theaikidad

Aikido, Parenting and Everything in Between

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

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?