Are you the “I” or “爱” in Aikido?

ai for IWe bring a lot of emotional baggage to the dojo, as much as we want to practise the ‘beginner’s mind’, more often than not we bring a lot of our mental stuff in. We are not able to fully let go, we are all practising.

One beauty of Aikido and other marital arts, is when you do it long enough, hard enough and frequent enough, you will eventually become very proficient in it. We have to put in countless of hours to make ourselves skillful.

How do we know when we are skillful?

Don’t get me wrong, it is not a ‘I have arrived‘ kind of epiphany. In Aikido, I’ve long learned that we will never ‘arrive’. And when we think we have arrived, it is only because we are lying to ourselves, about how ‘good’ we have become. We will never be good enough.

aikido43When the ‘I’ become ‘The I’

We will reach a level of skill when we can forget ourselves. When we lose the ‘us’ in practise. We no longer bring our ‘banker persona’, we forgotten that we are ‘children of parents.’, we are no longer students, we are no longer trying, we are just there, we no longer think of the ‘I’ in us. In fact the ‘I’ transforms, the ‘I’ becomes ‘The I’, The Instrument.

The impersonal ‘I’ is very important for us to really learn and absorb, it is essential for the death of the ego. Where we keep telling ourselves that ‘we can’t’, and this is ‘too difficult’; the learning stops. you no longer try, you no longer strive. You accept your level of skill for who you are. Being impersonal is to have that equanimity, that acceptance opens all possibilities to learn and move in ways that you can never do, when you are fixated to your persona.

There is really no trying.

The problem is, this state of mind is very elusive, and you sometimes cannot distinguish the conscious from this level of hyper conscious. You cannot try to attain it, the more conscious effort to put in, the further it drifts away. It is a mental state that cannot be grasped by the attainment mind.

You can only do, and keep doing.

Truth to be told, I am not practising enough, my hours does not allow me to clock more time in Aikido. That is where it is important for us to practice hard and with intensity of a dying cockroach. Our time on the mat is very, very limited, so when we are there, we need to work very hard. Keep doing it.

Another window for us to reach this level of hyper conscious is through combined training, those that runs for the whole day, or two, doing Aikido, nothing but Aikido.

That means you are putting in 4-5 session of training in a day, from morning to the evening, and by the time you’re done, you’re literally aching to the bones, from too many falls, kneeling and rolling. Too many irimi nage; too many shino nage.

aikido13The Transformation

What happens when you go for such an immersive session?

You literally becomes expeditious, and efficient in your technique.

You lose that ‘I’ very quickly and you no longer see your uke as ‘uke’. And you no longer think, or process your movement critically. There is a level of muscle memory you attain through conditioning, which will allows you to bring your uke down with surprising ease.

You don’t think so much, nor you move so much, you move with necessity and economy. Your uke no longer have a name, and it is not longer personal. You no longer try to be nice, or try too hard. You lose that ego and that identity, you are not even an Aikidoka anymore, that movement becomes you and you are movement. You begin to let go.

The cruelty of such an epiphany is that you will lose it at the moment of A-ha! The moment you think you ‘got it’ is the moment you actually don’t and lose it. You can never get ‘it’, you just have to keep doing it, not aiming for anything, just keep coming back, training hard, until one day, you are free from you.

All the Small Things

All the Small Things

The difference between experience is the ability to notice how the small things contribute to the big picture. Having spent this amount of time in Aikido, my progress is getting smaller, improvements made is not significant, but minute adjustments to the hand tension, position of the fingers, small, small awareness.

When we first started out as beginners, our teachers showed us big adjustments to how we stand, our body posture, movements. from there we learn awkwardly how to do an irimi-tenkan, how a nikkyo is done, with big exaggerated movements, using lots of physical and muscular strength.

All the small movements necessary to tip the balance lies in incessant practice and training.

The longer we practice, the more we noticed how we are nagged with a level of incompetency that no matter how hard we try we can never improve? Those countless of nikkyos we did over the years didn’t seem to make much of a difference. until we discover for ourselves that the difference is in the certain tension we have in our wrists, the small turn of the finger, will tilt the uke’s entire body to our favour. All the small things.

I trained with Gabriel on Nikkyo yesterday and from that I observed that the level of ‘noticibility’ between us is quite significant. He is caught up in the level of technical, geometric approach of how the lock is done. As much as I would like to point this out to him, I can’t because it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. There is no way that I can move him to a level of noticibility similar to mine. It took me about fifteen years to notice what I notice in him, will he be able to harness my observations and bring his awareness to my level. hardly, if he can, I wouldn’t have need to point it out to him would I?

All the small movements necessary to tip the balance lies in incessant practice and training. No one can point that out for anyone, everyone has to take these lesson personally, feel, and experience. Open your heart, and allow the essence of the training to touch and change you. There is no logical discussion, or technical discourse in Aikido. The longer you stay learning Aikido, the less significant the form and functions matter. At the end of the day, all you need to do is to twitch your fingers and the world is with you.

First posted Dec 23, 2010

Becoming an Aikido Teacher

Becoming an Aikido Teacher

I think I can see my role slowly evolving. Usually, I repel at the thought of me being a ‘sensei’, an Aikido teacher. I am usually the ‘relief’ teacher, and rarely do I take classes.

Every class I take, it is about sharing. not about me imparting my skills, because I choose to see everyone as peer, and everyone has just as much to contribute to the class as I do, there is not student, there is no teacher.

I held on to this view and I think this view is obstructing my vision. I came to this realisation when I took last Friday’s class, and shared a lot of Aikido knowledge that is quite unique to me, as I’ve yet to see another Aikdioka do what I do. Just three to four small little details I shared with the class.

…it is about Applied Aikido

These are things I do as an Aikidoka, and for those who practiced with me will know; that I am quite hard to throw when I am a uke for irimi nage. Simply because my nage doesn’t hold and control me properly, I will always see that opening and escape the throw. Not a lot of nage knows why and how I did it. I share that with my nage and hopefully the nage can understand and learn. (usually they don’t!) This time for Friday, I shared that with a class of about 20 odd students.

Arrest the commander. (My other Martial Arts friend, Steven Lim will remember this!)

I learned this move from a shihan many many years back, and its was the single most effective move in irimi nage, because the move makes a lot of sense, and it is practical. I share this with the class, and showed them that, when effectively done, there is no opening, you can skillfully bring down anyone larger than you. And I’ve not seen anyone used this move anywhere else.

Ikkyo pin.Elbow facing up.

I never knew I know this finer details of the lock, until I brought the whole class closer for a macro examination. More often than not, as a uke, I can escape quite a few pins, it is also because the nage’s movement does not keep a constant pressure on the lock and there are gaps and lapse. I will always escape, even when the pressure is being applied.

So I showed the entire class how I get out of a lock and how to effective pin so that even I, cannot escape. It was a good learning lesson, even for me.

Rolling your uncooperative partner aka ‘flipping the fish’

This one, tried and tested. I called this ‘flipping the fish’. Sometimes in Ikkyo, the person will end up facing up, and with the lock, you have to rotate the person to a face down position. I can be notorious in being uncooperative, and many of my nages cannot roll me from face up to face down.

Again, I managed to show the class the finer details of the shoulder rotation and many of them got it, and some got interested to delve into the finer details.

After class, I realised that these  are all my ‘trade secrets’ actually. And these tricks makes me unique and gave me an upper hand as an uke. But I realised that there is a lot of my tricks and techniques that I can share with people.

Not I’m not formally trained to take an Aikido class, I sort of grew into the role. Strictly speaking, I’m not a person who knows the Aikido pedagogy by heart. I have mistaken many moves and tried some other more adventurous ones. For me, it is about Applied Aikido, things that works. And I realised I know a lot of things in Aikido that works, and worked well against other Aikidokas. If the students I impart my experiences to can learn them quickly, they will be able to get out of many locks and when they apply their locks, not many people will be able to escape them!

Having a conversation

Having a conversation

Last evening, I share in class that the Uke and the Nage has to develop a relationship in the waza, and not just be the Uke and the Nage.

One issue I think that is very common in Aikido, is that everything looks so ‘blended’ and ‘harmonious’. It has that effect on people and at very high level, the waza if very irresistible to both the nage and uke. Aikido waza, when skilfully applied, can look very much like a collaboration between 2 very willing parties. So to a layperson, they will usually as ‘where is the attack?’

Like Goldilocks’ soup, not too hot, not too cold.

The uke, strictly speaking, do not attack in a traditional martial arts sense. I recently sees it has having a conversation with the nage. And the nage having a conversation with the Uke, both are at odds when they come together on a specific topic, and both walked out of that conversation, learned and respected each other for their opposing opinions.

It is a physical conversation without opening the mouth.

No it is not body language, it is more than that. when the uke holds the nage’s hand, it creates a situation, which the nage needs to resolve with the uke, amicable, peacefully, without harming anyone in the process. The Uke, might come and say ‘I’m pro life, anti-abortion.’ The nage says, ‘Abortion is necessary.’ Someone’s got to give, and if both go at each other with their own view point, eventually, both will end up bitter, defensive and not getting any good opinion about each other. Life is much, much bigger and larger than our own petty narrow viewpoints and argument.

I see Aikido as that lubricant, you are independent enough to make a stand for your view, yet, supple in mindset to yield, and agree to disagree. Instead of making your stand and make your partner look bad, creating ill will.

A waza is not just a waza, it is a way out, finding reconciliation in a very difficult situation. Hence, the Uke’s job is to have a physical debate with the nage. The nage has to skilfully manoeuvre through the mental ‘mindfield’ and thought train so that the debate can be robust and everyone learn something from each other walking away. Then peace can be sustainable.

Uke Night

So I made it  ‘Uke night’ for Friday’s class, and focused on the Uke, precisely because if the uke does not hold a robust enough conversation, the whole waza becomes a shallow physical exercise. I wanted the uke to present a reasonable amount of resistance in the technique. There are different levels of everything and same goes for Aikido resistance. At one spectrum, you have very easy, fast flowing, uke, who will fall irrespective what the nage does, or the other end of the spectrum, you get a uke who resist till a level where you almost want to rearrange that fella’s face! Between that 2 spectrum, we need to find Aikido in there. Like Goldilocks’ soup, not too hot, not too cold.

This is the challenge, because, people think and the uke have this conversation with himself, or herself, about how a uke ‘should’ be. And the nage, on the other hand, will have a self talk about how nage ‘should’ be. and both also have an opinion about their nage, and their uke, respectively. when we go into a waza with such self talk, we are not contributing to the waza, and simply go there to do what we go there to do. Then a 5 second waza, remains at that 5 seconds. But if both parties open themselves up, the uke resist necessarily, so that the nage can learn, and when the nage realised that it is not so easy to make a uke fall, the nage will also develop a certain finesse and not take the waza and uke for granted. When both goes at each other with such an attitude, a 5 second waza can develop a deep, meaningful bond. both will learn from each other, in a constructive and positive environment.

Too much resistance!

During class, there will be people who resist too much, so much so that the nage can’t do the technique properly, any decent Aikidoka, will tell you that happens all the time. So I have to tell the uke to adjust their strength and resistance, to suit the nage. It has to be intelligent, responsive, not a death grip uke. We are all there to learn Aikido, no bone crushing.

And just because I say it is ‘uke night’, some uke made things so tough for the nage, nothing moves. I share with the class, when everyone takes a stand, that is when things becomes belligerent. There is no need to take a stand and make it a monumental task for every nage to make you take a fall. The story goes like this, every uke will take the fall. Period. The issue to bring to mind is, what level of effort a nage needs to take to make the uke fall. Moving a mountain? Or lifting a feather? The magic is in between. Nobody is infallible.

So I hope the lessons is there, the Uke needs to come alive and not go through the motion. Aikido is not a dance, as I constantly says it. It is real hard work, where both parties put in their best, and everyone walks away from the waza, mutually rewarded and learned. It is not about who walks away the winner, and who loses. Which is why there are no medals, champion’s cup in Aikido. Both the nage and uke are trying to achieve a higher level of meaning than that, and in order for us to do so, we have to offer each other a sincere, open hand to have a courageous and tough but mutually agreeable conversation.

NUS/NTU/SIM/SMU Aikido Exchange

NUS/NTU/SIM/SMU Aikido Exchange

There was an Aikido club exchange between the 4 universities recently, and I had the opportunity to attend all but one of the session. Each of the Aikido club are managed by different Aikikai affiliated schools, so it’s a good time to get exposed to Aikido under different interpretations by different sensei.

at SIM University dojo
SIM University AIKIDO FEDERATION (SINGAPORE)

(I didn’t attend the one held at SIM University, so I can only post a group photo of those who went)

At NUS dojo_Fotor_Collage
NUS Aikido Club-Singapore Shoshin Aikikai

NUS (Singapore Shoshin Aikikai)

The session was conducted by Harry sensei, 6th Dan Aikikai. He went through a range of basic Aikido techniques, focusing on Kokyu Nage, with emphasis on posture, contact, and of course attitude.

Attitude

Harry sensei wants a sincere attitude in training and for the nage to feel that resistance from the uke, the nage needs to know that the uke is not being difficult, instead the nage needs to understand the difficulty. Through a good attitude, we can learn to face a difficult situation with calm and poise.

Technique

Harry sensei did a few Kokyu Nage technique using katate dori grasp. Interestingly, he also wanted us to try a ryo kata dori, Kokyu Nage technique. This is a close in technique, where the uke is in a very strong position. The nage as to understand how to expand and hyper extend the uke, so as to weaken the close proximity, find and opening to disrupt the uke, and result in a throw.

Kokyu-ho

This is a habit of Harry sensei, and as a sensei, it is also a time for him to learn. He took many students from other dojos to be his partner for kokyuho. It is sort of a ‘sampling’ he does to get a sense of the students’ ability to understand kokyu ho and how it is done.

Practice, Practice and Practice with a Partner!

I has a very pleasant partner for one of the techniques (I didn’t get her name! Apologies!). I don’t know her grade but having don a hakama, it would have meant that she already as some basic technical knowledge of Aikido. But based on her movement, I should think she might be a junior belt. Bottom line is, she is good enough to better her current grade.

Despite of being junior in belt, and smaller in size, she has a good feel of how the technique ought to work and has a decent amount of finesse. Some junior belts (senior belts as well!) try too hard, and emit too much strength. For her, she has a good balance of attitude, skill, and judgement. That means I can practice very comfortably with her and at a speed which we can understand harmony a bit better. She is able to take a throw well enough and can dish out just about the same. With such a partner, there is no need for much talking to learn. I just need to explain a few minor points and the rest of the learning is through the movement and the technique.

At NTU dojo 1_Fotor_Collage
NTU Aikido Club- Mumei Shudan

NTU Dojo (Mumei Shudan)

This session which was held on a rainy Saturday, was conducted by Serge sensei, 5th dan Aikikai. He is the head instructor of Mumei Shudan, and his technical explanation of Aikido is second to none.

Techniques

We went through some basic Aikido warm ups and he also started the class with basic Kokyu Nage technique, and once the class has warmed up sufficiently, we proceed to experiment with more advance technique, such as Sankyo, Kote Gaishi, Shiho Nage. We even have time to squeeze in a multiple attack technique, where the nage’s right hand is held by one uke, and the left hand by another.

The whole idea is to allow the nage to explore how to work with a difficult situation and find the uke who is ‘weaker’, in his ‘politically corrected’ definition, the uke who is in a weaker position, and handle the technique has if you are dealing with one person. You converge the weaker uke towards the other uke, and using one on the other, collectively disrupts both ukes balance, thus escaping their grasps.

Mystery Partner

I was able to grab the girl whom I was practicing with in NUS earlier and continue to train with her. It doesn’t matter the grade, as long as the partner is able to understand and synchronize with your movement. Such training partners very precious and are hard to come by, and it was indeed my privilege to have her as my training partner.

Once you are able to find that harmony, talking is not only unnecessary , and it also break the physical flow of the technique. And as with my practice with her in NUS, she is able to dish out as much as she can take, which makes it such a joy in training.

At SMU dojo 2_Fotor_Collage
SMU Aikido Club, Aikido Shinjukai

SMU (Aikido Shinjukai)

It was a rainy Friday evening for SMU last leg of the training. As with NTU dojo, it was my first time there. One great advantage of SMU dojo is the central location, its just a couple of steps away from the MRT and everything is sheltered, great for a stormy weather.

The dojo is helm by Lin Sen Hui sensei, 4th dan Aikikai. He went back to the basics and focus on stance, distance and posture. the analogy he used for the stance is the ‘chopsticks’, leg to the body, if both chopsticks is straight, the posture, spine and head will be properly aligned.

Techniques

We went through the a series of techniques which also includes Sankyo, where the uke executes a shomen uchi, and the nage has to meet the sword and turn it into a Sankyo. There is also Kote Gaishi, but it was a variation which starts from a katate dori, gyaku hanmi catch.

We managed to learn Irimi Nage from a Shinjukai styled perspective. There was a slight difference in the uke taking the fall, which needs us to adjust our posture a little.

No Mystery partner

Sadly my mystery partner didn’t attend the class.

In a Nutshell

It was a good exposure for me learning from different sensei,as well as exposing myself to a larger group of training partners. There are certainly some variety of understanding and interpretations of how Aikido works, and the challenge for me it not to bring what I learned into other people’s dojo.

More importantly, I challenge myself to adapt and melt into other school’s Aikido techniques. Keep my critical mouth shut, and open myself to a different exposure. It is not about ‘that’s not how we do it’, rather it is about ‘so that’s how you guys do it.’ finding similarities through differences in the techniques, learn to pick up the subtle nuances and change our style accordingly. It is about being an Aikido chameleon, changing our styles so that we can suit whatever style other dojos might have.

It was a  great training session, and I am humbled by the generosity and warmth offered my friends from the other university Aikido clubs.

 originally posted 29 Jan 2016