Observe, Observe and Observe

The greatest thing you can do in a dojo, any dojo, is to observe, observe and observe.

It is not just observing the sensei, which is the obvious thing to do, we, as students have to observe one another, and if your dojo happens to have a full length, and breath worth of mirrors, good for you. But you cannot be looking at the mirror, while you do your waza, right?

So the next best thing is to observe each other, other than the sensei.

There are many good and not so good things we can learn from observing one another. After all, we are all humans and are endowed with the same bunch of tools, hands, legs, hips, spine and all, so geometrically most of us move in the same way, most of us do irimi nage the same way, and if we observe carefully, we will notice we all makes the same mistakes, the same way.

Same same but different

Well, other than observing the similarities, right and wrong way of doing things, we have to look out for some of the different ways we do things. Some of us while trying to follow sensei faithfully, but we always have our own interpretation of what we see and our actions is never 100% accurate. We are not machines.

So we need to see with our own eyes, how our training partners move, and why they move the way they move.

Recently, I’ve been kind of obsessed with observing my fellow Aikidokas in the dojo, I will stare and stare at how my partners move, and try to understand their physical interpretation of sensei’s techniques.

I want to observe until the observer melts away and while that is not always successful as there is a critical part of me remains while I looked at my partner’s techniques. Why is he/she moving like that? And why is he not able to see his own mistakes? Why is his/her circle smaller than necessary, so much so the uke can stop him/her?

Call it nit-picking but that is what we need to do for each other when we are on the mat. We have to help each other be our own worst or best critic, depends on how you look at it, and in doing so, helps us correct what we cannot see.

Unlearn

It is also perhaps my own personal way of getting back to basics. Remember when we were all white belts and coming to the dojo is a matter of monkey see, monkey do? We as beginners, will not be able to understand the intricate whys, hows, or the rights and the wrongs.

By observing intensely how my fellow Aikidokas work, I am trying to deplete myself of the self, and understand Aikido at a fundamental level. While we all want to critic, and point out what is wrong with who’s technique, it really takes an open mind and heart to drop all that opinion and just observe.

Sometimes I succeed in that, often I don’t. It’s a habit of mind, to make distinction so as to justify our ‘self’. It is a wonderful feeling in those rare times where my monkey mind can silence itself and just move with what I’ve observed.

A List of Aikido Dojos in Singapore

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.

Shoshin Aikikai Singapore

Aikido Shinju-Kai            

Ueishiba Aikido              

Aikido Kenshinkai          

Aikido Shudokan            

Singapore Aikido Federation    

Mumei Shudan

Makoto Aikido 

Zhen-Qi Shu Aikido       

Aikikai Singapore           

Club Aikido       

Impact Aikido   

Hitoshinkan

Living Impact Aikido      

Aikido Taishinkai            

Tendoryu Aikido (Singapore)    

Kidou Academy               

Ki-Aikido            

Renshin Budokai Singapore       

 

The Aikido Show

There is a lot of debate over what is Aikido. It will never end, as everyone who is practicing the art, will try to find a meaning for themselves.

Of course with social media, like my blog, we will try to define Aikido our way and influence other people in our journey, wittingly or not. Opinionated ones will say what Aikido is, or isn’t. Not so opinionated ones will have their own quiet resolve, and watches while the world argues over which of the waves in the ocean is perfect, and which one isn’t a wave.

YouTube is a sea, it is quite crowded with people there to swim, or debate over the waves. A lot of Aikidokas are there as well, trying to put in their pail’s worth of saltwater.

What you see in YouTube isn’t the true representation of Aikido. People who don’t understand martial arts thinks in their own way, and wonder about how effective those moves are on the streets. Some will ridicule that those techniques in YouTube will not work on the streets.

So will Aikido work?

No.

It will only work if you put real work into your Aikido, until you become skillful, and not watch YouTube Aikido and wonder, debate and deliberate over if these moves are legit or not.

They are legit.

As legit as they are for YouTube.

An Aikido Show

You see, anything you put in front of a camera, is there for a reason. You want to show the world something, it will be scripted and planned to a certain degree, there will be some spontaneity, some changes here and there. But more often than not, it will be practiced and rehearsed, to make sure there is a flow in the movement to fit the agenda of the person producing the video.

toilet-paper-roll-race-cars01

No matter how real Aikido looks in YouTube, it will never be as real as the Aikido you take years to practice and train. YouTube Aikido is like looking at Aikido through a toilet roll tube, and you expects to see Aikido in it’s entire entity? So the pun is intended, YOU watch through a toilet roll TUBE.

 

Embukai

People don’t understand Embukai, and for me I didn’t question it when I first joined Aikido, and to me it is a form of demonstration specific to the art. It is also, strictly speaking not Aikido, in full glory. It is a snippet of Aikido; it’s a show of cooperation, collaboration and hours of hard work and sweat to achieve the level of harmony and, to attain the flow as prescribed for the demonstration. Failure is minimized, resistance limited and struggles omitted. The uke will yield, slam, roll, fall and get thrown. It has to look good right?

embukai.png

Just as you go to watch Ballet, you expects the Ballerina to dance properly and not to watch him/her fumble during practice. You are there to watch a performance, not practice; for a ballerina to dance to a level of performance, he/she has to put into practice unspeakable amount of hours and commitment. But you don’t question ballet, just because you think it don’t fit hip hop.

So an Embukai is very much like a Ballet dance, you want to see what you expects them to do; and not the training to meet your level of expectations. It is a show and a show seldom reflects real life in full fidelity.

Disclaimer is always needed

There ought to be a kind of buyer beware, Caveat Emptor thing for those people who put up Aikido videos in YouTube, something like what I just grabbed off, where else? YouTube.

gun grabbing.png

Victor Marx

Anyone who posts martial arts videos on the internet cannot expect anyone who watches it to do exactly the same. Just as much as anyone who watches these videos cannot expects the people in the video to do what you expects them to do.  That is a video, a completed script with a specific message and delivery. So if anyone is so well trained that they wish to post on YouTube for showing and/or bragging, please don’t expect your well intentions to be taken well. Remember the road to hell is always paved with good intentions.

The point is…

If you watch YouTube and comes up with your decision on why it don’t work and why it does, then that’s good for you. Because you just missed the ocean view, looking at the sea.

Aikido Plateau

Aikido Plateau

Have you ever trained until you feel as if you are no longer progressing?

Or seems like going to Aikido is kind of a sian (bothersome).

You feel like you are doing the same ol’ irimi nage with no sense of progress or improvement?

Appears to be making the same mistakes, or re-injuring the same injury point?

Or you are just simply jaded.

Welcome to the Aikido Plateau

plateau0004It happens to everyone, I guess not only just in Aikido but also in other endeavors, sometimes, you might feel like you have dropped from 85kg to 80kg and then it seems to stop at an odd 79.52kg… for a long time. Instead of losing weight, you lose interest in losing weight.

Then you feel disheartened, and tries something else, or tries harder, this time not with vigor, but a sense of feet dragging. You seem to have visited the same plateau many, many times going round in circles.

It is a feeling of same old place, same old pain, same old shit, same old same old.

It happened to me too.

That was when I was going from 2nd Kyu to 1st Kyu…I went to class like it was a drag. I’m kind of stuck in my head, not getting anywhere with training. Or I’m simply frustrated with something.

Back then I remembered I didn’t feel a sense of improvement, progress or refinement in my Aikido, or worse, I’m deteriorating! Or the Jones has caught up, or is getting better than me!

Look at the mirror

Back then I didn’t the wisdom or maturity. Right now, I don’t feel a sense of plateau anymore. Sometimes on my way to the dojo, I get a sense that I am going round in circles with the same technique, but the thought didn’t surface with anger, frustration or a sense of inadequacies within and without. It’s just a revisiting of the curriculum and it lead me to think about other techniques I can potentially do.

plateau0003More importantly, it is a sense of curiosity I bring to class, not a sense of familiarity. Every class is not the same, even the same partner you have been training with for years is not the same partner you have been training with for years. While life ebb and flow in a continuum of circle, the irony is we will never relive the same day again. In life there is no Groundhog Day.

The same circle is not the same

If you ever feel stuck like I did in the past, you need to ask yourself a very crucial question? Who’s turning up for class? Your current present self? Or your ego self? If you are bored, be careful, your ego is in play, in a bad way. You want something new, something flashy, something dynamic, you want to throw your uke in a flawless ‘Aikido style’, but you got frustrated by the reality of the struggle. Then you get upset, or to be more specific, your ego got upset. Then you fall into that same miserable feeling as if you are not improving.

What you can do

1-Train harder, think lesser.

There is a common understanding as to why potential Navy SEALs wannabes quit. Researchers found out that they usually don’t quit during their tough training, when they are swimming, or they are humping. Most SEALs student quit when they are taking a break, queuing for their meals, during downtime. They quit in expecting the tough time. The tough times didn’t make them quit, thinking or over-thinking the tough times made them ring the bell.

plateau0002Similarly Aikido training is nowhere near as tough as SEALs training. But thinking of the impending boredom can kill the zest of an aspiring Aikidoka. Don’t over-think, and especially on the mat, don’t think, don’t anal-yze your movements, your failures. Train harder, and be less critical when you screw up. Let your body, your physicality helps you shut the ego up. Just shut the bleep up and bloody train LIKE MAD.

2-Take a break

It is not something I deemed necessary now as I don’t have a sense of plateau anymore. In my younger days, it seems to help not turning up for training say, for a month. A slight hiatus will help refresh your mind, and let the body take a break from the usual tenkan and irimis. 

On hindsight, I felt that my hiatus back then was totally unnecessary and it reflects a kind of escapist attitude, and shows lack of commitment. But hey, if it works for you to take one step back and then two steps forward, why not?

3- Talk to someone

Your senpais 先輩, and fellow classmates will feel the same plateau as you, talk it out and it is a great morale booster. That is why we have a dojo, with a community to help each other. If your sensei isn’t too fierce, talk to your sensei and he/she can help you unstuck your technique and potentially get you out of your rut.

There is a higher calling

If you are bored, there is another voice in you calling for a higher standards of training, and skill. It is not a feeling of ‘plateau’ but a hint you are on a verge of getting deeper into your discipline. There is always a new discoveries to be made, even with the same ol’ Shihonage. Just two evenings back, I did a technique which was quite familiar to me, and Harry sensei came along and told me to take a bigger side-step. I did and the entire, seemingly familiar technique changed; I learned some finer, more elaborate details I previously missed in the technique.

Had I succumb to my plateau and took a break, I would have missed that potential chance of making that small minor improvements that helps deepen my understanding of a familiar and simple technique.

So plateau is a state of mind, you need to be careful why you feel like that and instead of getting frustrated, let your curiosity investigates the plateau. It is a time to dig deeper and train harder. Taking a break is not something I’d recommend now, but if you need to, and it does helps you overcome the boredom, why not? Who’s judging anyway? 🙂

plateau0001

Handling with Weapons

Handling with Weapons

In this safe island city of Singapore, when will be weapons be used in a violent confrontation? And when we do, do we know how to use them?

In Aikido, we handle ‘classical’ weapons like Bokken, Jo and Tanto. These are made of wood to minimize injuries, but we still need to handle them like the real thing. I ‘cut’ Sunny’s left eyebrow when my Bokken slipped during after class training many years ago. Bokken, although blunt, but when used applicably, it is still a weapon.

Rules are rules, always use common sense when handling anything labeled as a ‘weapon’ or anything seemingly dangerous.

1- Always be alert, and never take it for granted, be it a training weapon, an M-16 rifle, or a rubber knife. When in training, always practice due diligence. Training time is not playtime. Weapon, any weapon, is not a toy.

2- Know the weapon parts well. We all know the ‘bladed’ part of the Bokken is actually not the real blade. Duh. Train with an attitude that the ‘bladed’ part is the REAL THING. If you are not careful, you WILL lose fingers.

3- Practice safety distance. know your ma-ai well. Empty hand ma-ai and weapon ma-ai is very different. Footwork, body movement changes as well.

4- Never fear the weapon. Practice point 1,2,3 well, apprehension should go away. A weapon is simply a manifestation of the user’s intention.

5- Train long and hard with your weapon. Time invested in conditioning will help us become more familiar we become with it.

To sum it up, weapons training extend our reach and improve our understanding on how it works, so that we can be skillful when we use it, and when it is used against us, we have some understanding on how to deal with it.

Its not much to take away, but then again its never, ever enough.

First published: Jul 28, 2010

cotton candy generation

cotton-candy

Are we getting ‘soft?’

My predecessors always reminiscent the good ‘ol days where training was tough and how nowadays, we are so much more fortunate compared to them. Prior to Singapore’s independence the armed forces used the British made L1Al SLR(Self Loading Rifle), which is a very tough ‘battle’ rifle, Nowadays, we have a modern bull-pup SAR-21 replacing the M-16, which replaced the L1A1. The SAR-21 is the most evolved design, made for the 21st century soldier, comfortable to use, hi-tech and cool. But the L1A1 chambers a 7.62mm, with effective range more than 3 times that of the 5.56mm rounds which the SAR-21 chambers. The L1A1 is battle proven in the Falklands, and is still in active service, a testament of its durability.  Is the SAR-21 as tough as the old L1A1? Who knows?

Can the same be said for martial arts? if you pit a modern day Karateka against a old school Karateka, chances are the old school Karateka might severely injure the new version. Why? Old School train for real. Many of their techniques are deadly and students die from accidents and mistakes. In order to minimise fatality, lethal techniques are left out as the syllables evolve. Modern day martial arts are much safer, which make training easier, which makes the art popular and popularity is never a bad thing. So modern day focuses on winning a few medals and tournaments.

Many martial arts tournaments uses protection and guards. The use of these physical protectors, while claim to save lives, minimize injuries, dull the reality of a full punch, after all its just a sport. Only through body conditioning and actual bare knuckle sparring can one learn the true essence of pain, and learn to learn beyond that. Steven, during his time, doing sanchin was a daily affair, through intense body conditioning and breathing, he could take punches and he still can, coming to 60 years of age. Steven’s martial arts experience was the tough old SLR, mine was the M-16, the new generation is the SAR 21, bull pup design. People back then, like the L1A1 rifle, were much hardier than the folks of the 21st century.

Sure there is always a danger of permanent injury or death during training, but what doesn’t? Well, then, why join martial arts then? Face it, we are martial artist, and martial arts is hard, tough training. How do you think exponents do those ‘soft’ harmonious moves? Exponents are able to execute those seemingly effortless’ moves because of their intense and hard training. they suffer, everyday at training, so that they do not have to suffer when the time comes. Go to a dojo, expect suffering, do not avoid pain. do not tap at the slightest tinge of pain, tap only when the pain has become reasonable unreasonable. train every time to be reasonably unreasonable, but never tread  beyond the realm of unreasonable. If you go to a dojo and minimise and avoid suffering, don’t go, just stay at home and watch Jackie Chan’s Karate Kid.

First published: Aug 21, 2010 @ 18:00

All the Small Things

All the Small Things

The difference between experience is the ability to notice how the small things contribute to the big picture. Having spent this amount of time in Aikido, my progress is getting smaller, improvements made is not significant, but minute adjustments to the hand tension, position of the fingers, small, small awareness.

When we first started out as beginners, our teachers showed us big adjustments to how we stand, our body posture, movements. from there we learn awkwardly how to do an irimi-tenkan, how a nikkyo is done, with big exaggerated movements, using lots of physical and muscular strength.

All the small movements necessary to tip the balance lies in incessant practice and training.

The longer we practice, the more we noticed how we are nagged with a level of incompetency that no matter how hard we try we can never improve? Those countless of nikkyos we did over the years didn’t seem to make much of a difference. until we discover for ourselves that the difference is in the certain tension we have in our wrists, the small turn of the finger, will tilt the uke’s entire body to our favour. All the small things.

I trained with Gabriel on Nikkyo yesterday and from that I observed that the level of ‘noticibility’ between us is quite significant. He is caught up in the level of technical, geometric approach of how the lock is done. As much as I would like to point this out to him, I can’t because it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. There is no way that I can move him to a level of noticibility similar to mine. It took me about fifteen years to notice what I notice in him, will he be able to harness my observations and bring his awareness to my level. hardly, if he can, I wouldn’t have need to point it out to him would I?

All the small movements necessary to tip the balance lies in incessant practice and training. No one can point that out for anyone, everyone has to take these lesson personally, feel, and experience. Open your heart, and allow the essence of the training to touch and change you. There is no logical discussion, or technical discourse in Aikido. The longer you stay learning Aikido, the less significant the form and functions matter. At the end of the day, all you need to do is to twitch your fingers and the world is with you.

First posted Dec 23, 2010