Stop writing!

Stop writing!

I’ve had a chat with Sensei again about writing up Aikido stuffs last evening and he, this time around dissuaded me from doing so. He is not keen to have his legacy written down and does not believe in having a legacy.

Personally, he feels that that is nothing much to be written about that which is already confusing enough. He has always been saying ‘Ask me no questions and I will tell you no lies.’ In the same spirit with that phrase, he is asking me not to write about him. ‘Stop wasting your time,’ he says, and continues to digress about the current state of affairs. All writings can never tell the whole truth, so why bother?

According to him, he sees the current trend of logic and science as bringing about the messy state of affairs we are in. not so much for the economic rather the climate. Sensei is very much like ‘O’ sensei, and other people who have great affinity and sensitivity with mother nature, he sees the current generation of the human race as too materialistic and even if I were to write something about him, and about Aikido, it will not be of much use and understanding.

To him, there is only one Aikido founder, O’sensei and the rest is not much to write about (including himself). He is not keen to explain or discuss Aikido matters, and prefers that we practice and train diligently.

The current generation of people are misguided and has too much ego in them, what he wants for us to do is not to be the best, or strive for the best, simply to live and enjoy what we are doing.

The chat was very profound and I am indeed very grateful for having this chat with him. He’d freed me from the burden I created for myself. If I have to undertake writing about him and his Aikido, the onus is on me to reproduce his words and teachings in full fidelity. He remarked that I cannot even do my technique right, how am I supposed to understand him? and what he has come to understood? As much as I would like to argue on that, he is quite firm on it.

He has his reasons, and I can understand why. He is not a person who sees a big ‘ME’ in the ‘Harry sensei’. He is not overly attached to himself, and sees himself merely as a medium for Aikido to flourish. He sees himself very much like a messenger, simply carrying a message, irrespective and carefree about the immense ‘value’ that is attached to that message. Its like delivering a diamond, knowing that it is immensely precious, and yet not caught up by the preciousness of the item.

He also frees me from his teachings and encourages me to look at the far larger picture. and the best part is he is asking me to see the world with my own eyes, not with his.

Posted on August 4, 2011

Who’s your Guardian Angel?

Who’s your Guardian Angel?
Photo by Rakicevic Nenad from Pexels

O Sensei has a guardian spirit, ‘Sarutahiko O-Kami’, also known as the Guardian Deity of Aikido.


Makes me wonder, who is my guardian angel, deity, facilitating my sixth sense, third eye?

So who’s your guardian angel, do you have one, know one to begin with? And how does having one or not having helped/ impeded you in your life and spiritual growth?

Posted on July 28, 2010

The Path Leading to the Summit

The Path Leading to the Summit

We often use mountains as metaphors as our quest for human excellence and the pursuit of    self actualization. Maslow’s theory of needs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow’s_hierarchy_of_needs)  already presents our needs in a pyramid, pitching the highest ideal as ‘self actualization’. As the triangle looked like a mountain, we can symbolically determine it as a kind of a challenge, a climb.

Similarly, in martial arts, we often diplomatically says, ‘there are many ways to reach the summit.’ which loosely means, we can train hard in Aikido, Karate, Kendo, and the ultimate aim is ‘satori’ (悟り), or enlightenment.

Surely it is an ideal pursuit, worthy of our effort. there is a caveat, i realised recently.

Are we climbing the metaphorical mountain, or are we building our own tower of knowledge instead?

One is the land, the other is the map to the land.

We are all living in a world full of information and knowledge, and yet, wisdom, is still lacking. We all study so hard, to earn our degrees, learned so much to know all that we can know, and yet, we get pissed off by the slightest provocation.

I’m not discounting that building a tower of knowledge. It take arduous effort, and one can professed an in-depth knowing of the hows and whys of a discipline, we become the proverbial expert, but that does not lead us up the mountain. We become experts, but we fail to become a master. More so, we are becoming more isolated by all our knowing, we know this we know that, so that is no more for us to venture for, since we already know what we know, if we don’t know something, we know where to go and find the answers. And hence, we build another layer on our tower of knowledge.

Knowledge does not lead us to the summit. Knowledge tells us, we can look out of our tower window, and gaze at the summit. No matter how high we build our tower, we cannot reach the highs of the summit, on the contrary, the high we build our tower, the more precarious it become, and it will topple in eventuality.

Photo by Courtney Clayton on Unsplash

So in our modern world, all of us is in a tower. I can see that in the trains, in my work. Everyone knows a little about what they know, and makes a big deal out of it. People gaze into their iPhone and computer screens and tippity tap on their keyboards (like what i am doing now) and think we know all there is to know about the summit. But all we know about the summit, is not the summit. It is the map, not the land. We think we know about people, we learn about people, and yet we suck at socialising. We are virtually losing our ability to connect with each other, since we are more interested in connecting with the net, with the system, with the apps.

We need to come down from our ivory tower, walk the land. Walk with one another, and head for the summit, know the terrain, the soil, the animals, touch and feel them. Allow them to touch and feel us back. Because true knowledge is not in the knowing, it is in the doing.

Posted on December 28, 2011

No off-days

No off-days

Garfield hate Mondays, just like many of us.  and when we reach TGIF, we all know what that means.

We all also know what it means when the holidays are here, birthdays, anniversaries, and all those special days.

Erm, wait…

Excellence and quality has no desire for a holiday. If you are good, you are good 365/24/7. There is simply no day offs for quality. If you think your life suck and you want the weekend to come quickly so that you can escape the weekday doldrums, then well, you are in for a jolly fool of a time.

I used to think that there is a ‘plateau effect’ in our learning curve. Sometimes when I was training, I will hit this feeling of flat-line, as if my learning is not getting anywhere. Or things seem to be turning into ‘SOS’, Same Old Shit’ mentality.

Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

There is no such thing as a plateau, flat line or whatever you call that. There is simply no off-days, if you are good, you will continue to be good, whether you like it or not. If you are bad, and you continue to train diligently, you will become good, at something you used to be bad at.

Hell, even if you are piss poor lousy with something, there is no off-days too! So since there is no off-days whatsoever, good or bad, keep going at it, like it or not. do not give yourself, the delusion of an ‘off-day’. No one has a holiday, even when you are on a holiday, you will continue to do what you are doing, your life never takes a day off. you will continue to carry yourself to wherever you are going, wherever you are heading to, so don’t lie to yourself, and give yourself a break. there is no such thing.

You only rest, truly rest, when you are  dead. As long as you are alive, continue to live, work on your bad, better your good.

Posted on November 13, 2012

Class Chit Chat

Class Chit Chat

Before I start any class, I made a point to gather the students and did some pep talk. Well, you can call it a chit chat, a nag, or telling tales and stories. Perhaps it is public speaking practice for me.

I think as an ‘evergreen’ class, NUS Aikido will constantly face a challenge of a doctrine bleed. Which means certain practices and culture in the class will leave when the NUS student graduate and start their new life as working professionals. Very few will return to NUS to continue training and uphold the tradition, it is a fact. They will take away the experiences and practices, replaced with another batch of freshmen. So the reality it someone has to constantly remind them of Aikido etiquette and culture. Why we do this and that, and the dos and don’ts in the dojo.

So those newbies come with no idea how the Japanese conducts a martial arts class, so I pep talked them, doing some Corporate Communications perhaps, some Public Relations, making sure that Aikido’s brand values and propositions is constantly being upheld. That’s business jargon anyway.

More importantly, some of them have never met and only beginning to know Harry sensei, whereas I’ve been training with him for 2 decades. Like all human beings, he has his idiosyncrasies and there will be potential misunderstanding. It’s no secret that I am immensely proud to train under him and I constantly remind the student the privilege to receive Harry sensei’s teaching. And we must never take the class for granted, and do sloppy techniques, in doing so patronize him and pissing him off. I’ve said our class is ‘limited edition’, only a small group in Ceylon Sports Club and then there is NUS Aikido. Harry sensei is very well respected regionally and when I tell other people I train with Harry sensei, I always get a certain level of response as if there is an expectation on me to perform and conduct myself in a level reflecting that I’m Harry sensei’s student. I make sure that the new student knows that. Well, that is a heck of a lot of salesmanship there!

Also I explained to the newbies what Aikido is and is not, in my personal opinion, and this is to manage their expectations. I share with them why I joined, I was drawn into it by the Steven Seagal hype, many of the boys and girls don’t even know who Steven Seagal is anymore. I guide them into preparing them what to expect in class, not so much talking more doing, and certain unspoken rules and cultures.

Honestly, I’m not sure if my chit chat is appreciated or not, frankly I’m more bothered that if no one does it, the Aikido in NUS will lose the Aikido spirit, I can see that many of the students take Aikido class as another ‘class’ and other ‘lecture’ Yes, NUS Aikido is conducted in a University campus but in no way Aikido is another ‘lecture’. There are certain practices I hope to see discontinued when the opportunity arises. We need make sure that when an NUS Aikidoka visit other Aikido dojos, they carry with them basic courtesy and etiquette to help them forge ties and build friendship and most importantly, not bring disgrace to Harry sensei!

Posted on September 14, 2015

Practice

Photo by Anton Belitskiy from Pexels

24 hours, that’s all we have in a day. Let’s not break it down any more than that, being day and night. Given this fact, how much practice can we humanly squeeze into a 24 hour? When I was younger, I tried that for about 2 weeks, continuous, 6 days a week. Well, it didn’t quite work out for me, my body couldn’t be stimulated any more, and was rather jaded by the entire experience.

Realistically, there is only so much training we can put into a day’s work. I have to be a father, husband, colleague, son-in-law, sometimes a son, a nephew, a friend, a BFF at times. the list goes on. In all these roles that we have to play, I have to be an aikidoka. as if I hadn’t had my plate full. Then again without Aikido, I don’t think I can synthesize all these sometimes conflicting roles effectively. These role can scream, ‘Me!” ‘No! Me first!”, and they often still do. I used to get frustrated that I cannot train as schedule because I have to attend to my husbandry function.

Over these years, I’ve come to accept that futility, I can never ‘be enough’ of anything, neither can I be everything. I just ‘be’. It sounds so cliché again, but that is the fact. it’s the part where I can’t pen down more that what I already had. Because time is always scarce, I really have to make the best of every minute and second of my existence and not waste it on trivial whining or bickering. I used to panic when my ‘me’ time gets robbed from me by other seemingly trivial matters, now I simply move it around the slot, on a modular approach. and really, I’m already doing what I can, at any point in the day and time of my life, what else can i ask for? I’m already fortunate enough to receive Aikido training, lucky enough to have a supportive wife (even though she understands little about Aikido), and I have peace in this country for me to be free.

Free is who I am in my spirit. I may not practice Aikido physically 24hrs a day, I never stop thinking about Aikido, how it works, and how I didn’t make it work. What could have been done better. What lessons I can learn out of it. Although admittedly this is no replacement for hard physical training and conditioning, but that is what I can give at this point in time, I am appreciative of my mental faculties for being discerning about Aikido. of course when i do get the opportunity for hard physical training, all this thinking does helps as these wisdom do help me sort out my ego.  Who I think I am, and who I am, never mixing fact and fiction.

So I seldom lament about the lack of physical training, because the training has left the dojo and got ‘downloaded’ into my head. and when the time comes for physical training, I say ‘BRING IT ON!’

Posted August 17, 2010 

Safe Space

Safe Space

Dear Boys,

In our constantly engaged world where Social Media rules, it is very easy for everyone to look good and sometimes even looking bad on social media is also done for the sake of looking good, milking for sympathy!

It can’t be helped that we feel judged all the time, there’s exams to pass, and failure would bring a detrimental consequences. There is a constant need for us to look good, nevermind that we often are crumbling inside, a silent scream for help, and connection.

Ma-ai (間合い)

In martial arts, or Aikido, we are very conscious about this ‘Ma-Ai (間合い)‘ thing, which basically means the distance you have with your opponent, within striking distance, kicking distance, so on and so forth, and when you wield a weapon, the stand-off distance will be adjusted accordingly. Too close to your opponent, you get hit, too far, you’ll not be able to hit your opponent, adjustment is constant, fluid and dynamic.

There is a lot of frantic processing in the head especially when there’s multiple attackers closing in and you are pressed to prioritize them quickly, before they overwhelm you. You have to work and find a space that allows you to move and weave between individual attackers and slip between them to gain a better position to navigate the attacks. So ma-ai is not just about the physical stand off distance you hold against your opponent, it is a mental and spiritual stand off distance and head-space you hold against yourself.

We are our own worst enemy

We often want the best for ourselves and the best way to get it is to be critical about ourselves, so that we push ourselves harder, blame ourselves first before anyone else does, own up to our mistakes first, because we are ‘reflective’, give ourselves a beating we can be proud of. We train ourselves harder, so that we become better than the rest. We stand independent and hold our values and virtues with integrity of a solid pillar.

C’mon! Gimme a break! So uptight for what?!

The DRILL SERGEANT

I’m not sure when I changed but when I went jogging, the old self dialogue goes like this:

“You can do it! FASTER!”

“Just a bit more, sprint you piece of ‘bad profanity!!!‘”

“pump those stubby little legs!”

Phrases that would make me a very good drill sergeant.

Me versus Me

Of late I’ve changed to a new tone, more of a talk, between more nurturing, understanding and patient Randy to a younger exercising Randy. It’s a weird concept but basically, the chill self conversation doesn’t reduce the intensity of the jog instead it removes the unnecessity of being my own unrealistic demanding jogging shadow, so the output is a greater sense of situational awareness, not just a matter of completing the jog in the most expeditious military timing, but just completing the jog, as a form of fitness and exercise.

“It’s okay, anyway it’s just 5km, and you’re almost done!”

“There’s no rush, you’ve done it before, you’ll do it again.”

“it’s okay to slow down, there’s no rush. enjoy the run, enjoy the moment.”

“No sweat.”

Let’s be real

Creating a safe space means it’s a mental and psychological space where you can be really open and non-cynical, non-judgmental to yourself. There’s no ‘Shouldda‘, ‘couldda‘, ‘wouldda‘. No hypotheticals, no imagine beating that idiot’s face into a pulp. Sometimes we want that kind of psyche and angst, but eventually the hype is short-lived.

A more sustainable way is to create that sanctuary for you to be you. No beating yourself up for your silly mistakes, no self-reprimanding, self depreciating statements. Just allow yourself to be objective, take the persona out of the personality and give space for a mature, calm self assessment and learning.

This safe space allows you to build a kind of quiet confidence that infects and affects the world around you in a positive and constructive way. Safe space allows you to think creatively and critically in the most imaginative way possible. Sometimes, we can be hurt so deeply and badly that our fragile baby steps to recovery needs that protection and safe harbour from the cruel acrid reality of the world. Be that safe harbour for yourself and when you can do that, you’ll be able to weather the worst of storms.

Be that piece of peace you are looking for…

We are going back to class

We are going back to class

We started our Aikido class first week of September, after months of shut down due to COVID19 (I’ve lost count!). I was blissfully ready to start class as early as next year, which is what my sensei has in mind. The Singapore Government recently relaxed the requirements for physical training and this gives us an opportunity to try and resume class. From what I’ve learned, other Aikido schools have also commenced limited classes, with compliance to Safe Management Measures.

My opinion was safety, safety, and safety

It might sound like a nag, but there is a lot about this virus that the medical and scientific community has not idea yet, and while we are keen to resume training, we need to make sure that we practice in accordance to the safety measures spelt out by the government. The last thing we want was t0 have a COVID19 cluster coming out from our dojo, so let’s not jinx it.

Cleaning up

We can only gather in a group of 5, so we stick with the same mantra for the clean-up crew. Siew Ching, Radek, Melvin, Shin Woei and myself turned up on a Friday to clean up so that the premise is ready for lessons on Monday. As you can see, we were still masked while we clean. Which is not such a bad idea given the level of dust floating all around, and our noses and respiratory would have certainly been attacked if we weren’t masked up.

the 5 of us, Clean-up Crew

The Cleaning was quite a tedious process, as our dojo is an open air, sheltered roof top. It is susceptible to wind, rain as well as dead leaves, and other dirt. So we had to go through a few cycles of cleaning, not to mention under the COVID19 situation, we cleaned even more.

Dark Waters

That how dark the waters looked after a few rounds of mopping, we have to clear some dead leaves and it took us quite a bit of time to clean it up to pre-COVID19 standards, so that we can prepare for post COVID19 standards.

Our approach to safe distancing

There’s a few changes we implemented to make sure we can train safely.

1- Weapons training- We practiced with Jo to extend our Ma-Ai and safety distance, we try to avoid kata-te techniques which is entirely possible.

masks at all times, jo practice to minimize contact

2- Masks on at all times

3- Rest and slow pace. We conducted lessons on a slower pace, and also allow more rest time

Our Jos are also wiped with disinfectants

4- Wiping the mats with disinfectants before and after class, also providing hand sanitizers for our fellow Aikidokas

Cleaning up between classes and after classes

5- Separate Mats with a max of 5 Aikidokas per mat, with no inter-mingling

6- Wiping down high-contact areas with disinfectants

Training Safely, and Sustainably

As the most senior student in the class, I was tasked to lead the class and when I bowed, I humbly asked for O’sensei’s grace and guidance to make sure I conduct the lessons safely for my fellow Aikido brothers (There wasn’t any ladies in the class last week). It certainly felt good to be back on the mat, rolling around a bit to shake off that rust. I do not take the privilege of leading the class lightly and my friends’ well being is my responsibility.

So far, I hadn’t forgotten my basics, and despite of wearing the mask, I can still do most of the techniques and oxygenate myself properly. With an additional Jo, I was especially naggy to make sure everyone pay proper attention to the extra training apparatus as people do get injured by it, if they’re not careful.

We do not know how long this COVID-19 situation will continue, but we have to go on with our lives at the same time realistically acknowledge that this will probably never be the same again for a long time to come. Whatever it is, we must incorporate the changes into our daily routine and not let disruption, disrupt us.

What is Aikido?

This conversation will never cease, and probably I’m just adding to the fray.

I’ve asked myself such questions from time to time to make sure that my knowledge and understanding stays relevant. It is important for me to do that so I don;t begin to assume things, and become dogmatic in thinking, at the same time I need to see how the art can evolve or become ‘bastardized’ into something else, not Aikido, yet called Aikido.

So what is Aikido?

There are plenty of explanation out there, for me I prefer the more traditional one. As long as you practice a style with a specific lineage, and belongs to some major school of Aikido style then, yes, you are practicing Aikido.

Most of the Aikido practitioners have a sensei and their sensei has a sensei, so on and so forth. You can basically trace a source back a couple of down lines to where your Aikido style comes from.

It is getting more difficult these days, when dojos are sprouting out faster than a 7-Eleven can, so tracing a linage can be a problem.

What is NOT Aikido

This is a huge grey area, as Aikido is such an open art with a very open interpretations. There are many variations of the art, as many of the masters tends to explain the mysterious ‘ki’ in their own way according to their own experience and interpretations. Many of these so called masters trained narrowly and the only training partners they faced are those limited in their dojo.

Some others might like to hijack ‘Aikido’ as a brand name and use it to define their own arts, there could be some vague resemblance to the traditional mainstream Aikido style, but these folks try to differentiate themselves by wearing an all black Gi, or have some fancy, aggressive, and dynamic looking logo, of a skull, fist or something else.

Since there is no copyright doe ‘Aikido’ as a brand, there is no way to control it. what I’m saying isn’t about control, it is about the ability to discern ‘not Aikido’ style from ‘Aikido’ style. And it is not a problem unique to Aikido. As of today, there are many Shaolin schools that teaches ‘authentic’ Shaolin kungfu, where there is actually only one place to learn Shaolin Kungfu, which is the one and only Shaolin Temple.

Me-Too Marital Arts

This points to the popularity of these martial arts so much so people what to copy it, so that they can get something out of it, be it money, or fame. These me-too martial arts while cashing in by attaching themselves to these arts, can mislead students and the general public about what these arts are.

While I welcome the evolution of Aikido, with newer understandings and emerging variations, hijacking the name Aikido, just because someone knows an Ikkyo or two, or have taken a brief class in Aikido, mixed in with Systema, and some other arts, and for a lack of a better name, decides to call it ‘Aikido’. That is something not so welcomed.