Last week, we did a technique, Ryo Katatedori Kokyunage. It started out as a simple technique and to add in some difficulty, I decided to apply the ‘unbendable’ arm as an uke so that the nage can have an increased level of challenge.
Mingjie, as the nage, couldn’t do it, so I switched role and be the nage, and he did what I did, using the ‘unbendable’ arm, and I couldn’t do it. No matter how hard I try, Turns out, that method of kokyunage, is ineffective.
It does bugs me a bit, but I have long said, I am not perfect, and some of techniques I do will fail, as it has many times, but this time it makes me think deeper. Perhaps the label as a ‘sensei’ comes with the expectations for me to be able to do every technique, or teach, overcome roadblock or barrier. I couldn’t.
That is a reality check for everyone, particularly myself, of course my ego was bruised.
More than that, this inability exposes my learning path, which I must overcome.
There is 2 ways to look at this inability.
1- I have not attain the level of proficiency to do this technique, hence this technique is more advanced and beyond my current abilities. Harry sensei can do it, and of course, he comes with many more decades of experience.
2- This technique is ineffective. Try as hard as I could, I cannot make it work, Mingjie couldn’t make it work, Choi tried and couldn’t make it work, and checking YouTube, nobody does it the way we did it on the mat that evening.
That is of course not a exhaustive list and perhaps Harry sensei could because this was within his technical ability, or we have been charitable as ukes. Or it is really not an effective way to do it.
It bugs me because, I have seen this level of incompetence before, in me. There were some technique I couldn’t do in the past, I could now. There are things I didn’t understand in the past, I made an effort to learn and now I possess the knowledge to certain subject matter to hold a conversation.
While I was compelled to write this off as an ineffective technique, the stronger compulsion was to dig deeper and…
Investigate, Probe, Learn, Explore, Discover
It can be so disappointing to those on the mat to see me fail, well, I did. and I explained to the rest that hey, I do fail. and we need to learn from it. the Dojo is a place to learn, and we will fumble, and have our incompetency exposed. It is fine for me, as taking a class is not a performance, I do not expect myself to conduct a ‘perfect’ class. There is no such thing.
Every time we come for class, even as an ‘instructor’ I also learn and at a very different level. While I want to instruct, there are times I couldn’t. Of course the students pay money to have the best possible instructorship, I hope they can also lean something when this instructor fails. I have no intentions to hide my failures, using excuses or some lame justifications. I’m not competent about it, and I am not shy about it either, the only way to overcome it is to train harder, investigate into the whys.
The good thing is Mingjie is on the mat every Monday, and I have to opportunity to work this with him, until we both learn to overcome this, together.
Mum and dad were a long time waiting before this baby girl finally arrived last week
PUBLISHED ON MAR 15, 2015 3:45 PM
BY LI XUEYING HONG KONG CORRESPONDENT
As a young reporter 11 years ago, I wrote about an alarming trend: The number of miscarriages in Singapore was going up, up and up.
I got the statistics, spoke to a woman who had experienced a miscarriage, interviewed five doctors and probed a politician on possible ways to address the problem.
It was an assignment to me, a story to be done before I moved on to the next.
A decade on, the issue became personal. Within six months, I had not one, but two miscarriages.
In May 2013, I found out that I was pregnant. It was unplanned but my husband and I, after some initial adjustment, were thrilled.
After all, we had been married for four years but somehow life had got in the way of making space for children: I went overseas to do a master’s degree, then waited for a posting as a foreign correspondent. I was then 34, just a year from being defined as a geriatric mother – or what doctors call a woman of advanced maternal age.
We saw a doctor in Hong Kong where we were now based. He did a scan.
Congratulations, he said. There was a gestational sac – the first sign of pregnancy but no yolk or heartbeat. But that’s normal, he declared. It’s early days yet.
We returned to Singapore for a break and as a surprise to our best friends who had just had a baby. We popped champagne and I had an illicit sip, a toast to the new addition to our group as well as the embryo growing – I thought – inside me.
Back in Hong Kong, we went back to the clinic. The news was not good this time. The sac had not expanded, which meant the pregnancy was not progressing as it should. I’m sorry, said the doctor.
We were upset, of course.
But I sought comfort in research and statistics, including the ones I had cited in my own article from years before. One in five known pregnancies ends in miscarriage. Some of us, I told my husband and myself philosophically, just have to make up the numbers.
We decided I would have the procedure “to clean up” at the public hospital. Like many others who had miscarriages, we told few people. I explained to my office that I had to take a few days off work for a “medical procedure” and left it at that. In hospital, I finished Salman Rushdie’s new memoir Joseph Anton and kept tabs on the Edward Snowden saga then unfolding in Hong Kong.
But my husband and I had changed. Within just two short weeks of being pregnant, our world had shifted. We had begun to plan and dream, to think of what it would be like to be parents, from how we would dress the child to what values we would impart.
Two months later, I conceived again. This time, we were not so innocent in our joy. We waited till we saw the heartbeat on the ultrasound screen twice – a red dot pulsating amid a mass of variegated greys and blacks – before we told our parents.
On our third visit, when I was about 11 weeks along, I complained of slight abdominal cramps. Probably just ligament pains as the uterus stretches, the doctor – a different one – reassured me as she moved a transducer over my belly.
My husband, reaching out for his camera to take a photo of the screen, stilled. It was all darkness. The heartbeat had stopped.
This time, there was little bravado left in us. We opted for a private hospital where I would have a dilation and curettage operation that night.
We shared a room with a Hong Kong couple in their early 20s, who we gathered were there for an abortion and were placed in the awkward situation of having to listen to me tearfully break the news to my mum over the phone.
They went first. As they left, the young man whispered: “We’re sorry.”
Our turn came. In the operating room, my doctor, her pearl necklace shimmering from her surgical scrubs, loomed over me. Later, as I emerged from the haze of general anaesthesia, I blearily asked her: “Did you see if it was a boy or a girl?” She shook her head gently at me.
Silly me. It was all scraped up and sucked out.
Medically, recurrent pregnancy loss is defined as more than two miscarriages in a row. We were two strikes down, one more to go. But as anyone who has gone through miscarriage will know – and without meaning to diminish the pain for those who suffered even more loss – one is one too many.
So we went through test after test searching for causes. Nothing stood out. The only certainty, said the doctor, was my age. Fact is, old eggs are old, which means a higher risk that embryos with genetic abnormalities are incubated.
That there was all this uncertainty made it harder.
It was an invisible grief. We returned to work, looking the same on the outside but bereft within.
There had been no wake, no funeral, no body to be buried. We did not even know what to call our losses – technically they were not babies; the first was “just” an embryo while the second was “old enough” to be a foetus.
I grappled with my feelings. Somehow, society speaks of miscarriages in hushed tones – the word itself seems to suggest some kind of responsibility on the part of women who “mis-carry” their children. See how we use the word when we describe legal travesties as a “miscarriage of justice”.
The fact is, why miscarriages happen is often shrouded in mystery, and most times, say doctors, they are beyond one’s control. Yet, the secrecy surrounding it leaves much ignorance about the issue.
For many, what we know of miscarriages is what we have seen on television – a woman falling down and ending up with blood on her thighs.
Is it any wonder that many who have gone through it choose to keep silent?
I was fortunate to have family and close friends who gave us enormous support.
My husband and I certainly were not ashamed of what had happened. But we were in pain and we were not sure talking incessantly about it would help.
Furthermore, what could we expect people to say except an awkward “I’m sorry”? Unlike for other bereavement, there is no social ritual for coping with this particular kind of death.
Yet, I did feel an irrational resentment that not more people knew of our losses. It was not exactly sympathy I wanted. It was recognition, I think, that a loss from a miscarriage was felt as keenly as any other.
And, I wonder, if more speak more openly of their experiences, would those who have experienced the same pain feel less alone?
It is a personal issue, and different people will feel differently.
In all honesty, I began writing this only as my husband and I were waiting to welcome our daughter.
Kei An, weighing 3.25kg, measuring 49cm and boasting a nose like her father’s, finally arrived last Tuesday, six days past her due date.
Without the hope she represents, I am not sure I could write about our past losses.
But what I do know is that as my husband and I get to know this little one, we will also remember our other babies gone before her.
No, this is not a line from a romantic movie, this phrase is most often used to indoctrinate anyone who is looking to join Aikido. Everyone starts Aikido holding someone’s hands, that connection is established the moment we step into the dojo.
What is an Uke?
Well this is a theme I’ve been toying in my head for a while, Uke (受け) in Japanese, literally means the person who “receives” a technique. And it is commonly mistaken as the ‘attacker’ in a dualistic sense, because the uke often ‘initiates’ the technique with a ‘strike’ or a ‘punch’ or something else.
As we get closer to the dynamics between a nage (The Thrower)and uke, you can see that the line is very, very fine. Well let’s not go there yet.
Back to being an uke on your very first day learning Aikido. Let’s rewind that back a bit more.
Back to being an uke on your very first day sucking on a milk bottle.
Back to being an uke on your very first day you learn to ride a bike, becoming a Dad, becoming a teacher, learning to lose your loved ones, opening a restaurant, looking at a business problem for the very first time, your first day being a doctor.
Every step of the way, we are in the path of reception, every baby will reach out and receive milk and food when they are hungry. There is no naturally born expert Dad, every dad is a student to their children, and the kids are teaching their parents valuable lessons about parenting.
We are constantly receiving
There is no way about it, the moment we are born, we receive our first breath, without it, we will be receiving our first bacteria, coming to rot our dead body back to nature. The irony is, when we think we are becoming remotely good at something, we begin to dish out lessons, and hide behind a thin façade of competency, when we are best receiving.
Even a doctor, or a business consultant, armed with years of medical knowledge, or years of management experience, will have to receive their problem or ailments at the get go, and will continue to receive these problems and issues. Only when you can fully comprehend, and accept what the problem really is, then a medical solution or business proposition will work. A doctor cannot simply give panadol for a runny nose, without properly receiving information from the patient. so the doctor works best being an uke, constantly receiving and not judging, not putting his years of medical knowledge in front and masquerade as an expert.
You can only become unhappy when you refuse to accept an outcome and decision, and feels that it is unfair to you. Refusing to accept is not receiving wholeheartedly; of course life can be unkind, and despite of your best efforts, you don’t get what you want, but you will always get something, and when you open your heart to receive, you will realize that you have so much more to learn from something as disappointing as not getting what you got.
Essentially Aikido is the fine art of reception, it is only when we can openly receive what the universe has for us, come what may, then we are ready for more. Fighting for more, hoarding, selfish egotistical pursuits of shallow meaningless material possessions is futile, is unnatural. We are endowed to receive, the more we are open, the more we will get, it’s only natural!
You see, if we are able to forget everything and move like how nature intends for us to be, then we would have solve our dilemma, sort of. That would also means that we are becoming more like an organism, no faculty of self awareness, choice, autonomy and critical thinking, all the hallmarks of being ‘human’.
It Takes Time
Nature will take it’s time to work around things; trees will grow around an impediment, you will not see it today tomorrow, but over time, the tree ‘wins’. Sometimes we see a dramatic volcano explosion, or an terrifying earthquake, that happened suddenly; more often than not, it is a cumulation of years, decades or even centuries of work, grinding, moving, building up the pressure and at an instant, BOOM!
Just like nature, we need to understand things take time, and we can choose a path of willing, exercise our free will to train harder, train longer, put in more focus, study Aikido texts or we can simply choose to focus on something else.
Time or Timing
On the mat, it is usually about timing, you need to watch earnestly the opening, and also where your partner might be strong and where there is a pause in his movement and that is where you can apply countermeasures. Not everything can be countered, or forced. and if the point of opposition becomes predictable, mechanical, or cyclical, then the Aikido technique is dead.
That means if you as an Uke can catch your Nage at a stoppage every single time, then something is wrong, it might not necessarily be a Nage’s ‘fault’ nor it boils down to a uncooperative Uke, neither is the problem and also both possess the solution. The Nage needs to change something to break that stalemate, and the Uke needs to yield a little so that the Nage can continue with the movement.
This is the kind of subtle communication between Aikidokas in movement that takes years of practice to build, and this is what we train for, there is little spoken between movements and we read each other instantly, keeping everything in a stable flux. This is level of training, both Aikidokas melt into each other and then you can see no distinction between winning and losing. So much so it looks like a dance, except it’s deadlier.
Naturally, when you don’t compete for pecking order, there is a more collaborative output, since we are not looking for winners by knockout, or winning by points.
In a competitive environment, there is no yielding, you can expect opposition at every given moment, and even if there is yielding, you can’t help but think if it is a feint. Once we put ourselves in a zero-sum game, everyone loses, even the winner. Eventually, such environment builds resentment and people will train hard so that they can topple the top dog, which defeats the purpose of training altogether.
Even if you come around and shake hands, hugs and all, there is still a level of distrust and guardedness which will not be conducive for mutually beneficial learning and advancement. Everyone will be watching everyone and I wouldn’t want to teach you my mat tactics; in the event I meet you on the mat, you will use what you learned about me, against me.
So yielding, or not; is a judgement call on the mat, and it takes years to discern how to compromise and how to stand firm. Sometimes it can be frustrating to learn that you cannot execute a specific technique against one specific guy in the dojo, then that is a sign you need to train more with that difficult guy, because your greatest lessons awaits.
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!
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.
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.
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.
To put things in context, being a sensei means nothing if we do not acknowledge our senpai, that is my perspective anyway.
Jason, is my senpai. James is also my senpai, and although I’m sensei, they outrank me in Dan, in age and in years of training, particularly with Jason. Yet in class, I teach and they learn, they bow to me as they would to any sensei. I make sure the reverence is reciprocated.
It doesn’t matter that in future if I rise and outrank them in grade, in age and in years of training they outrank me. When I was a white belt, Jason is already holding a coloured belt, he contributed in ways big and small to me becoming who I am today. I cannot forget that and write off his goodwill.
Loosely speaking, it means senior, elder or predecessor. To me I cannot erase the memories of those senpais that taught me, Soh, Uncle Tong, Alvin, Loh Tuck Yean (hope I got his name right!) and many others, who has showed me Aikido. Many of them has left training for good and might no longer be as proficient on the mat as they were some 20 years ago. Still they are senior to me in age, and every time I train or teach, part of what they taught me come alive in the moves.
While Harry sensei and many other Aikido teachers, taught me Aikido, sometimes it is our senpais who quietly egged us on, encouraged us, and helped us when we don’t get the technique right and yet still too timid to ask the sensei; our senpai will help us makes sense of the nitty gritty stuff. Without their care and contributions, we simply cannot get to our level of skill as quickly as we have done on our own. I have many, many big brothers and sisters in Aikido to thank and be eternally grateful for.
Not all Senpais are created equal
This is the spirit of hierarchy, we naturally align and bestowed respect and seniority to those seated to our right. Sometimes, our senpais might not have conducted themselves in best faith, others might push their weight around (pun intended) and strut their stuff on the mat simply because they literally outrank almost everyone on the mat, sans the sensei. They might also suck up to the sensei and put everyone more junior down, and treat peers like competitors for the sensei’s attention.
We scoff in contempt such outlandish and belligerent senpais, but think deeper, senpais are also human, and they have their own fallacy. I’ve long learned that anyone’s ‘supremacy’ on the mat, does not necessarily translate to a supremacy in life. People often make one part of their lives, such as being an Aikidoka fantastically awesome to make up for some shortfall in other areas of their lives. The best is we try to live a balances holistic lives. Bumping into these overbearing senpais, I did, of course, and I’ve long learned to give them a wide berth, akin oil and water.
This is just an honorific term, while there is usually one sensei, the sensei cannot become effective without a cadre of senpais. While the sensei might teach and pass down techniques and knowledge, the senpais are the one who help distill these to the more junior ones. Senpais help spread the culture and excellence further and wider.
So the relationship between a sensei and senpai is very much symbiotic. A sensei can only do so much alone, but along with a group of senpais, the sensei can do much more, and show that the school can be more than just one person.
My message to my fellow students and Aikidokas is, never forget your senpais as you progress, and advance in rank senior than them. Sometimes, our senpais might no longer be as fluid and skilled as us, but we still need to show them the due respect. Rank aside, please remember that they were here before us, and without their guidance and support, we will not get where we are, the school will not exist, no Aikido will continue.
So if you want to show that you have now become better than your senpai, all you did was limit yourself from becoming better than you are.
Tonight was the second time I teach Aikido. The cherry is broken, so it is pretty much going into the groove and doing what Harry sensei does in class, except this time it is me in his place, instead of me watching him being the sensei.
To make things perfectly clear, the statement above is about me. taking a step back being the observer, observing the observed, me; discharging my capacity as a sensei, and watching over the class like how a sensei, any sensei would.
There is really nothing much to watch over, really, these bunch of Aikidokas are my friends, we have all been training together for a long time, so we have a very safe, happy, and constructive environment, this kind of ecosystem embraces newcomers very disarmingly. Sure there is an ‘in-group’, and this ‘in-group’ is not a closed group, we’re happy to have new friends join us.
Until I became a sensei, I didn’t know what the learning curve looks like, and yes I am still learning, even though I am taking class, showing techniques and all that. While showing techniques, I am trying to do what Harry sensei taught me, us, and it is not as if he left behind a detailed technical curriculum guide on ‘How to do Aikido’. We learned what he taught us, and such a method of knowledge transfer is notorious for it’s infidelity to the spirit of originality. Even if he did leave behind some secret Aikido manuscript, I also won’t know where to start!
Thankfully, I have my friends, they remembered the bit I forgot about what Harry sensei taught us, and Mingjie came up to me after class and said I didn’t do a certain thing that Harry sensei used to do, and I was like caught off guard, I reasoned that I was focused on something else, and didn’t emphasized on that thing I didn’t do. In short I forgot.
Choy did the same and reminded me of a particular step which Harry sensei does to prevent a counter, I didn’t do that as well, or it might have slipped my mind.
The thing is Harry sensei’s teaching spans 60 years and there is so much he has taught and we are the last bunch to have trained with him in his twilight years. I’ve seen his teachings changed over the years, and with so many decades of Aikido ‘textbook’ that he has written in every class, it is humanly impossible for anyone to render his moves in any form or originality. And yet we all still try.
Herein also lies the value of Harry sensei’s students coming back to training, every time we get together, we piece a little bit of him back, we collectively remember him in the dojo where he gave so much to. I don’t want to worship the place or make it sound so sacred, but there is an importance of keeping Shoshin going, I can see it now.
Our memories of Harry sensei is all about that, memories, fickle and fleeting, open to interpretations and contentions. We as his students can argue about how certain moves are interpreted, but we all know how to do it in good spirit, because we all know Harry sensei left behind a very noble and yet quiet legacy, guarded by those few that still comes to the dojo.
It looked like any typical Monday class and I wanted it to be as such, so on the facade, there is little or no difference, I’m taking the class, 8pm, my fellow Aikidokas will take their respective places and we will start class, like we have done so for many years.
Internally, there was a huge inertia, a massive reluctance to assume the position in front of the class, as sensei. I wish Harry sensei is still alive and hoping that I can continue being the facilitator, wishful thinking I was entertaining.
I looked long at Harry sensei’s photograph which I put up on the shelf, quietly asking him for divine guidance and still wanting that affirmation from him that I will be doing fine. He is no longer around to do that, so I have to take all that he has taught me, taught us, and carry on from there. With that thought, I walked up to the front and become sensei, for the first time in my life.
The Imposter Syndrome
This is a feeling for sure, and yet it still feels strangely familiar, very ready, and I think I have Harry sensei to thank, he has been grooming me all along for this position. While he was alive, he would be the earliest one, turning up to vacuum, dust and mop the place all by himself while he was still fit. The few of us made a point to come early and help him with all the chores. As long as I am coming to class I will make sure I do all this with him until a point in time I was doing them by myself, for him, as he watches, smoking his cigarettes.
Now that he is gone, I am the one turning up earliest, doing all the vacuuming, mopping and dusting, laying the mats, getting the place ready for class, all by myself. So I know the dojo very intimately, every dirt, spot and dust is very familiar to me, working on it after so many years.
Being consistently his uke perhaps is also another way he was grooming me. While he never said that I was to become a sensei after his death, by being his uke umpteenth times has made me understand his moves, his nuances, and his unspoken expectations. Maybe by being thrown around by him the most, I’m considered remotely good enough to continue. After all, why would he continue to call me to be his uke, even for demonstrations if I am not ‘good’ enough? Perhaps there is no one else.
It had to be me
Strangely familiar as I know this is real, I didn’t voluntarily put myself there, I didn’t fake this, make this up myself, my fellow Aikidokas trust me and look upon me to keep the class going, giving me good faith that while I am still not good enough, somehow I can lah. Showing them the techniques, and sometimes the wrong ones, they will correct me, we discussed, how Harry sensei did it, and of course how we perceived the way he did what he did. We call can agree that his technical perfection to the Aikido techniques are second to none, owing to his many decades of training and dedication.
Being an Aikido sensei is not something of my choosing, there is no career path, this is just the way it is. It is terribly lonely taking that position up front, the weight of the entire class, or even school rests on me. I can’t take it lightly, somehow, sensei’s spirit and reputation lies with Shoshin Aikikai, and right now when people think about who is the sensei in Shoshin Aikikai, the guy who took over when Harry sensei passed away, that guy turns out to be me.
Every time I take a class, I position myself, not where the sensei would sit, but along the line with my fellow Aikidoka practitioners. As I have principled, I am the most ranking student in class, and therefore I am not the sensei, but a facilitator, or ‘class monitor’.
Officially, I have told James, my senpai, and maintained that I would prefer to have Harry sensei give me a blessing, best in writing, that I am given the responsibility of instructorship. Well, this is a ‘me‘ thing as I do not want to assume things and make myself ‘sensei’ while Harry sensei is still in effect, The Sensei of Shoshin Aikikai Singapore. There is no ifs and buts about it.
These will change now that he has passed away, and without his verbal, explicit expression as to how the dojo should continue, we are left to our own devices to decide.
His son, Lionel did express that it was perhaps his father’s wish to make sure his Aikido legacy should continue, which means Shoshin, the dojo he founded should carry on, and I will need to take the initiative to continue.
It is never easy with changes, and we have a few ‘closed door’ discussions with the dan grade members of Shoshin and many favoured closing the dojo, which we did, for the later part of 2021, and then James told me that it will be reopened, and he would want me to take a class, on Monday. I obliged. While I never officially heard it from Harry sensei that he consented, I’d trust James that he is carrying out sensei’s interpretations the best he could.
Harry sensei did turned up a few times and witness me taking class; he didn’t objected in anyway of sorts, so I’ll take it that my instructorship is okay. It’s surely a hot seat with him sitting there looking at me taking class, I don’t want to fumble and look bad, making him look bad or regret his decision in anyway!
Also there was a new infusion of interest from David, an Aikido instructor who is keen to take Shoshin forward. So together, we will run the class and continue practicing Aikido at the present dojo.
Initially for me, I wasn’t sure about this path. I told myself that I’ll decide again after Sensei’s passing, honestly, I’m not that keen to continue Aikido in any form or function if Harry sensei is no longer around. I am also really not keen to be a sensei of any form or function.
The feedback is that my involvement is wanted, and Shoshin Aikidokas past and present prefers to have someone who have trained under Harry sensei to continue. Many would argue that what is Shoshin unless it is passed down to someone who has trained with Harry sensei and knows his style.
While there are many students who have trained with Harry sensei, none has stepped up to take custodian of the dojo.
Shoshin is 初心
初心 in Japanese Kanji means the ‘Beginners’ Mind’, Harry sensei choose the logo to be that of 2 open hands. He has said many times that we need a beginners mind to see things properly, and not let the ego get the better of us. Practice with a Beginner’s Mind.
While it appeals to me that Harry sensei’s style should continue in Shoshin, we must also regenerate the dojo with a beginner’s mind and see Aikido new again. Not disrespecting Harry sensei’s legacy, but to really honour him by starting things fresh, taking it to greater heights.
No one can match Harry sensei’s greatness and commitment to Aikido in Singapore, and it would be ridiculous for me to even try. His style is unflinching precision, come what may, he dispatches his uke large and small with ease. All I can do is perhaps interpret his style with my own limited understanding and render it in spirit and principles.
Life is a Curve Ball
As always, you will never know how things will turn out. All I wanted to do was to follow Harry sensei and until his death, I’ll be free to decide my path. I would never expect myself to be thrusted and entrusted into this very privileged role of taking Shoshin to the next level.
I’m not sure what I will do, but with what my sensei has taught and guided me in the past, I’m sure things will turn out fine.