Slow-mo Aikido

Slow-mo Aikido

Last night, I gave a class, and as a warm up, I asked the class to do a basic Aikido technique “Taino Tenkan“, or more colloquially known as “Tenkan“.

This is the basic block of Aikido. Every beginner knows this. So let’s make it a little different.

It’s not something new that I’m doing, so I told them to slow down, while they do their tenkan. Instead of the normal speed, slow down, slow down, S-L-O-W D-O-W-N…

Apparently, it seems to be a tall order.

The students cannot slow down. Those who did, did it more in counting a cadence… 1-2-3-4, 2-2-3-4… That’s not what I meant.

SSSSSSSLLLLLLLOOOOOOOWWWWWW DDDDDDDOOOOOOWWWWWWNNNN….

It wouldn’t take more than a second to do a tenkan. Faster still 0.8 seconds, it can go faster than that. But that is not the point. I want the tenkan to be dragged, longer, perhaps 5 seconds, but that is not my point either. I want to slowness to bring about awareness…

Anyone can go fast, it is always a trade off, you go fast, technique will be compromised. While it needs skills to go fast, you need just as much skills to go slow. It is not easy, when you want it done, slowly, smoothly, with full awareness.

When you tenkan slowly, you will need to bring attention to your muscular contractions, movement and direction. The position of your legs, hips, shoulders and tension will become obvious. When things become static, there is no momentum for you to capitalise and use to your advantage.

Slow Tenkan is full tai sabaki

All Aikido movement is tai sabaki, there is no ‘part 1- leads to part 2 leads to part 3’. In any Aikido movement, everything moves, there is no body parts to isolate. when you slow down the tenkan, your uke has more advantage than you, he is simply holding your wrist, while you try to tenkan slowly. you have to move in such a slow deliberate manner while he has every advantage to shift his body weight to counter-act you.

So when you move slowly, you need to use your entire body to respond to a wrist grab. You need to become more aware than just that grab, and in order for you to neutralise the grab, you need to learn to shift the body, and become aware of how shifting the body changes your partner’s centre of gravity in such a manner that you are able to gain a superior position.

Centre and rhythm

The focus for most novice is the legs, as they often mistake the movement originating from the legs. While it is true to a certain sense, to really master a martial art, the movement comes from the hips, the legs, is simply an apparatus to  transports the body to a more advantageous place desired.

So when a tenkan happens, the centre shifts and moves to accommodate the uke, the leg simply carry out an ‘instruction’ to move, and the pivot point, again, comes from the hips, the leg cannot pivot, the hips can. The turn of tenkan comes from a concentrated focus on the hips, which is why when a tenkan is done properly, it is very difficult to counter. And tenkan is very difficult to master, simply because most people are unable to connect at the hips.

I want the class to slow down, so that there is rhythm. If the uke is static, the nage respond appropriately. If the uke is skilled and fluid, the nage respond appropriately. What usually happens is a dead kind of Aikido, where the nage will do what the nage does in a fixed, consistent tempo, irrespective of who the uke is and what the uke brings to the table. When you slow down, and pay attention to rhythm, the technique comes alive, because rhythm is existential. If you are stuck in your own tempo, you will be defeated, because when your opponent can catch your tempo, they can exploit it. Rhythm, on the other hand, relies on what your partner brings to the table and your movement, speed, tempo, will be an appropriate response, then the relationship comes alive.

 

Degrees, Diplomas and Dreams

randys-cert-postgrad-dip-in-mktgDear Boys,

This is how it goes:

The Route

Infant Care to N2 to N1 to K2 to K1 to Primary School to Secondary School to Junior College/ Polytechnic to University to Work.

There.

The End.

Your dad didn’t went through The Route, he was off the beaten path. Way off.

He left school when he was in Secondary 2, a Fourteen year old boy who wanted to have his own smart-ass idea to take up a language course (日本語 seems like a good idea then.) and then become a tour guide and travel the world. The reality of course, is way off course. Your dad end up starting work as a retail sales guy (more like a boy at 15 years of age!) at Changi Airport.

I only started taking a Diploma course around 1997, after I finished my National Service. It was a part-time course in Marketing, and then from there, with your mum’s encouragement and support, I went on to take a Bachelor’s degree, and finally got is around 2009. It was also a part-time degree course from the Open University. I had to work and study at the same time.

Your mum, had it a little better off, she got her Accounting diploma with her parents’ support, full time course. And then she took a part-time degree.

Long story short, both your mum and I worked while we get our education. The Route, however, is a straight academic one, you probably do a couple of holiday jobs, internship, which is great, but that is it.

Who knows?

You boys might end up with The Route. That’s fine.

Even if you don’t, that is fine as well.

Your parents are not suckers for grades (Well, your mum does, a little more than your dad)

As long as you tried your best, as long as you aspire to meet the targets you set for yourself. As long as you boys grow up as decent young gentlemen, that is fine with me. Because this is your life, your education, your life’s work.

So make your education your work, don’t just go through The Route like it is The Route, have some fun, make some mistakes, work for some money, real, full time work. A lot of young folks went through The Route, like going through motion. There is little or no thinking, perhaps other than choosing JC vs Polytechnic. NUS vs NTU vs SMU vs SIT vs SUTD vs Private vs Overseas. That’s the easy part.

The thinking which is so dire and so missing is, what to do after that.

As your parents, we do not want to push the both of your through The Route. Even if it is going to happen that way, we want you both to make good, sound, sensible choices.

Don’t know is a good place to start

Even if you are not sure of your destiny, not sure what you can do after your degree. We are here to help. We will guide you to where you will find your answers, but we will not give you the answers. Heck, we might even throw in a few more questions.

The ‘don’t know’ is a natural thing. We didn’t know as much when we were younger. Problem is, more often then not, youngsters starts with a ‘don’t know’ and pretty much went through their lives ‘don’t know’ much as well, and what is worse is they end up with a ‘don’t know’ at the end of their journey. It is a sad life to live.

So go The Route, the education system in Singapore is world-class. But use the system, not let the system use you. It was never meant to be that way. Singapore’s education system gives all the young folks many, many alternatives. Even if you can take The Route, you don’t necessarily have to. You don’t have to be sheep, when you can become something greater.

So go for the value you are going to get out of an education, not forgetting that formal, academic education is great, but that is not the means to justify the end.

sim-bachelor-of-arts-_0001
Your dad’s Bachelor’s Degree

 

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

A beginner’s class for Aikido, looks like an art gallery.

And the new school term for NUS starts, which means more newbies, which means more friends to make, which means we are back to basics, the whole cycle starts again.

Aikido classes are typically quieter, compared to our fellow neighbours using MPSH 2, such as Muay Thai, Silat, Capoeira folks. There are more shouting, music, banging, punching, which easily drowned Harry sensei’s talking. Watching it, is like watching a TV program with the volume muted. What is more interesting is to watch the students looking intensely at Harry sensei talking, as if they can hear what he is saying.

They can’t. I can’t.

More importantly, Harry sensei as a meticulous teacher, will take pains to explain to the most minute details. And there was ukemi to be explained, how to tuck your chin in, leg’s in a position where you won’t trip yourself going down. There are a lot of instructions to make one movement right. But all those lessons are lost in the din of the large, noisy hall.

Unlike a Muay Thai class, everyone ‘knows’ how to punch, kick or at the very least yell like hell.

There is little or no yelling in an Aikido class, lessons are patiently taught, actions are learned repetitively, in a deliberate and quiet effort. There is no burst of energy, no ego-stroking war cry, no punching the punching bag to your heart’s content. A beginner’s class for Aikido, looks like an art gallery.

So it may appear staid to a beginner, doing ‘boring’ rolls, turning and twisting, which more often, looks and feel unnatural to a newbie. A lot of effort, a lot of work, but you seldom get that sense of achieving something .

I can sense a “Can we get to the sexy dramatic part?” “Are we there yet?” “Where’s the high throws? The dynamic movements? The drama? The cool stuffs?”

It will be long before anyone gets to that proficiency. At best, the first FEW years are spent, on the basics, knowing them, doing them well enough. the speed and skill comes with the understanding on how to apply Aikido techniques and ethics properly. That will take another few MORE years.

There are no short cuts. No easier, faster, life-hack way to learn Aikido. You cannot download an App,or E-learn to become proficient in Aikido. It is a long, hard, quiet, lonely, discouraging, difficult way, and sometimes, you don’t even get a sense that you ‘know’ Aikido.

Unfortunately, in Aikido, particularly, there is never a ‘there’. Where you often get a satisfaction of got ‘there’, then you realize that, the ‘there’ you got to, is not the ‘there’ you think you wanted. Aikido is like a car trip that never ends, if you are that kid in the car, keep asking “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” every 5 minutes, you’ll be very disappointed, and discouraged in your Aikido journey, because you will never get ‘there’. You just have to keep going, and while you are at it, you’ll get better, you learn more skills, and you’ll find that ‘there’ is no longer important, it is the journey that makes the experience satisfying, not the ‘there’.

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Aikido is total movement

Aikido is total movement

There is much to learn in a beginner’s class and one very common way to help beginners to learn Aikido is to break down one single waza into steps. This will help with the absorption of movement, the positioning and physicality of the waza, in relation to the uke.

Well, this is not rocket science. Almost everyone learn and master skills this way, so even with the most complex task, can be learned one step at a time. This methodology also helps to build confidence and taking things one step at a time, allows troubleshooting, guidance and corrections in timely interventions.

We need to understand that this is not the ‘Beginner’s Mind’, this is in fact, a fixation to the ‘Beginner’s Mind’ which defeats the principles of the ‘Beginner’s Mind’ in the first place.

As we begin to gain proficiency in our movement, we begin to move in a seemingly skillful manner. Things becomes easier to do, we can do them without much thought. This is the departure from a junior belt and the journey into a more senior grade.

I still see a lot of senior belt, taking the whole waza step by step, despite of them already familiar with the moves, and has done it many, many times.

As we move into senior grade, stoppages needs to become shorter, until the entire movement becomes one seamless stream of energy from beginning to the end.

So we need to progress from a step by step waza to one that smoothly transfer motion from one end to another. Being a more senior grade requires the understanding of this transfer, in our physical body.

Our arms and legs can only stretch so much, and at my height, any given men, or women taller than me will have better reach and range of motion than me. Yet, in Aikido, we are able to move bigger opponents, this is not only through the use of leveraging, but more importantly, our understanding in the transition of power, motion and continuity, and leverage is only a small part of that equation.

simply move, and everything will fall in place.

When our opponent catches us, we need to move so that we hyper-extends our opponent, in such a manner that it displaces the balance. But our range of movement will get exhausted, and stop, before that happens, we need to move something else to keep keep our motion, and initiative. Keep the tension, so that our opponent remains engaged, until we finish our moves.

It is not only just having the energy move from left hand to the right, but it is also in simultaneous motion, left leg and hand, synchronous with the hips. The hands and legs will move together. A junior belt will move the hand, then the leg, then the hand…any and all stoppages is an opening for your uke to become the nage.

There is this habit of a junior belt ‘ownself checking ownself’, but stopping every now and then in the movement. This stops the flow and makes the whole waza static, and the uke difficult to follow. More often than not, it is a habit, albeit a bad one, to stop every now and then to check. There is no need to check, simply move, and everything will fall in place.

 

Harry Sensei’s Hakama

Harry Sensei’s Hakama

DSC_0381_Fotor“He can forget that he is our sensei, we cannot forget that we are his students.”

One evening, Harry sensei, at the end of the class, gestured the NUS Chairperson over and passed the students’ grading card to her, and the promptly turned his back and walked off.

We thought nothing of it, until one of the students came to me and told me that Harry sensei didn’t pass his hakama over for the students to fold. Apparently he forgotten to let us fold his hakama.

Without hesitation I put on my shoes and took off for the toilet where Harry sensei will usually change. He was there and was about to unceremoniously chuck his crumpled hakama into his bag. I took it from him, and muttered, ‘You hakama must be folds, cannot don’t fold.’

I brought it back to the mat and quickly fold it so that Harry sensei do not have to wait too long.

He didn’t have to.

While I was waiting for Harry sensei to come out of the toilet, the NUS committee chairperson, vice chair, and the treasurer(I think), was with me, I told them not to forget to fold Harry sensei’s hakama again.

“He can forget that he is our sensei, we cannot forget that we are his students.” that was my parting shot.

At the very baseline, Harry sensei, is after all just another Aikidoka, who happened to be the one conducting the class. He is after all human. He is after all, just a number, a gender, a demographic, a something, someone, anyone. When the class ends, he reverts back to a normal person, no longer taking an Aikido class, no longer Aikido sensei.

But I still considers myself his student, long after I stepped off the mat. And all these years, when he ends his class, someone will fold his hakama, and when no one does, I try to make sure I do it. It really don’t have to be me, it can be any of his students, but someone has to take that initiative. There was about 30-odd number of students and one Harry sensei, but no one folded his hakama, or went after him when he forgot to let us fold.

Its a small thing, perhaps, I’m making a big fuss out of nothing. I’m duty bound to do what is right. Think about how we treat our parents. Sometimes, they might have some kind of mental illness that might rob them of their ability to remember that we are their kids. their memory might fail, but our duty as their children doesn’t. I will always be my parents’ children, whether they remember me or not, even if they disown me, I am still their son. How they treat me, cannot affect how we treat them, because we know who we are, to them and to ourselves.

That’s the fundamental issue I have that evening. Its not about sucking up to Harry sensei, rather, just accord the minimum requirement he asked of us. Folding a hakama is nothing, he could have brought it home and unfold it to wash, and his maid would probably fold it for him, or he would have fold it himself. Fact is, after class, we, the students have to fold it for him, it is a ritual, part of being an Aikidoka. We need to uphold that practice, a small chore that tests us of our discipline.

And it is always the small things that mattered.

Beginners Class!

Beginners Class!

IMG-20150825-WA0012_Fotor

There was a large crowd for the beginner’s class at NUS last Tuesday, unbeknownst to me, it was a new academic term for the University and of course there will be new blood! Plenty of new blood!

People are always curious about Aikido, because as a martial art, it seem so ‘strange’. We are one of the quieter class in the Multi Purpose Hall, where we share our space with other folks practicing Muay Thai, Kick Boxing, Silat, Table Tennis, Capoeira . To add to the ‘problem’ of our auditory challenge, Harry sensei is a soft speaker, unless he is bellowing at you for screwing up too badly on your Waza.

“We do take our time to resolve matters so that we can have a mutually amicable outcome.”

It is strange, because in the world of martial arts, where there is plenty of emphasis on the ‘martial’ of the arts, but not that many look at the ‘art’ of the martial.

The emphasis on the ‘martial’ part is partly due to our humanistic struggle. We struggle to make sense of our struggle. ‘O’ sensei also struggled, I’m sure, and he saw the light to the struggle, Aikido is that light.

Most of the arts are born out of struggle and strife, it necessitates the killing of our fellow human being for our self preservation. Aikido, is also born out of struggle and strife, the distinction is the higher more visible emphasis on killing our ego for everyone’s preservation. So when we think ‘big picture’ in this aspect, we strive to to use our energy more efficiently, effectively.

Which is why Aikido movements are long, circular and seemingly flowing. We do take our time to resolve matters so that we can have a mutually amicable outcome.

Not many art trains you to handle an attacker in such a manner where the attacker walks away attacking you relatively unscathed.  So it make people curious as to how this is so? Is it collaboration? Is it an act? Is it effective? What happens if a person kicks? What happens if this happens? What do we do if that happens? Well, all the answers to the questions, come to the mat to find out.

Posted on 18/9/2015

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