theaikidad

Aikido, Parenting and Everything in Between

My sensei teaches more than Aikido

My sensei teaches more than Aikido

This is the view for me for the past 20-odd years. The irony of my life is that I know my Aikido sensei more than I know my father.

My parents divorced when I was 15. I started Aikido when I was nineteen-ish, and just like that, I’ve spent more than 20 years in Aikido, even longer than I know my wife.

I was never Harry sensei’s ‘favorite’ student. When you trained long enough with him, you know the kind of students he like; and by the virtue of my physique, I’m not his uke by choice. I got to where I am, because I hung around long enough, longer than those ‘better’ students. I got here by attrition, you can say that.

Along the way, I learned quite a few things from my sensei, and without him, I have no Aikido, and no such blog. My mind will not be open, the way he did, gently and patiently. Without his quiet guidance, I won’t be the person I am today.

Loyalty and commitment

It is Harry sensei’s bragging rights. He trained incessantly, 50 years, Mondays to Fridays; these days. Back in those days, he trained 7 days a week, 4 hours. These days who can say they did what he has done, 50 years and counting? He mentioned in his soft voice, he only stopped Aikido twice, once for his mother’s death, for a month, the other time he did, I didn’t catch what he said.

While many people can and like to mention lineage, to soup up their own dojo’s marketing prowess, mentioning that they trained under who and who and which and which Japanese Shihan, Harry sensei simply mentioned that his sensei is the late Teddy Lee sensei, He took the helm from his sensei, and continue to practice Aikido, the way his sensei taught him.

I’ve never heard him trained under anyone else, perhaps with Nakazono sensei, who first brought Aikido to Singapore. More importantly he has never failed to mention his sensei, he has never forgotten his sensei and the teachings. That is his loyalty, and he don’t give a f**k about winning the popularity contest.

He is committed to Aikido, and still comes to class, rain, shine, good health or otherwise. He just mentioned today he had a bout of shingles. Had he not mentioned, we wouldn’t have known, he is still as fit and ki still flows from his fingers. He is committed to teaching and it doesn’t matter if one student turns up or none. Of course he will berate us for being absent, but he knows our commitments and he never asks more from us, but he continuously gives us his commitment, more than we can ever accept.

Family and Sacrifice

The world is fair, there is only 24 hours, Harry sensei is no exception. While he devoted his time to Aikido, his wife has to suffer, his children has to suffer. He will miss their important dates, significant milestones. All for Aikido. He was never there for them in the evening, by the time he got home after training, his kids would have been asleep, the next day, he would have to go to work.

After 50 years, there is no way to reclaim them back. he has to choose, and he sacrificed his family time.

Harry sensei got to become Harry sensei, because he did what he did. His success showed me how not to be a whole person. My family needs me, just as much as I need my Aikido. It is never an easy decision, and I learned to follow my heart.

Sometimes I have to sacrifice Aikido for my family, and Harry sensei would understand where my priorities are.

Regret and Fate

Time has been spent, it cannot be recovered. We spoke briefly, and Harry sensei agreed he was very ‘lucky’, his children and wife stuck by him, although he did mention that his wife is getting even with him these days, after so many years of neglect.

Call it fate or luck his wife didn’t leave him and took his children along. His children are still filial to him. His grandchildren still buys things for him, when they travel overseas. Things could have gone awry for him, his children could have rebelled, as technically speaking, he wasn’t really clocking his time as a dad. As a dad myself, I know had I done what Harry sensei did, my wife would have to pick things up in my absence, and double hat my role.

As a dad myself, I have my moments of regrets, when I missed some of my children’s significant moments. As a sensei, he would have missed more, much, much more.

Photo courtesy of Vincent Asjenwi, Kiryokukai Indonesia

Aikido is good Karma

Let’s not get superstitious here, I’m using ‘karma’ as a generic term. Loosely speaking, Harry sensei did good. While he hadn’t been much of a dad in the evenings, his practice and commitment to Aikido, showed his family and loved ones, that he is truly and purely a good person, doing good stuff with Aikido. His only flaw is; his undying love for Aikido.

 

Bandung Aikido Seminar

Bandung Aikido Seminar

Thanks to our friends in Kiryokukai Indonesia, we got a chance to visit the beautiful city of Bandung, and also enjoy the wonderful hospitality put up by the various sensei.

Training.

IMG-20180326-WA0001

Training was held at the Maranatha dojo which is actually a university of a high prestige, I learned it from the taxi driver when I told him ‘Maranatha something’ he uttered something in Indonesian Malay as good and reputable.

Training was on a Saturday afternoon, and the place was air conditioned… thankfully!

The warm up was lead by Ketut sensei and we went through a series of ukemi exercise, which gradually advanced in difficulty. While I had never done such exercise in the dojo before, I was thankful that my curiosity lead me explore my own ukemi online and I did learned a couple of feather falls in youtube, very similar to those practiced by our Indonesian friends.

The ukemi exercise was great as it was the first time I have the aid of a living person. most of the time I did the feather falls, holding onto my gym bench. It worked, but a person would have been much better.

DSC_0092

Harry sensei’s class

Harry sensei took the later 2 classes and he went thought the basics, which was mostly concentrated on making sure that our Aikido exercise don’t kill or maim us prematurely. Harry sensei explained that the testament of him still an Aikidoka at almost eighty, was his ability to evolve and find the best technique to protect ourselves.

We might be young and we can say with gusto that we can take the pain, when we get hurt. Harry sensei’s logic is “You can get over the pain, but you cannot get over the injury!” For a sensei who has seen his fair hare of injuries over the last 50 odd years in Aikido, you cannot argue with that!

Simple but difficult moves

Trademark to Harry sensei, he does no fancy stuff. It was all basic techniques, done in very small circles at a very advanced level. There is perceptively very little movement, it looked like an innocent tsunami about to happen.

As his students, we have to present ourselves in the best light, and also train hard with out fellow Indonesian Aikidokas.

“You can get over the pain, but you cannot get over the injury!”

Pin

When Harry sensei pins a person, the person will not get up ever. He did it to me, and got one of the Indonesian Aikidoka interested and he had a long chat with Harry sensei, asking about how it was done and all those stuff.

Harry sensei did it again during kokyu-ho, and this time he pinned Vincent sensei with his right had, and later with his left, dominant hand. Vincent sensei couldn’t get up, at all.

IMG-20180429-WA0012

Kiryokukai aikidokas

The students are very earnest and hungry to learn. Those on the mats don’t mull around, they will go forward with their catch and there is no hesitation. The lack of English wasn’t a barrier at all as we all speak ‘aikido’. Some of them with better English will ask pointers in positioning and hand movement. They were a bunch of learners and they will go far with that attitude.

The fundamental learning curve of a junior belt don’t go away, most of them came too close, and I have to kick one of the junior belts at the shin. He got the message and adjusted his distance. Some have stances that can be improved, which they did the moment I correct them, they are quick in their learning too.

The senior belts there are very experience and dynamic in their movements. Their catch is strong and the movements are those of seasoned, well trained Aikidokas. I learned quite a fair bit training with them and it was a good and happy environment, the perfect place for Aikido to grow, and foster goodwill.

Demonstration

We ended the session with a demonstration, and Harry sensei used James, Tri, Vincent sensei and myself as uke and he gave the Indonesians a glimpse of the level of Aikido Harry sensei practices at.

IMG-20180428-WA0037

My First Photo with Harry Sensei

It was in this trip that I finnaly pluck up the courage to ask for a personal photograph with Harry sensei. I have been in Aikido for more than 20 years, and never once taken a photograph with Harry sensei. I told Edna, it was like a kid on Christmas day, getting his long awaited, hard fought present. I was beaming from ear to ear. It is always such a joy to train with Harry sensei, despite of his stern demeanor. He makes me a happy student and being happy is a good place to practice Aikido.

img-20180428-wa0041.jpg

Beautiful Bandung

Beautiful Bandung

Dear boys,

I took a short trip to Bandung last week, and there was a couple of firsts for me.

It was my first trip, taking a plane all by myself. yes, you heard it. Your dad’s a big boy now!

It was my first time to Bandung.

It was my first time staying in a Hilton.

It was my first time I had a picture taken with Harry sensei, only. (More on that later)

Why Bandung?

Our Aikido friends, Kiryokukai Indonesia (KI) invited Harry sensei over for a seminar, which my sensei gladly obliged, more about the seminar in my following post.IMG-20180326-WA0001

Why Bandung is also due to the fact that Bandung is relatively near Singapore, a scant 1.5 hours flight, cost is also affordable. As much as I would like to have an adventure for myself, I cannot break the bank as I have you boys to feed.

DSC_0027.JPG

I’d gladly take a budget airline, since it was just a short flight, on top of that, I can also keep the cost down. Your mum will have none of that, she insisted on Silkair, as it was operated by Singapore Airlines, I’m travelling alone, and she would want to pay more for my safety.

Well, my argument is that a flight is a flight is a flight. Anything can happen to any aircraft. But your mum insisted, and since she already relented to let me go, I’d just shut up and let her choose the better airline.

I love your mum.

Touchdown, bad luck

The first sign of trouble was the tourist SIM card didn’t work. I had no data, and I panicked. Without data, I am anonymous, it was a scary thought. No one in Bandung speak a decent level of English.

Hoards of Taxi drivers came at me, while I was already flustered not able to get my SIM card to work, not able to get data, and totally lost.

This guy, I don’t know his name obviously,  had a tag ’50’ so I reckoned he is taxi driver number 50. He pestered me, tailed me and I had to get into a cafe, just to break his tail. I got myself a croissant like bread, and sat down for a munch, and just people watch, and also watch ’50’. When I am more settled, I walked out, tapped ’50’ on his shoulder and told him ‘let’s go.’

He took me to my hotel, for 250,000 rupiah, that is S$25. Had I seen the Grab counter, or had I have data, a Grab taxi would have taken me to Hilton in 12,000, S$1.20. Very novice of me.

Hilton Bandung

Well, what can I say about Hilton? N-I-C-E

And it wasn’t too expensive as well. I got a good room on the ninth floor over looking the railway track, watching countless of trains worm their way in and out of the station.

DSC_0031
2 queen beds for a single bloke
DSC_0033
View from the room
DSC_0066
The railroad and trains

The service is expected, impeccable and I chose the Hilton as Harry sensei and my sempais, James, Nasheer and his wife stays there for the trip as well. So it would be easier to get around if I stayed there with them, at one spot.

My other Aikido friends Edna and Tri stayed at Zest hotel, about 2 km down the street, and Radek stayed at Four Point by the Sheraton. but Hilton was ‘5 bintang’, 5 star in ’50’s opinion.

Getting my Data

It was kind of imperative. I need a data, so I asked the concierge about the nearest shop to get a SIM card, he told me a shop down the street, and there is a big shopping mall called Paskal 23, the newest one.

So I trudge out of the hotel to find my precious SIM card.

 Horrible traffic beautifully alive!

The traffic in Bandung is typical, horrible.

DSC_0044
TRAFFIC!!!

But I saw it with my Singapore’s eye. It was terrifying. The motorcycle streams in continuum, the cars, buses and people, all uses the same space. The chaos was so evolved, so packed and yet no one gets hurt. Everyone gives in to everyone, in an unrehearsed river of traffic.

The whole environment is so existentialistic. You either move, or get out of the way. So I followed a lady’s stride and move in bold, purposeful steps, It worked to calm myself and as I observed, there is a method in chaos, people still managed to cross the streets, mini buses still stopped, hawkers still managed to sell food, people managed to eat food. Everything didn’t stop to smell Randy’s fear and solace. There is no time for that.

I found the shop selling SIM card and a 6Gb card costs 55,000 rupiah. Not a bad deal, they didn’t check my passport or identity. The SIM card worked as they check it, I pay and got out. I have data!

First thing I did was to texted home, so that your mum knows I am okay. I already did that when I got into the hotel and used the wifi there to update her on my status, now I can be reached on the go, with the SIM card.

While technology frees us, it also chains us to technology.

Bandung is safe

Despite of all the unfamiliarity, in a foreign land, Bandung is a very safe place. It wasn’t as well lit as Singapore, nor the foot path as well maintained, people still goes on with their business and while I was paranoid about getting mugged at every given corner, what I observed was a level safety for girls to walk the streets, eyes glues to the phone. Kids playing and everyone going about their business. Sure I bumped into a couple of teen gangs, but which country doesn’t have that? Even Singapore have our fair share of Ah Bengs and gangs.

One way I gauge the safety in town was the type of gates shops uses, which is a typical roller shutter gates, which can be easily broken into. In fact, shops in Penang were more fortified with heavy duty reinforced locks that firmly secure the shutters to the ground. When we are in our vehicles, there was no ‘mandate’ to lock the doors. Pedestrians were everywhere.

Oh, most toilets I went to, were clean and smell free.

Linking up

At Aviator Coffee Camp
Ketut sensei and Vincent Sensei to the right

With data, I managed to hook up with James and our Bandung Host, Ketut sensei has decided to pick all of us up for a trip uphill for dinner.

The traffic was typical still, bad, but it got less congested as we head up to Aviator Coffee Camp for the cool weather and great food.

DSC_0052

DSC_0060
Food! Glorious food!

The weather for that night was a nice chilly 19 degrees, and we all got together to eat. Vincent sensei joined us later for dinner and we had a good time with the hearty food and of course the fantastic weather. Thankfully, your dad can still take that chill with a tee shirt and shorts, and colder, I would have been frozen.

Saturday was training day, so we took a quick but sumptuous meal for breakfast, complements of James. The Hilton breakfast spread is nothing less than the best. It was a good breakfast worthy of a 5 star lodge.

On Sunday

The flight back to Singapore was 10.10am, so I hadn’t have much time to do much, but I wanted to trudge the streets of Bandung one last time, and also enjoy the cool 19 degrees morning.

DSC_0104

Right outside the hotel gates, I caught a picture of this lady balancing 2 bags of crackers on a pole to sell. It was a good sign to head out and just enjoy Bandung on foot.

DSC_0118
Joggers + Motorbikers

The streets, as I understood on my day 3, is really a shared space between joggers, pedestrians, motorbikers, cars, cyclists, horse drawn carts, tricycles and all sorts of other things.

DSC_0116There is a certain kind of peace in the buzz. Of course there are ‘inconsiderate’ motorists who wouldn’t stop for walkers, but everyone just make do. No one was honking excessively, although there was honking now and then, it is what it is, everyone using a share space, and giving everyone a space. No one was hoarding ‘my right of way’, and insisting that because their cars are bigger, others have to give way. It was quite an amazingly alive spectacle and you can get drawn into watching traffic whole day.

Of course as a tourist, I can afford to sit back and enjoy the methodical melee, I’m sure the local Bandung folks can get quite impatient and irritated with the jams, delays. It was a hard place to be punctual, for sure.

Departing 

DSC_0142

It was a no frills affair, Vincent Sensei wanted to send us off, but i opted for a Grab, so that I can give the rest a bit more space for luggage. Anyway a Grab is just…12,000 rupiah.

The traffic was light for a Sunday 8am, and I tipped the Grab driver and that certainly made his day.

Military Brass

Flying off was a wait and while we waited we witnessed an Indonesian Air force Airbus AS365 Dauphin brought a military big shot to the airport. The drill is the same with all military in the world, the lower ranking officers will lined up and salute the big shot and then they will all walked to where they need to go. And of course, there will always be, a photographer.

The flight was a non event and I got back home safe, back to being a dad.

One thing for sure, Bandung is a place I will sure bring you boys and your mum for a trip. There is still so much more to explore!

I have only One Aikido Sensei

I have only One Aikido Sensei

This is quite a common phenomena, students becoming teachers. It happens everywhere, and it is most likely a good thing.

So why is this an issue then?

It is when a student assumed the role of a teacher.

Harry sensei is a very nice teacher, and he love all his students. You will become a very competent Aikidoka under his tutelage, many people can vouch for that. You can get very senior, 3rd Dan, 4th Dan, and sometimes, part of the package is a huge ego, and Harry sensei isn’t the greatest in managing egos.

While Harry sensei is a very competent Aikido sensei,  he is not so great when it comes to administrative things, and without my sempai, Nasheer and James helping out in the day to day fee collection, administration, paperwork, it will be quite a challenge for Harry sensei to run the school properly.

Over the years, there has been many sempais that has done the administration for him. Some even went as far as thinking that they can run the school adminstratively, they can be an Aikido teacher, and seize control of the dojo, booting out Harry sensei out of the school he took over from. I won’t go into that dark murky details of Singapore Aikido history.

Like I said it, Harry sensei is very nice to everyone, so much so, some will take advantage of his kindness and starts instructing even in his presence. It is an ego thing, just because when some student got a Dan grade, that doesn’t mean you can teach. It sometimes does annoys me, when Harry sensei is walking the mat during class, like any sensei would in a dojo, there is another person in hakama doing the same. I know Harry sensei enough to understand when he does nothing to stop such behaviour, he is him, this will be his life problem, I cannot solve his life problem. By letting another of his senior student walk the mat during class like he does, creates confusion, and it will undermine his authority.

I can only be clear about one thing myself, there is only ONE Shoshin Aikikai Singapore sensei, Harry Ng. He did not and has never appointed assistant instructor(s), instructor(s) or allow anyone to instruct under his school, that is as far as I know. We are a small Aikido school, and Harry sensei is a hands-on kind of teacher. There is no confusion, we all learn from him, and him only.

Maybe there is something else I don’t know.

That doesn’t matter.

What matters is; I know I have only one Aikido sensei. Not anyone else, and nobody else.

It will be this way for as long as Harry sensei breaths and as long as I breath. That will not change even if he pass the baton of the school to another person, he will still be my sensei, period.

As students, we have to remember, while we become very competent in Aikido, that doesn’t mean we can teach. Get Harry sensei’s blessing, before teaching, and teach in a new Aikido premises, not in his dojo, not in his presence, he is still The Sensei, not me. There is a pecking order, and often Harry sensei don’t quite care about the pecking order, we must, as this is very much a how we conduct ourselves and respect our teachers, even when we become teachers.

Unless one decides to open a dojo without his knowledge, because there is the money to do so, then that will be another interesting story to tell altogether, wouldn’t it?

White Belt’s Expectations

I took a class last Friday and for a change, I asked each and everyone of the students what would they wanted to learn that evening.

Some say they wanted to learn extension;

Some wanted to learn Kotegaishi;

Another one wanted to learn how to slam, or take a break fall;

One of the white belt want to learn something ‘practical’.

So I took class, and hopefully, everyone was happy that they got what they wanted.

At the end of the class and while I was about to pack up and leave, I casually asked that white belt, who wanted to learn something ‘practical’ if he’d got what he wanted.

Apparently he didn’t

So this is my message to the white belt, which is basically how the conversation went down.

Dear White Belt,

You told me you didn’t quite got what you wanted in terms of something practical, that’s too bad.

You went on to tell me “When Han Tiong used to teach, he would teach how to deal with a straight punch…” And you lamented that the class is not as ‘tough’ as it should be.

You also implied that the class is not challenging enough and you don’t seem to learn anything new.

The class is not ready

Well, I told you that as an instructor, regardless if I am a stand-in or otherwise, there is a responsibility to teach according to the capabilities of the class, the general skill, level and fitness.

That student who wanted to learn how to slam? She couldn’t even take a ushiro ukemi properly, she is too heavy at the wrist. Had I attempted to throw her so as to teach her how to do a break fall, I might have broken her. Injury is the last thing I want, The burden does not only goes to me, but it goes more to Harry sensei, if anyone was injured under my charge.

The class is not skilled enough to be pushed. Of course I can make the session a little more strenuous, but at the end of the day, the range of fitness in the class varies, and I need to make sure everyone gets a fair share of exposure.

Some fitter ones will find the class slow, the less fitter ones will find the class a good challenge. For an instructor, it is not easy to get that balance.

I barely broke a sweat

This is not bragging, I told you I barely broke a sweat. It is not a tough class for me, and most Aikido classes isn’t tough for me. You also, lamented that the class is not fast enough. I told you I’m probably only going at half-speed, maybe a quarter speed. You, White Belt, hadn’t seen me gone fast, when my partner is a senior Aikidoka, who is fast, skillful and dynamic.

You train to the pace of your partner, and when the class is going slow due to the fact that the majority, including you, are beginners, who are still so rough around the edges.

Sure, I can go brutally fast, what is going to happen?

Speed certainly thrills, and speed can kill too.

We need to come to class to make sure everyone practices safely, and everyone go home with no less for wear. It is not about your speed, White Belt, but the speed relative to your partner. If your partner has a slipped disc, you need to take care of that. Speed is not everything. Everyone who whats to be a decent martial artist, focuses on technique, and method, speed comes naturally. Before you can be faster, you need to be methodically correct. Being fast doesn’t mean that you are good, being slow doesn’t mean you’re lousy either.

You said that because the class isn’t challenging enough, that’s why most of the seniors left.

That is their problem, not yours.

Besides, White Belt, you’re staring at a senior who is still turning up to train. This Black Belt who turns up, while others have dropped out, does it because I want to train with my sensei, Yes, simply put it, loyalty. I’ll continue to train there, fast, slow boring or not, simply because Harry sensei is teaching there.

And people leave for various of reason, they might have to start a career, a family, or Aikido simply is taking too much time. Or they could have simply lost interest, regardless of how  interesting the class might be. People will still leave.

The classes don’t teaches enough ‘practical’ technique.

White Belt, you told me the classes don’t really teaches straight punch to the face. Well, Aikido is a martial arts, it is not a self defense system. Go and learn MMA if you want to know how to protect yourself from such and such an attack. Aikido is a Japanese martial arts, and it has its own design and curriculum. It is not a be all and end all martial arts. You love it for what it is, warts and all. If you don’t the Aikido is full of weaknesses and holes that it is simply not effective. White Belt, take it from me, I had a little MMA training, and what I learned is a heck a lot more effective, than Aikido. Go and learn BJJ while you’re at it.

So if you asked me, why am I still in Aikido?

I’ve said enough of that.

 

How to find an Aikido Teacher

How to find an Aikido Teacher

Of course I’d be biased.

I have the best Aikido teacher in the world!

After more than 2 decades with Harry sensei, it has been decided that he will be my Aikido teacher as good as a marriage vow; “Till death do us part.”

Well, isn’t that Aikido? The first ‘ai’ being 爱? Love is universal and that’s one thing I learned from Harry sensei.

IMG_2038.jpg

Love-

He loved all of his students, in a rather naive and unconditional way. That aside, he criticized everyone just about the same, almost ‘drill-instructor’ like. No matter how well you did, there is always room for him to say something disparaging. There will be always something wrong in everyone’s technique although some might be better than others, irrespective of how good you are in iriminage, he will always chide the entire class for not turning enough, or entering enough. that is always something not enough about our technique. But as much as he criticizes us, he love us all the same.

That means he can be quite a disarming person, that’s a nicer way to say ‘vulnerable’. People can and has made use of him for their own selfish gains. He shrugged them off and continue with his teaching. He has never harbor vengeance or seek legal recourse for those who has done harm to him. he is simply not interested in dealing with people who hurt, even those who hurt him.

He wants you to be better than him

Admit it, his level of Aikido is at a level high that no one can attain. At the same time, he is aging, weakening as the days eats into his life. I can feel it being his uke, he is not as sharp, as strong as he use to be. As a younger person, I can be better than him. And he wants you to be that, but not the artificial better, the genuinely better, kind of better.

As his uke for so many years, I’ve always received fully from him, he has never held back, kept a secret move, and gives you that twinkle of the eye, to hint that he still knows a few tricks and you don’t, and you are not privileged to get his ‘secrets’; there is simply no such thing with Harry sensei. He has never kept anything from us, and if we, granted the ability to learn all there is to learn from him, he will teach you all he as to teach, and more. There is really no secrets to Harry sensei’s teaching, the only problem is we are not open enough to receive his gifts fully.

There are times he don’t say a lot, that doesn’t mean that he is keeping these Aiki secrets to his graves, or he is saving these secrets for that special someone ton take over the helm. He has no successor, nor has an interest in appointing one. He treats everyone the same, and he scolds everyone the same, well almost, being his students for so long, he has a soft spot for ladies, my sensei is a gentleman.

Do as I do, not as I say

He told us to follow him, and do exactly what he does. And don’t question that. Don’t ask why, don’t ponder, don’t think. Don’t seek the answers. Just do what he is doing to our best ability. He said that simply because he admits that at times he is not able to explain. It is ‘in him’ and the only way to show how, is to show how, it cannot be spoken of nor explained.

So he wants us to copy him, not to be like him, but to understand how Harry sensei moves and understands Aiki, so that we can become better than him. We can use what Harry sensei has, and incorporate it what what we have, and comes up with something better than what Harry sensei has, a newer better version.

Of course, if you do things too far off the Aiki-do, he will rebuke you sharply, With so many years of experience, he can spot a wayward egomaniac easily. When you have a basic understanding of Aikido, he will leave you alone to develop yourself and become creative with your technique. Ever-so-watchful, if you stray, he will make sure he brings you back in line.

He is the best guide.

As my sensei, I see him as my guide. and helps me with my journey. Basically we are walking the path he has trodden for many decades. It is the same path we use, and he continues to point out to us, where we have gone wrong, where we got lost in our technique, his voice and guidance steers us back to track. When we are on track, he pushes us to keep going.

He knows that while the path is the same for everyone, everyone takes the path at a different pace. I have never seen him compare one student to another, he has often used students as example. Like how he said Tri comees to the dojo and trains, even if it mean that there is only 15 minutes left in class. He has compared and say Tri is better than you, or you are not as good as Tri.

All he says is:

  • Tri like Aikido,
  • Tri comes to training even if it is just 15 minutes left,
  • Tri is hardworking,
  • Be like Tri.

Harry sensei nurtures

I’ve seen many students, really sub-par (that’s me, being critical) and it frustrates me to see him teach these new students. Some of these students have serious, motor movements, clumsy like hell, can’t do a tenkan, and takes forever to learn an irimi. He can turn these rocks into gems. He has all the the patience and acceptance in the world to temper these rough cuts. Ah Beng being one of the many, he’s been in the the dojo for years, and as a beginner many years back, he was clumsy and took a long time to learn the ropes, far longer than an ‘average’ beginner Aikidoka. But he keeps on coming back, and now being a brown, he is at a level where he posses enough skills and competency to move like an aikidoka. Such is the heart of Harry sensei, he brings out the best in the ‘lousiest’ students. As long as you have the heart and grit, and keeps coming back, he will turn you into a decent Aikidoka, no matter how long it takes.

DSC_0714

He is hands-on

Until today, he stills vacuums the dojo floor, mops and lay the mats. We students as much as we can help it, will come as early as we can to help him, but he has never waited for anyone to do it for him. If it so happens that everyone is late, he would have set up class all by himself, at Shihan, 7th dan, close to eighty years of age, he has never taken his status nor seniority for granted. He has never asked for anything to be done for him. I fold his hakama because I want to, he didn’t ask for it. He is never high handed in how he wants his students to ‘serve’ him.

He is human

He is not into fancy twirling or high falls, and dramatic throws, he wants us to roll low, and keep safe. Nothing is worth high risk, unless absolute necessary. Minimizing impact is one way he has learned to live to this age without much serious injury.

He doesn’t do anything extraordinary, he explained aikido in the most basic fundamental way, he is just frustrated at times, when we as his students failed to grasp his teaching, which is often so simple and easy. All we need to do is to surrender ourselves, wholeheartedly and unreservedly to his teaching, and that is simply the hardest thing to do.

How long have you been training?

I’ve often been asked, ‘How long have you been training in Aikido?’ Sometimes I would reveal the actual chronological investment I’ve made. More often than not, my response was ‘Long enough.’ The period of time often does not accurately indicate the amount of skill a person has. Especially in martial arts.

I understand that now with the ubiquitous ranking system, being a Kyu or Dan actually meant something to some folks. Generally it should indicate a level of proficiency, But its a nice concept for the more logical mind to grasp. as it gives people a sense of progress. In our go getter, result oriented world, visual progress is important. in businesses, we always have metrics and indexes to measure result against the goals we set. KPIs, or Key Performance Index is one of them. Many folks migrate this kind of quantitative measurements over when they take up martial arts. How many medals taken. For boxing, how many wins, KOs, loss. So in Aikido, do you set a goal to attain a dan grade by…?

For modern Aikido, we have our own KPIs too, ‘Ki’ Performance Index? Upon getting a dan grade, you’ll get this Yudansha booklet, a passport size book where you can get Shihan to stamp and endorse your participation in his training. So theoretically speaking the more stamps and ‘autographs’ you got, the better you are? So does it helps to measure a Aikidoka ‘KPI’ when you have the entire book filled? Pardon my ignorance as I’m still figuring out how does having the whole book filled measures a practitioner’s competency. I mothballed by Yudansha the moment I got it, and it will stay that way for as long as I live.

I’ve followed Harry sensei from the time I started until now, and I probably would do so until one of us dies first. There is so much that he has to teach that I cannot absorb fully for me to learn from another sensei. My learning from him is never complete, neither his teaching. It’s always work in progress. Sometimes he still finds difficulty transmitting his idea and experience to us, because at our level we do not comprehend what he sees at his level. So what does that says about him as a 6th dan? And what does it says about us? Does it mean that being a more senior belt, we display more competency to absorb his transmission? So what if I’ve practised for such a long time and yet I’m still as ignorant and clumsy as ever?

Aikido and longevity

Aikido and longevity

Last Tuesday evening Harry sensei said, (practising) Aikido does not make you live longer, you just die healthier. And he pointed up, implying when you go is entirely decided ‘up there’. While I am not a God kind of person, it kind of rang true.

It ties in lately that I had a brief thought on why O sensei died of cance? Of course it is not fair for me to say that if he is so in sync with the universe, he ought to be able to live longer, well, maybe become immortal! That kind of thought qualifies me to be a Hindsight Expert.

Harry sensei was right, He asked the class of young NUS student, who has gone to a funeral? And looked into the coffin? Did the person who died, has a smile on the face? Or the person died plagues with ill health and misery? If you die of ill health and misery, then that is not a very nice way to die. It is better to die when you are healthy, and with a smile on your face.

That is an opinion you cannot argue with.

Last Tuesday evening Harry sensei said, (practising) Aikido does not make you live longer, you just die healthier. And he pointed up, implying when you go is entirely decided ‘up there’. While I am not a God kind of person, it kind of rang true.

It ties in lately that I had a brief thought on why O sensei died of cancer? Of course it is not fair for me to say that if he is so in sync with the universe, he ought to be able to live longer, well, maybe become immortal! That kind of thought qualifies me to be a Hindsight Expert.

Harry sensei was right, He asked the class of young NUS student, who has gone to a funeral? And looked into the coffin? Did the person who died, has a smile on the face? Or the person died plagues with ill health and misery? If you die of ill health and misery, then that is not a very nice way to die. It is better to die when you are healthy, and with a smile on your face.

That is an opinion you cannot argue with.

Last posted on  Nov 27, 2014

Competitive Aikido

Competitive Aikido

If you have to hurt a person to win, then it is better to lose.

The spirit and core of Aikido is non-competition.

That’s it simple, easy.

The bottom line is, that has been taken out of context. Nowadays people say it without knowing why O sensei decides against ‘competition’.

O sensei, is being specific. He is against having competition in his art, He does not want Aikidoka to practice Aikido for the sake of competition. and he does not want a competitive element to be imbued into the art of Aikido.

But that doesn’t mean that Aikidokas cannot be competitive.

A marathoner’s competition

What O sensei wants us to learn from the practice of Aikido is the universal spirit of harmony and love. There was a story about the Spaniard Ivan Fernandez Anaya, who didn’t want to win his cross country race by capitalizing on his competitor’s mistake. That is the spirit of harmony and love, which is manifested though the practice of Aikido. It is a competitive sport, but Ivan didn’t lose his humanity to gain a piece of metal.

So what O sensei implied is, go ahead, we have to compete, sometimes, because we have that competitive nature. In every organism, there is a pecking order, we have to climb and fight, and race, and compete, that is fine. We must not, however, lose our humanity. If you have to hurt a person to win, then it is better to lose. We will make ourselves smaller through plots, schemes, rules and regulations. These limits imposed makes competition ‘fair’, but it limits our human capacity to fully function.

Eventually we want to win the human race. That is the race, and competition Aikido is preparing us for. We are not aiming to be a champion Karateka, top salesman, best entertainer, at the neglect of our loved ones, our health, our spirit. Aikido aims for the higher order of becoming a better human being, a better person, a better Earthling.

Yes, it is a tall order, I can imagine that during the time when O sensei is bringing his art to the public, what kind of stir he would have created in the martial arts fraternity in Japan. Karatekas, Judokas, Jiujitsu practitioners, would have look upon O sensei and says some not so constructive things. Had O sensei bent on competing with these folks, he might win the fight but lose the entire spirit of Aikido. He can do it, he competed against no one else but himself, to be a better human being, to be the best, and so inspire and continues to inspire millions of people globally.

So keep the big picture, look at what Aikido is making us become, a Champion Human Being.

Are you able to let go?

Does Aikido defines you? Gives you a sense of meaning? Purpose? Responsibility? Makes you a nicer person? Give you character? And all the other nice things? Does Aikido also provides you front and side air bags? If Aikido is really that good to you, like a cuddly teddy bear, then can you let it go?

I’ve not been attending class lately, perhaps it is simply a matter to reaching that ‘plateau’ again, where I don’t see myself ‘progressing’. The sense of plateauing has happened to me before, I’m not sure if it had happened to you, the last time I felt it was when I was in my 3rd kyu? Or later.

Right now I can look back and understand, again, the sensation of plateauing. It is a play of the ego, where the ego is not getting that adrenaline kick anymore. There is a sense of mental fatigue and no matter how hard I try, an irimi nage will always still be an irimi nage.

This time, it is not a sensation of the plateau. It is a sense of the self is telling me to give it a rest. Too much time and energy is spent on Aikido that other parts of your life is lacking. My presence in Aikido dojo, would means an absence at home as a father. It is a zero-sum game no matter how I look at it. I can only be at one place at a time, and sometimes I need to pull myself away from my regime to spend more time doing my other duties.

And this clinging, even to something as good as Aikido, is bad.

This is happening naturally, I don’t really miss Aikido, and frankly, when I’m in dojo, I don’t miss being a dad. There is sense of ease in the role and when there is an over-balance, the body, mind and spirit will automatically redress that, without any sense of angst or reluctance. Even though I said it is a zero sum game, I don’t feel a sense of scarcity, I just do more of this and less of that, and later time, more of that and less of this.

That gave me an epiphany, because we so often hear people say, that when they don’t get to train, they’ll feel uncomfortable. If they don’t go to the dojo and sweat it out, something don’t feel quite right. That means that deep in you, you hadn’t been able to let go. And this clinging, even to something as good as Aikido, is bad.

Nothing last forever, not even Aikido training. We must be able to let things go without attachment, only when we are able to do that, then we can take our skills, our life skills to the next level. Our Aikido existence is not a be all, and end all. Well if Aikido really matters that much to you, then you have to look somewhere else and see what other good stuff in your life you have been missing, doing your Aikido thing.