It’s ’bout damn time

It’s about damn time.

I can’t say I have arrived as it is always work in progress.

Ee siang asked me to take a Class on last evening, and this time, I decided to do something different.

I decided to teach, I mean really teach.

WHAT???

Yeah, I realised that my previous class was kind of a mixed, because of my attitude.

I still want to learn while I teach. “Learn” as to continue attending the class as an Aikidoka, and not as an Aikido teacher. That subtle difference in the mindset made my session messy, as I still want to roll and practice, but at the same time I had to share the  teaching.

I’m not sure where I got my epiphany from, but I told Tri a couple of days back, that this time, I will choose to teach. I’ll own the class, and not just go there for the practice; as it just dawned to me, if I am going there to practice, that makes me the student, so, who is going to be my teacher?

It may sound kind of duh to many, but it is an identity I struggle with as I clock more years in Aikido. I want to continue practicing and be the ‘hands-on’ guy, and at the same time, my expertise is called upon, as there is a need for me to share my experience and skill.

More importantly, I want to continue to develop my skills and keep my edge sharp, I don’t know if teaching is going to help that, as in the process you sharing and teaching Aikido, you will not really be practicing, and perhaps lose your edge.

Last evening’s class was different as I decided to pick only one role, and keep the identity clear. And it helps to have this decision as it gives my energy clarity. I focused on sharing and teaching and not just hurriedly share a technique and then join the class as practicing that technique. I am able to focus on making sure the class really receives my teaching properly. I didn’t train with the class, and spend time walking the mat, giving pointers to the finer details of the technique I’m teaching. I was also able to pace the class properly as I have oversight of the timing, and flow.

As a matter of fact, I was able to be myself and let my personality show, when I decided to just choose a role. Choosing to teach makes me more aware of my long held fear, that I am not good in teaching, but my owning the role of the teacher, I become good enough, while I will never be perfect (there is no such thing anyway).

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

How many times have we heard that before?

Perhaps there was never a proper ‘train the trainer’ kind of indoctrination and I was the student and tasked to teach, before I can teach properly, I need to be a student to teaching. So I need to teach myself how to teach others Aikido. At the end of the day, perhaps I am just making a mountain out of molehill. There are teachers out there everywhere to takes to teaching like fish to water.

It is not as second nature as it seems, because I’m still attached to an identity, and I am still a student to my teacher, and being his student, there is a strong desire for me to do well passing on the skills he taught me. While I want to regard myself as skilled enough, I still don’t think I am skilled enough to teach, and that’s a problem.

At the end of the day, everything has to be done in good faith, just as I practiced diligently as a student, now I must apply the same diligence when it comes to teaching. The learning I guess never stops, you learn as a learner, and you still learn while you are teaching the learner, perhaps the learning experience is different and I really need to discern that part, so that I can further my learning in Aikido.

Aikido Plateau

Aikido Plateau

Have you ever trained until you feel as if you are no longer progressing?

Or seems like going to Aikido is kind of a sian (bothersome).

You feel like you are doing the same ol’ irimi nage with no sense of progress or improvement?

Appears to be making the same mistakes, or re-injuring the same injury point?

Or you are just simply jaded.

Welcome to the Aikido Plateau

plateau0004It happens to everyone, I guess not only just in Aikido but also in other endeavors, sometimes, you might feel like you have dropped from 85kg to 80kg and then it seems to stop at an odd 79.52kg… for a long time. Instead of losing weight, you lose interest in losing weight.

Then you feel disheartened, and tries something else, or tries harder, this time not with vigor, but a sense of feet dragging. You seem to have visited the same plateau many, many times going round in circles.

It is a feeling of same old place, same old pain, same old shit, same old same old.

It happened to me too.

That was when I was going from 2nd Kyu to 1st Kyu…I went to class like it was a drag. I’m kind of stuck in my head, not getting anywhere with training. Or I’m simply frustrated with something.

Back then I remembered I didn’t feel a sense of improvement, progress or refinement in my Aikido, or worse, I’m deteriorating! Or the Jones has caught up, or is getting better than me!

Look at the mirror

Back then I didn’t the wisdom or maturity. Right now, I don’t feel a sense of plateau anymore. Sometimes on my way to the dojo, I get a sense that I am going round in circles with the same technique, but the thought didn’t surface with anger, frustration or a sense of inadequacies within and without. It’s just a revisiting of the curriculum and it lead me to think about other techniques I can potentially do.

plateau0003More importantly, it is a sense of curiosity I bring to class, not a sense of familiarity. Every class is not the same, even the same partner you have been training with for years is not the same partner you have been training with for years. While life ebb and flow in a continuum of circle, the irony is we will never relive the same day again. In life there is no Groundhog Day.

The same circle is not the same

If you ever feel stuck like I did in the past, you need to ask yourself a very crucial question? Who’s turning up for class? Your current present self? Or your ego self? If you are bored, be careful, your ego is in play, in a bad way. You want something new, something flashy, something dynamic, you want to throw your uke in a flawless ‘Aikido style’, but you got frustrated by the reality of the struggle. Then you get upset, or to be more specific, your ego got upset. Then you fall into that same miserable feeling as if you are not improving.

What you can do

1-Train harder, think lesser.

There is a common understanding as to why potential Navy SEALs wannabes quit. Researchers found out that they usually don’t quit during their tough training, when they are swimming, or they are humping. Most SEALs student quit when they are taking a break, queuing for their meals, during downtime. They quit in expecting the tough time. The tough times didn’t make them quit, thinking or over-thinking the tough times made them ring the bell.

plateau0002Similarly Aikido training is nowhere near as tough as SEALs training. But thinking of the impending boredom can kill the zest of an aspiring Aikidoka. Don’t over-think, and especially on the mat, don’t think, don’t anal-yze your movements, your failures. Train harder, and be less critical when you screw up. Let your body, your physicality helps you shut the ego up. Just shut the bleep up and bloody train LIKE MAD.

2-Take a break

It is not something I deemed necessary now as I don’t have a sense of plateau anymore. In my younger days, it seems to help not turning up for training say, for a month. A slight hiatus will help refresh your mind, and let the body take a break from the usual tenkan and irimis. 

On hindsight, I felt that my hiatus back then was totally unnecessary and it reflects a kind of escapist attitude, and shows lack of commitment. But hey, if it works for you to take one step back and then two steps forward, why not?

3- Talk to someone

Your senpais 先輩, and fellow classmates will feel the same plateau as you, talk it out and it is a great morale booster. That is why we have a dojo, with a community to help each other. If your sensei isn’t too fierce, talk to your sensei and he/she can help you unstuck your technique and potentially get you out of your rut.

There is a higher calling

If you are bored, there is another voice in you calling for a higher standards of training, and skill. It is not a feeling of ‘plateau’ but a hint you are on a verge of getting deeper into your discipline. There is always a new discoveries to be made, even with the same ol’ Shihonage. Just two evenings back, I did a technique which was quite familiar to me, and Harry sensei came along and told me to take a bigger side-step. I did and the entire, seemingly familiar technique changed; I learned some finer, more elaborate details I previously missed in the technique.

Had I succumb to my plateau and took a break, I would have missed that potential chance of making that small minor improvements that helps deepen my understanding of a familiar and simple technique.

So plateau is a state of mind, you need to be careful why you feel like that and instead of getting frustrated, let your curiosity investigates the plateau. It is a time to dig deeper and train harder. Taking a break is not something I’d recommend now, but if you need to, and it does helps you overcome the boredom, why not? Who’s judging anyway? 🙂

plateau0001

I have only One Aikido Sensei

I have only One Aikido Sensei

This is quite a common phenomena, students becoming teachers. It happens everywhere, and it is most likely a good thing.

So why is this an issue then?

It is when a student assumed the role of a teacher.

Harry sensei is a very nice teacher, and he love all his students. You will become a very competent Aikidoka under his tutelage, many people can vouch for that. You can get very senior, 3rd Dan, 4th Dan, and sometimes, part of the package is a huge ego, and Harry sensei isn’t the greatest in managing egos.

While Harry sensei is a very competent Aikido sensei,  he is not so great when it comes to administrative things, and without my sempai, Nasheer and James helping out in the day to day fee collection, administration, paperwork, it will be quite a challenge for Harry sensei to run the school properly.

Over the years, there has been many sempais that has done the administration for him. Some even went as far as thinking that they can run the school adminstratively, they can be an Aikido teacher, and seize control of the dojo, booting out Harry sensei out of the school he took over from. I won’t go into that dark murky details of Singapore Aikido history.

Like I said it, Harry sensei is very nice to everyone, so much so, some will take advantage of his kindness and starts instructing even in his presence. It is an ego thing, just because when some student got a Dan grade, that doesn’t mean you can teach. It sometimes does annoys me, when Harry sensei is walking the mat during class, like any sensei would in a dojo, there is another person in hakama doing the same. I know Harry sensei enough to understand when he does nothing to stop such behaviour, he is him, this will be his life problem, I cannot solve his life problem. By letting another of his senior student walk the mat during class like he does, creates confusion, and it will undermine his authority.

I can only be clear about one thing myself, there is only ONE Shoshin Aikikai Singapore sensei, Harry Ng. He did not and has never appointed assistant instructor(s), instructor(s) or allow anyone to instruct under his school, that is as far as I know. We are a small Aikido school, and Harry sensei is a hands-on kind of teacher. There is no confusion, we all learn from him, and him only.

Maybe there is something else I don’t know.

That doesn’t matter.

What matters is; I know I have only one Aikido sensei. Not anyone else, and nobody else.

It will be this way for as long as Harry sensei breaths and as long as I breath. That will not change even if he pass the baton of the school to another person, he will still be my sensei, period.

As students, we have to remember, while we become very competent in Aikido, that doesn’t mean we can teach. Get Harry sensei’s blessing, before teaching, and teach in a new Aikido premises, not in his dojo, not in his presence, he is still The Sensei, not me. There is a pecking order, and often Harry sensei don’t quite care about the pecking order, we must, as this is very much a how we conduct ourselves and respect our teachers, even when we become teachers.

Unless one decides to open a dojo without his knowledge, because there is the money to do so, then that will be another interesting story to tell altogether, wouldn’t it?

Your first Aikido sensei

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Christmas 2014

Who is your first Aikido sensei? Who is my first Aikido sensei? The fellow teaching you how to turn, roll and wears a funny black pleated skirt-looking pants?

You first Aikido sensei is your parents.

Your mother showed you love, and affection, your father protects and nurtures you. They are the foundations of love and harmony that Aikido is all about.

I watch last evening as Harry sensei taught this young Aikidoka how to roll properly. As I watched, I came to this realization that he is like a father teaching his son. I can feel that because I am a father myself, and I would use the same energy, attitude, of unconditional effort, openness, hands on to teach my sons, whatever they are learning. I saw that in Harry sensei last evening, the effort, and unconditional love is the same.

It was a very profound experience as the whole relationship paradigm in my Aikido training was radically shifted. I left the class with a feeling of total awe, and more importantly a renewed sense of humility.

It was more than that.

Training with NUS students has opened another level of understanding for me. These young boys and girls, is easily 20 years my junior. And I had almost 20 years of training in Aikido. That said, what about Harry sensei, he has close to 50 years of training! He has been training long before anyone one in class was born!

So when I look at the faces of my young fellow Aikidokas, the youth is still there, the innocence are still present. I can sense that because, given another 10 years, my elder son, Ian, will be 19 years old, about that age of a NUS student.

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With Ian in Hong Kong 2011

They still carry the dreams and aspirations their parents have for them. Edna, Jia Hwee, Tri, Glenn, Jade, Darius, Cathryn, Rachel, just to name a few names, their parents gave them the names, very much like how I bestowed upon my sons, theirs. They came to class, to NUS with their parents, in spirit and in faith. Hence, you are not simply training with that person, you are training with a person who has been exposed to love and affection, with understanding and attention long before they stepped into an Aikido class. So they are an expert in their 18- 19 years of living, and me? I’m just a beginner in their lives!

That can be said for Harry sensei himself! He has parents, his parents has aspirations for him, perhaps they’d wanted him to become someone of stature, or they had other expectations, I wondered, had his parents came back and look at him now, taking a class, 6th Dan in Aikido, would that had been what they wanted from him? Certainly my parents didn’t expect me to embark in Aikido training.

More often than not, we did not choose to embark on our Aikido journey, but somehow stumbled into it, and continued because of certain circumstances that compels us to continue, it was probably one of the last thing our parents expects of us.

We need to give back, our parents has been our first Aikido sensei, and now when we learn how to love and live in harmony from someone else, we need to give this back to them, perhaps now that we’ve grown up and our parents might have thought that their kids no longer need so much love and care, but they still do care and love us, just as much, or perhaps more. Now that we are adults training in Aikido, we need to love them back. Things we learned in the dojo, we need to practise it with our parents, let them know that their love and efforts has manifested, their kids has not wasted their love and effort, well we may not be everything our parents wants us to be, but we can let them know that their love and efforts hadn’t gone to waste, their children has done fine and is now learning how to love on the foundations that they have given us.

First Published: Nov 26, 2014 6:32 AM

As of current: Harry sensei is now 7th Dan Shihan.

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!