Senpai 先輩

When we join any martial arts, especially Japanese martial arts, there will always be a strict hierarchy, a kind of pecking order. The junior belts will always know the more senior ones as “先輩” .

At my level, I have 先輩 and I am also a 先輩 to my junior belts. It took me a while to come to this reality, and I can still remember a couple of years back, I was taken aback when a junior belt started addressing me as 先輩, I told the junior belt to just call me by my name.

Well, it cannot be helped I guess? I am now a 先輩, like it or not.

Who are Senpais? 先輩

Simply speaking, they are senior practitioners of a specific martial arts. Even a person who happens to join the dojo a day earlier than you, is a 先輩 to you.

先輩 helps the sensei with the more mundane, boring stuff of administration, guiding the junior belts, cleaning and maintenance of the dojo. Without a decent cadre of 先輩, a dojo cannot operate smoothly. In other words, think of 先輩 as a sort of ‘middle management’ in corporate speak.

When 先輩 has an opinion

We all know who 先輩 are. I am one myself. And of course 先輩 are also human, we have our aspirations, opinions and of course, disagreements, with our sensei.

Personally for me, my direction is straight: align to my sensei; which is often easier said than done, as our sensei is also human, have aspirations and opinions, and of course have disagreements with us!

When 先輩 criticizes

Leave the critique to the sensei. I see 先輩 as a guide, helping the more junior, less experienced students maneuver over more complex techniques, or even work around difficult characters in the class. Some 先輩, out of kindness, will try to teach or correct juniors, which often isn’t helpful, as it is the sensei’s job to teach, and the 先輩’s job is to guide.

Problem begins when a 先輩 pass a disparaging remarks, or scathing opinions about the sensei, or the junior belts. It can be confusing for a junior belt, not knowing who to follow.

Of course, my 2-cents worth is not to give a f**k. It is often a case of easier said than done. It is entirely understandable that some juniors take in the opinions of 先輩, since they are the opinion leaders, and junior belts will grab whatever advise that come along. Some junior belters will look up to a certain 先輩 and that can be bordering hero worshipping, which in my opinion, bad. The only person who matters in the dojo, in terms of tutelage, is the sensei, everyone else is student, 先輩 included.

This will come to an apex when the 先輩 openly disagrees with the sensei…

When 先輩 becomes a sensei

Problem also begins when 先輩 decides to take initiative and starts to become a sensei. What happens next is going to be purely economical. The 先輩 turned sensei will want students, so that he can be a sensei, and of course, earn money.

This will tear the foundations of the school apart, which cannot be helped. We are all humans and we want things for ourselves. When we become ‘good enough’ and we can pretty much do what our sensei do, why should we listen to our sensei? It makes more sense to become one!

Money-making

Loyalty is pretty much just a word these days. Modern economics and consumerism has empowered individuals to strike out on their own. Everyone likes to be their own boss and make a living on their own. There is of course much freedom getting things done on your own. And why pay fees, when you can collect fees on your own? Be your own boss/sensei!

Martial arts is martial arts

Personally, martial arts for me, is martial arts. It is not a place to make money, and promote your ego. My sensei has worked hard to build an environment where we are all practising like a family, which is essentially what a 先輩 is, nothing more than a big brother or sister.

So as the ‘elder sibling’, I guide the more junior ones to understand the sensei, or at least try to! It is not a place to silently question my sensei. And being with Harry sensei for such a long time, it is also not a case where if I don’t like his style, I simply go to another dojo. It is again, not about going from this gym to that gym, because that gym as a better facilities. Martial arts isn’t about that.

And when my 先輩 says or do stupid things, I just choose to let it slide. It would be rude as a junior to critique my 先輩, the pecking order is there for a good reason, to maintain harmony. There is no need for me to say or do things to prove that I am smarter or better than my 先輩, or even my sensei. It is what it is, we are all good and proficient, at our own level.

Focus on the good

At the end of the day, we all go home after class, to our families and our lives. 先輩 and sensei are people and characters in our marital arts lives that helps us understand and develop coping strategies to manage relationships. You simply cannot wish away nasty 先輩 in the dojo, you still have to train with them, as complaining to sensei sometimes will not help. Pretty much like how complaining to our parents about our naughty siblings or cousins will not help.

So focus on the good, understand that there will always be a 先輩 where we go, even in work and in other endeavours, some of these seniors will help others will not, others have your best interest at heart, others hiding their own agendas. No matter what, as a student, my goal is to listen to my sensei, even when he is not saying anything.

Aikido and longevity

Aikido and longevity

Last Tuesday evening Harry sensei said, (practising) Aikido does not make you live longer, you just die healthier. And he pointed up, implying when you go is entirely decided ‘up there’. While I am not a God kind of person, it kind of rang true.

It ties in lately that I had a brief thought on why O sensei died of cance? Of course it is not fair for me to say that if he is so in sync with the universe, he ought to be able to live longer, well, maybe become immortal! That kind of thought qualifies me to be a Hindsight Expert.

Harry sensei was right, He asked the class of young NUS student, who has gone to a funeral? And looked into the coffin? Did the person who died, has a smile on the face? Or the person died plagues with ill health and misery? If you die of ill health and misery, then that is not a very nice way to die. It is better to die when you are healthy, and with a smile on your face.

That is an opinion you cannot argue with.

Last Tuesday evening Harry sensei said, (practising) Aikido does not make you live longer, you just die healthier. And he pointed up, implying when you go is entirely decided ‘up there’. While I am not a God kind of person, it kind of rang true.

It ties in lately that I had a brief thought on why O sensei died of cancer? Of course it is not fair for me to say that if he is so in sync with the universe, he ought to be able to live longer, well, maybe become immortal! That kind of thought qualifies me to be a Hindsight Expert.

Harry sensei was right, He asked the class of young NUS student, who has gone to a funeral? And looked into the coffin? Did the person who died, has a smile on the face? Or the person died plagues with ill health and misery? If you die of ill health and misery, then that is not a very nice way to die. It is better to die when you are healthy, and with a smile on your face.

That is an opinion you cannot argue with.

Last posted on  Nov 27, 2014

I Love my Job!

I Love my Job!

Many years back, I recalled that the doshu (can’t remember if it was the 2nd or 3rd) mentioned that the translation got it wrong. Aikido’s kanji is 合気道, which literally means ‘The Way of Harmony”. The Doshu says that the ‘Ai’ in Aikido is actually Love, not Harmony. So Aikido is The Way of Love.

Things kind of happen to me in a serendipitous manner. I had a friend who recently mentioned that she has been in the same company for 40 years, and she didn’t love her job, but grew to love her job. I’ve just finished watching, in admiration (again) how Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cesar_Millan), does his things. and in one of the episodes, he said, “That is why I love my job!” coupled with a million dollar smile on his face. He does what he does because he is good at it? Or is it because he love what he does so well, he became good at it. Chicken or Egg, huh. He has his bad times, and he certainly shine bright in his best moments.

‘O’ sensei made it very simple for us

You go to work because you have to make a living. Most of the time we do what we have to do because we have to do it. This is a problem, the pragmatic, objective, Cause and Effect attitude. We do what we do, not because we love what we do, that is usually further down the list.

So what about Aikido? Do you do Aikido because you love Aikido? Do you really fell in love with Aikido the moment you saw it? Even if you do there, will be times you feel less lovey dovey about Aikido. And frankly for me, I did Aikido, because Steven Seagal made it look so cool. No, I didn’t fell in love with Aikido, I grew to love it.

That is the antidote!

‘O’sensei, never sold Aikido, people bought it, and he never forced anyone to stay in Aikido, you stay because you stayed, and of course, you are very much empowered to leave, if you so deem fit. That is why Aikido is so paradoxically addictive. You don’t get addicted to Aikido so that you can win medal. Aikido is like a bad lover, damn it if you love, and damn it if you don’t. and frankly dear, nobody gives a damn.

Aikido give us that space to feel frustrated, and let us, let it out, through a quiet discipline.

So you have to learn to love, or rather, let the love you have in you flower. The love is always there, Aikido gives you the pace and time and space for your love to flower. There is no rush, no pushing of agenda. No competition to push you to the limit, no time limit; when the class ends, you can always come back another day. Aikido does not end in a win, nor in a defeat. you are only defeated when you give up. And when you decide to come back again, you can simply pick up where you left off and continue the journey, no one will scrutinize you, no one will criticize you, it is a very mature, automatic and accepting art, you call the shots to your own development.

So it gives you time to love, to feel, to affect people, and to feel the effect of people on you. Things that makes love, love.

Not the mushy kind of love, as it requires discipline, sometime, we turn up at the dojo, not feeling the training, and the love, and yet we have to do it. It sometimes feels like an empty shell, you are not your best, love is the furthest thing you are feeling. Frustration creep in, and anger and all that. Aikido give us that space to feel frustrated, and let us, let it out, through a quiet discipline.

Love is only love when you are disciplined, Love, lacking discipline, becomes lust, becomes desire, becomes attraction, all these will lead to the loss of your centre, and unbalance you. Then urgency sets in, anxiety creeps in, anger and impatience set in, love gets edged out. Slowly, with quiet discipline, you have to win your love back from all those belligerents.

Aikido teaches us love, and love, in the most difficult times. Even when we do not love our jobs, our partners, but with discipline, we have to continue to love, and let the love grows on us. Only then can we excel, do our best, in our own way, dominate our lives and not let the opinion of others dominate us.

Love is universal, the expression is universal, the feeling is universal, but the interpretations and judgments and the opinions is what clouds us. Dive into our Aikido training.

First published : Oct 15, 2014 10:44 PM

Love as the ultimate epiphany

Love as the ultimate epiphany

It is 1.25am, right now, and for a very sleep deprived me, I woke up with a feeling of profound insight. It took me a while to understand what that is and why I felt so strongly about it.

I have to record this.

When I was young, I took on this Buddhist learning of saying ‘thank you’ for everything that comes my way, more specifically, someone, I cannot remember who, said that we should say thank you everytime people tries to hurt us. So I took this concept to school, and tried it out, as naively as a kid would. So during school assembly, I said this to a classmate and he smacked my hand to ‘test’ me, I of course, true to the ‘teachings’ said, ‘thank you’. What happened? He smacked me again! ‘Thank you.” Smack! “Thank you.” Smack!

‘Thank you’ is a message, and the message is love.

Eventually, I got irritated and I think the smack won that day. It hadn’t dawned to me that had I continue, found the depth in me to continue, I can, say thank you, many more times than my friend could continue with his smack. In short, he will get physically tired. Of course, I’d be hurt, physically to a certain degree, but the spirit of saying thank you…will endure! Thank you!

Point is, ‘Thank you’ is a message, and the message is love. For as long as I can remember, I’ve without fail Whatsapp my wife ‘I love you.’ we always end our call with ‘love you.’ As much as we can remember, sans the times where we are using the phone to hurl quarrels as one another. Well, there are times we can only understood love that much.

Point is, how much can you say ‘I hate you’ as compared to “I love you?’ Eventually, you’d want the hate to end, hate will have to end one way or another. It is commonly known that hate will ‘eat’ into you. I don’t know how that can happened, but how much do you have in you to feed hate? I’ve hated in my life, and it’d always ends, good way or bad. and you’ll never get better with hate.

I cannot imagine where I’d be as a human being if I’d say ‘I hate you’ to a person, everyday. Words being words, has a profound effect on people, the emotions associated with hate is very very different from the emotions linked to love.

I woke up thinking of why O sensei came up with Aikido. During his times, he has seen his fair share of conflict, World War 2 was a terrible event he has to live through. There is a massive sense of tragedy, sadness, destruction, death and many more other bad things beyond words. I think he saw through all that and see a immense sense of love under all that. Love helped people endured hardship and suffering, not hate. Love heals the hate that comes from the bitterness of defeat. Humble pie can only taste sweet in the hands of love. I think, after seeing all those suffering around him, he can see that only love is universal, after all that has fallen off, dead and gone, really, as Colin Raye sings it, Love Remains.

Published on: Jan 20, 2015 @ 01:52