Have you got a friend like Eeyore?

Dear Boys,

I came across this post by  Canadian Mental Health Association Grey Bruce Facebook post, and along with the comments.

It has never dawned to me that Eeyore‘s creator A. A. Milne has created such a melancholy character filled with such love and affability. But in real life, characters like Eeyore are often shunned, avoided and sometimes hated. Humans typically like to hang around positive energy, and will do what we can to get more of that, less of the negativity. So the knee jerk reaction to shun characters with depressive states is understandable.

This post challenge that understanding, when we read Winnie the Pooh’s adventure, we like to read about Winnie, Tigger, Piglet, Kanga and Roo, Eeyore usually stuck out in his own depressive way, perhaps something like an anti-hero of sorts. He is not the main character, but he has his own unique way to complete the ‘family’, Reading Winnie the Pooh without Eeyore, just don’t quite sound or feel the same.

Despite of his depressive trait, his friends didn’t leave him. They stuck with him, and involved him in their games and activities. They didn’t judge him, tell him to change, improve him, send him for therapy, counselling, treatment, detox and other stuffs to help him get ‘better’. They are friends of Eeyore, they didn’t want Eeyore to be ‘better’ so that they can be friends.

This is the metaphorical attitude of being ‘unconditional’ towards your friends and loved ones. You be with them for who they are, not for who they are going to become, because of your influence. You cannot manipulate your friends to become someone you think you might like to hang out with.

‘Change comes from within, not without.’

It is like how people always categorically puts it ‘Change comes from within, not without.’ You cannot change people by asking them to change, using your influence, Jedi mind tricks, hypnosis, peer pressure and other extrinsic methods. Eeyore’s friends never asked for him to be any other guy, other than Eeyore.

I have read to you boys some stories about Winnie the Pooh, watched a couple of movies about it, but I’ve never thought of Eeyore like this until I saw this post. It is very profound, telling how quickly we stereotype people, and make often ‘callous’ comments like ‘Why don’t you cheer up?’ If the person is brooding, let the chap brood, be there, be present for the person, if the person is worthy to be your friend.

Honestly, you cannot get ‘infected with depression’, by hanging around depressive people, it is all in you. If you get depressed around depressed people, the problem is you, not them. you have to ask yourself, why do you let external factors affect you and change your mood?

Not forgetting what we are  discussing here is a 2 way street.

Whilst it is not in your power to cheer people up, others do not have the power to ask you to cheer up, when you don’t feel like it. When you become depressed, your friends will ask you to cheer up. You would want to cheer up, pretend to look cheered up, so that you don’t disappoint your friends. Honestly, sometimes, it is okay to stick with the group norm, fake it to make it a bit, but sometimes out of those friends, you might come across a friend, who is okay with you being sad, okay with you being happy, okay with you for being you, then that friend is someone who has the maturity to accept you. That is a gem of a friend.

In Eeyore’s case, he has quite a handful. He even has Tigger, who is poles apart in character with Eeyore. But they never quarreled about it, they literally ‘agree to disagree’, if I’m allowed to use that very abused cliche.

So this is not a post that says, boys, it is okay to be yourself as who we are as ourselves, are often constructed by the friends we hang around, and if you have friend like Pooh, Tigger, Roo, Kanga, even an Eeyore will learn to have fun when feeling depressed.

Posted January 10, 2016

Expressing yourself with Visual Cues

Expressing yourself with Visual Cues

Dear Wayne,

Sometimes, under duress, you have the habit of closing up, clamping down your pent up emotions. I’m not sure if you have a loss for words, or when the stress gets to you, you just simply shut down. This kind of emotional withdrawal can be difficult for us to understand how you feel and it often frustrates us, as we cannot find out what we can do to help you. This is quite pertinent when you are dealing with difficult exam questions, and you revert to a downward spiral of a negative emotional abyss.

It took me a while to figure this out but during my one of my recent digital courses where I learned about Design Thinking and Continuous Improvement, I came across a few concepts that I think can help us better manage your emotional expressions

Visual Controls

Design thinking is customer centric, so I asked you during a period when you are in a receptive and open mood what kind challenges and emotions you go through when you are dealing with a particularly difficult questions. From the feedback I gather, I came up with a few visual cues for you to quickly absorb and change your emotions from a not so constructive one to a more can-do attitude.

You’ve made many glaring mistakes on some of the seemingly easy questions and while we know you know how to do it, we need to find out why you continue to make mistakes when you shouldn’t. So I came up with this simple visual cues to prime you, as you’ve told me that you have a tendency to assume the question is easy, gloss through them and become careless, resulting in anyhow doing the questions, with obvious consequences.

Subsequently we also realised that there are papers where you got stuck and cannot finish the questions, which is equally bad, because you glanced through and realised that the questions is difficult as it is a long paragraph. You’re lazy to read the whole thing, and quickly concluded that it is difficult, and you become sian to do the question.

After ‘interviewing’ you, I realised that you know the questions, you just need to read one sentence at a time, and break the bulk into bite size chips. Use annotation, it is a technique your mum has taught you but you cannot internalize it, so I came up with this visual cues to prompt you and prepare you to think in this approach.

When you realised that you have spent too much time on a single question, you tend to panic and quickly rushed through the rest, again with undesirable outcome. So I use a simple phrase to help you focus your energy on completion with panic.

6 Ps-Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance

I got this off the internet to prime you on the importance of being organized in though as well as in your ‘hardware’ such as pens, stationeries and make sure you have everything where you want them to be. This will help you get into a more collected psyche so that you can better deal with the matter at hand, which is your question papers.

Planning also means that you flip then entire question paper at the get go to better sense of how much you have to do, how many pages there is until you finish, since one of the many issues you have is working on the questions, and coming to a realization you have another 5 questions, and less than 20 minutes, PANICK BIG TIME.

Managing your emotions

We also have to address your ‘going into a cave’ when you are stressed up. so I used emoticons to help us navigate a pathway to a better understanding of how we can help you, and how you can help yourself express your frustrations.

I pulled out more than 20 of the more common emoticons so that you can pick one to express your current feelings. We do this before you start your tests so that we can better gauge your response. While I didn’t get a statistical data out of the frequency you pick ‘Nervous’, ‘whatever’, ‘focused’ and others, it does help you give us a label which we can work on.

Work in progress

I put all these visual cues into our iPad and you can swipe them and pick the closest emoticons reflecting your mood, it does helps us better understand your feelings and while I don’t have a conclusive feedback from you if these method works or not, I do observe lesser occurrence of negative emotional melancholy meh.

While I don’t want to be critical or judgmental, we still have to get s**t done even when we are meh, especially when we are meh, but knowing that we are meh, can help us bring some level of awareness on it and we can try to swing that mood around. The exams won’t go away but if you can manage your meh, you can shift the mood and influence the outcome, which is a baby steps towards arresting that habit of a downward spiral into negativity.

Word Schema- ‘Always’

Word Schema- ‘Always’

Dear Boys,

Sometimes the words we use often has an impact on how we see the world and in turn how the world ‘see’ us. This is particularly important because if you don’t get this right, you’ll spend a major part of your adult life trying to fix what you have already sub-consciously conditioned yourself into thinking and acting.

‘Always’

This can be a creativity-killing-word, and using this adverb carelessly will always ensure you relinquish your decision making to a conditioned state.

‘I’m always like that what!’

‘You always never turn off the lights!’

‘He always like that one!

We all encounter such statements and make many more ourselves, all the time. We do so out of efficiency and more often than not, laziness. We make quick statements like these so that we can get to the outcome quickly. So if you forgets to bring your masks out, you can resort to ‘You’re always the forgetful one!’ which followed by a ‘hmph‘ and entertain a self depreciating thought of how you have limited memory of a mouse, you’re getting senile and then ha ha and LOL.

Such confirmation bias helps us soothes our lives small little mishaps and sometimes even cushion us from the larger ones, by assigning blame to conditions that is beyond our control. It helps us manage our lives’ daily minute ups and downs and it can be a helpful coping life skills.

Not Always So

image sourced from Google

This is a Zen saying I learned sometime back, and I’ve forgotten much of it, I think it was by Shunryu Suzuki, a Zen monk who coined this ‘famous’ phrase. The point is, it helps us untangle ourselves from our daily, often self-limiting speech-act.

We need to know that we can make decisions, life changing decisions which can helps empower us beyond our feeble inconsistencies and insecurities.

This three words is the antidote to our ‘always‘ culture, paradoxically, it includes the very word we try to untangle ourselves from.

Every time, we do something that seems like a mistake we made before, or we got lazy and left the dishes unwashed, we can blame it on laziness, we are ‘always‘ procrastinating, or we can ask ourselves, Is that always the case? Am I always like that? Not always so! We can change, reflect and make amends, fix things, grow a new habit and exercise our decision making faculty.

Nothing is Fixed, and Nothing can be Fixed, Everything is Constantly Fixing

So we need to know that while we form habits which shapes our behavior, nothing is fixed, except our decision to set it. Even that can be changed, of course there will be consequences when it comes to a fixed habit, as well as fixing a habit, but as human beings, we must constantly make decision, that will change the range of choices that leads to a wider variety of outcome.

So to me it is not the faculty of choice, it is our ability to decide, when we make a lousy decision, we can then make another decision to correct it, or we can lament that we are always making shitty choices, which leads to a downgrade of personal empowerment, and then a replay of our entire life’s mistakes, failures and boo boos. Or we can decide to make another outcome, take another route, do it again, and again, and again, so that we get it right.

Life is about making one decision after another which takes us from one outcome to another, by constantly exercising our decision making muscle, we will never be short of choices that can take us from where we are to where we want to go.

Lt Gen (ret.) Winston Choo

image source from Reddit

Our very first Chief of Defence Force Winston Choo was a farmer, who became our country’s most well known soldier. Had he maintained that mindset that he was a ‘farmer’, will be farming, and always be a farmer, he will never have risen to his full potential.

Has he always been a farmer? Not always so!

As human beings we are here to make sure we keep doing what we can to better the circumstances we are in, otherwise we will always be homo sapiens. So learn from our country’s longest serving military chief, be something more that we we have always been, never settle for always, keep questioning our being, our ability, move quickly from our mistakes, learn from them and make our problems a source of solution and experience for us to become a better me.

Decision making are the breakfast for champions

In my dictionary, there is no good choice, no bad choice, no bad decisions, nor good ones, as long as it brings you closer to your outcome then that is the decision to take, not right nor wrong. Sometimes you make a decision that seems to take you to your destination, but we end up going another route, which serendipitously enhances our learning and experiences, in turn helps us revaluate our earlier decisions. Nothing is fixed unless we decides to fix them.

We often look at achievers and think why are they always the ‘smart’ ones making all the right moves and choices? Frankly, it all lies in our decision making and our ability to correct our decision quickly, so that we avoid making the ‘always‘ self-defeating statements.

‘Tom is always so lucky!’

‘Dick always gets good grades!’

‘Harry is always getting the promotion!

So if you want to have an always, have an always striving, always learning, always getting better, always the hardworking one.

So, boys, condition yourselves to make decision, constantly evaluate your ability to make decisions, and sometimes you might make a lousy stand, don’t die with it, don’t get emotionally or personally attached to it, change, make another decision, get new information, find out and study what you are lacking that resulted in you not making a quality decision, and please don’t dwell on self limiting conversations, you are never ‘always‘ like that or like this, unless you really make a decision to be!

P.S Lt Gen (Ret.) Wiston has a book out, titled A Soldier At Heart, is published by Landmark Books and is based on 40 hours of fresh interviews, oral history transcripts, speeches and Mr Choo’s writings, said a statement from the local publisher.

The book is available for $35 (before GST) at major bookshops. It will be formally released on July 16 by Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean. (Source: The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/life-of-singapores-longest-serving-military-chief-captured-in-memoir-0)

The Writer’s Block

The Writer’s Block

Dear Boys,

I hadn’t been writing for a while, due to a few reasons. And I want to start writing again, as I e-learned something from Seth Godin. He asked his friend, the great Isaac Asimov who was a prolific writer and published more than 450 books in his lifetime. How does he write so much? Seth asked him one day, to which Isaac replied that he starts the day at his manual typewriter, and type for till noon; it doesn’t matter what came out, good, bad, and ugly, there is no judgement to it. There is no such thing as a mental block, writer’s block or any kind of block, it is all in the head, and your mindset.

The epiphany didn’t happen instantaneously, it still took me a while to start again, as I need to overcome excuses and latency, and plain old laziness.

Of course with all the COVID19 that is going around, we cannot help but put a lot of our usual things on hold so that we can get a hold of ourselves and watch in trepidation as the world spins out of control and into craziness. Your dad also have to deal with personal, career issues along with other things. So it’s not easy to just continue like nothing has happened when there is so much happening around us.

It’s okay

Overtime, all the tumultuous turn of events can simply wear us down, or we can decide otherwise, while there is a lot of madness going on out there, there is also an equal amount of good and grace there has risen to the challenge. There is a greater awareness of mental health, amidst a rise in suicide cases in Singapore, people are beginning to see beyond work and school grades. There are social movements that is attempting to influence institutions and companies to look beyond profits and performance to really take care of their people and employees, my own personal take is that COVID19 is really the great leveler, no one is immune to it, CEO, Presidents, Celebrities, Rich and Poor, of course the poor suffers more but COVID19 kills all, regardless of how important you are.

Photo by Andrew Neel from Pexels

So it is okay, to take a break, give yourself mental head space to take a step back.

If you have a mental block? No problem, just chill.

Writer’s block? Hang up for a while.

Toxic people in your life? Walk away, even when you think you cannot.

Let’s start again, and again.

So back to writing, hopefully, I can endeavor to display more consistency in putting my thoughts for you boys, as there are a lot of things I wanna tell you all for your future and for my past. Well, let’s just put pen to paper, or for my era, keyboard to screen and see what happens from there.


Photo by Suzie Hazelwood from Pexel

YOLO & FOMO for COVID19

YOLO & FOMO for COVID19

Dear boys,

We were undecided about going for a holiday for last year’s December holidays. Firstly, Ian has already gone to Japan for his school’s learning journey, and I was planning a trip to Japan this year, 2020 for the IAF, International Aikido Federation meet, happening once every 4 years. The last time I was in Japan was back in 2000, it would be an epic journey for me to return after 20 years.

IAF pass
My IAF card back in 2000

Your mum told me that if we were to plan for a December holiday, I will have to scrap my trip, money’s (or the lack of it) is the issue. We decided to go ahead with a short getaway so that Wayne will not feel FOMO, now that his big brother had an awesome trip with his school to Japan. Besides, I decided to YOLO, as we will never know what will happen in 2020 (look what happened!!), we’ll cross the bridge when we get there, if I get to go to IAF2020, it’s be great; if I don’t get to go, at least my kids and wife gets to go on a holiday in December 2019. So we made some plans and calculations and ended up going to Desaru, Hard Rock Hotel, which was an awesome trip, no regrets there.

Hard Rock Hotel Desaru

We had a good time there, and I’m thankful we went; because COVID19 happened.

Travelling will no longer be the same

I was just thinking about it while I was cleaning the toilet, it was a good call to go. Now that the new COVID19 world, global travelling will be severely curtailed, and we can only reminiscence the good ‘ol days, where we went here and there.

Oh, my solo IAF trip shelved as well, as most event and meets worldwide are put on cold storage, anyway the Olympics 2020 was pushed forward to 2021 too.

IAF photo
My IAF trip back in 2000

Travelers worldwide will have to take stock of how to restart the holiday business again. We may be able to travel and visit places, but I don’t think it will be with great ease like before.

So I’m really glad Desaru happened in December 2019, as this year, I don’t think the world have a solution to deal with COVID19 yet, and so holidays are going to be holidays at home. We can only look at the videos and photographs we have on our trips.

Saving Money and Spending Money

While we do make plans to save and it is important to do so, we were glad that you boys enjoyed your fair share of travelling, taking planes, flying here and there. We want you boys to have beautiful memories of the places you’ve been as a family as as brothers, these are shared experiences that build the bonds you both will have that will carry through thick and thin.

We could have been stingy and saved every penny for a great big trip, something epic, and once-in-a-lifetime, for example my IAF2020 trip, but all that saving is sort of in vain, now that this global phenomenon is upon us, we cannot travel like before, even if we have tonnes of money.

IMG20191215184443

It’s a balance, and YOLO (You Only Live Once) is an acronym used to describe The Millennials and their lifestyle, spending like crazy, living just for today (Live Once), and not worrying about tomorrow, not saving a cent for rainy days. As parents we do worry about your tomorrow and I feel that your mum and I managed to achieve a good YOLO for you boys, we don’t spend like there is no tomorrow, and yet we don’t save like misers, making you boys FOMO all the world-travelling fun. Now with the new COVID19 world, we will really FOMO some things we’ve done in the past, and take for granted. And I’m glad we had our share of fond memories.

 

COVID19 -An Aikidoka’s Opinion

COVID19is a seemingly invincible and invisible killer putting the entire world in fear.

Aikido, like many other martial arts and sports, requires close contact, and a lot of dojos out there are closed, to avoid unwittingly infecting other people and of course, honour Social, Safe Distancing in a bid to slow the spread of this deadly virus.

Here’s my take.

STAY AT HOME, DO NOT GO TO THE DOJO

PERIOD

YOU WILL NOT DIE NOT PRACTICING AIKIDO,

BUT YOU WILL KILL SOMEONE WITH COVID19 GOING TO THE DOJO

Bullshitdo- not Aikido

There are some Aikido practitioners out there thinking that they can be brave, not fear the COVID19, and continue to practice Aikido, when in reality they are practicing a true form of Bullshitdo, the fallacy of invincibility.

These folks think that they are somehow immune to the virus, a delusional ‘not me!’ thinking. It’s similar to sexually promiscuous men thinking that they won’t get STD from unprotected sexual intercourse and when they do, they feigned surprise and suddenly feels vulnerable; and stupid.

Dear Aikidokas out there, please don’t be stupid, because if you do and you get the COVID19, you can become a silent carrier, as many of the COVID19 patients do not develop symptoms, and you can bring the virus back home and spread it to others who are more vulnerable, loved ones like your elderly grandpa, or your dad, or your baby sister.

As long as you have the COVID19- and you touch someone, someone will die, do you want to live with that your entire life?

It is a VIRUS

Please don’t think that some mysterious ‘ki’ can protect you from it. It is a VIRUS, it kills, as long as it is able to, and it has shown to be a very competent killer. Your knowledge of Aikido, ki or other martial arts is virtually useless protecting you from it, you get it, you get it, you die, that’s it. It’s non-negotiable, end of the story.

There is no known vaccine against it so the only defense is, defense. You cannot go out there, continue to socialise and thinking that having a kind of ‘herd immunity’ can help protect you from it. There is no Herd Immunity, only mass deaths, please don’t become another statistics.

COVID19 has no agenda, no plan other than to continue surviving. It will kill any highly skilled Aikidoka, as much as any Special Forces soldier, it will kill as long as it can have a host to kill. It will kill as long as there is contact, close proximity between a COVID19 carrier and another victim. No amount of love, peace and harmony of Aikido can stop this spread, if you continue to go to the dojo and hold people’s hands.

DOJO- the perfect breeding place

Earlier on this year while the virus was still developing, I too, was one of those stubborn ones, thinking that ‘hey, I was still training when SARS hit.’I was still training when H1N1 hits.’ I was in the thinking that ‘It won’t happen to me.’

In Aikido and in many other contact sports, we all continue to train when we have some minor colds, fever and all, sniffy noses where we will wipe the mucus off our sleeves and continue training. Personal hygiene was never top of the agenda, blood, sweat, mucus, body fluids of all sorts are freely exchanged, and everyone went home okay.

This time, it is different as the situation is highly unpredictable and COVID19 is a cunning killer, as mentioned, you can be a silent carrier, and bring death to your fellow Aikidoka, without you even knowing it, until it is too late.

Some Aikidokas continue to practice using surgical masks, and thinking that a policy of using hand sanitizers will help mitigate the risk of infections in the dojo. It doesn’t. You can wear a mask to cover your mouth, your noses. You’ll rub you eye, you sweat, our skin have pores, we human beings are a bunch of badly designed, porous, poorly ventilated organism. Unless you can train in a HAZMAT suit, don’t bother turning up.

hakama hazmat
Hazmat-Hakama

Our Dojo is close for the entire month of April 2020.

It’s quite a bummer not able to train, but we know the situation is much bigger than all of us. We are a close knitted group of Aikidokas and we are all a bunch socially responsible folks, one of my Aikidoka friend decided to self impose her own distancing for 2 weeks as she was nursing a cold.

But fact of the matter is, COVID19 still don’t care, it is capable of staying in the shadows, and strike when least expected. Our sensei is into his eighties and to continue training will put him as well as others at risk, we love our sensei and granted the current situation, let distance makes our Aikido-heart grows fonder, instead of coming together and risk killing our fellow Aikidokas.

By the way, if you think you are still so invincible, go visit your nearest hospital, get yourself infect with COVID19 and see if your Aikido skills is any good getting you cured. If not, you’ll become another burden to the already stretched medical services, so do everyone a favour, stay at home or stay in a hospital, and then stay in a photo frame!

ab_stayhome_270320_0

5km everyday for November (Part 2)

5km everyday for November (Part 2)

Dear Boys,

Running everyday for the past 1 month has taught me a few lessons. As common as the saying goes, ‘life is a marathon’, it is actually more than that, life isn’t just 42.195km, to me, it is 5km spread over a month or more, interspaced with interruption, suprises, determination, positivity, mechanism, injuries and a lot more. But I guess it is about going on, and not stopping, well, at least not that often.

Fatigue

The fatigue is not just about exhaustion immediately after a run, I am talking about a longer expereince of tiredness, knowing that the next day is another 5km to complete. And while there is a finite number of 30days, it seems to be never-ending when you’re at it.

Another fatigue is the risk of injury, putting so much physical activity in 30 days, runs into the risk of getting hurt, even in normal day to day stuff. The body is taking a beating from the increased activity and I really need to pay attention to what I do.

The other issue with fatigue is the lacking of rest between runs. Sometimes, I have to do a late night run, followed by an early morning run the next day, due to Aikido class in the evening, this means that the body is being put through a high tempo with less rest, a recipe for injury, and thankfully, none of that happened, although, it did feel like it is going to happen a couple of times.

Safety

November was in a way tumultuous times in Singapore, as there was a uproar of anti-PMD(Personal Mobility Devices) sentiments due to the rising number of PMD and pedestrain related accidents and incdients. Your dad became one of the victims, on the 4th of November, and the government annouced the ban on the 5th.

Since some of my jogs are night runs, I already have a good sense to buy small bicycle blinkers to put on myself, for the sake for visibility, I have one and it is always on my back, but that accident with the PMD was a head on collision. So I bought another one to on my chest, so that I can be seen front and back.

Safety also means that I don’t jog with headphones on, which will reduce my situational awareness, but having music on means that I can have a fast rythmn and tempo, dependent on the song of my choosing.

Blister

From my previous running experience, I know that blisters will develop, along with trauma to the toe nails, I have one on each foot. This is quite normal and it is part of the pain package for sustained running.

 

To save me from this ordeal, I was very fortunate to come across a fantastic anti-blister tape from Decathlon. It was cheap and it was good. The stickiness was just right and it did it’s job protecting my toes from pain and excessive rubbing. You see, despite of that, I’m still going to lose my toenails, but it could be worse.

non-stretch-rigid-self-adhesive-tape-white

Blister management is very important to make sure the run is enjoyable and sustain able, and if you miss out this important minor details, your painful little toes can derail your plan.

Shoes

I’m not a big fan of expensive running shoes. Sure they look good, and comes with a high level of comfort, and some can cost $200 and up. For my run, I did it with this pair, Asics Torrence, a cheap, discontinued basic running shoe that cost me about RM$100… which is about S$30.

It served me well, although it took me a while to get my stride right, but it did the job, gave me good cushioning and there was no major protest from my feet. 

This goes to prove the as long as you can run, any decent pair of running shoes will do, and spending more than necessary will not make you a better runner. Unless, you are a performance running athelete, then a pair of high end running shoes will help put that extra speed into your gait. If not, just get a pair and hit the road.

One very important thing though, socks. Invest in a good pair of running socks, which will help brings confidence in your stride.

ekiden-running-socks-3-pack-black.jpgFit to keep fit

One last thing, boys, a minimum level of fitness is important, so you need to have a baseline level of fitness before you start on this endeavour. If you are morbidly unhealthy, never start on this. Always start slow and go low, as in a low mileage, and build it up from there. Always be kind to your body and listen to your body’s reaction to your efforts, if you really feel unwell, stop. You can always recover and try again, it is fruitless, and also stupid to push this just for the sake of your ego.

二教 nikyō in MMA

二教 nikyō in MMA

I did MMA many years back with a very good school Fight G. I think it was for 3 months, once or twice a week.

It was in one of those training sessions that I realised Aikido has a value in MMA, although more often than not, using Aikido specifically to win an MMA bout would be next to impossible, well that is my opinion.

I was on the ground with this guy, or rather, he was on the ground and I was up. In terms of MMA, we were both kind of a novice. In terms of martial arts, I can tell, he has little or no prior martial arts experience.

He was a fit guy, but while we sparred, I got the better part of it, and started my ‘ground and pound’, and out of instinct, he grabbed my wrist. It was more like a ‘Gyaku Hanmi’, opposite hand grab.

That sets it up nicely for a nikyō, The MMA gloves was thick, but I knew I got the lock, and began to apply pressure. The poor guy, probably pumped up with adrenaline, has no idea what is his predicament, with his free hand, he tried to make something out of it, but it was in vain.

I applied pressure, the lock was there, but I decided to let it go. I would have severely injure him, had I continue.

That incident never left my mind.

The martial arts world is wide, there are many many moves out there that we have never heard of, or even think was possible.

Catching that guy in a nikyō, in an MMA training taught me that anything can happen in a fight. Aikido locks are almost never taught in MMA, and when someone in MMA encounters such a lock, or pin, they usually have no response or reaction to it. Which is a dangerous indication that the training has gone past the learning stage, right into dogmatism.

Letting it go

I let the lock go partly also because we are all kind of a recreational MMA students, we are not fighting for keeps. The guy was like me, just going there for ‘fun’, imagine, going home with a broken wrist, or worse, a wrist that is permanently  broken. That would have been on my conscience for the rest of my life. It was just practice, so let’s not injure each other with malice.

7a99a68f2c435b6e43e4c811117616ce

Observe, Observe and Observe

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

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

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

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

Same same but different

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

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

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

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

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

Unlearn

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

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

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

We have a problem

 

Two days back, there’s the annual Inter-University Aikido training at NUS and you will get to train with a lot of new folks from other universities, as well as bumping up with a lot of old pals, chronologically these pals are still significantly younger than me, so the ‘old’ in the pals here, refers to them as familiar faces from other university dojo.

Anyway…

For an Ikkyo-omote waza, I paired up with this petite girl from Singapore Management University. Harry sensei was showing a kind of a leading hand technique which will be quite technically difficult if there is no blending.

With this girl, there is no blending.

She was asking me if she was doing it correctly, and I replied. ‘Wait, there’s a problem I need to sort out.’

One of us is too hard and one of us has to soften.

No prize for getting the right answer.

Anyway it is not a matter of ‘seniority’ or ‘superior’ skills. She’s quite hard, and there’s no way that I can make her follow my leading hand, it’s a slippery fish analogy, the hard I try, the worse it becomes and eventually, both of us will walk away unable to execute the technique nicely.

So I soften, and try to blend; it was still awkward for a few cycles, then I caught her vibe and rhythm, and the technique begins to work. As a nage, she was quite hard and linear which is not what Harry sensei wanted us to do, nonetheless, I followed and let her leading hand, lead.

When it was her turn to be uke, she couldn’t follow, too hard.

So I soften some more and things begin to work, I could lead and she could follow.

And eventually we managed to get along with the technique, and enjoyed the session.

It was a problem

After class she came to me and we chatted a bit, and I found out her name was ‘Shuling’, so I asked her if she’d figured out the problem, she admitted that she’s too hard.

To make a fair argument, that’s life. She is not ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ being hard, neither am I  the ‘better’ one being soft, I just want the technique to work, and the technique not working is a problem I need to fix with her. It is not a competition to see who is better than who. Which is why there is no element of competition in Aikido. We want to work with people, and make the situation work, so in order to work with people and get the best out of a situation, we open up, soften our stances and try to understand the other party, and help the other party open up as well.

We try to understand how our partner works, and help them help us. In a myopic spirit of competitiveness, we try to understand our partners, so that we can exploit them, and their weakness, so that we can win, the competition, the medal, the glory. What and who did we end up destroying, for us to become a champion?

Sync problem 

Every time we partner someone, we have to calibrate our synchronicity, no two person is the same at any given time. Every touch point is unique and very much one in a gazillion event of a lifetime. It is a very precious connection and it is also a problem, because even with familiarity, it doesn’t always works. Even those Aikido friends’ I’ve been training with for years, I mentally prepare to meet them for the first time, every time. That’s beginner’s mind for me.

We can never fully understand our partner. In an Aikido context, how Shuling worked is only one part of the equation. Of course, I being more senior to her allows me the luxury of choice; to slow things down, soften and go along for the ride. I could have bumped into a chap more senior than me who is oblivious to how skillful he or she is, in that aspect, I as the uke/nage, too have to blend, in a soft way in a hard way, depends on the partner you got.

So we have to solve that working problem, and the technique can be the killer breaking up the work, or the technique can be one that brings two differing people together. One has to back down so that another one can step up, and once that person has stepped up, he or she can help the other one who backed down in the first place. So this is Aikido in a back and forth movement, nobody wins, but everyone one wins big. If you compete, there can be one winner, with a bigger problem. Isn’t it a better idea if everyone comes together, forget about the competition, solve the problem and win bigger?

You can’t choose your partner

Well, actually you can, but you have to wait your turn. I told Shuling that the dojo mimics life. How many of us has friends who became not friends, and our ‘enemies’ coming to our aid? Sometimes, as much as we mentally choose our partner, it is also a kind of cosmic fate that chooses our partner for us, and who we end up with is who we need to blend with, hard or soft, it all boils down to how hard and how much you treasure that brief fart of a connection you have with your training partner.

It might not be much, but that’s all we’ve got to give.