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.
Harry sensei was a guest instructor for Shiju-kai’s 5th All Aikido Demonstration and Seminar. Typically, when Harry sensei is present to teach a class, I will always make a point to turn up.
Aikidokas are always in awe, as to how Harry sensei move. He moves in such a way there it is difficult for a person to resist him, as I’ve said before, the harder you catch him or resist him, the easier you make it for him to displace you.
He can do this with literally anyone. He has a keen sense of feeling and touch that he knows how to get to your centre, without you knowing. That means he is very connected and open to receive his partner.
“I have no ego! I am already so old!”
He said something to that effect recently in class, and it shows in the way he practice Aikido. There is no need for him to defend himself in any way against an ‘attack’, he is so well practiced in aikido, that he is perceptive understanding how people work. He disarms the attacker, by being disarming.
There is a certain poise and grace in the way he moves, the circle is so small that it is difficult to counter. When he pivot, he does it so subtly that you cannot possibly expects that. Recently, I held him in a Gyakyu Hanmi, Katate tori grasp, hard, he flipped his wrist down, and swing his hands up, I went down, up and down again. All done so fast I barely had time to do anything else than to follow and take a ukemi.
While all this seems very simple, you cannot understand his thinking and philosophy, until you follow him for a long period of time. Even with so many years of training under him, there is still much to learn, so much more that I can learn from him.
During a seminar, it is only for a hour, at most. With that limited time, that is only so much anyone can absorb from him, in fact, it is almost nil. You will need to hold his hands for long, long time to really feel him, and understand how he moves. While he is earnest in teaching, there is only so much he can verbalize; Aikido is a physical movement, and you need to train WITH your sensei to understand Aikido from his perspective. That kind of transmission from sensei to student is one of the most difficult challenges in any martial arts.
Fingers and Hands
The chief mistake any students make in watching him was to miss out his hands, he moves his fingers in a very subtle way and he can displace even the largest uke. His fingers are centrally connected to his one point and when he moves his one point, his fingers and hands becomes an extension of that one point, if you hold him, his one point will extend into you, and you too, will become an extension of his one point.
People see how smooth he move people, but most fail to notice that subtle twist of his wrist.
His demonstration is a very simple affair, and it is nothing dramatic actually. He doesn’t make any effort to move in a dynamic way, and this is sometimes very deceiving, people always seem to that it is staged in a certain manner. It is not. His throw is for real and you will fall.
I always enjoy seeing Harry sensei in action, in seminar, as he carries more than 40 years of Aikido practice. There is a hush of aura, when he takes a class, and that twinkle of joy in his eyes when he displaced a surprised uke. People knows him by his reputation, but not many understands how he moves.
There is a sense of joy in him taking a class, and he is spreading bliss and peace through Aikido, in the most disarming manner.
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.
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.