My Black Belt

My Black Belt

I got my black belt status like everybody else, when I got my 2nd Kyu, that allows me to wear a black belt, but not a hakama, which will be one more grade away.

It was a bummer because I was wearing a Brown (obviously!); and I was young, who could see the need to spend money getting a black belt. In the spirit of being ‘eco-friendly’ ( truth is, I was quite poor then), I wanted to dye the brown belt black, and bought some colour dyes, it wasn’t very successful, due to my inexperience. I don’t know how the conversation came about, but I told Steven about it, and we promptly headed down to Liang Seng to get a Black Belt. Steven bought me my Black Belt.

Since it was a gift, I didn’t choose the thickest, most expensive one. I choose an Adidas brand, a thinner, cheaper one. I was thinking that I might get another one a better one, with my name stitched in gold or yellow, maybe sometime later.

There are many black belts worn by people who spend money getting their names and other fancy words stitched to their belts. I took out the Adidas logo and got my wife to hand stitch a simple ‘林’ on it, and because ‘林’ can be read from both sides, it saves us the trouble of hiding the stitches on the wrong side. And because 林 can be read from both sides, one side of it pays homage to the person who got me my belt, Steven Lim, and of course, the other side, is the surname of the owner, moi. Incidentally, Steven shares the same surname as me, and for his generosity, the ‘林’ will stay with my belt.

My belt is purely pragmatic in existence. The hand stitching is not so much to make this belt unique to me, it serves as a form of identification, as I’ve been to hombu dojo, and seen Gis, belts and hakamas placed all over the changing room. Without a name to your person item, someone might mistakenly take yours and that wouldn’t be a very gracious thing to have happen in Hombu. Hence there is a need for identification. Albeit a simple one for me.

I never got to buying another belt, as this one serves me really well. Although it is thinner, and sometimes, it doesn’t hold the hakama up as well as I’d wanted to, there is still no need for me to get another black belt. I rarely wash it, so it still looked almost the same as the day I bought it. The black is a little faded, the strings coming off in places here and there, but it still serves its purpose, hold the gi together, and let me wear my hakama.

Some people out there will put their belt to wash, not for the purpose of cleanliness, they want to age the belt, so that it look old and seasoned. I never see a need for that, and it has never occurred to me to have a belt that looked aged. It is all there for a practical reason, and I’ll wear it until it falls apart, and only then will there be a need to replace it, and that only after I’ve mend it until it cannot be mended.

I think I’ve been wearing this belt for almost ten years now, and I don’t think I’d be replacing it anytime soon. This is a gift to me and I am reminded of the kindness that was shown to me, every time I put it on.

Harry Sensei’s Hakama

Harry Sensei’s Hakama

DSC_0381_Fotor“He can forget that he is our sensei, we cannot forget that we are his students.”

One evening, Harry sensei, at the end of the class, gestured the NUS Chairperson over and passed the students’ grading card to her, and the promptly turned his back and walked off.

We thought nothing of it, until one of the students came to me and told me that Harry sensei didn’t pass his hakama over for the students to fold. Apparently he forgotten to let us fold his hakama.

Without hesitation I put on my shoes and took off for the toilet where Harry sensei will usually change. He was there and was about to unceremoniously chuck his crumpled hakama into his bag. I took it from him, and muttered, ‘You hakama must be folds, cannot don’t fold.’

I brought it back to the mat and quickly fold it so that Harry sensei do not have to wait too long.

He didn’t have to.

While I was waiting for Harry sensei to come out of the toilet, the NUS committee chairperson, vice chair, and the treasurer(I think), was with me, I told them not to forget to fold Harry sensei’s hakama again.

“He can forget that he is our sensei, we cannot forget that we are his students.” that was my parting shot.

At the very baseline, Harry sensei, is after all just another Aikidoka, who happened to be the one conducting the class. He is after all human. He is after all, just a number, a gender, a demographic, a something, someone, anyone. When the class ends, he reverts back to a normal person, no longer taking an Aikido class, no longer Aikido sensei.

But I still considers myself his student, long after I stepped off the mat. And all these years, when he ends his class, someone will fold his hakama, and when no one does, I try to make sure I do it. It really don’t have to be me, it can be any of his students, but someone has to take that initiative. There was about 30-odd number of students and one Harry sensei, but no one folded his hakama, or went after him when he forgot to let us fold.

Its a small thing, perhaps, I’m making a big fuss out of nothing. I’m duty bound to do what is right. Think about how we treat our parents. Sometimes, they might have some kind of mental illness that might rob them of their ability to remember that we are their kids. their memory might fail, but our duty as their children doesn’t. I will always be my parents’ children, whether they remember me or not, even if they disown me, I am still their son. How they treat me, cannot affect how we treat them, because we know who we are, to them and to ourselves.

That’s the fundamental issue I have that evening. Its not about sucking up to Harry sensei, rather, just accord the minimum requirement he asked of us. Folding a hakama is nothing, he could have brought it home and unfold it to wash, and his maid would probably fold it for him, or he would have fold it himself. Fact is, after class, we, the students have to fold it for him, it is a ritual, part of being an Aikidoka. We need to uphold that practice, a small chore that tests us of our discipline.

And it is always the small things that mattered.