Harry sensei is human

Harry sensei is human

I’ve been training with Harry sensei, since I joined Aikido. That was more than 20 years ago, and while the thought of looking for other sensei has occurred to me, I never really gotten around to actually do that. I don’t know if it is a ‘loyalty’ thing, or what, but I like training with him and I cannot see myself training under another sensei.

Harry sensei is slowly inching towards eighty. He is human, and while he ages, his Aikido will slowly degrades. I can sense it as I’ve been training with him for a long time. He is still sharp, and very technically sound with his Aikido, but you can feel the strength waning. All martial arts is still a matter of physics, muscles, youth still trumps with strength and brute force. Aikido will all the blending can only blend so much. A bone will still crack and break if you put the strength of a young 20 year-old karateka in a straight punch.

Don’t get me wrong, Harry sensei still has it in him, he can still move, he still amazes people, upsetting their balance with a flick of his wrist.  But the day will come where he will no longer be able to do it.

The question for me is, as his uke, will I still allow him throw me around.

When that time comes, as his uke, do I still continue to fall, ala charity. Or not fall, as he will not be able to make me?

It makes me melancholy just to think of that. I will never forget the video clip showcasing Morihiro Saito and his uchideshi, Tristan Da Cunha. It was so obvious that Tristan was giving charity fall, as Saito sensei is no longer effective as an Aikidoka, but he is still Tristan’s teacher. (Loyalty illustrated)

I’m not sure if the general public, or even practicing Aikidoka can understand that when, Harry sensei reaches that age, I’d probably do what sempai Tristan did as well, to give “charity fall”. While the entire thing will surely look fake, I certain do hope that people can see the spirit and the connection between two persons training together for a very long time, the connection between the teacher and the student, the connection between a sunset and sunrise. While the sun sets, into darkness and gives in to the moon, the sun never really goes away.

Metaphorically, that is how it goes, Aikido is very much like the sun, it will not go away, and the warmth and light will still be felt, very much long after the sensei is gone. The only question is that, what will the student, become?

Back in Bukit Merah SAFRA Dojo, I was holding a brown belt, try and spot me!


Take a bow

We bow in Aikido, towards the front of the dojo, where a photograph of O sensei is usually hung or placed. Some other dojos hung scrolls instead of O sensei’s photo. In our old Bukit Merah Dojo, we hung O’sensei’s photograph and that of the 1st doshu, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, and a huge scroll.

Right now in NUS, Harry sensei replaced O sensei’s photograph with a scroll, as he doesn’t want the students to mishandle O’sensei’s photograph.

“Bowing before class starts is like a recharge for me”

Anyway, we bowed to the front, and that for me starts my session in class, long before Hary sensei officially starts class. The first bow in class, for me is the most important bow. It is not religiously motivated, no I do not pray towards O sensei. I bow because there is a deep reverence I have in me, and for me to practice Aikido well, I need to be mindful of that reverence.

As I bow, I think of many things that has happened. I extend my thought towards people I cared about, matters I cared about, sometimes, I bow to surrender to the day, I bow to get ‘turned on’ and mentally psych myself for the Aikido class ahead. It is no longer as simple as a bodily bow. when I bow my body, I let my mind settle on mindfulness of a couple of things, matters, situation people I care about or have came into my awareness.

I’ve long learned that the ‘beginner’s mind’ for me is to constantly return to the basic human fundamentals, my humility, my connection to the earth, my connection to people, to myself. Nowadays we are so connected to external devices that we no longer connect inside of us. and we continue to chase what is outside, using our precious energy in us to do that senseless chasing.

Bowing before class starts is like a recharge for me. I divorced myself of all those things that bothers me, and reconnects with the inside of me which is the more sustainable part, the more silent and deep part, where my wisdom resides. With a deep and long bow, I can connect and find the energy and calmness to handle class, the patience to deal with things.

First published Sept 23, 2015