No one knows this but I was close to tears back in November last year when Horii Shihan announced that we have passed our grading. ZZ got his 1st Dan, Tri- 2nd Dan, MJ-his 3rd Dan, and me my 4th Dan.
I’m not sure why I wanted to cry, perhaps it is because Harry sensei just died back in April? If it hadn’t been for his demise, I would be getting the 4th Dan from him, like how I got my 1st to 3rd Dan.
Perhaps it is because if it had been Harry sensei grading us, getting my 4th Dan would be an platonic reality, and now with Horii shihan grading, I’m not so sure if my standards meets his expectations. Maybe it was an overwhelming wave of relief to hear Horii shihan announced that all of us got our grades and pass his scrutiny.
Harry sensei’s legacy
When he died, we were in kind of a limbo, as an Aikidoka, I was already thinking of hanging up my hakama, my days on the mat ends now that Harry sensei is gone, but as fate would have it, I continued his work on the mat, stepping into this role.
While I can somewhat sit in his place, doing my atomic bit to continue the class, I cannot fill the void left behind by him in the bigger larger Aikido universe. Harry sensei is very connected and his loss is certainly felt. He has made many, many friends through his Aikido practice.
Horii shihan is one of Harry sensei’s friends who came and answer our limbo. He came to our humble dojo, trained with us, and graded us. With his guidance, we are able to see a bit clearer into the future as a dojo.
It’s so true to say that we exists because we are standing on the shoulders of giant, for our case, we move from the giant shoulders of Harry sensei to another. This is the true spirit and soul of of Aikido. That peace, love and harmony really works, to build friendship, bond and support; this is perhaps the reason why I continue to train and carry on the good work Harry sensei has left behind.
This is something of a gray area for Harry Sensei, while we have often serendipitously recorded his teachings every now and then, he was never consistently supportive of us doing so, his likes and dislikes ebb with his mood, sometimes he don’t mind it, often he will berates us for recording, as he would want us to focus on the training and not get distracted with recording him.
I agree with him wholeheartedly and at the same time, continues to take video recordings of my lessons. There is value in recording our trainings as we can reflect back on our moves and think deeper years later. We can compare and contrast what we did in the past and what we can do now.
I learned a lot from watching these videos, in terms of posture, in terms of my positioning and also what I am saying, those fill words and anchor words I’m constantly using which makes me sound like a broken record. I also learned a lot looking at how my fellow Aikidokas train and see that they have a different interpretations of the same technique. This also helps me think of better ways to transfer my knowledge and better share the experience.
Posting on Social Media
I do post on my social media accounts more for sharing and getting some awareness about who we are as an Aikido school, and for the same reason why I blog, I want to interact with the public at large and see what kind of response I am getting, open to feedback!
The social media landscape is a jungle and it is always a very conscientious effort to make sure I post the right things. These social media companies makes it very easy for you to post, and there is a reason for that; they want you to keep using their apps and in doing so brings traffic and popularity to their site.
One thing I always do is to get my fellow Aikido practitioner’s approval, usually just a WhatsApp:” eh, can I have your permission to post this?” This is when a specific person’s face is identifiable. If they choose not to be seen, then I will respect that decision. It’s their privacy after all.
Sharing these videos.
My fellow Aikidokas gets these videos as I want them to have it as keepsake. Very often we train, train and train, we don’t really have any kind of a video to help us remember our training days. The earliest video of me in Aikido was my brown belt grading, and I tore my right sleeve in a sleeve grab move, Back in those days it was a grainy video tape era recordings and I often wish I had something else from earlier.
Sharing these video with our loved ones.
Sometimes I wonder what our spouses and children thinks of us, we disappear once or twice a week put on white uniform, wear strange looking pleated pants that looks like a skirt, Roll around and throw people here and there on a padded mat, and it all seems like we are part of a secret squirrel club.
Having some of these videos perhaps can help us debunk some of these myths about our mysterious disappearance and also help them understand this very hard to understand martial arts.
It is visual proof that we are playing around with other people, but not in a hanky panky naughty manner.
Last evening was another wonderful class with just the 4 of us. Small classes like this allows us to explore our techniques in depth and weed out those ‘bad’ habits that persists unbeknownst to us. Sometimes we think we are doing alright because in a larger class, the hustle and bustle can bring out some bad posture or positioning that we are not aware of, or we will not be able to correct.
We started with some static Tenkan (Turning) techniques and this is one of the way we can better understand why we move the way we move.
When our partner grabs us, both hands, tight, firmly, it transfers a lot of tension into our wrist, and how we interpret that strength can have an impact on our response. While we are not in a specific fight/flight duality, such tensions does trigger us as we instinctively combat the grasp, ironically increasing our partner’s perception that we are trying to escape the grasp and in response, tighten the grip.
While the technique might look deceivingly simple, it get harder when we clock more hours in Aikido training, partly because we start to become more complacent about the way we were taught to stand and move as beginners, our technique become sloppy when we become comfortable and gets lulled into a sense of comfort, thinking that what works in the past, will work now and will work on anyone and everyone.
Just the 4 of us
This is the beauty training with a bunch of friends in Aikido for a long time, we are all very comfortable with each other and with that level of trust, we can put some discomfort into the technique and allow the nage to relearn how to move again.
I implored Ming Jie, Melvin and ZZ to grip hard when it is their turn to be uke. There is no worry that we are out to make things difficult for the nage. WE ARE. The difference is we are not doing this out of malice, mischief or trying to prove to the other guy we are better, we are putting in the difficulty precisely because we want the other the to be better.
We failed quite a bit, and explored why.
With our years of practice, we need to be able to critique our own posture, and understand our own inefficiencies and make adjustments constantly to enhance our interactions with our partner. With these 3 guys, I don’t have to be a ‘sensei’, instead I’m just a prompter, pointing out certain things that they can do better, or adjust so that they can better cope with the pressure.
I told the guys that their self dialogue must be one that goes like: ‘Yeah, I think my tenkan’s position isn’t right, I’ll need to shift my leg forward slightly.’ instead of saying ‘(insert name here) says that I should be doing this, and that.’ I implored to them that it is no longer about what Harry sensei says, or what Randy says, they will have to internalize the feedback, and own that improvement. What we say is what we observed, externally and beyond that, there is nothing else we can do to help each other improve. So it is not about who said what, it is about how we can take that feedback in and make that change. That is the mark of a proactive person.
Change is not easy
That is why we change! If it is easy as heck, then change would have lost its allure, improvements would have stopped and atrophy will run the world. While it is challenging to change, having people who trust and supports your efforts to change helps make is a little more worthwhile to think about changing.
This is the place on the mat for such metamorphosis, small class allows us to move, then sit back and think how we did. Then change a little to see if that makes a difference. Our partner can help give constructive feedback on how he/she feels being the uke. We can pace the class and slowly incorporate the changes into our body movements.
Space for Introspection
Such is the difficulty of Aikido, as no 2 person grasp the same way nor our response to the same person remains consistent, Aikido challenges the fallacy of sameness, as we need to know that we are not the same person moments ago, we are constantly adjusting our perceptions, values and mood. We ebb and flow dependent on the day, time, place, and interaction, at the same time trying to keep to a semblance of identity of who we are.
Once we have a decently deep level of self thought, we can institute the change. So often we remarked “Aiyah, that guy will never change one lah!” When a person is not able to deeply reflect on their thoughts and actions, it is difficult to see external changes. Again such changes must make sense and means something to us, to be better.
Equal in the eyes of the beholder
I shared that Harry sensei is able to handle most ukes. That is his level of skill, I’ve yet to see an uke he cannot manage. The secret is his unbending core and that keeps him very centered. Anyone who holds his hands is immediately drawn into his center and you loses yours.
The other ‘magic’ he has is he treats all his uke the same, he is fair to all and gives no quarter as to who is a better uke. So with that fair eye he is able to dispense everyone the same way.
The same way doesn’t mean the same. He does adjust his stance and extension to manage every uke differently. Such micro-adjustments is barely perceptible to our observations, but he does it in a way that is unbiased, and unaffected by who the uke is.
For the more law abiding members within the population, how many of us entertained thoughts of berating people who do not wear masks during the heights of the COVID19 pandemic? Feeling like punching them in the face for not putting on the masks?
How often have we scoffed at people getting their comeuppance? Or we gleam at the opportunity being the one who delivers the punishment?
Tit for Tat, anyone?
Aikido is not Attritional
When we are on the mat, we are not keen to display our superiority and overpowers our opponent. We are not keen to show off that we are better than our partners, nor are we keen to put up a good show.
It doesn’t add up to anything good.
Being inconsistent is an attribute of being a human, we cannot keep up a façade of excellence 24/7/365. We will falter, we will mess up. And when we do, we will need help and support from our fellow humans, friends and even strangers. By pretending that we are better, puts us at a stand-off distance, and alienates people who are in a position to help us.
A false sense of superiority also triggers a competitive instinct in our partners, as they will feel put down by the feeling of being less superior to us. When this comparison starts, the whole dynamics will become a duality, good to bad, superior to inferior, win/lose and swinging back and forth creates an inefficient imbalance which will destroys the harmony we need to achieve our goals.
No chance for destruction
Harry sensei’s style of Aikido lacks a large repertoire of Atemi, which is a kind so ‘soft’ strikes that helps us break our opponent’s balance or distracts them from the actual waza we are doing.
While he has never clearly explained why he doesn’t do much atemi, the understanding is that atemi can invite atemi. When we strike, our opponent can strike back, which will change the whole dynamics of how we want to practice Aikido, by ending things amicably. Striking can potentially escalates the tension and build more conflict, even when we are successful in our strikes, the hurt from being hit is very acute and it can invite retaliation.
How often has we argued with our uke in the principles of MAD? Mutually Assure Destruction’; “I can hit you from that spot! I’d say. And in turn my uke showed me that I can be hit, in exchange of hitting. And because Aikido is such a close quarter art, we will risk being hit, while we engage in hitting people.
Turning dissipates aggression
Aikido is circular. cyclic and cylindrical, even when we do not see it. When violence or aggression occurs, it is often directed, at someone, or something, which means it has a linear energy, it needs to get out, from point A to point B.
“I am hurt (Point A), so I will hurt the perpetrator back (Point B)”
“You punch me (Point A), I will hit you back (Point B)
It draws us back again to a duality where there is one winner one loser.
We want to circle that negative energy so that it can dissipates, and we can absorb it to neutralise the aggression. We do not want to use our own body to absorb that aggression through hard training and conditioning, again, there is only so much punishment the body can take before capitulating, so it make more sense to direct any force outwards, than to use our body to contain the blows.
One Good Turn
Given our volatile world, we need more purveyors of peace, by not fighting, not stopping the aggression with more aggression, instead, using our skills to ‘bleed’ out the negative pressures, we give the situation a chance to deconflict and deescalate the tension.
Aikido’s circular motion means that our opponent’s oncoming energy has a course to run, in a way that is harmonious to both of us. We take away their ability to hurt us, and also hurt themselves. In a move like irimi-nage our uke’s forward motion is turned away from its original path and circled to a location where we will be in a better position to end his/ her energy naturally.
Coax not overpower
This is a higher order skill that is very difficult to achieve, because we have to completely forget about our own stances, and self, and fully immerse into our opponent’s being and intention. Only when we are able to dissipate our image in front of our opponent, then we can have a chance to turn his aggression around, and coax them into a position safe for everyone.
Surely we can overpower our uke, once we are in a superior position, and once our opponent feels that they are being over powered and loses the fight, they will find a way to over power us and win back the fight. What’s the whole point in that?
Project Peaceful Intentions
We often invite the trouble we hope to avoid, and until we can find out why, troubles will continue to follow us. Coming to the mat to practice helps us better understand our own aggression. and puts us in a more pleasant, and joyful state. How often have we come across a person whom we don’t like simply by the way he/she stands? Somehow that manner of postulation simply invites a sense of arrogance or bigotry.
So we need to avoid being picked up as a target for violence or aggression, not by being belligerent, nor by being pacifist. We need to remain neutral in our stance and stay open when we are engaged in a stressful situation, always seek out a better way of making sure all parties involved walks away without a sense of retaliation, only then can we attain the peace we all strive to have in our lives.
It rained heavily these days, well, the year end monsoon is here. The particular thing about our Dojo is, the shelter holds out the rain, but if it gets windy, rain will blow into and onto the mat, wet to an extent where we cannot train.
I wanted to end Monday’s class due to inclement weather, but Ming Jie texted me to ‘push on’, well, let’s do it then. Thankfully, the rain subsided and we can have class, a small one though, since there is only Ming Jie, Melvin, Radek and myself.
It turned out to be a very enjoyable evening and I had a very deep and powerful epiphany, which I will attempt to pen down.
Who am Iagain?
I consider myself an Aikidoka, a practitioner, not an instructor, I’ve said that before, it will not change how I conduct myself on the mat. I’m far from perfect, nor I consider myself at a reasonable level of techincal competency to dispense Aikido lessons or wisdom.
The imposter syndrome is like an uncomfortable shadow. Harry didn’t even hand the baton to me, I pick it up from where he dropped it, and it is a darn heavy one.
Who will I become
Being thrust into the front, and having to take on the ‘instructor’ role, I got embroiled into who will I become. I can’t help it, it’s a big shoes Harry sensei left behind for me to fill, there is a genuine pressure to not let him down. While I am still struggling with a definition, the only thing I could do, was to turn up for class, as often as I can, and honour the commitment Harry sensei had to Aikido when he was teaching. Just turn up at the dojo, never mind good, bad or ugly.
There is a light in my struggle. You see, it is not about who I will become, it is about who my fellow Aikidokas will become, now that I’ve taken over, through Harry sensei’s legacy and our continued practice, my friends on the mat are becoming better, more peaceful and harmonious.
What did I see?
All this time I’ve been saying that we need to treat each other on the mat with respect, decorum and honour. While we might get frustrated with each other, we still need to know we are there for each other. Train hard, train safe, and train in harmony.
There was harmony on the mat that evening, and it was a beautiful feeling.
Harmony to see that Melvin can correct himself, and relax when I pointed out that there are some technical points he can improve upon, and he did change. Radek, stiff as usual, was amazing, instead of forcing his way through a technique, he stopped himself, corrected the mistake, relaxed and redid the waza. Ming Jie’s technique has also evolved to become less belligerent and more disarming, his commitment to class is certainly a source of motivations for me to keep the class going. That Monday evening, we are learning and reflecting.
As the person offering instructions, when I say move the hips and the hands move, they did it and it worked. There was a genuine change on the mat and my fellow Aikidoka are breaking away from their usual self limiting mindset and embraced something different. Along with my fellow Aikidoka, we have made the mat a safe space for all of us to make mistake, experiment and learn.
The four of us was truly enjoying Aikido and we helped each other explore our techniques, struggles through a spirit of non-judgmental, openness and total vulnerability. It was a very special and precious Monday night to feel that, and it makes me want to go back and relive it again.
Harry sensei would be happy
It’s a thought I shared with my wife when I got home, if for some miracle, Harry sensei was alive that Monday evening and he see where Radek is right now, he would be happy to know what all his teachings and lessons is bearing fruit. He never gave up on Radek, despite of constantly chiding him being stiff and mechanical, Radek was far from mechanical on Monday, I can see a more natural fluid expression of Aikido on the mat. Harry sensei’s tough love paid off.
Harry sensei would also be happy that the tiny little group of us are still training together, growing together and learning from each other. I hope we have done enough for him to know that he left the dojo in a good place. We are not fighting bitterly for egotistical gains, nor critically tearing at each other throat, challenging each other for authority.
There is really not that many of us left, who was with Harry sensei until the end. I’m somehow not concerned with this scarcity, but relish on the fact that this little group of us, is enough to bring a lot of good, love, peace and harmony in our own way. For sure we are not going to change the world in a big bang, but that’s not the aim, we just want to be happy, peaceful human being and the people who interacts with us can feel that. If we can achieve that, I’m sure Harry sensei will be quietly elated, his style of Aikido has cleaned up the world a little bit.
Getting COVID earlier this month puts me out of action for a fortnight and being away from Aikido gives me the space to think about what we are going to do and where we are going. This is a reflection on my earlier post “Where do we go from here?“
Clarity as we go along
There are many factors I was mulling and in the due process, all the issues, players, external forces, internal inertia all came together and the result is overthinking. Where do we go from here implies a point A to point B, and outcome, destination and endgame; this is the wrong mindset; putting the cart before the horse. You don’t get to go anywhere in this mode.
This is a ‘here’, we can only get to the where when we have the horse pulling the cart, and that in itself is the journey, not a destination. I was fixated on a destination and therefore completely missed the whole spirit of training. We need to focus on the now, and the where will take care of itself- this is the message Harry sensei keep telling us and this is his legacy. He never cared about the future, he cared about is the now.
Let the Jones be the Jones
Comparing myself with social media Aikido only helped to prey on my fears and played on my insecurities, of course I can never be as good as those guys showing off their Aikido skills on Tik Tok, Facebook, and/or Instagram. Damn, those guys are skillfully slick and so well trained. Me? Nowhere near that level! Ha!
So time away nursing a recovery from COVID gave me time to think. Keeping up with the Jones is a zero sum game; looking outwards too much weakened my resolve.
Aikido and Shoshin Aikikai
So does the world has a place for a flowy, almost fakery martial arts like Aikido? Or shall we all go and learn MMA? Until now I still feel that for fighting; MMA would definitely be a better form of applied violence which will work in a violent situation.
Pulling back my lenses a little closer and I look at Shoshin Aikikai, the style Harry sensei left us, and is it a form of Aikido that is on par with other styles of Aikido? Is it an effective form of Aikido? Should we all go and learn anther style of Aikido?
The Answer is on the Mat
While I work on my answer, purpose and existence on the mat and off the mat, I could sense that we do have a distinct existence and contribution to the world. I started Monday’s class looking at my fellow Aikidoka, we bring a certain proposition to the world, one of peace, harmony and love.
When I think about our time on the mat, and how each and everyone of us off the mat, we bring a bit of Harry sensei’s Shoshin Aikikai into our lives, and because Harry sensei left us a style of Aikido that is peaceful, non-violent, and focus on not resisting, everyone brings this spirit into the greater sphere of life. We apply what we learned on the mat, on our everyday lives, and it touches the people we meet off the mat. We treat people with decorum, dignity and respect, well, I try to as much as I can.
Keep trying, never quit, never give up
This is perhaps my own small way of honoring Harry sensei’s style of Aikido, this small band of us are really not interested in the pecking order, not interested in belt chasing, our sensei told us to DROP OUR EGO! We made it our life purpose to keep trying, we come to the dojo to continue the practice, because our sensei inspires us to keep training when he was alive. He never quit, come to training come hell or high water. As long as we keep training on the mat, we embody his commitment, and doggedness, we never give up trying to make our Aikido a little better, not perfect, but better.
It humbled me when I look at my fellow Aikidokas and see beyond their tiny sliver of time on mat, and how our practice and camaraderie influence the bigger world out there, and the people who they come across off the mat. So while there is only that little of us left who is keep Harry sensei’s style on the mat, this little band of us continues to bring good into the world and in every little thing we do, we strive to bring peace, love and harmony to all we meet, I know, at least I try to.
I never had such a problem keeping me up at night. All I have to do is to go to the dojo, follow a certain respectable old man do Aikido and go home. Simple.
Now that I am in that shoes and people are following me, there is a certain standards, quality, direction, style, ethos, pedagogy, sub-culture, teaching, curriculum that I have to dish out, someway, somehow, one way or the other.
As my friend Steven always says it “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.” Ain’t that the truth.
It’s never far from my mind that this position I held is an extremely privileged one, I didn’t put myself there, someone I respect a lot asked me to be there, and now that I am here, the weight is on me to do something, moving forward. My friends in the dojo put their trust in me to take this place forward and I’m burdened constantly not to let them down. The weight of that responsibility is serious shit.
No Easy Day, No Easy Answer
Such is the cruel reality of change, we are all forced to change. Legacy held us in good stead, knowing we came from a respectable past, but how we move forward will determine how we continue to keep that past respectable.
Deep down inside I do still feel like a phony, Harry sensei’s spot is too big to fill, I know that I have no plans to fill it, faintly even trying to do that is will be preposterous. Then the next question begs to be answered, how do I write my own story? Do I even want to see myself 80 years old 7th dan, dedicated to Aikido? Or can I be who I am, 3rd dan, 80 years old, dedicated to Aikido?
In the world of pecking order and sexy new martial arts, I don’t think I can compel many people to follow an old 3rd dan, still running a dojo 10-15 years from now. It’s not a great selling point, I will age (am aging) and will falter, like Harry sensei did, will people still turn up at the dojo out of respect, sympathy or a little bit of both?
Even if I were to advance in grade, so what? So freaking what?
I still cannot see myself at the epitome of Aikido, like the shoulder of the giant I’m standing on. So should I avoid the risk of desecrating Harry sensei’s legacy by running a sub-par class? Or should I chart my own way, and risk desecrating Harry sensei’s legacy the same? Damn it if you do and Damn it if you don’t.
No help in finding the answer either
Sorry no sorry, I don’t think there is anyone out there who can help me solve this. That’s the other thing that has always been a me problem, the solutions lies only in me, myself and I. Once I found the solution (which will come to me eventually, I just got to be patient) then I can move. Until then I can only hobble along haphazardly, be the stand-in until the stand-in, stood out permanently.
Right now all I can do is to use my imagination and think about how Harry sensei could have done it under the circumstances when he took over Teddy Lee sensei back then more than 50 years ago; the challenges he faced, the acceptance and rejection he has to face, building up Aikido the way he did. The problem is that there are no cookie crumbs, he left no ‘how-to’ guide on how to run a dojo and take the dojo forward; all I got from him was his teaching, as fleeting, unreliable memory in my head, and that’s all. I constantly ask myself how do I go on when all of our interpretations of his teachings differs widely dependent on people’s perceptions.
Not exciting at all
I can’t build any excitement out of this heaviness at all, perhaps I took this role with a very serious responsibility, and maybe I do want to make Harry sensei proud and when people comes to his dojo, they can say that Harry sensei did a good job, his bunch of Aikidokas are a skillful lot. That’s perhaps my lofty goal and I’m not sure if I am up to it to see it happen.
Until I find a way, I think I’m gonna be kept awake more often than I like to.
Tonight was the second time I teach Aikido. The cherry is broken, so it is pretty much going into the groove and doing what Harry sensei does in class, except this time it is me in his place, instead of me watching him being the sensei.
To make things perfectly clear, the statement above is about me. taking a step back being the observer, observing the observed, me; discharging my capacity as a sensei, and watching over the class like how a sensei, any sensei would.
There is really nothing much to watch over, really, these bunch of Aikidokas are my friends, we have all been training together for a long time, so we have a very safe, happy, and constructive environment, this kind of ecosystem embraces newcomers very disarmingly. Sure there is an ‘in-group’, and this ‘in-group’ is not a closed group, we’re happy to have new friends join us.
Until I became a sensei, I didn’t know what the learning curve looks like, and yes I am still learning, even though I am taking class, showing techniques and all that. While showing techniques, I am trying to do what Harry sensei taught me, us, and it is not as if he left behind a detailed technical curriculum guide on ‘How to do Aikido’. We learned what he taught us, and such a method of knowledge transfer is notorious for it’s infidelity to the spirit of originality. Even if he did leave behind some secret Aikido manuscript, I also won’t know where to start!
Thankfully, I have my friends, they remembered the bit I forgot about what Harry sensei taught us, and Mingjie came up to me after class and said I didn’t do a certain thing that Harry sensei used to do, and I was like caught off guard, I reasoned that I was focused on something else, and didn’t emphasized on that thing I didn’t do. In short I forgot.
Choy did the same and reminded me of a particular step which Harry sensei does to prevent a counter, I didn’t do that as well, or it might have slipped my mind.
The thing is Harry sensei’s teaching spans 60 years and there is so much he has taught and we are the last bunch to have trained with him in his twilight years. I’ve seen his teachings changed over the years, and with so many decades of Aikido ‘textbook’ that he has written in every class, it is humanly impossible for anyone to render his moves in any form or originality. And yet we all still try.
Herein also lies the value of Harry sensei’s students coming back to training, every time we get together, we piece a little bit of him back, we collectively remember him in the dojo where he gave so much to. I don’t want to worship the place or make it sound so sacred, but there is an importance of keeping Shoshin going, I can see it now.
Our memories of Harry sensei is all about that, memories, fickle and fleeting, open to interpretations and contentions. We as his students can argue about how certain moves are interpreted, but we all know how to do it in good spirit, because we all know Harry sensei left behind a very noble and yet quiet legacy, guarded by those few that still comes to the dojo.
It looked like any typical Monday class and I wanted it to be as such, so on the facade, there is little or no difference, I’m taking the class, 8pm, my fellow Aikidokas will take their respective places and we will start class, like we have done so for many years.
Internally, there was a huge inertia, a massive reluctance to assume the position in front of the class, as sensei. I wish Harry sensei is still alive and hoping that I can continue being the facilitator, wishful thinking I was entertaining.
I looked long at Harry sensei’s photograph which I put up on the shelf, quietly asking him for divine guidance and still wanting that affirmation from him that I will be doing fine. He is no longer around to do that, so I have to take all that he has taught me, taught us, and carry on from there. With that thought, I walked up to the front and become sensei, for the first time in my life.
The Imposter Syndrome
This is a feeling for sure, and yet it still feels strangely familiar, very ready, and I think I have Harry sensei to thank, he has been grooming me all along for this position. While he was alive, he would be the earliest one, turning up to vacuum, dust and mop the place all by himself while he was still fit. The few of us made a point to come early and help him with all the chores. As long as I am coming to class I will make sure I do all this with him until a point in time I was doing them by myself, for him, as he watches, smoking his cigarettes.
Now that he is gone, I am the one turning up earliest, doing all the vacuuming, mopping and dusting, laying the mats, getting the place ready for class, all by myself. So I know the dojo very intimately, every dirt, spot and dust is very familiar to me, working on it after so many years.
Being consistently his uke perhaps is also another way he was grooming me. While he never said that I was to become a sensei after his death, by being his uke umpteenth times has made me understand his moves, his nuances, and his unspoken expectations. Maybe by being thrown around by him the most, I’m considered remotely good enough to continue. After all, why would he continue to call me to be his uke, even for demonstrations if I am not ‘good’ enough? Perhaps there is no one else.
It had to be me
Strangely familiar as I know this is real, I didn’t voluntarily put myself there, I didn’t fake this, make this up myself, my fellow Aikidokas trust me and look upon me to keep the class going, giving me good faith that while I am still not good enough, somehow I can lah. Showing them the techniques, and sometimes the wrong ones, they will correct me, we discussed, how Harry sensei did it, and of course how we perceived the way he did what he did. We call can agree that his technical perfection to the Aikido techniques are second to none, owing to his many decades of training and dedication.
Being an Aikido sensei is not something of my choosing, there is no career path, this is just the way it is. It is terribly lonely taking that position up front, the weight of the entire class, or even school rests on me. I can’t take it lightly, somehow, sensei’s spirit and reputation lies with Shoshin Aikikai, and right now when people think about who is the sensei in Shoshin Aikikai, the guy who took over when Harry sensei passed away, that guy turns out to be me.