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?
We are human beings, and as an organic instruments of nature, we need to make sure we master the more difficult humanistic skills first. Simply put it, be a decent person of character and values.
But humans are lazy creatures, we often take short cut and find the easiest thing to do. We resisted that, and this shows in our digital policy. We are not introducing mobile phones, tablets and all those addictive things, because they are easy to pick up.
Mobile devices are easy to use.
This is the boon of the digital landscape, the diffusion of innovation is leaking into younger humans. Technology is getting easier and easier for us to adopt at an every younger age. It is in fact a bane for parenting.
This is so prevalent everywhere, we see last evening, at Manhatten Fish Market, a family eating dinner, 2 kids, each of them ate their meals, fed by a maid, both with a tablet in front of them, watching a cartoon while they eat.
Child as young as the age of 3 are able to use a mobile device, swipe left, to unlock it, find their favourite program on YouTube. It makes them sound and appear so smart, but it is the easiest things to do. The software tech guys made these devices so easy to use, simply because they want to make a lot of money out of their products, and they are winning, by a tonne loads of money.
Everyone is on it!
Pick up tech later, hit the beach first
It is never too late for the both of you to pick up tech at the later age, since it is so easy to use, we can leave this easy things to do till a later age. We want you to focus on ethics, values and treating people right. There is a lot of work to do in this department, and it is a constant never-ending struggle. But this is the challenge of parenting, making sure we raise good people.
Besides, we want you boys to be children, that means doing children things, play sand, enjoy the beach.
Do the tactile things, enjoy nature, understand the more humanistic problems. Understand that while we are at the beach, it rains, while we are in the water, there are temperature changes. (As we get deeper into the water, the water gets colder!)
It is an inconvenient thing to do, going to the beach, there will be grimy sand, salty water, dirt, germs and all. It is a heck a lot easier to play with a mobile phone, get on an online game, whatsapp your friends, chit chat on nothing. But who would we have raised?
Why would I want to turn the both of you into mini adults, and get you to adopt what adults use way before you boys need to?
Raising good adults
Being on the mobile phone, isolates you from human to human interaction. While you can make a conversation through messaging apps, nothing beats talking, person to person. Laughing and the usual banter. This is the best way to learn how to be a good person.
It also helps the both of you read body language, and develop effective emotional skills and relate to people. But one thing I can tell the both of you, the people you will be relating to in future, will not be a bunch of people friendly people, because everyone will be on their mobile phones!
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
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.
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.
…the world feeds us and we need to give back to the world.
We all wonder what is the purpose of our existence. This is the ultimate rocket science, and not many has figured this out, but those who do, live their lives in the greatest of wonder and splendor.
My Dark Side
Of late, I am mired in a cesspool of dark thoughts that surrounded me, slowly but surely, I get stronger from this constant battle, inside of me, and through my own doubts, critical thinking and understanding of my own vulnerability, I begin to understand why I am like this, and what it is to be done with me.
A lot of good meaning people tried to help, Steve told me it is a mid life crisis thing, your mum told me it is a certain insecurity. She has her point, we will talk about that in a while. But I realized that I am mildly, depressive.
The thing about me is, I will always find an answer to my woes. There are incessant questions, issues and problems that I tussle with everyday, in my head. Somehow, I always have the intuition to come out of it, with an answer.
To that day, I was browsing through Facebook, and I came across this article ‘The Mental Health Issue Men Never Talk About‘; while I don’t believe at that time of reading, that I am ‘depressed’, I decided to try an online Depression Test, and lo and behold! The test results showed that I am ‘mildly depressive’.
It was one of those casual test, 16 questions, I did it on my phone and I wondered at the results. At this point, I need to be critical and careful about ‘branding’ myself, but I let that reality sink in a bit. Being ‘mildly depressive’ didn’t hit home, it was something else, but while I am at it, depression does feels like something I am feeling now. so I am going to deliberate on that a bit, my mind will always comes to an answer.
Sniffer Dog Mind
My brain is like that, a kind of sniffer dog, and when I let the mind wander, I will pick up vibes and nuances that resonates strongly. Sometimes, my mind will pick up a fake scent, lose a scent, or a very faint scent. Whatever it is, my sniffer dog mind will wander, and relentlessly seek out and find, whatever that is out there.
It is a process, and the mind needs to wander, you will need time for the dog to go around up and down in the most non-linear way. So I don’t stand in the dog’s way, and whenever I can, and have the luxury of time, I let the dog wander, and bring back the quarry, whatever it may be, and I think my dog is on to something.
What we are here for
The journey in my mind of late, has been perilous, and dangerous. There is a chance that I might go crazy, turn into someone completely different, and I think that is the message I am getting, I need to be someone completely different, as right now who I am, is not serving the greater purpose.
Society will challenge us, people will doubt us, so we become a fraction of ourselves so that we can fit society, and the expectations of those around us. We do all that to become accepted, but the irony, and boys, this comes from experience, the more we try to get that acceptance, and fit in, the more we get rejected. It is a lesson I learned again and again, to fit in, we need to stand out. Nobody ever fits in to anything, anywhere. When we try to do that, all we do is become a shadow, it dims the world.
While I am at it, one word keeps ringing out, act. Put out action. Time for deliberation is over, the time to act on things is here. As a Piscean, I over-think and over analyze things, a lot, which is good for a critical mind, and bad, when it comes to action. The first 40 years of my life has been dedicated to thought; I need to know what I know is absolutely true, robust and resolute. I need to know my intrinsic value.
Once the thinking is cleared, it is time for action, acting on life always guarantee an outcome. While the outcome might not suit what you expected, the next action you must take, is to either work harder to get the desired outcome, or adjust your expectations of the outcome. To get all these done, needs action, not thought.
Action that benefits others
The world has turned too much into a ‘Me’ world. while that is fine, to better that; the ‘me’ has to give back to the world, so that the ‘me’ can continue to be ‘me’. When what we do, does not benefit the world, and make the world a better place, the world we are in will destroy us eventually. So don’t lie to yourself to think that the ‘me’ will continue, irrespective of what the world becomes. It doesn’t, the world feeds us and we need to give back to the world.
And we can only do that in our own unique way. So boys, as your dad, you need to find you own way. I can guide, provide resources, but you have to use your own guile and cunning to make sure that you can benefit the world, and not just benefit from the world.
Just 5pm today, I was walking past a shop at Plaza Singapura and I heard someone dropped a kind of metal pot in one of the eateries. That stimulus triggered something in me I couldn’t phantom.
As a Piscean, sometimes, I do feel things ‘abstract’ and some point ‘meta-physical‘, those realms that is not really tangible kind. So this time around, I felt as if the place moved, something moved, some kind of energy. It is very unnerving and uneasy. I was walking into Hamleys just for a window shop, but the whole uneasiness has disturbed me so much I couldn’t concentrate on what I want to do.
The feeling never left me and I came home, still thinking about it. I have no idea what ‘it’ was. Never have I felt such a feeling in my life, it is not even death, it is something that caused me to think and act with such urgency, not knowing what comes next. My whole concept of existence seem to be shaken to the core.
The ‘Me’ tries to deal with ‘It’
When it comes to dealing with our own feelings internally, it is one of those which we are most woefully ill-equipped to do. This I know today, when I searched everything in me to try and understand this sensation, which is totally new to me. I came up short, there is no coping with what I came to experience. I have nothing psychologically, mentally, and spiritually to deal with this new feeling. I don’t even know if this new feeling is a friend or foe.
So with nothing left for me, in me to cope with this new feeling, I am totally disarmed, and totally fearful, at the same time, feeling powerfully calm, as this new sensation is very powerful; it is so powerful it scares the current ‘Randy’ mindset. The present construct is unable to deal with this new dark, powerful force, so much so this force threatens to take over the entire construct, and if that happens, in my head, I will not know what kind of Randy will I evolve into. It is a scary, scary, new world of thinking. Somehow, this feeling is trapping the current concept of ‘Randy’ in this very body of ‘Randy’.
I was thinking about this word ‘hyper-aroused’ lately and it could explain a lot of things about me. And this time as I slowly, for the past few hours tries to figure out what is actually happening to me. How could it be possible that just a drop of a pot, could trigger something like that in me?
Recently, I’ve been on leave, away from work; taking things kind of easy, living life at my own pace, not thinking much about things in the office. I caught up with a few friends and it helped me worked on some things that I really wanted to do. I suspect that this new feeling could have been a deep, dark part of me, that bubbles up and out, now that I have temporarily stepped away from the hypnosis and psychosis of work. This is one theory I am trying to work on, if it is a message, my deep dark psyche is sending to me, I need to decipher it, as it is extremely cryptic and scary.
Friend or Foe?
I told your mum, I wasn’t too sure since the feeling is so new until I am totally vulnerable to it. But after trying to figure it out and understand what is happening, I can reasonably assess it as more friend than foe. Had it been ‘foe’, I couldn’t have imagine what kind of a Randy I would become, if what I am going to become is even qualified to be ‘Randy’. This is the level of psychosis i am driving at right now, and it is no fun.
The feeling opened up a deep dark part in my head, that is entirely new to me. On an optimistic sense, I never felt such power, and action. I want to do things right away, act on things, instead of sitting on it. There is a certain release and drive to want to move things in my life, it is as if the brakes has been released, and I am free, capable and confident to do and achieve the things I want to do. To hell with the world!
It’s a crazy world in me
All my life, in my head, I’ve always been in some kind of out of whack. Weird things swim in my head all the time, but this time, it is so strong and determined, I am mentally fixated with no capability to deal with it. Such is this profound and crazy mind of mine!
the road to hell is always paved with a unhealthy does of good intentions
Your friend ‘K’ called you an asshole.
All I can say is that, sometimes; a particular word gets stuck in our head and we keep on using it like it was vogue. So he could have been stuck with this word and thinks that it is cool to use it. But you know better.
What I told you to do is, think of this friend during the days of happiness. Nobody is nasty 24/7/365. We are nice by default, there are no evil babies.
People do all sorts of things thinking that it is in the best interest, but people are most of the time, self centred, selfish and they couldn’t see beyond the halo of the ego they created for themselves. So don’t fall into that trap, since the road to hell is always paved with a unhealthy does of good intentions.
So this K friend had been nice to you before, he has helped you brought your homework back when you were ill. He did stood by you (not often though). So he did somethings that sometimes qualifies him as your occasional friends.
So I told you to tell him ‘I like you better, when you were nicer to me.’
It is true, since everyone has a nice side and nasty side, even when we are nasty, we often didn’t know we were being assholes. So you know better than to do tit for tat.He called you an asshole, that doesn’t mean you have to make his wish comes true. You can define the ‘asshole-ness’ in the word ‘asshole’, always remember never play the game by other people’s terms. He want to get his desired attention from you, to allow him to do that will mean that you are playing by his game. You are much better than that, you don’t have to play his game, you don’t have to acknowledge that K is K. Treat him with equanimity, you have plenty of friends, and he has to queue like everybody else, when he jumped the queue, by calling you an asshole, you have to put him at his place, back in the queue. Treat him normal, never accord him the attention he wanted calling you callous names. People do all sorts of things to get you attention, and when they becomes too obnoxious, you have every right to put them at the last of the queue, or take them out of the equation totally.
I’m glad you did what as I advise, and the last I heard from you, K did some other obnoxious things to you, you didn’t even bat an eye lid, you just treated him like he was him, plain, normal, nothing new, nothing fantastic. That’s good, because when you are able to control your feelings and deny negativity and nasty people to dwell in your mind space, your life will start to align with the great things in life.
Everyone who is decently trained in Martial Arts of any discipline will have a certain degree of readiness in handling some form of combat, street violence and other unforeseen unpleasant circumstances
But being ready doesn’t mean that you will be prepared to do what is needed when the times comes to doing it. Most people as marital artists, would like the ‘artists’ part more than the ‘martial’ part. There is a lot of winning through techniques, skills, strategy, and there is often little or no blood, gore, raw grit and sheer application of terror and violence.
What we practiced on the mat, prepares us little about the kind of violence perpetrators are PREPARED to dish out to get what they want. More often than not, even when we are sufficiently trained that made us combat ready, but we are not prepared to up our level of finesses in violence to end the attack that is coming our way.
So even when we are trained, and attend classes consistently, we risk being stuck in a mindset that an attack might only happen in a specific way which we are trained in. It doesn’t. Because we are Aikidoka, doesn’t necessarily mean that our attackers will attack us the way we are attacked by our Uke. It almost never happen that way.
A person who has nothing to lose will always be prepared to do whatever necessary to attain his/her goals. People in a fight for survival will always be prepared to go the ‘extra mile’ and fight to the very last breath. This is a very different mind-set from someone who is ‘ready’ for fighting. Someone who is trained, might not be prepared to dish out violence to stop violence.
This is a chronic fallacy for an art like Aikido, which predisposed ‘harmony’ and peace’, so we end up with hippy-like mentality that all is well and we should harmonises with our opponent. That means doing things nicely, don’t hurt people, behave ethically, respect your attacker. So even senior Aikidokas takes it easy, thinking that they will be ready, when the time comes. The amount of violence people are willing to dish out in attacking you can be beyond any comprehension of a martial artist. Even in Aikido, there are moves that are violence and highly damaging, even life-ending, but not a lot of Aikidoka are prepared to up the level of violence, apply violence to stop violence. In fact, the very mention of violence, is abhorred. Aikido is a smooth, flowing, harmonious way of combat, and all fighting should be like this. It is not, and sometimes, reality can be the furthest from the dojo!
The Scouts says it best in their motto, ‘Be Prepared’ and not ‘Be Ready’. As there is a lot more to do in preparation, in fact, if you have a be prepared mindset, it will mean that you will never be ready. There is no ends in preparation, but the moment you begin to say that you are ‘ready’, then you closed your mind to learning how to constantly hone your skill to meet all possible form of violence and combat.
Being prepared in a martial arts, is to make sure that we are able to use our skills, to kill, maim, and apply violence in a manner that does not look methodical, absolutely without aesthetic, and the end result will look nothing like the martial arts we all train so hard for years. Being prepared for combat means things might be ugly, violent, and there will be hurt, blood, gore. When violence is applied, nothing ever ends nicely, there is no nice break-falls, not many people get away unscathed.
It a MAD, MAD world
In military doctrine, there is a term called ‘Mutually Assured Destruction‘, at a high level, we are talking about a kind of stalemate, which either side are so well armed, that nobody wants to push the first button. For a martial artist, we must be willing to think first-strike to end any subsequent follow-up capabilities of our opponent. We must be able to forsake our being and bring the fight to the opponent, before the opponent bring the fight to us. If we think M-A-D, not a lot of people will be willing to match that level of craziness, and be prepared to be sacrificed with ourselves, since we are going down, might as well take a few more with them when we go down; be that crazy; that is sometimes enough to stop people, and trigger their self preservation instinct. When we fight with no care of worry about coming out of that fight alive, we put a level of determination, not many human beings will like to test. And be prepared to apply a level of violence that overwhelms violence. Even in our nice, civil society, no matter how well dressed we are, we must be able to fight at a moment’s notice, defend ourselves, attack with vigor and think combat. This is more than ready, this is to be prepared in a way that when it happens, our mind gets into action, and deal with the matter at hand. Otherwise all that we learned as a martial artists, makes us only artists, ready but unprepared.