Taking classes

I think it is a matter of time I have to start conducting classes. My Sempai, Han Tiong has ‘retired’ from teaching NUS’s Friday Aikido class, and the job now falls on the next in line, primarily Foo, Luke then me.

Harry sensei made it very public on an evening sometime back, that only Foo and Luke was to take class, and when clarified, Harry sensei specifically mentioned that there will be on exceptions. Frankly I was a tad disappointed, admittedly, taking a class bodes well for my ego, which mean I have more work to be done, before I evolved to overcome my egotistical persona.

The reality is that sometimes, both Foo and Luke will get held up with work, and occasionally, I will have to stand in and take a Friday class, now and then. Of course this was done with full consent and knowledge from my sensei, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. He has to know and give his blessings then I will take the class. Its the way order is held and preserved, I have to respect my sensei’s decision, even when his decision is not in my favour.

Primarily I want to break the myth of Aikido, as a martial art. because, it is really not about fighting, opposing will. Imposing your victory over your opponent. I want to look at it from a relational view, because Aikido is a PhD in Applied Social Science. If you get into a fight, there is very little in an Aikido curriculum that can help you ‘win’ the fight. but there is plenty in an Aikido curriculum for you to stay centered in an explosive, emotionally charged situation and come out of that preserving the peace.

My obsession is the Uke. Other than Harry sensei, the next most senior belt in NUS is me, it’s not a brag, usually it is a fact, and I trained and learned the most being Harry sensei’s Uke. And for any Aikido technique to be performed safely, the Uke has to be trained to receive, and to receive well. The junior belts as Ukes are usually too soft with the grip or they do a ‘death grip’. either way compromises the movement and the relationship between the Uke and Nage. So I take pains to explain that an ‘attack’ from an Uke is not really an ‘attack’ in the strictest sense. If the Uke give too much as to hold on too tightly, then the uke has given away too much. And if the uke doesn’t hold tight and chooses a loose grip, the Uke will not be able to receive what the Nage has to offer. The relationship between the Uke and Nage, changes constantly and I’m quite drawn to making sure the Uke catches the Nage with the right amount of grip, with a proper distance, and appropriate spirit, so that everyone can enjoy the exercise.

My other focus is on the core muscles, the back and abs. the torso down to the hips, where both power and stability resides. Once you are physically comfortable and centered, you can think straight, get into a superior position, all without provoking a fight. Once you lean too much forward, you can be read as being aggressive. and leaning to much back, will invite people to attack you as a sign of weakness. the posture has to be centered and balanced, so the core muscles is paramount to delivering that body language.

There are also some funny things I do that is not the actual sanctioned Aikido moves, this is in hopes to keep the class interesting and also allows me to inject some creativity into the class. I think the feedback I get from some hearsay is that Foo does the class in a typical Aikido sense, following structure and form, Luke adds a bit more realism to the class, and me? I heard that I’m non-typical and my technique ain’t the cleanest, book perfect type. Heck, I’m having fun, and I certainly hope the students in my class have fun too!

First Published: September 4, 2015 

Who would you hurt?

Imagine, you are the most skilled martial artist in the world, you have mastered Karate, MMA, Judo, Boxing, Muay Thai, and other lethal martial arts. You certain can kill someone with your moves!

Who is the first person you’ll end up hurting first, other than yourself?

Chances are, you will end up hitting and hurting your loved ones. People you care about, your wife, your husband, you kid, your training partner, your sparring partner, your colleague, your drinking friends. Almost towards the last of your list, are strangers, criminals, mafia, Jason Bourne, James Bond, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise and the neighborhood cat.

“We need to be the centre of calm in a very volatile situation.”

It happened to me and I will never forget it. My elder brother and I got in to a very heat argument when we were very young then. If I remembered correctly I was in my early twenties. I was so pissed that I wanted to leave home, the anger was simmering and I wasn’t really out to hurt anyone, I just want to get away, for good.

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My elder brother, another extremely hot headed and irrational guy, held me back as I reached for the gates. He restrained me from getting away, and I snapped; turned around and punched him, once, hard, on his chest. I will never forget the sound he made, when his brother, me, hit him. The sound of the hurt I inflicted on him, made me very very reluctant to hit another person like that.

Okay, call me a softie, that’s fine. I really didn’t like him, much less love him. I still don’t. But that served a reminder to me, that I will hurt the people closest to me. It is a statistically given fact, we interact more and on a higher level with people we know than with people we don’t know. well, duh. So people close to us will see us, good, bad and the ugly, warts and all. they will rub us the wrong way and we might end up fighting them.

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Isn’t that ironic? We always know our loved ones deeply, we often use that intimate knowledge to hurt them, instead of using it to love them more. Or they might have unwittingly done something that hurt us, and we instinctively want to hurt them back.

Take another hypothetical example. Your very very drunk and emotionally unstable friend, who got aggressive, and take a swing towards anything, anyone close enough. You are that person, will you block the punch and snap a front kick to take him out, or will you enter (irimi) to his side, control him with an Ikkyo, and assert authority over him, and make sure he do not embarrass himself further? Use a circular motion to diffuse the tension, to dissipate the anger. We need to be the centre of calm in a very volatile situation.

Aikido gives us that skill to end a very violent situation peacefully. More important, it cultivates the wisdom in us to help us see beyond violence, the violent person has a very good nature, and when he or she has sufficiently calmed down, the person is actually a very reasonable person.  Well, under duress, we are all dumbassess. But in a stressful situation, we only need one dumbass, the other person has to have some good sense to stop the dumbass from becoming a bigger dumbass.

First Published: October 1, 2015

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