tell you, in my context, any martial artist will tell you, all dramatic demonstration of their skills and abilities are achieved through a huge level of SUFFERING.

No one knows about the injuries, the fatigue, the exhaustion, the weariness and still have to continue. the bitching and whining we all experience. Yes, these bouts do happen to really, really fit people.

The answer is that they are able to take in all these suffering AND perform. Not a single one of them hadn’t been injured badly before, suffered a cramp, dealt with fractures and bruises. After all these, they still execute amazing feats. This makes them inspirational.

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No, they are not flawless, Their excellence is a summation of their injuries and their ability to continue despite of all that, that makes them worth watching.

So the next time you see a really fit person, don’t think about the glory, think about the person’s untold dark days and long lonely periods of doldrums.

First posted March 1, 2014

Harry sensei is now a Shihan 師範

Sensei recently got his ‘Shihan‘ accreditation from Aikikai Hombu dojo.

It seem to be a big deal, as he is now certified, a ‘Master Instructor’ and according to him, there is 2 in Singapore, one has died, he is the only other one. In South East Asia, there is only 2, one is in Thailand, and the other is, yours truly.

So I asked him what was that all about?

He was quite surprised, albeit a pleasant one, that Nasheer told him one day he got an email that they needed his particulars and details of his instructor-ship for his application for a Shihan. And he sent it in, and his application was approved and he got the Shihan certification.

Well, from the way it is perceived, being given the title Shihan is a recognition of one’s ability as an instructor and the person’s ability to propagate Aikido. Which means you and be 7 dan, 8 or more, but with be bestowed Master Instructor by Hombu, it really just means a rank you hold.

But having a Shihan didn’t change Harry sensei a bit. Well perhaps it did, a little. He obviously is proud of being bestowed the title. And he didn’t asked for it, just like he didn’t asked for a promotion to 7th dan. Or rather, politely declined one.

Other than a little swelling with pride, he is still him. He has gone through his ups and downs in Singapore’s Aikido fraternity to be attached to a simple title and a piece of paper saying who you are.

First posted in February 20, 2014

A Teacher’s Peril

A Teacher’s Peril

  “Because whatever we say, is wrong.”

Of late, I was given the privilege of conducting a couple of classes with my NUS Aikidokas. Although it was a refreshing change from being attending the class to someone conducting the class, the more salient point is the new learning experience for me being in a teacher role. Yes, you still learn while you teach.

For the sake of clarification, and for as a matter of technicality, I am not a teacher in Aikido. Those times when I was tasked to take the class, I happened to be the next most senior student in the class, so I guess by that fact, not virtue, I will have to chaperone the class in the teacher’s absence. I’m not officially delegated, nor in some strict sense, holds a teacher’s license. And for the records, I’m neither officially assigned by Harry sensei to teach, or conduct class. So I happen to do what I did as a matter of circumstance.

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No talking in class

Anyway, given that I’m tasked into the limelight, standing in front of a class of 20-plus Aikidokas, some of them, a good 20 years my junior, I realized again why Harry sensei do not want us to talk amongst ourselves during training, he does not want us to correct the techniques amongst ourselves in training. If our partner is wrong in executing the techniques and what we can do as their training partners, and if we happen to be the senior member of the class, we can correct by action, not by telling. He abhors us talking among ourselves trying to figure out the wrongs and rights by discussion. There is an apparent reason for that. Because whatever we say, is wrong.

This goes back to my old adage of ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’. As this few sessions of conducting classes has taught me, as the guy standing there, telling people about the techniques, not matter what I say, with all the good in mind, is wrong. Well, sure the argument is what I say might be fitting, and if that is the case, then there will not be a case at all to begin with, right? 

And the teacher’s role is very heavy, the students listens, and during class they will usually not retort, but after the class ends, they will take what you say and go home to digest it, break it down, and over-analyze your sayings, and if what you say is too narrowly defined, you will open yourself to your own bag of skeletons. More often than not, what’re we say is usable to a certain context. And if you want to play it safe and use a sweeping statement, and generalize, you’ll end up not giving anything useful to your audience. The ‘it depends’ really depends on what the depending is depending on. 

Then again you still have to say something, so you have to become really careful and wise up about what you say, because people will take your saying as their doctrine, and if what you say is not empirically robust, then the blood is on your hands when they use what you said would work, but end up not working as well as you said it would.

Caveat Emptor

I have this at the onset of my blog, and let’s revisit the word a little, there is no disclaimer in class, just as I learned that there are no disclaimer in life. Perhaps it is due to a force of habit, I have a disclaimer of sorts for my blog. You see, as a former banker, we will have disclaimer clauses to protect the bank from any thing that the standard terms don’t cover. It’s bureaucracy by the way. 

But the disclaimer exists for a reason, because well meaning individuals do get trapped by anything and everything that falls out of the contextual domain of the terms. People do hijack your good intentions for their own narrow and sometimes self-centered desires. Being the guy saying a lot of things, means those things I’ve said may one day come back to haunt me. That is the risk of a teacher. 

Do as I do

So in class, in the old days, the sensei don’t really talk much, you really do as the sensei do as close to his movement as possible. But this type of teaching will no longer sit well with the new generations of human beings who will go into YouTube and other portals to find out for themselves and learn for themselves, never mind what they learned is right or not, hence we have the rise of ‘self radicalized’ individuals. 

That is the teacher’s peril. And I’m not sure if there will be other opportunities for me to take another class, but if I do, I’ll always bear in mind to tell my younger broods what Harry sensei likes to say ‘do also cannot do properly, still want to talk among yourselves?’

First posted May 29, 2015

Take a bow

Take a bow

We bow in Aikido, towards the front of the dojo, where a photograph of O’sensei is usually hung or placed. Some other dojos hung scrolls instead of O’sensei’s photo. In our old Bukit Merah Dojo, we hung O’sensei’s photograph and that of the 2nd doshu, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, and a huge scroll.

O’sensei’s and the 2nd Doshu photo with Aikido scroll in our old Bukit Merah dojo

Right now in NUS, Harry sensei replaced O’sensei’s photograph with a scroll, as he doesn’t want the students to mishandle O’sensei’s photograph.

“Bowing before class starts is like a recharge for me”

Anyway, we bowed to the front, and that for me starts my session in class, long before Harry sensei officially starts class. The first bow in class, for me is the most important bow. It is not religiously motivated, no I do not pray towards O’sensei. I bow because there is a deep reverence I have in me, and for me to practice Aikido well, I need to be mindful of that reverence.

As I bow, I think of many things that has happened. I extend my thought towards people I cared about, matters I cared about, sometimes, I bow to surrender to the day, I bow to get ‘turned on’ and mentally psych myself for the Aikido class ahead. It is no longer as simple as a bodily bow. when I bow my body, I let my mind settle on mindfulness of a couple of things, matters, situation people I care about or have came into my awareness.

I’ve long learned that the ‘beginner’s mind’ for me is to constantly return to the basic human fundamentals, my humility, my connection to the earth, my connection to people, to myself. Nowadays we are so connected to external devices that we no longer connect inside of us. and we continue to chase what is outside, using our precious energy in us to do that senseless chasing.

Bowing before class starts is like a recharge for me. I divorced myself of all those things that bothers me, and reconnects with the inside of me which is the more sustainable part, the more silent and deep part, where my wisdom resides. With a deep and long bow, I can connect and find the energy and calmness to handle class, the patience to deal with things.

First posted: September 23, 2015

No Gain=No Pain

No Gain=No Pain

The old adage of ‘No Pain, No Gain’ centres a lot on our masochistic nature to push ourselves above and beyond. This sheer bravado is dangerous as it teases the ego to carry out whatever the pain threshold, just to get a little gain. And reinforces the concept that pain is good, as much as gain is.

The thing is what can we gain out of pain, really? What have we got to prove? We are tougher? We are tougher than the other guy?

We all have our breaking point, all of us, we will break at our given level. So sometimes, we can go beyond the pain, to gain, but what we really potentially can gain is irreparable damage.

So what we gain instead is pain, long term suffering.

Aikido, as with most spiritual endeavours, is about abandonment. The relinquishing of our hold that binds us to our suffering. Hence, the opposite is true, what we gain in value, causes us no pain.

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Think of the fats we gain, and our attempts to go to the gym to work it out and get that perfect abs. In order for us to ‘gain’ that six-pack; we ‘pain’ ourselves with 1000 sit ups, brain washing ourselves with every rep, ‘No pain, no gain!’ Who are we kidding?

We need to put the cart in front, and be mindful of what we gain, we will still gain something and we cannot help it. And those that we have gain, causes us pain, we have to shed them, before these gains turn into real pain.

So had we prevent our mouths from gaining access to that delicious donut, we will have saved our entire body the pain of losing it later.

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So the more mindful we are about what we gain, the better we get at reducing our pain.

Posted on June 13, 2012

Stop writing!

Stop writing!

I’ve had a chat with Sensei again about writing up Aikido stuffs last evening and he, this time around dissuaded me from doing so. He is not keen to have his legacy written down and does not believe in having a legacy.

Personally, he feels that that is nothing much to be written about that which is already confusing enough. He has always been saying ‘Ask me no questions and I will tell you no lies.’ In the same spirit with that phrase, he is asking me not to write about him. ‘Stop wasting your time,’ he says, and continues to digress about the current state of affairs. All writings can never tell the whole truth, so why bother?

According to him, he sees the current trend of logic and science as bringing about the messy state of affairs we are in. not so much for the economic rather the climate. Sensei is very much like ‘O’ sensei, and other people who have great affinity and sensitivity with mother nature, he sees the current generation of the human race as too materialistic and even if I were to write something about him, and about Aikido, it will not be of much use and understanding.

To him, there is only one Aikido founder, O’sensei and the rest is not much to write about (including himself). He is not keen to explain or discuss Aikido matters, and prefers that we practice and train diligently.

The current generation of people are misguided and has too much ego in them, what he wants for us to do is not to be the best, or strive for the best, simply to live and enjoy what we are doing.

The chat was very profound and I am indeed very grateful for having this chat with him. He’d freed me from the burden I created for myself. If I have to undertake writing about him and his Aikido, the onus is on me to reproduce his words and teachings in full fidelity. He remarked that I cannot even do my technique right, how am I supposed to understand him? and what he has come to understood? As much as I would like to argue on that, he is quite firm on it.

He has his reasons, and I can understand why. He is not a person who sees a big ‘ME’ in the ‘Harry sensei’. He is not overly attached to himself, and sees himself merely as a medium for Aikido to flourish. He sees himself very much like a messenger, simply carrying a message, irrespective and carefree about the immense ‘value’ that is attached to that message. Its like delivering a diamond, knowing that it is immensely precious, and yet not caught up by the preciousness of the item.

He also frees me from his teachings and encourages me to look at the far larger picture. and the best part is he is asking me to see the world with my own eyes, not with his.

Posted on August 4, 2011