Taking classes

I think it is a matter of time I have to start conducting classes. My Sempai, Han Tiong has ‘retired’ from teaching NUS’s Friday Aikido class, and the job now falls on the next in line, primarily Foo, Luke then me.

Harry sensei made it very public on an evening sometime back, that only Foo and Luke was to take class, and when clarified, Harry sensei specifically mentioned that there will be on exceptions. Frankly I was a tad disappointed, admittedly, taking a class bodes well for my ego, which mean I have more work to be done, before I evolved to overcome my egotistical persona.

The reality is that sometimes, both Foo and Luke will get held up with work, and occasionally, I will have to stand in and take a Friday class, now and then. Of course this was done with full consent and knowledge from my sensei, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. He has to know and give his blessings then I will take the class. Its the way order is held and preserved, I have to respect my sensei’s decision, even when his decision is not in my favour.

Primarily I want to break the myth of Aikido, as a martial art. because, it is really not about fighting, opposing will. Imposing your victory over your opponent. I want to look at it from a relational view, because Aikido is a PhD in Applied Social Science. If you get into a fight, there is very little in an Aikido curriculum that can help you ‘win’ the fight. but there is plenty in an Aikido curriculum for you to stay centered in an explosive, emotionally charged situation and come out of that preserving the peace.

My obsession is the Uke. Other than Harry sensei, the next most senior belt in NUS is me, it’s not a brag, usually it is a fact, and I trained and learned the most being Harry sensei’s Uke. And for any Aikido technique to be performed safely, the Uke has to be trained to receive, and to receive well. The junior belts as Ukes are usually too soft with the grip or they do a ‘death grip’. either way compromises the movement and the relationship between the Uke and Nage. So I take pains to explain that an ‘attack’ from an Uke is not really an ‘attack’ in the strictest sense. If the Uke give too much as to hold on too tightly, then the uke has given away too much. And if the uke doesn’t hold tight and chooses a loose grip, the Uke will not be able to receive what the Nage has to offer. The relationship between the Uke and Nage, changes constantly and I’m quite drawn to making sure the Uke catches the Nage with the right amount of grip, with a proper distance, and appropriate spirit, so that everyone can enjoy the exercise.

My other focus is on the core muscles, the back and abs. the torso down to the hips, where both power and stability resides. Once you are physically comfortable and centered, you can think straight, get into a superior position, all without provoking a fight. Once you lean too much forward, you can be read as being aggressive. and leaning to much back, will invite people to attack you as a sign of weakness. the posture has to be centered and balanced, so the core muscles is paramount to delivering that body language.

There are also some funny things I do that is not the actual sanctioned Aikido moves, this is in hopes to keep the class interesting and also allows me to inject some creativity into the class. I think the feedback I get from some hearsay is that Foo does the class in a typical Aikido sense, following structure and form, Luke adds a bit more realism to the class, and me? I heard that I’m non-typical and my technique ain’t the cleanest, book perfect type. Heck, I’m having fun, and I certainly hope the students in my class have fun too!

First Published: September 4, 2015 

おねがいします!!!

おねがいします!!!

We all say this at the beginning of our class. What does it mean? Well you can Google it and get the general meaning of the term.

Harry sensei told the entire cohorts of new NUS Aikidokas last Tuesday about おねがいします, and well, it was like anything that you’d tell a beginner, the meaning, the protocol in a dojo. Somehow this time it made a little difference in me.

おねがいします is not just a phrase, it is an attitude of life.

Why don’t we try saying おねがいします! in the morning the moment we wake? I mean, if おねがいします loosely means ‘Please take care of me’, ‘Please allow me to receive your teachings.’ ‘Please allow me to receive your gifts.’ Would’t it be a great attitude to begin your day with?

I was thinking a little more divine that evening when Harry sensei says it. I mean, I’m not a religious person, but to utter おねがいします like a prayer, would bring about a whole new attitude of humility, openness and joy. It allows your psyche to open up to divine assistance. おねがいします is non-judgmental, you cannot say oh! I would おねがいします to this and not おねがいします to that! It is simply おねがいします, and you cannot refuse, you can only receive.

Much like in the dojo, we train with whoever we train with, like it or not, we tap our partner and say おねがいします! sometimes I turned to the person next to me and tap the person’s sleeve and say おねがいします! I’m not really concern who that person is, junior, senior, tall, short, guy, girl, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if my persona like that fella or not, when we おねがいします, we おねがいします, period.

I think this is a good attitude to begin your day with.

おねがいします!

Fist posted September 11, 2014 

A Teacher’s Peril

A Teacher’s Peril

  “Because whatever we say, is wrong.”

Of late, I was given the privilege of conducting a couple of classes with my NUS Aikidokas. Although it was a refreshing change from being attending the class to someone conducting the class, the more salient point is the new learning experience for me being in a teacher role. Yes, you still learn while you teach.

For the sake of clarification, and for as a matter of technicality, I am not a teacher in Aikido. Those times when I was tasked to take the class, I happened to be the next most senior student in the class, so I guess by that fact, not virtue, I will have to chaperone the class in the teacher’s absence. I’m not officially delegated, nor in some strict sense, holds a teacher’s license. And for the records, I’m neither officially assigned by Harry sensei to teach, or conduct class. So I happen to do what I did as a matter of circumstance.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

No talking in class

Anyway, given that I’m tasked into the limelight, standing in front of a class of 20-plus Aikidokas, some of them, a good 20 years my junior, I realized again why Harry sensei do not want us to talk amongst ourselves during training, he does not want us to correct the techniques amongst ourselves in training. If our partner is wrong in executing the techniques and what we can do as their training partners, and if we happen to be the senior member of the class, we can correct by action, not by telling. He abhors us talking among ourselves trying to figure out the wrongs and rights by discussion. There is an apparent reason for that. Because whatever we say, is wrong.

This goes back to my old adage of ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’. As this few sessions of conducting classes has taught me, as the guy standing there, telling people about the techniques, not matter what I say, with all the good in mind, is wrong. Well, sure the argument is what I say might be fitting, and if that is the case, then there will not be a case at all to begin with, right? 

And the teacher’s role is very heavy, the students listens, and during class they will usually not retort, but after the class ends, they will take what you say and go home to digest it, break it down, and over-analyze your sayings, and if what you say is too narrowly defined, you will open yourself to your own bag of skeletons. More often than not, what’re we say is usable to a certain context. And if you want to play it safe and use a sweeping statement, and generalize, you’ll end up not giving anything useful to your audience. The ‘it depends’ really depends on what the depending is depending on. 

Then again you still have to say something, so you have to become really careful and wise up about what you say, because people will take your saying as their doctrine, and if what you say is not empirically robust, then the blood is on your hands when they use what you said would work, but end up not working as well as you said it would.

Caveat Emptor

I have this at the onset of my blog, and let’s revisit the word a little, there is no disclaimer in class, just as I learned that there are no disclaimer in life. Perhaps it is due to a force of habit, I have a disclaimer of sorts for my blog. You see, as a former banker, we will have disclaimer clauses to protect the bank from any thing that the standard terms don’t cover. It’s bureaucracy by the way. 

But the disclaimer exists for a reason, because well meaning individuals do get trapped by anything and everything that falls out of the contextual domain of the terms. People do hijack your good intentions for their own narrow and sometimes self-centered desires. Being the guy saying a lot of things, means those things I’ve said may one day come back to haunt me. That is the risk of a teacher. 

Do as I do

So in class, in the old days, the sensei don’t really talk much, you really do as the sensei do as close to his movement as possible. But this type of teaching will no longer sit well with the new generations of human beings who will go into YouTube and other portals to find out for themselves and learn for themselves, never mind what they learned is right or not, hence we have the rise of ‘self radicalized’ individuals. 

That is the teacher’s peril. And I’m not sure if there will be other opportunities for me to take another class, but if I do, I’ll always bear in mind to tell my younger broods what Harry sensei likes to say ‘do also cannot do properly, still want to talk among yourselves?’

First posted May 29, 2015

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

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.