Aikido in Singapore has evolved since the first day I joined more than 20 years ago.
For the most part, it has made the Aikido ecosystem very vibrant and multi-faceted. As there is no one fixed way to climb the Aikido mountain, these schools gives Aikido students a plethora of ways to experience the art and find the teacher that most suit their personality and timing.
The list is in no way exhaustive as there are Aikidokas giving lessons on a free-lance basis. These listed organisations has their own stable dojo, training facilities and followed a structured martial arts curriculum.
Disclaimer: These information was complied off a Google, a public domain; based on the information on the school’s respective website. Please inform me of any errors and clarifications, and I’ll correct them soonest.
‘When we have an ego, we will always want to throw our partner.’
Harry sensei always scolds us for focusing on throwing our partner, which points to our overly inflated ego. He always says that, ‘When we have an ego, we will always want to throw our partner.’ We want to look good throwing our uke, and in that myopic quest, we missed out the more salient focus, improving ourselves, our technique.
I’ve long known that we need not worry about our uke, as long as we do the waza properly. The uke will fall if the technique is proper and complete.
What I failed to understand is what Harry sensei is driving at. It is not about the technique, properly executed. It is the finishing.
Where is the point of finishing?
As we continue our practice in Aikido, it seems like a lengthy, longitudinal continuum. Practice never ends, or we actually do not know where it ends. Or more microscopically, we think our technique ends when our partner falls, and we end up focusing on the throw, and gets scolded by Harry sensei, for doing our technique improperly.
In a metaphorical sense, Aikido is like life. It is never ending, a circle. There is no beginning, nor ending, so we keep doing our waza, day in, day out, and gets scolded the same way, so much so we are numb to our sensei’s nagging. It all sounds the same. Not it is not the same, once there is a level of epiphany to open our minds to what our sensei is actually saying.
New level of understanding
There is an ending and beginning in a circle, we as humans, sees it, as the Earth revolves around the Sun, day will end and night will begin, as a part of a continuous process. As Aikidoka, we train to become discerning to where it ends and begins.
So our waza does not end wiith us throwing our uke.
Our uke takes an ukemi as the consequenceof our finishing.
Where we look at the problem, is the problem
That is very much a cliché, but it is true, in this aspect. Harry sensei has seen this happening for decades; techniques that are too fast, or too slow, to jerky, too stiff, not soft enough (one of his pet gripes), not relaxed and the list goes on.
All these problems point towards the focus on throwing our uke. We as the nage wants to throw, lock, pin our uke, as in a role, ouruke is ‘attacking’ us, and we need to ‘defend’ ourselves. This thought process does not escapes us in the technique and we get arrested by the thinking that we have to successfully defend ourselves, by throwing, locking and/or pinning our uke. We seal the deal, even before the uke commence the ‘attack’.
Aikido is continuum
Aikido practice is much bigger than that, as part of the continuum of life, we need to discern and decide where our waza ends, and it ends at the point where our uke takes the fall. After that, everything belongs to the uke, which is the falling. The problem begins, when we extend our influence into the uke’s fall, which is totally unnecessary, and that is where the ego rears is head.
So we do not decide when the uke will fall, of course, in an irimi nage for example, we will know, from practice; when the fall comes, and we focus on that ending. So we need to free ourselves from that, and let the fall comes, when it comes. We are not determinant of the fall, we can’t, that is the uke’s job. Our job is our job, to execute the technique and focus on improving ourselves using the good grace of the uke’s participation.
When we have an uke who is selfless, skilled and totally devoted to the role of an uke, we as the nage cannot mess things up by stepping into and influencing the uke’s ability to take a fall. Let the uke fall, we just focus on improving our technique, and constantly polish again and again with the help of the uke.
I got my black belt status like everybody else, when I got my 2nd Kyu, that allows me to wear a black belt, but not a hakama, which will be one more grade away.
It was a bummer because I was wearing a Brown (obviously!); and I was young, who could see the need to spend money getting a black belt. In the spirit of being ‘eco-friendly’ ( truth is, I was quite poor then), I wanted to dye the brown belt black, and bought some colour dyes, it wasn’t very successful, due to my inexperience. I don’t know how the conversation came about, but I told Steven about it, and we promptly headed down to Liang Seng to get a Black Belt. Steven bought me my Black Belt.
Since it was a gift, I didn’t choose the thickest, most expensive one. I choose an Adidas brand, a thinner, cheaper one. I was thinking that I might get another one a better one, with my name stitched in gold or yellow, maybe sometime later.
There are many black belts worn by people who spend money getting their names and other fancy words stitched to their belts. I took out the Adidas logo and got my wife to hand stitch a simple ‘林’ on it, and because ‘林’ can be read from both sides, it saves us the trouble of hiding the stitches on the wrong side. And because 林 can be read from both sides, one side of it pays homage to the person who got me my belt, Steven Lim, and of course, the other side, is the surname of the owner, moi. Incidentally, Steven shares the same surname as me, and for his generosity, the ‘林’ will stay with my belt.
My belt is purely pragmatic in existence. The hand stitching is not so much to make this belt unique to me, it serves as a form of identification, as I’ve been to hombu dojo, and seen Gis, belts and hakamas placed all over the changing room. Without a name to your person item, someone might mistakenly take yours and that wouldn’t be a very gracious thing to have happen in Hombu. Hence there is a need for identification. Albeit a simple one for me.
I never got to buying another belt, as this one serves me really well. Although it is thinner, and sometimes, it doesn’t hold the hakama up as well as I’d wanted to, there is still no need for me to get another black belt. I rarely wash it, so it still looked almost the same as the day I bought it. The black is a little faded, the strings coming off in places here and there, but it still serves its purpose, hold the gi together, and let me wear my hakama.
Some people out there will put their belt to wash, not for the purpose of cleanliness, they want to age the belt, so that it look old and seasoned. I never see a need for that, and it has never occurred to me to have a belt that looked aged. It is all there for a practical reason, and I’ll wear it until it falls apart, and only then will there be a need to replace it, and that only after I’ve mend it until it cannot be mended.
I think I’ve been wearing this belt for almost ten years now, and I don’t think I’d be replacing it anytime soon. This is a gift to me and I am reminded of the kindness that was shown to me, every time I put it on.
Not too long ago, I chatted up an Aikidoka, when I was on my way to NUS for my Aikido class. I sat down with this chap and once we started talking, I ended up late for my class, very late.
The gist of the conversation bothers me, and makes me wonder, again, the state and quality of the Aikido practitioners in Singapore.
Instructor in one school, Student in another
We started the chat, talking about the weather, stuffs about Aikido of course. I didn’t know this chap so well, and thought he was working in some corporate office, like me, and takes Aikido lessons in the evening.
We talked about the respective Aikido school, and I learned that he actually teaches Aikido in a school that is specifically tailored for children, it is related to one of the Aikido school in Singapore.
He lamented that because of the large size of the school, there are multiple instructors holding classes, and because the head instructor is the head instructor, there is limited opportunity to train with the head instructor, in depth, in person. So those different instructors have different interpretations, dependent on the understanding of the instructors. So he ended up getting a variety of style. This is quite common, since owing to the large size of the school. No matter how much quality one can put into the instructors, it will always get watered down, as the numbers gets bigger. It’s elementary, really.
Regular Army, Rangers and Delta Force
In military terms, you have the regular Army, then you get the Rangers, which is better trained than the regular Army, then you have the Delta Force, which is the creme de la creme of the Army. A regular Army unit? Corps size, which is perhaps 50,000 men. A Ranger unit? It is about 3,500 men, and Delta Force? even smaller, maybe 1,000 or less?
The point is, when you want something to have quality, you cannot have quantity, an vice versa. Martial arts is subject to the same equation. You want good quality practitioners? Have a smaller class, a smaller group. The larger the class, the worse the quality.
Of course, you need a bigger class, if you are aiming to make it profitable. You need economies of scale, so that you can be sustainable, so that you can make money, and keep going. This is the perpetual enemy of any Aikido school, any martial arts school, any business. You need constant, repeating customers to make money, and the larger the better!
Back to this chap I met…
So he is effectively a paid, full time instructor. And the simpleton in me, expects him to learn from his sensei.
Instead, he told me, as a matter of fact, he is going to another smaller, Aikido school to learn. A school that is not affiliated to the one he teaches in.
Sorry, this blew my mind.
This chap has no reservations in loyalty. Well, who am I to demand that he has? He is a paying student, a consumer in the broadest sense. Nevermind that he is a paid instructor of another Aikido school. I don’t know how to wrap my logic around such matter.
Perhaps it is not about loyalty, it is about being drawn towards quality. Perhaps, as an instructor, he is compelled to deliver the best Aikido curriculum to his students, and the current curriculum in his Aikido school isn’t measuring up, so he has to use his own money to go and learn from another school, so that he can bring back what he learned from another school to teach his students. It is like a Mercedes driving instructor, going to BMW to learn how to drive better, and use what he learned in BMW to teach Mercedes students how to drive better. I don’t know how that sounds like, but for marital arts this just sound weird.
Stick with one school
Although I used the word ‘loyalty’ here, I don’t think, I train with Harry sensei for the longest time, because I am ‘loyal’ to him. Neither am I disloyal, in any sense. When I train long enough with Harry sensei, his understanding becomes my knowledge, and through a thorough understanding of his movement, I learn my own unique style. This process is deep and takes years. Of course, you can throw in the fact that I am ‘lucky’ to have direct, and intimate access to a 7th Dan Aikido shihan, I can build my knowledge on a dedicated, single sensei platform.
Honestly, I don’t have a good answer out of this. I think is all boils down to your own path and what you want out of it. I cannot see myself training in one place and teaching in another, there is just something not coherent in that method of thought.
Anyway, here’s a list of Aikido schools in Singapore. I don’t know if the list is a complete one, as the community is still fragmenting. By the way, they are not listed in any order, its completely random.
Everybody prays, one way or another. For someone who is areligious, it is quite difficult for me to really explain this ‘pray’ thing we humans do in detail.
But yes, I do pray, and your mum do pray too. I don’t know if you boys would pray and who or what you’ll pray to, but I’ll give my 2 cents worth.
Firstly let’s look at a practical example. When your mother had a very difficult boss in the earlier days of her working life, she dread going to work. But she has to, so she seek solace in prayers when she visits the Kuan Im Tng Temple (如切观音堂) at Tembling Road. She did that almost every weekend and not long after that, her boss began to treat her nicer, and her days in the office seems to have improved. I don’t know what you can attribute it to the efficacy of her prayers or you can attribute it to things getting smoother, and she was experiencing some teething, new job jitters.
But I think there is some psychological positive effects of prayers. Religious people pray to their gods, buddhas, deities, saints, and other items or characters of higher powers. I prefer to appeal to my spiritual side, and the idea of a prayer is like sending your silent scream out into the cosmos, and seek strengths that you find lacking within.
Pray for good things, seek good conversations with yourself through prayers.
I don’t know if prayer works for me. Personally, I’m a Buddhist kind of person so I do go to a Buddhist temple, burn 3 joss sticks and usually in three bow, pray for 3 things that I want from the divine to have happen in my life. Don’t ask me why the ‘trinity’ of things. It’s not something I have an explanation for, when I do, I’ll share with you.
Prayers are a very, personal and intimate things; so it is really up to the both of you to decide if you want to believe it or not. But I think the human psyche is such that the more you think, belief, the more you will act on it to manifest it in reality. Prayers are something like that, you want something to happen, you pray for it, be it in a temple, in the quiet of your bedroom, in the depths of a psychological dungeon, you utter a prayer, to yourself, to seek strengths, to calm yourself down, and perhaps, the prayer you utter will connect you to the great scheme of the universe. And when you seek help, help will come.
Prayers are not answers
Please remember one thing though, prayers are prayers, you can pray, but if you do not act on your prayers, nothing will happen. You still need to work, even if you pray to strike a 1 million dollar lottery, you will not win, if you do not get your ass off the couch to buy the lottery ticket. Nobody wins a lottery they don’t buy. Prayer works best when you commit to action. Sometimes, when the going gets tough, and action seems to be waning, a little prayer is like a kick booster, gives you that little internal strength to continue. With a little prayer, you will breakthrough.
Prayers are a form of internal conversation
When you pray, who do you talk to? Some talk to god, buddhas and other characters they believed to be true, more importantly, prayers are an internal conversation you have with yourself. Even when you talk to god, god doesn’t really talk back (for those who’s gods talks back, needs to see a really good shrink). The whole idea of using prayer as a form of internal conversation with yourself is to help you reach into yourself, into places where you normally won’t reach, to find strengths to do things you normally won’t do. That’s what prayers do.
Prayers are positive energy
Nobody prays for their negative things. Everybody wants to pray for good things. Sometimes, people do pray for bad things to happen to other people, that is not a prayer, that is a curse, a hex, you are trying to ask the cosmos to hurt someone else out there. Please don’t do that. If you want to seek divine power to help you, use the universal energy for good, for positivity, not to see that someone gets hurt.
Pray for good things, seek good conversations with yourself through prayers. Then you’ll be ready and open to accept and receive good things. You cannot protect yourself from bad things from happening to you, but if you have a good conversation with yourself through prayer, then the bad will quickly pass. Always seek positivity.
It is not the best answer for this rather abstract and highly personal topic, and I am not a fervent advocate of praying. I do drop by our nearby temple to pray. It makes me feel good, burn 3 joss sticks, offer 3 bows. I really don’t know what happens beyond what I can’t see, but I walk away from every prayers a little stronger, a little bit more positive, that things will turn out well. And if they still don’t; well, makes me wonder if I should pray more.
There was an Aikido club exchange between the 4 universities recently, and I had the opportunity to attend all but one of the session. Each of the Aikido club are managed by different Aikikai affiliated schools, so it’s a good time to get exposed to Aikido under different interpretations by different sensei.
(I didn’t attend the one held at SIM University, so I can only post a group photo of those who went)
The session was conducted by Harry sensei, 6th Dan Aikikai. He went through a range of basic Aikido techniques, focusing on Kokyu Nage, with emphasis on posture, contact, and of course attitude.
Harry sensei wants a sincere attitude in training and for the nage to feel that resistance from the uke, the nage needs to know that the uke is not being difficult, instead the nage needs to understand the difficulty. Through a good attitude, we can learn to face a difficult situation with calm and poise.
Harry sensei did a few KokyuNage technique using katate dori grasp. Interestingly, he also wanted us to try a ryo kata dori, Kokyu Nage technique. This is a close in technique, where the uke is in a very strong position. The nage as to understand how to expand and hyper extend the uke, so as to weaken the close proximity, find and opening to disrupt the uke, and result in a throw.
This is a habit of Harry sensei, and as a sensei, it is also a time for him to learn. He took many students from other dojos to be his partner for kokyuho. It is sort of a ‘sampling’ he does to get a sense of the students’ ability to understand kokyu ho and how it is done.
Practice, Practice and Practice with a Partner!
I has a very pleasant partner for one of the techniques (I didn’t get her name! Apologies!). I don’t know her grade but having don a hakama, it would have meant that she already as some basic technical knowledge of Aikido. But based on her movement, I should think she might be a junior belt. Bottom line is, she is good enough to better her current grade.
Despite of being junior in belt, and smaller in size, she has a good feel of how the technique ought to work and has a decent amount of finesse. Some junior belts (senior belts as well!) try too hard, and emit too much strength. For her, she has a good balance of attitude, skill, and judgement. That means I can practice very comfortably with her and at a speed which we can understand harmony a bit better. She is able to take a throw well enough and can dish out just about the same. With such a partner, there is no need for much talking to learn. I just need to explain a few minor points and the rest of the learning is through the movement and the technique.
This session which was held on a rainy Saturday, was conducted by Serge sensei, 5th dan Aikikai. He is the head instructor of Mumei Shudan, and his technical explanation of Aikido is second to none.
We went through some basic Aikido warm ups and he also started the class with basic Kokyu Nage technique, and once the class has warmed up sufficiently, we proceed to experiment with more advance technique, such as Sankyo, Kote Gaishi, Shiho Nage. We even have time to squeeze in a multiple attack technique, where the nage’s right hand is held by one uke, and the left hand by another.
The whole idea is to allow the nage to explore how to work with a difficult situation and find the uke who is ‘weaker’, in his ‘politically corrected’ definition, the uke who is in a weaker position, and handle the technique has if you are dealing with one person. You converge the weaker uke towards the other uke, and using one on the other, collectively disrupts both ukes balance, thus escaping their grasps.
I was able to grab the girl whom I was practicing with in NUS earlier and continue to train with her. It doesn’t matter the grade, as long as the partner is able to understand and synchronize with your movement. Such training partners very precious and are hard to come by, and it was indeed my privilege to have her as my training partner.
Once you are able to find that harmony, talking is not only unnecessary , and it also break the physical flow of the technique. And as with my practice with her in NUS, she is able to dish out as much as she can take, which makes it such a joy in training.
It was a rainy Friday evening for SMU last leg of the training. As with NTU dojo, it was my first time there. One great advantage of SMU dojo is the central location, its just a couple of steps away from the MRT and everything is sheltered, great for a stormy weather.
The dojo is helm by Lin Sen Hui sensei, 4th dan Aikikai. He went back to the basics and focus on stance, distance and posture. the analogy he used for the stance is the ‘chopsticks’, leg to the body, if both chopsticks is straight, the posture, spine and head will be properly aligned.
We went through the a series of techniques which also includes Sankyo, where the uke executes a shomenuchi, and the nage has to meet the sword and turn it into a Sankyo. There is also Kote Gaishi, but it was a variation which starts from a katate dori, gyakuhanmi catch.
We managed to learn Irimi Nage from a Shinjukai styled perspective. There was a slight difference in the uke taking the fall, which needs us to adjust our posture a little.
No Mystery partner
Sadly my mystery partner didn’t attend the class.
In a Nutshell
It was a good exposure for me learning from different sensei,as well as exposing myself to a larger group of training partners. There are certainly some variety of understanding and interpretations of how Aikido works, and the challenge for me it not to bring what I learned into other people’s dojo.
More importantly, I challenge myself to adapt and melt into other school’s Aikido techniques. Keep my critical mouth shut, and open myself to a different exposure. It is not about ‘that’s not how we do it’, rather it is about ‘so that’s how you guys do it.’ finding similarities through differences in the techniques, learn to pick up the subtle nuances and change our style accordingly. It is about being an Aikido chameleon, changing our styles so that we can suit whatever style other dojos might have.
It was a great training session, and I am humbled by the generosity and warmth offered my friends from the other university Aikido clubs.