We have a problem

 

Two days back, there’s the annual Inter-University Aikido training at NUS and you will get to train with a lot of new folks from other universities, as well as bumping up with a lot of old pals, chronologically these pals are still significantly younger than me, so the ‘old’ in the pals here, refers to them as familiar faces from other university dojo.

Anyway…

For an Ikkyo-omote waza, I paired up with this petite girl from Singapore Management University. Harry sensei was showing a kind of a leading hand technique which will be quite technically difficult if there is no blending.

With this girl, there is no blending.

She was asking me if she was doing it correctly, and I replied. ‘Wait, there’s a problem I need to sort out.’

One of us is too hard and one of us has to soften.

No prize for getting the right answer.

Anyway it is not a matter of ‘seniority’ or ‘superior’ skills. She’s quite hard, and there’s no way that I can make her follow my leading hand, it’s a slippery fish analogy, the hard I try, the worse it becomes and eventually, both of us will walk away unable to execute the technique nicely.

So I soften, and try to blend; it was still awkward for a few cycles, then I caught her vibe and rhythm, and the technique begins to work. As a nage, she was quite hard and linear which is not what Harry sensei wanted us to do, nonetheless, I followed and let her leading hand, lead.

When it was her turn to be uke, she couldn’t follow, too hard.

So I soften some more and things begin to work, I could lead and she could follow.

And eventually we managed to get along with the technique, and enjoyed the session.

It was a problem

After class she came to me and we chatted a bit, and I found out her name was ‘Shuling’, so I asked her if she’d figured out the problem, she admitted that she’s too hard.

To make a fair argument, that’s life. She is not ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ being hard, neither am I  the ‘better’ one being soft, I just want the technique to work, and the technique not working is a problem I need to fix with her. It is not a competition to see who is better than who. Which is why there is no element of competition in Aikido. We want to work with people, and make the situation work, so in order to work with people and get the best out of a situation, we open up, soften our stances and try to understand the other party, and help the other party open up as well.

We try to understand how our partner works, and help them help us. In a myopic spirit of competitiveness, we try to understand our partners, so that we can exploit them, and their weakness, so that we can win, the competition, the medal, the glory. What and who did we end up destroying, for us to become a champion?

Sync problem 

Every time we partner someone, we have to calibrate our synchronicity, no two person is the same at any given time. Every touch point is unique and very much one in a gazillion event of a lifetime. It is a very precious connection and it is also a problem, because even with familiarity, it doesn’t always works. Even those Aikido friends’ I’ve been training with for years, I mentally prepare to meet them for the first time, every time. That’s beginner’s mind for me.

We can never fully understand our partner. In an Aikido context, how Shuling worked is only one part of the equation. Of course, I being more senior to her allows me the luxury of choice; to slow things down, soften and go along for the ride. I could have bumped into a chap more senior than me who is oblivious to how skillful he or she is, in that aspect, I as the uke/nage, too have to blend, in a soft way in a hard way, depends on the partner you got.

So we have to solve that working problem, and the technique can be the killer breaking up the work, or the technique can be one that brings two differing people together. One has to back down so that another one can step up, and once that person has stepped up, he or she can help the other one who backed down in the first place. So this is Aikido in a back and forth movement, nobody wins, but everyone one wins big. If you compete, there can be one winner, with a bigger problem. Isn’t it a better idea if everyone comes together, forget about the competition, solve the problem and win bigger?

You can’t choose your partner

Well, actually you can, but you have to wait your turn. I told Shuling that the dojo mimics life. How many of us has friends who became not friends, and our ‘enemies’ coming to our aid? Sometimes, as much as we mentally choose our partner, it is also a kind of cosmic fate that chooses our partner for us, and who we end up with is who we need to blend with, hard or soft, it all boils down to how hard and how much you treasure that brief fart of a connection you have with your training partner.

It might not be much, but that’s all we’ve got to give.

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The Problem with Aikido

Osensei

COMPETITON

People are always comparing.

People are always critical over things they don’t understand.

People are always wondering the efficacy of Aikido.

Well, it can’t be helped, as Aikido is a kind of mixed bag.

I think I’ve finally figured out what and why people think there is a problem with Aikido.

The Number ONE question is:

“Does Aikido Works?” 

Well, nobody really knows, actually.

Because Aikido doesn’t encourage competition, and without the typical competition, you really cannot tell who is better who, and what works and what doesn’t.

A typical Aikido (me included) don’t really experience loss, defeat or setback, bestowed by an opponent. No one in Aikido wins a medal, and since there are no winners, there are no bitter lessons for losers to learn.

There is no way to validate if Aikido is effective in a controlled, rule-based environment. There are no championships to decide who is the best Aikidoka out there.

Fake Aikido

Which leads to the accusations flying all over the place, ripping into Aikido that looks ‘fake’ and the mysterious ki force that ‘Grand-masters’ uses and causes people to fly all over the place at a touch, or worse, no touch. Almost every Aikido ‘Grand-master’ wants to look fantastic and awesome!

There are no fake Aikido, only fake representation of Aikido. Remember, it is the Singer, not the Song. If it works, Aikido works, and if it doesn’t, blame me as a lousy practitioner. This will apply in any martial arts, just as there are fake MMA fighters, and excellent street brawlers.

Aikido as designed and engineered by O’sensei in his days, isn’t capable of standing up to a variety of barrage in our current era. There is no concrete proof out there that really says conclusively Aikido works. Period.

We are not the sum of the medals we won, or lost. 

False Sense of Security

So most Aikidokas goes to practice in an environment, that doesn’t pit you against one another, so we will never know what works and what doesn’t. And Aikido works best in a constructive, helpful environment, unfortunately it also imbue into people that if your Aikido works in the dojo, your Aikido will work as a self defense platform. Which, is two totally different matter altogether.

Blame it on the spirit of Aikido, which is love, peace and harmony, all those hippy slogans. Hard, fighting people wants to know if it works, and proof that it does. No Aikidokas has appear to be so generous to step up and to put those questions to rest, one and for all.

So it might work, it might not, don’t get too comfortable with it! Just practice, practice and practice some more!

One of its kind

Then again, there are so many questions about the effectiveness of Aikido, precisely because it is a very unique martial way. As an Aikidoka, we are not walking mainstream, we don’t get into fights, just for the sake of proving if it works or not. Aikido takes away extrinsic competition, so that we can have the time to reflect within. We are not pressured by competition (which is plentiful nowadays!Robots and AI!) to perform. We prefer to tuck ourselves away, quietly work on improving our own techniques, help each other get better, build and collaborate, not fight to destroy.

True, putting other people into our performance and competition, steeps up the learning curve, which is precisely what we do not endorse. We, as humans bloom at our own pace, and we all with wither, sooner than we think. Why spend our time in vain trying to prove if it works or not? Sure it might not work as well as we wanted it to, which is why we practices right? We need to turn up at the dojo and practice like no tomorrow, since there is no right outcome. For an Aikidoka, the outcome is a continuum, a process, and it is never completed. We are not the sum of the medals we won, or lost.

Aikido is

There cannot be a comparison. O’sensei created Aikido in post-war Japan. I cannot imagine the horrors he has to witness and seeing friends and students go to war, and never return, those returned; never the same again. O’sensei himself fought in a couple of wars. While I have never experience war, (Thank goodness!), war changes people, and O’sensei saw that, I can only presume that he created Aikido to promote love, peace and harmony, which is so much lacking in his time and surely our time as well. So if you want to fight, compare and win medals, there is always an octagon around the corner, but please, not in an Aikido dojo.