The Finer Points in Aikido

The Finer Points in Aikido

Last evening was another wonderful class with just the 4 of us. Small classes like this allows us to explore our techniques in depth and weed out those ‘bad’ habits that persists unbeknownst to us. Sometimes we think we are doing alright because in a larger class, the hustle and bustle can bring out some bad posture or positioning that we are not aware of, or we will not be able to correct.

Morote-Dori Kokyu-Ho

We started with some static Tenkan (Turning) techniques and this is one of the way we can better understand why we move the way we move.

When our partner grabs us, both hands, tight, firmly, it transfers a lot of tension into our wrist, and how we interpret that strength can have an impact on our response. While we are not in a specific fight/flight duality, such tensions does trigger us as we instinctively combat the grasp, ironically increasing our partner’s perception that we are trying to escape the grasp and in response, tighten the grip.

While the technique might look deceivingly simple, it get harder when we clock more hours in Aikido training, partly because we start to become more complacent about the way we were taught to stand and move as beginners, our technique become sloppy when we become comfortable and gets lulled into a sense of comfort, thinking that what works in the past, will work now and will work on anyone and everyone.

Just the 4 of us

This is the beauty training with a bunch of friends in Aikido for a long time, we are all very comfortable with each other and with that level of trust, we can put some discomfort into the technique and allow the nage to relearn how to move again.

I implored Ming Jie, Melvin and ZZ to grip hard when it is their turn to be uke. There is no worry that we are out to make things difficult for the nage. WE ARE. The difference is we are not doing this out of malice, mischief or trying to prove to the other guy we are better, we are putting in the difficulty precisely because we want the other the to be better.

We failed quite a bit, and explored why.

With our years of practice, we need to be able to critique our own posture, and understand our own inefficiencies and make adjustments constantly to enhance our interactions with our partner. With these 3 guys, I don’t have to be a ‘sensei’, instead I’m just a prompter, pointing out certain things that they can do better, or adjust so that they can better cope with the pressure.

I told the guys that their self dialogue must be one that goes like: ‘Yeah, I think my tenkan’s position isn’t right, I’ll need to shift my leg forward slightly.’ instead of saying ‘(insert name here) says that I should be doing this, and that.’ I implored to them that it is no longer about what Harry sensei says, or what Randy says, they will have to internalize the feedback, and own that improvement. What we say is what we observed, externally and beyond that, there is nothing else we can do to help each other improve. So it is not about who said what, it is about how we can take that feedback in and make that change. That is the mark of a proactive person.

Change is not easy

That is why we change! If it is easy as heck, then change would have lost its allure, improvements would have stopped and atrophy will run the world. While it is challenging to change, having people who trust and supports your efforts to change helps make is a little more worthwhile to think about changing.

This is the place on the mat for such metamorphosis, small class allows us to move, then sit back and think how we did. Then change a little to see if that makes a difference. Our partner can help give constructive feedback on how he/she feels being the uke. We can pace the class and slowly incorporate the changes into our body movements.

Space for Introspection

Such is the difficulty of Aikido, as no 2 person grasp the same way nor our response to the same person remains consistent, Aikido challenges the fallacy of sameness, as we need to know that we are not the same person moments ago, we are constantly adjusting our perceptions, values and mood. We ebb and flow dependent on the day, time, place, and interaction, at the same time trying to keep to a semblance of identity of who we are.

Once we have a decently deep level of self thought, we can institute the change. So often we remarked “Aiyah, that guy will never change one lah!” When a person is not able to deeply reflect on their thoughts and actions, it is difficult to see external changes. Again such changes must make sense and means something to us, to be better.

Equal in the eyes of the beholder

I shared that Harry sensei is able to handle most ukes. That is his level of skill, I’ve yet to see an uke he cannot manage. The secret is his unbending core and that keeps him very centered. Anyone who holds his hands is immediately drawn into his center and you loses yours.

The other ‘magic’ he has is he treats all his uke the same, he is fair to all and gives no quarter as to who is a better uke. So with that fair eye he is able to dispense everyone the same way.

The same way doesn’t mean the same. He does adjust his stance and extension to manage every uke differently. Such micro-adjustments is barely perceptible to our observations, but he does it in a way that is unbiased, and unaffected by who the uke is.

The Good Feeling in the Dojo

The Good Feeling in the Dojo

Sometimes, being an instructor sucks, plain and simple. There is a lot weighing on the shoulders of the instructors, a proverbial 3 word question: “What to Teach?”

Not only that, sometimes seeing the same old folks again and again does challenge me to do something different, but what can be different? More of the same? Or same same, but different, but still the same?

It’s a People sport

That is where last Monday made me felt different. While we think that things always stays the same in the dojo, it is not always so, despite of so many decades practicing Aikido, we still bring a different level of experience to the mat every single time.

It was such a wonderful session as we all came together to learn and figure out new things. There was a spirit of exploration, learning about concepts and putting it to the test on the mat, physically connect to see if the mental map correspond with the physical world.

It’s the people that comes together, good, bad, and warts to put time, heart and soul to train, build good will on the mat.

It’s a beautiful feeling when we have been training for so many years together, and that trust is so well honed. It’s not just Aikido we are practicing, it is also putting our trust on each other on the line. While we may be less than perfect people off the mat, when we come together and put all our differences aside, really beautiful movements can happen.

Simple Connection.

This cannot be overstated nor under-estimated. Harry sensei left behind a small group of us still banding together to train. This is a very precious connection that binds us. We didn’t come together for fame nor glory, we are training in the true spirit of Aikido, for peace, friendship and harmony.

It really feels good when I give a feedback to Melvin on his Irimi-nage, and Choy chime in with his opinion, which might differs from mine, and it is still fine. It’s great to see both Choy and Melvin work on the finer points of the technique, so that we can all improve.

Just Train.

Like Nike’s famed slogan, Harry sensei’s mantra is simple, just turn up, and train. This has hold me in good stead, through good times and bad. Sometimes I really don’t feel like coming, especially when the attendance is low, I put all the doubts aside and just turn up.

No place in this world

This unique feeling caused me to think deep and hard, can we replicate it? Can we do more? Can we share this with more people out there? I certainly hope I can, because the world needs more goodwill and friendship, more people coming together to train and build trust, face fear and insecurity bravely. The only way we can do this is to do it together.

A List of Aikido Dojo in Singapore-2023 Edition

A List of Aikido Dojo in Singapore-2023 Edition

I did a list back in 2019 and since then we have seen a quite a few changes in the Aikido scene in Singapore. I will include ‘heat map’ of the locations of these ‘dojos’ for visual effect.

How are the Dojo’s looking like?

As space is a very expensive commodity in Singapore, it is very costly any aspiring Aikido instructor to hold on to a permanent dojo in the most traditional sense. Most ‘dojos’ in Singapore are sheltered, sometimes air-conditioned multi-purpose halls in Community Clubs, where we practice on foam mats, laid out before class and packed up to be kept after class. So in the strictest sense, most locations isn’t a permanent ‘dojo‘ but just a place to train Aikido.

Having to open a class in the community clubs/ centres helps Aikido instructors lower the costs as there are no heavy rental to headache over, nor the need for constant maintenance of an actual dojo.

The List

There are about 23 known Aikido schools in Singapore, running a total of more than 110 dojos all across Singapore. It is a very vibrant community and there is no shortage of classes for anyone aspiring to take up Aikido.

The illustrated ‘heatmap’ gives the approximate location of these dojos in Singapore. As long as there is a sizable population density chances are you will find an Aikido class nearby. Do note that some of these dojos are not open to public and have members only access, such as Country Clubs and Universities.

Finding your dojo

Do take the time to physically check out the schools, take an introductory class, for about 3 months, and find an instructor that works well with your personality and temperament. Learning a martial art like Aikido can be vary daunting and challenging so getting to know and building the trust in your instructor will help in your learning journey.

Making a careful choice of the school, style and sensei will pay dividends to a very long and rewarding Aikido journey.

Past post:https://theaikidad.com/2019/04/29/a-list-of-aikido-dojos-in-singapore/

Caveat Emptor: These data is collected by the author using publicly available internet resources and every effort is taken to ensure accuracy. If there is any discrepancies, errors and omissions, please provide a feedback, and attempts will be taken to present a more reliable output.

A Good Class

A Good Class

It rained heavily these days, well, the year end monsoon is here. The particular thing about our Dojo is, the shelter holds out the rain, but if it gets windy, rain will blow into and onto the mat, wet to an extent where we cannot train.

I wanted to end Monday’s class due to inclement weather, but Ming Jie texted me to ‘push on’, well, let’s do it then. Thankfully, the rain subsided and we can have class, a small one though, since there is only Ming Jie, Melvin, Radek and myself.

It turned out to be a very enjoyable evening and I had a very deep and powerful epiphany, which I will attempt to pen down.

Who am I again?

I consider myself an Aikidoka, a practitioner, not an instructor, I’ve said that before, it will not change how I conduct myself on the mat. I’m far from perfect, nor I consider myself at a reasonable level of techincal competency to dispense Aikido lessons or wisdom.

The imposter syndrome is like an uncomfortable shadow. Harry didn’t even hand the baton to me, I pick it up from where he dropped it, and it is a darn heavy one.

Who will I become

Being thrust into the front, and having to take on the ‘instructor’ role, I got embroiled into who will I become. I can’t help it, it’s a big shoes Harry sensei left behind for me to fill, there is a genuine pressure to not let him down. While I am still struggling with a definition, the only thing I could do, was to turn up for class, as often as I can, and honour the commitment Harry sensei had to Aikido when he was teaching. Just turn up at the dojo, never mind good, bad or ugly.

There is a light in my struggle. You see, it is not about who I will become, it is about who my fellow Aikidokas will become, now that I’ve taken over, through Harry sensei’s legacy and our continued practice, my friends on the mat are becoming better, more peaceful and harmonious.

What did I see?

All this time I’ve been saying that we need to treat each other on the mat with respect, decorum and honour. While we might get frustrated with each other, we still need to know we are there for each other. Train hard, train safe, and train in harmony.

There was harmony on the mat that evening, and it was a beautiful feeling.

Harmony to see that Melvin can correct himself, and relax when I pointed out that there are some technical points he can improve upon, and he did change. Radek, stiff as usual, was amazing, instead of forcing his way through a technique, he stopped himself, corrected the mistake, relaxed and redid the waza. Ming Jie’s technique has also evolved to become less belligerent and more disarming, his commitment to class is certainly a source of motivations for me to keep the class going. That Monday evening, we are learning and reflecting.

As the person offering instructions, when I say move the hips and the hands move, they did it and it worked. There was a genuine change on the mat and my fellow Aikidoka are breaking away from their usual self limiting mindset and embraced something different. Along with my fellow Aikidoka, we have made the mat a safe space for all of us to make mistake, experiment and learn.

The four of us was truly enjoying Aikido and we helped each other explore our techniques, struggles through a spirit of non-judgmental, openness and total vulnerability. It was a very special and precious Monday night to feel that, and it makes me want to go back and relive it again.

Harry sensei would be happy

It’s a thought I shared with my wife when I got home, if for some miracle, Harry sensei was alive that Monday evening and he see where Radek is right now, he would be happy to know what all his teachings and lessons is bearing fruit. He never gave up on Radek, despite of constantly chiding him being stiff and mechanical, Radek was far from mechanical on Monday, I can see a more natural fluid expression of Aikido on the mat. Harry sensei’s tough love paid off.

Harry sensei would also be happy that the tiny little group of us are still training together, growing together and learning from each other. I hope we have done enough for him to know that he left the dojo in a good place. We are not fighting bitterly for egotistical gains, nor critically tearing at each other throat, challenging each other for authority.

Sustainable

There is really not that many of us left, who was with Harry sensei until the end. I’m somehow not concerned with this scarcity, but relish on the fact that this little group of us, is enough to bring a lot of good, love, peace and harmony in our own way. For sure we are not going to change the world in a big bang, but that’s not the aim, we just want to be happy, peaceful human being and the people who interacts with us can feel that. If we can achieve that, I’m sure Harry sensei will be quietly elated, his style of Aikido has cleaned up the world a little bit.

The Ongoing Journey

The Ongoing Journey

Getting COVID earlier this month puts me out of action for a fortnight and being away from Aikido gives me the space to think about what we are going to do and where we are going. This is a reflection on my earlier post “Where do we go from here?

Clarity as we go along

There are many factors I was mulling and in the due process, all the issues, players, external forces, internal inertia all came together and the result is overthinking. Where do we go from here implies a point A to point B, and outcome, destination and endgame; this is the wrong mindset; putting the cart before the horse. You don’t get to go anywhere in this mode.

This is a ‘here’, we can only get to the where when we have the horse pulling the cart, and that in itself is the journey, not a destination. I was fixated on a destination and therefore completely missed the whole spirit of training. We need to focus on the now, and the where will take care of itself- this is the message Harry sensei keep telling us and this is his legacy. He never cared about the future, he cared about is the now.

Let the Jones be the Jones

Comparing myself with social media Aikido only helped to prey on my fears and played on my insecurities, of course I can never be as good as those guys showing off their Aikido skills on Tik Tok, Facebook, and/or Instagram. Damn, those guys are skillfully slick and so well trained. Me? Nowhere near that level! Ha!

So time away nursing a recovery from COVID gave me time to think. Keeping up with the Jones is a zero sum game; looking outwards too much weakened my resolve.

Aikido and Shoshin Aikikai

So does the world has a place for a flowy, almost fakery martial arts like Aikido? Or shall we all go and learn MMA? Until now I still feel that for fighting; MMA would definitely be a better form of applied violence which will work in a violent situation.

Pulling back my lenses a little closer and I look at Shoshin Aikikai, the style Harry sensei left us, and is it a form of Aikido that is on par with other styles of Aikido? Is it an effective form of Aikido? Should we all go and learn anther style of Aikido?

The Answer is on the Mat

While I work on my answer, purpose and existence on the mat and off the mat, I could sense that we do have a distinct existence and contribution to the world. I started Monday’s class looking at my fellow Aikidoka, we bring a certain proposition to the world, one of peace, harmony and love.

When I think about our time on the mat, and how each and everyone of us off the mat, we bring a bit of Harry sensei’s Shoshin Aikikai into our lives, and because Harry sensei left us a style of Aikido that is peaceful, non-violent, and focus on not resisting, everyone brings this spirit into the greater sphere of life. We apply what we learned on the mat, on our everyday lives, and it touches the people we meet off the mat. We treat people with decorum, dignity and respect, well, I try to as much as I can.

Keep trying, never quit, never give up

This is perhaps my own small way of honoring Harry sensei’s style of Aikido, this small band of us are really not interested in the pecking order, not interested in belt chasing, our sensei told us to DROP OUR EGO! We made it our life purpose to keep trying, we come to the dojo to continue the practice, because our sensei inspires us to keep training when he was alive. He never quit, come to training come hell or high water. As long as we keep training on the mat, we embody his commitment, and doggedness, we never give up trying to make our Aikido a little better, not perfect, but better.

It humbled me when I look at my fellow Aikidokas and see beyond their tiny sliver of time on mat, and how our practice and camaraderie influence the bigger world out there, and the people who they come across off the mat. So while there is only that little of us left who is keep Harry sensei’s style on the mat, this little band of us continues to bring good into the world and in every little thing we do, we strive to bring peace, love and harmony to all we meet, I know, at least I try to.

Where do we go from here?

Where do we go from here?

I never had such a problem keeping me up at night. All I have to do is to go to the dojo, follow a certain respectable old man do Aikido and go home. Simple.

Now that I am in that shoes and people are following me, there is a certain standards, quality, direction, style, ethos, pedagogy, sub-culture, teaching, curriculum that I have to dish out, someway, somehow, one way or the other.

As my friend Steven always says it “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.” Ain’t that the truth.

It’s never far from my mind that this position I held is an extremely privileged one, I didn’t put myself there, someone I respect a lot asked me to be there, and now that I am here, the weight is on me to do something, moving forward. My friends in the dojo put their trust in me to take this place forward and I’m burdened constantly not to let them down. The weight of that responsibility is serious shit.

No Easy Day, No Easy Answer

Such is the cruel reality of change, we are all forced to change. Legacy held us in good stead, knowing we came from a respectable past, but how we move forward will determine how we continue to keep that past respectable.

Deep down inside I do still feel like a phony, Harry sensei’s spot is too big to fill, I know that I have no plans to fill it, faintly even trying to do that is will be preposterous. Then the next question begs to be answered, how do I write my own story? Do I even want to see myself 80 years old 7th dan, dedicated to Aikido? Or can I be who I am, 3rd dan, 80 years old, dedicated to Aikido?

In the world of pecking order and sexy new martial arts, I don’t think I can compel many people to follow an old 3rd dan, still running a dojo 10-15 years from now. It’s not a great selling point, I will age (am aging) and will falter, like Harry sensei did, will people still turn up at the dojo out of respect, sympathy or a little bit of both?

So what?

Even if I were to advance in grade, so what? So freaking what?

I still cannot see myself at the epitome of Aikido, like the shoulder of the giant I’m standing on. So should I avoid the risk of desecrating Harry sensei’s legacy by running a sub-par class? Or should I chart my own way, and risk desecrating Harry sensei’s legacy the same? Damn it if you do and Damn it if you don’t.

No help in finding the answer either

Sorry no sorry, I don’t think there is anyone out there who can help me solve this. That’s the other thing that has always been a me problem, the solutions lies only in me, myself and I. Once I found the solution (which will come to me eventually, I just got to be patient) then I can move. Until then I can only hobble along haphazardly, be the stand-in until the stand-in, stood out permanently.

Right now all I can do is to use my imagination and think about how Harry sensei could have done it under the circumstances when he took over Teddy Lee sensei back then more than 50 years ago; the challenges he faced, the acceptance and rejection he has to face, building up Aikido the way he did. The problem is that there are no cookie crumbs, he left no ‘how-to’ guide on how to run a dojo and take the dojo forward; all I got from him was his teaching, as fleeting, unreliable memory in my head, and that’s all. I constantly ask myself how do I go on when all of our interpretations of his teachings differs widely dependent on people’s perceptions.

Not exciting at all

I can’t build any excitement out of this heaviness at all, perhaps I took this role with a very serious responsibility, and maybe I do want to make Harry sensei proud and when people comes to his dojo, they can say that Harry sensei did a good job, his bunch of Aikidokas are a skillful lot. That’s perhaps my lofty goal and I’m not sure if I am up to it to see it happen.

Until I find a way, I think I’m gonna be kept awake more often than I like to.

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 

Helping each other remember

Helping each other remember

Tonight was the second time I teach Aikido. The cherry is broken, so it is pretty much going into the groove and doing what Harry sensei does in class, except this time it is me in his place, instead of me watching him being the sensei.

To make things perfectly clear, the statement above is about me. taking a step back being the observer, observing the observed, me; discharging my capacity as a sensei, and watching over the class like how a sensei, any sensei would.

There is really nothing much to watch over, really, these bunch of Aikidokas are my friends, we have all been training together for a long time, so we have a very safe, happy, and constructive environment, this kind of ecosystem embraces newcomers very disarmingly. Sure there is an ‘in-group’, and this ‘in-group’ is not a closed group, we’re happy to have new friends join us.

Until I became a sensei, I didn’t know what the learning curve looks like, and yes I am still learning, even though I am taking class, showing techniques and all that. While showing techniques, I am trying to do what Harry sensei taught me, us, and it is not as if he left behind a detailed technical curriculum guide on ‘How to do Aikido’. We learned what he taught us, and such a method of knowledge transfer is notorious for it’s infidelity to the spirit of originality. Even if he did leave behind some secret Aikido manuscript, I also won’t know where to start!

Thankfully, I have my friends, they remembered the bit I forgot about what Harry sensei taught us, and Mingjie came up to me after class and said I didn’t do a certain thing that Harry sensei used to do, and I was like caught off guard, I reasoned that I was focused on something else, and didn’t emphasized on that thing I didn’t do. In short I forgot.

Choy did the same and reminded me of a particular step which Harry sensei does to prevent a counter, I didn’t do that as well, or it might have slipped my mind.

The thing is Harry sensei’s teaching spans 60 years and there is so much he has taught and we are the last bunch to have trained with him in his twilight years. I’ve seen his teachings changed over the years, and with so many decades of Aikido ‘textbook’ that he has written in every class, it is humanly impossible for anyone to render his moves in any form or originality. And yet we all still try.

Herein also lies the value of Harry sensei’s students coming back to training, every time we get together, we piece a little bit of him back, we collectively remember him in the dojo where he gave so much to. I don’t want to worship the place or make it sound so sacred, but there is an importance of keeping Shoshin going, I can see it now.

Our memories of Harry sensei is all about that, memories, fickle and fleeting, open to interpretations and contentions. We as his students can argue about how certain moves are interpreted, but we all know how to do it in good spirit, because we all know Harry sensei left behind a very noble and yet quiet legacy, guarded by those few that still comes to the dojo.

The Guy who became a Sensei

The Guy who became a Sensei

Following my recent post, The Way Forward: Shoshin Aikikai Singapore, I officially took class, as sensei, since Harry sensei’s passing, he will no longer be around.

Heavy Heart

It looked like any typical Monday class and I wanted it to be as such, so on the facade, there is little or no difference, I’m taking the class, 8pm, my fellow Aikidokas will take their respective places and we will start class, like we have done so for many years.

Internally, there was a huge inertia, a massive reluctance to assume the position in front of the class, as sensei. I wish Harry sensei is still alive and hoping that I can continue being the facilitator, wishful thinking I was entertaining.

I looked long at Harry sensei’s photograph which I put up on the shelf, quietly asking him for divine guidance and still wanting that affirmation from him that I will be doing fine. He is no longer around to do that, so I have to take all that he has taught me, taught us, and carry on from there. With that thought, I walked up to the front and become sensei, for the first time in my life.

The Imposter Syndrome

This is a feeling for sure, and yet it still feels strangely familiar, very ready, and I think I have Harry sensei to thank, he has been grooming me all along for this position. While he was alive, he would be the earliest one, turning up to vacuum, dust and mop the place all by himself while he was still fit. The few of us made a point to come early and help him with all the chores. As long as I am coming to class I will make sure I do all this with him until a point in time I was doing them by myself, for him, as he watches, smoking his cigarettes.

Now that he is gone, I am the one turning up earliest, doing all the vacuuming, mopping and dusting, laying the mats, getting the place ready for class, all by myself. So I know the dojo very intimately, every dirt, spot and dust is very familiar to me, working on it after so many years.

Harry sensei vacuuming the dojo
Mopping the floor

Being consistently his uke perhaps is also another way he was grooming me. While he never said that I was to become a sensei after his death, by being his uke umpteenth times has made me understand his moves, his nuances, and his unspoken expectations. Maybe by being thrown around by him the most, I’m considered remotely good enough to continue. After all, why would he continue to call me to be his uke, even for demonstrations if I am not ‘good’ enough? Perhaps there is no one else.

Harry sensei is with us

It had to be me

Strangely familiar as I know this is real, I didn’t voluntarily put myself there, I didn’t fake this, make this up myself, my fellow Aikidokas trust me and look upon me to keep the class going, giving me good faith that while I am still not good enough, somehow I can lah. Showing them the techniques, and sometimes the wrong ones, they will correct me, we discussed, how Harry sensei did it, and of course how we perceived the way he did what he did. We call can agree that his technical perfection to the Aikido techniques are second to none, owing to his many decades of training and dedication.

Being an Aikido sensei is not something of my choosing, there is no career path, this is just the way it is. It is terribly lonely taking that position up front, the weight of the entire class, or even school rests on me. I can’t take it lightly, somehow, sensei’s spirit and reputation lies with Shoshin Aikikai, and right now when people think about who is the sensei in Shoshin Aikikai, the guy who took over when Harry sensei passed away, that guy turns out to be me.

The Way Forward: Shoshin Aikikai Singapore

The Way Forward: Shoshin Aikikai Singapore

Every time I take a class, I position myself, not where the sensei would sit, but along the line with my fellow Aikidoka practitioners. As I have principled, I am the most ranking student in class, and therefore I am not the sensei, but a facilitator, or ‘class monitor’.

Officially, I have told James, my senpai, and maintained that I would prefer to have Harry sensei give me a blessing, best in writing, that I am given the responsibility of instructorship. Well, this is a ‘me‘ thing as I do not want to assume things and make myself ‘sensei’ while Harry sensei is still in effect, The Sensei of Shoshin Aikikai Singapore. There is no ifs and buts about it.

These will change now that he has passed away, and without his verbal, explicit expression as to how the dojo should continue, we are left to our own devices to decide.

His son, Lionel did express that it was perhaps his father’s wish to make sure his Aikido legacy should continue, which means Shoshin, the dojo he founded should carry on, and I will need to take the initiative to continue.

Change Management

It is never easy with changes, and we have a few ‘closed door’ discussions with the dan grade members of Shoshin and many favoured closing the dojo, which we did, for the later part of 2021, and then James told me that it will be reopened, and he would want me to take a class, on Monday. I obliged. While I never officially heard it from Harry sensei that he consented, I’d trust James that he is carrying out sensei’s interpretations the best he could.

Harry sensei did turned up a few times and witness me taking class; he didn’t objected in anyway of sorts, so I’ll take it that my instructorship is okay. It’s surely a hot seat with him sitting there looking at me taking class, I don’t want to fumble and look bad, making him look bad or regret his decision in anyway!

Also there was a new infusion of interest from David, an Aikido instructor who is keen to take Shoshin forward. So together, we will run the class and continue practicing Aikido at the present dojo.

Initially for me, I wasn’t sure about this path. I told myself that I’ll decide again after Sensei’s passing, honestly, I’m not that keen to continue Aikido in any form or function if Harry sensei is no longer around. I am also really not keen to be a sensei of any form or function.

The feedback is that my involvement is wanted, and Shoshin Aikidokas past and present prefers to have someone who have trained under Harry sensei to continue. Many would argue that what is Shoshin unless it is passed down to someone who has trained with Harry sensei and knows his style.

While there are many students who have trained with Harry sensei, none has stepped up to take custodian of the dojo.

Shoshin is 初心

初心 in Japanese Kanji means the ‘Beginners’ Mind’, Harry sensei choose the logo to be that of 2 open hands. He has said many times that we need a beginners mind to see things properly, and not let the ego get the better of us. Practice with a Beginner’s Mind.

While it appeals to me that Harry sensei’s style should continue in Shoshin, we must also regenerate the dojo with a beginner’s mind and see Aikido new again. Not disrespecting Harry sensei’s legacy, but to really honour him by starting things fresh, taking it to greater heights.

No one can match Harry sensei’s greatness and commitment to Aikido in Singapore, and it would be ridiculous for me to even try. His style is unflinching precision, come what may, he dispatches his uke large and small with ease. All I can do is perhaps interpret his style with my own limited understanding and render it in spirit and principles.

Life is a Curve Ball

As always, you will never know how things will turn out. All I wanted to do was to follow Harry sensei and until his death, I’ll be free to decide my path. I would never expect myself to be thrusted and entrusted into this very privileged role of taking Shoshin to the next level.

I’m not sure what I will do, but with what my sensei has taught and guided me in the past, I’m sure things will turn out fine.