A Good Class

A Good Class

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 I again?

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.

Sustainable

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.

An Instructor’s Failure

Last week, we did a technique, Ryo Katatedori Kokyunage. It started out as a simple technique and to add in some difficulty, I decided to apply the ‘unbendable’ arm as an uke so that the nage can have an increased level of challenge.

Mingjie, as the nage, couldn’t do it, so I switched role and be the nage, and he did what I did, using the ‘unbendable’ arm, and I couldn’t do it. No matter how hard I try, Turns out, that method of kokyunage, is ineffective.

It does bugs me a bit, but I have long said, I am not perfect, and some of techniques I do will fail, as it has many times, but this time it makes me think deeper. Perhaps the label as a ‘sensei’ comes with the expectations for me to be able to do every technique, or teach, overcome roadblock or barrier. I couldn’t.

That is a reality check for everyone, particularly myself, of course my ego was bruised.

More than that, this inability exposes my learning path, which I must overcome.

There is 2 ways to look at this inability.

1- I have not attain the level of proficiency to do this technique, hence this technique is more advanced and beyond my current abilities. Harry sensei can do it, and of course, he comes with many more decades of experience.

2- This technique is ineffective. Try as hard as I could, I cannot make it work, Mingjie couldn’t make it work, Choi tried and couldn’t make it work, and checking YouTube, nobody does it the way we did it on the mat that evening.

That is of course not a exhaustive list and perhaps Harry sensei could because this was within his technical ability, or we have been charitable as ukes. Or it is really not an effective way to do it.

Scrap it?

It bugs me because, I have seen this level of incompetence before, in me. There were some technique I couldn’t do in the past, I could now. There are things I didn’t understand in the past, I made an effort to learn and now I possess the knowledge to certain subject matter to hold a conversation.

While I was compelled to write this off as an ineffective technique, the stronger compulsion was to dig deeper and…

Investigate, Probe, Learn, Explore, Discover

It can be so disappointing to those on the mat to see me fail, well, I did. and I explained to the rest that hey, I do fail. and we need to learn from it. the Dojo is a place to learn, and we will fumble, and have our incompetency exposed. It is fine for me, as taking a class is not a performance, I do not expect myself to conduct a ‘perfect’ class. There is no such thing.

Every time we come for class, even as an ‘instructor’ I also learn and at a very different level. While I want to instruct, there are times I couldn’t. Of course the students pay money to have the best possible instructorship, I hope they can also lean something when this instructor fails. I have no intentions to hide my failures, using excuses or some lame justifications. I’m not competent about it, and I am not shy about it either, the only way to overcome it is to train harder, investigate into the whys.

The good thing is Mingjie is on the mat every Monday, and I have to opportunity to work this with him, until we both learn to overcome this, together.

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?