The Versus Quandary

While I am predominantly trained in Aikido, I have had some fundamentals in other martial arts, and this helps me ‘forget’ Aikido, and recognizes other arts in terms of their merits and limitations.

Personally to me, Aikido is a kind of a brand name for me. It helps me identify with a movement I am part of and proud of. By no means, I look upon Aikido as a be all and end all. In fact, Aikido is like a marriage to me, you marry the person best suited for you, you do not marry the best person. Of course the other sweeping statement is: “One man’s meat, is the other man’s you-know-what.”

Meat or poison, each has its own merits, and when I come across videos in YouTube  with a TKD vs MMA, or other genres vs genres kind of scenario, I always take a huge pinch of salt.

There are also people out there who tries to demonstrate how ineffective Aikido is, in MMA, I too take that with a pinch of salt. I have tried and effectively applied Aikido locks in MMA practice, and my opponent has no idea what he is in for, other than a broken wrist had I continue applying ruthless pressure. There is no need for that.

So while I abhorred those videos, I still do watch them for entertainment purposes, more than education. A lot of times, these people want to prove a point, and the point like all points, narrow and focused on a specific issues. Martial arts is a subject far and wide, deep and often dark, and cannot be fully, completely represented in any video.

It takes years to know an art, much more than a 10 minute clip. Martial arts is experiential and  highly existential, as no two moments are the same. There is little hypothesis in martial arts, much less, ‘what ifs‘, there is a lot of ‘it depends‘ in any martial arts, and any good martial artist will be know enough to shy away from a ‘us versus them‘ discussion, which will often leads nowhere but a clash of ego, to prove which art is better. There is no point in that kind of contest, which will only hurt relationship and turn friends into non-friends. That is not the spirit of Aikido, not the spirit of martial arts.

My brief exposure to other arts helps me discern the technicalities when I look at some of the video clips. Some will professed proficiency in Aikido, but in movement, apply more Systema-style of techniques, while both Aikido and Systema looked the same, they are not. My exposure also helped me spot the similarities. Other arts may apply ‘kote gaishi‘ style of throw, I wouldn’t be so quick to point out Aikido!

There are only so many ways to mechanically and geometrically twist a hand, while a kote-gaishi is quite signature for Aikido, Karatekas also uses that, certainly Jiujitsu practitioners. To me, in an applied Martial Arts sense, it doesn’t matter what it is called, as long as it is effective in employment.



Being Ready is not Being Prepared

being-ready-is-not-being-preparedThe difference is subtle.

Everyone who is decently trained in Martial Arts of any discipline will have a certain degree of readiness in handling some form of combat, street violence and other unforeseen unpleasant circumstances

But being ready doesn’t mean that you will be prepared to do what is needed when the times comes to doing it. Most people as marital artists, would like the ‘artists’ part more than the ‘martial’ part. There is a lot of winning through techniques, skills, strategy, and there is often little or no blood, gore, raw grit and sheer application of terror and violence.

What we practiced on the mat, prepares us little about the kind of violence perpetrators are PREPARED to dish out to get what they want. More often than not, even when we are sufficiently trained that made us combat ready, but we are not prepared to up our level of finesses in violence to end the attack that is coming our way.

So even when we are trained, and attend classes consistently, we risk being stuck in a mindset that an attack might only happen in a specific way which we are trained in. It doesn’t. Because we are Aikidoka, doesn’t necessarily mean that our attackers will attack us the way we are attacked by our Uke. It almost never happen that way.

A person who has nothing to lose will always be prepared to do whatever necessary to attain his/her goals. People in a fight for survival will always be prepared to go the ‘extra mile’ and fight to the very last breath. This is a very different mind-set from someone who is ‘ready’ for fighting. Someone who is trained, might not be prepared to dish out violence to stop violence.

This is a chronic fallacy for an art like Aikido, which predisposed ‘harmony’ and peace’, so we end up with hippy-like mentality that all is well and we should harmonises with our opponent. That means doing things nicely, don’t hurt people, behave ethically, respect your attacker. So even senior Aikidokas takes it easy, thinking that they will be ready, when the time comes. The amount of violence people are willing to dish out in attacking you can be beyond any comprehension of a martial artist. Even in Aikido, there are moves that are violence and highly damaging, even life-ending, but not a lot of Aikidoka are prepared to up the level of violence, apply violence to stop violence. In fact, the very mention of violence, is abhorred. Aikido is a smooth, flowing, harmonious way of combat, and all fighting should be like this. It is not, and sometimes, reality can be the furthest  from the dojo!


The Boy-Scout Rule

The Scouts says it best in their motto, ‘Be Prepared’ and not ‘Be Ready’. As there is a lot more to do in preparation, in fact, if you have a be prepared mindset, it will mean that you will never be ready. There is no ends in preparation, but the moment you begin to say that you are ‘ready’, then you closed your mind to learning how to constantly hone your skill to meet all possible form of violence and combat.

Being prepared in a martial arts, is to make sure that we are able to use our skills, to kill, maim, and apply violence in a manner that does not look methodical, absolutely without aesthetic, and the end result will look nothing like the martial arts we all train so hard for years. Being prepared for combat means things might be ugly, violent, and there will be hurt, blood, gore. When violence is applied, nothing ever ends nicely, there is no nice break-falls, not many people get away unscathed.

It a MAD, MAD world

In military doctrine, there is a term called ‘Mutually Assured Destruction‘, at a high level, we are talking about a kind of stalemate, which either side are so well armed, that nobody wants to push the first button. For a martial artist, we must be willing to think first-strike to end any subsequent follow-up capabilities of our opponent. We must be able to forsake our being and bring the fight to the opponent, before the opponent bring the fight to us. If we think M-A-D, not a lot of people will be willing to match that level of craziness, and be prepared to be sacrificed with ourselves, since we are going down, might as well take a few more with them when we go down; be that crazy; that is sometimes enough to stop people, and trigger their self preservation instinct. When we fight with no care of worry about coming out of that fight alive, we put a level of determination, not many human beings will like to test. And be prepared to apply a level of violence that overwhelms violence. Even in our nice, civil society, no matter how well dressed we are, we must be able to fight at a moment’s notice, defend ourselves, attack with vigor and think combat. This is more than ready, this is to be prepared in a way that when it happens, our mind gets into action, and deal with the matter at hand. Otherwise all that we learned as a martial artists, makes us only artists, ready but unprepared.

Fighting to teach you fighting

Dear Boys,

You know your dad is into martial arts, specifically, Aikido. And for any martial arts dad, I naturally would like to impart some of that to you boys. No, I try to resist that. I want to resist putting my opinions on you boys, and instead I would like you guys to develop your own interest. If it happens to be martial arts, then okay, that’s great, if it is not, then that’s okay too.

Yes, I bought a junior kiddo gi for Ian many years back, so much so that you have outgrown it and handed it down to your little brother. It was more of a ‘costume’ thingy than it was a proper martial arts regime.

Life sometimes is a matter of Jekyll and Hyde.

I did try to teach you fundamentals of karate kata, but you didn’t catch on. And now with your little brother coming of age, I think it is time for me try and start something like this again. more on the fighting part, less of the martial arts part.

Martial arts is one thing, but fighting is another thing altogether. I would like to teach you boys how to fight. And I’ve been slowly putting that thought in motion.

At 11 years old, Ian, I think you are robust and mature suffice to reason and keep a focus. You will need to know, with a bit more depth on basic striking, kicking and more importantly, taking punches and kicks and learn to get injured, and fight back.

At your age, learning how to fight properly, is like teaching you how to use a rifle properly, so that you are not tempted to use it out of bravado, but out of an educated, skilled mind. If you need to use your skills to fight, to get out of a fight, in a better condition than your assailant(s), then I have achieved my aim. The Martial Arts part can come later.

Of course, there are simple rules of engagements (ROE), you boys, do not go out there to start a fight, but if you got yourself into one, you get out of it, all means necessary. Sometimes in fighting, you have no time for ethics, you just have to protect yourself and your loved ones, if you have to pummel the belligerent to dust, then do it. If it comes down to you or your attacker(s), I’d rather your attacker(s) grounded and pounded, than you. We can wax lyrical about right and wrong later. But of course, do not start the fight.

And now that your little brother is in the same school as you, he will come to you for help if he gets bullied, and you might need to stand up for him. So you might get into a fight because of him, and I want you to win the fight.

The world is a nice place, I want my boys to be confident in their abilities to see the good in the world, but it is also my duty as your dad to make sure you boys are reality-ready. If things takes a turn for the nasty, you boys can get out of nasty with your own nasty dosage of nasty. We must always be ready to be nice, and the only way to be genuine in our niceties, and pleasantries, is to be fully trained and capable in our ability to be nasty and unpleasant. Life sometimes is a matter of Jekyll and Hyde.


Not so sure

Not so sure

‘Are you sure it works?

There are things which we can be very certain about, the sun will rise and it will set, water will evaporate and life will end and death will always comes for the living. What keeps me going back to Aikido is a feeling of uncertainty. I’m never too sure about the effectiveness of the technique, what works on one might not work on the other.

More importantly, this feeling keeps me grounded and coming back for more. There is never an apex of an Aikido journey. Perhaps this is why there is no championship to talk about in Aikido. a medal is an excellent way for you to focus on your goals, but the practice of Aikido is more than that, it is life. And in life, there is no reward nor punishment, no gold, silver or bronze. Competition is made by man, with rules and a single goal, winning. And when you win, you surely didn’t lose; or did you?

The Champ

When a winner held onto the medal, there is a level of surety, he or she is good at something, so much so the person has beaten others and gotten the gold. If you get silver, you’re pretty sure that there is one guy on top, and many, many more below!

That is a fallacy.

You can never be sure, that the guy on top stays on top, and those below will never be superior to you. If you are a champ in Karate, that doesn’t mean you’re a champ in everything. But winning helps creates that illusion of suety. Truth to be told, in order for one to win, many others have to be sacrificed, our loved ones, parents, events, birthdays, just to name a few. All for a medal? Are you sure that is what life is for you? To miss out on all those important people and event just for a medal?

And just because one becomes a Karate champ, doesn’t surely means one will win in EVERY fight, alley fight, fist fight, bar fight. You can never be too sure, but with a medal, and most likely an inflated ego, you might risk a chance of a fight, thinking that you’re sure to win.

I’m reasonably trained in Aikido, but never too cock sure about what I can do. There is really nothing to win in a fight, that uncertainty, in my personal opinion keeps me focused on not getting into a fight. I leave the class every time, feeling a little inadequate, as if I have not learned enough, and I need to come back, and back and back, to check myself. ‘Are you sure it works?’ I ask that question again and again.

Problem I see in many martial arts school is they train people ‘so well’, they endowed them a false sense of security, feeling that the student can fend themselves off, in a real right, and walk away unscathed. Hollywood are full of those fight scenes. In any UFC fight, we always aim to be the last man standing, look carefully, the last man standing was as badly beaten up as the man on the floor. No one walks away from a  real fight without a scratch, Fighting is about attrition, and in a real fight, we can never be too sure we can come out tops, no matter how well we train.

I can never be too sure, so I come to class never take every moment for granted. I never take a white belt for granted, granted that the white belt might have a lucky shot and break my nose in a flimsy shomen strike. Shit happens.


The Dangers of Safe Aikido

I posted sometime back that there are no knockouts in Aikido (

That would have implied that Aikido is a very safe activity. It truly is very safe, and we seldom leave dojo bruised and battered. But has it taken the awareness and sense of danger out of the dojo.

It is a difficult thing to inculcate into an Aikidoka, when all the Aikidoka has done is Aikido. There are a thousand and one ways to punch an person, and there are many funny odd ways for a person to attack you. The danger is real and unless you have a real respect of other arts, you will be blinded by the range of attacks you can be subjected to. Until you have been really punched at, you can never know what is punch feels like.

It is a strange thing, once you’ve sparred before, kick and being kicked at, punch and being punched at, your body will have an automatic response mechanism, you will be less apprehensive and more sure when you to get messy in a fight, you will also get automatically accustomed with distancing and awareness. This is something I feel lacking in the dojo I am training with. Despite of Harry sensei’s incessant reminders to watch our distance and other minor oversight that will cause a major mistake, nothing beats being really punched at to make the learning a little quicker.

It is easy to wax lyrical about doing a twirl to avoid a punch, avoid a kick. And of course certain people joined Aikido to avoid facing a punch and kick, but what happens when you meet real danger? When the danger is determined and highly skilled. Can you realistically think that a person will escape unscathed without a scratch? We can agree that definition of dangers will generally include kicks and punches too. I’m not saying that we have to simulate an all out brawl in an Aikido dojo, we just need to make sure that we get enough sense of danger for us to bring our skills to a more genuine level.

Published on: Apr 26, 2013

Why Ip Man 3 is the best martial arts movie

ip man 3 1

I watched Ip Man 3 with my wife and it was the best movie you can catch if :

1- You are a martial artist

2- You are a martial artist, and a husband

3- You are a martial artist, and a husband and a father

I don’t what to be gender stereotypical but I’m a guy, I’m a husband and a father. If you are a woman martial artist, a wife and a mother then perhaps this movie can connect with you in a different way.

The movie is highly realistic in the portrayal of pragmatic difficulties any aspiring marital artist face. Any decent martial artist, having a family, with kids, given the same 24 hours, the same decent martial artist is torn between many, many roles.; to train hard and be good at our discipline, to be a good spouse, and a good dad, and if it is not too much, start a school, contribute to society, make a living.

Ip Man 3 showed all that, the tension is real. As much as I love Aikido, I cannot practice it as often as I can, my family is intertwined into the fabric of my martial arts training and vice versa. Sometimes The Wife will need that attention, kids do fall sick. House do need attention from time to time. In order for us to have a balance in our art, we need to have a balance in our life. Without a balance in our life, there cannot be excellence in our discipline.

For any marital artist to be successful, the spousal support is the spine. Without the wife’s support, Donnie Yen, who play Master Ip Man so brilliantly, will not be able to achieve his mastery so completely.

Knowing when to let go

There are times where we need to drop our training completely, this is one of the toughest test for a martial artist. Because we are under the constant fallacy of wanting to pile the ‘mileage’ into our training. If we stop for a protracted period of time, we might ‘lose’ our edge.

But there are times where we have to let go, so that we can pick up other parts of our lives which is just as important. True that martial arts is important, but it is not everything. Ip Man knows when to let go, and did so, so graciously. His wife is more important, and putting his wife first, even when his reputation as a martial artist is challenged,  makes him a man of great strength and character.

There was never a choice, you never see Ip Man choose, or deliberate over a decision. He knows what to do, his wife, who is dying, comes first before anything, even his Wing Chun. This is a testament of a real Martial Artist, a highly enlightened individual who is able to see priorities clearly, and decisively, no regrets, no lament.

No deaths

For such an action packed movie, there was no killing, no one died. (Well actually there was one death, and it was not a direct outcome of any martial arts move.) Which proves that for someone as powerful as Ip Man, he can control his output, and preserve life. There are many situations where the circumstances are greater than him, but he didn’t lose it, he didn’t kill; he could. But he didn’t as he probably knew that if you take a life, there will be a larger, more uncontrollable consequences that will ripple out beyond his control. Call that ‘karma’ but if you don’t believe in it, you have to believe in the Long Tail of Cause and Effect. You may not bear the direct consequences of your actions, your children or your children’s children might.

While we must inflict harm on others to prevent harm from being inflicted on us and our loved ones, we must be skillful not to take life. We are trained martial artist, there are ways to end violence without the loss of life, and we must hold true to that belief, because if we don’t then any form of violence applied will be suffice, no need for years of marital arts training.

Ip Man 3The Wife

Lynn Hung who played Mrs Ip Man in all 3 Ip Man film, filled the role in the 3 installment very powerfully. Mrs Ip let the husband practice and be consumed by his passion with Wing Chun, and kept her stomach cancer diagnosis to herself, until she can no longer hide it. From then you can tell that Ip Man has decided to drop everything and spend as much time as possible with his wife.  Her role as Mrs Ip Man is so subtle and yet so pivotal, so poignantly powerful.

It was the Wife, who told him to pick up the challenge and continue practicing his Wing Chun. For any martial artist who has a wife, this tension is real. My wife would like to have me home, be the husband, the father to her children, more often than she prefers. But to take me away from Aikido is also to see me less happy, which is also something she doesn’t want to see. And yet, more often than not, she will not be able to understand why we martial artist do our martial artist thing.

So for a martial artist to thrive, we need our spousal support, and we also need to support our spouse, for without our spouse, we will not have time to practice, and concentrate our our art. We are also tested again and again, if we are willing to let go of the very art we enjoy so much, so that we can appreciate something greater than marital art, that which is our life, our wife and our family.

Without a balance in our life, there cannot be excellence in our discipline.