24 hours, that’s all we have in a day. Let’s not break it down any more than that, being day and night. Given this fact, how much practice can we humanly squeeze into a 24 hour? When I was younger, I tried that for about 2 weeks, continuous, 6 days a week. Well, it didn’t quite work out for me, my body couldn’t be stimulated any more, and was rather jaded by the entire experience.
Realistically, there is only so much training we can put into a day’s work. I have to be a father, husband, colleague, son-in-law, sometimes a son, a nephew, a friend, a BFF at times. the list goes on. In all these roles that we have to play, I have to be an aikidoka. as if I hadn’t had my plate full. Then again without Aikido, I don’t think I can synthesize all these sometimes conflicting roles effectively. These role can scream, ‘Me!” ‘No! Me first!”, and they often still do. I used to get frustrated that I cannot train as schedule because I have to attend to my husbandry function.
Over these years, I’ve come to accept that futility, I can never ‘be enough’ of anything, neither can I be everything. I just ‘be’. It sounds so cliché again, but that is the fact. it’s the part where I can’t pen down more that what I already had. Because time is always scarce, I really have to make the best of every minute and second of my existence and not waste it on trivial whining or bickering. I used to panic when my ‘me’ time gets robbed from me by other seemingly trivial matters, now I simply move it around the slot, on a modular approach. and really, I’m already doing what I can, at any point in the day and time of my life, what else can i ask for? I’m already fortunate enough to receive Aikido training, lucky enough to have a supportive wife (even though she understands little about Aikido), and I have peace in this country for me to be free.
Free is who I am in my spirit. I may not practice Aikido physically 24hrs a day, I never stop thinking about Aikido, how it works, and how I didn’t make it work. What could have been done better. What lessons I can learn out of it. Although admittedly this is no replacement for hard physical training and conditioning, but that is what I can give at this point in time, I am appreciative of my mental faculties for being discerning about Aikido. of course when i do get the opportunity for hard physical training, all this thinking does helps as these wisdom do help me sort out my ego. Who I think I am, and who I am, never mixing fact and fiction.
So I seldom lament about the lack of physical training, because the training has left the dojo and got ‘downloaded’ into my head. and when the time comes for physical training, I say ‘BRING IT ON!’
On Wednesday, Harry sensei focused predominantly on Shihonage (四方投げ), specifically, yokomenuchi-Shihonage. There was just a couple of us, Renny, Daniel, Me, James and Brenda. Initially, sensei showed a method of shihonage, and we worked on it, then he changed the techinque slightly seeing that we, the students somehow are having some difficulties with the technique. Initially what was apparently a ‘wrong’ technique for the start, evolved to something that was ‘right’.
That is the essence in the difficulty in teaching Aikido. had it been a modestly beginner student, the change will confuse the beginner. ‘I thought it was supposed to be like this!’ or I’ve heard so often, ‘I thought this was incorrect!’. Well, where shall we start then?
The technique is living, and unlike a kata, which has a fixed form which the student has to follow, relentlessly. How can we teach Aikido when your uke is ever changing? Big, small, fast, rough, male, female, you name it, it keeps changing. Techniques has to change with your partner.
For an Aikido teacher, he has to observe his students as well, because everyday, different students turn up. there are some regulars, some not so regulars. Not only that, some regulars might not be in shape that evening to train. Everything, and every element that the student brings to the dojo has to be respected. As much as possible we try to be neutral when we put on the white gi, the reality is that we carry a massive baggage to the dojo, and to ignore that is to be an ignoramus. An Aikido teacher has to ensure that the technique is living, and changes and adjust accordingly to the mood and the quality of the students that evening.
Hence by the time we are through with our Aikido that Wednesday evening, the Shihonage we ended up has been fine tuned and ends up ‘different’ from the shihonage we first started out. And it is still the same ‘shihonage.’
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.
(I didn’t attend the one held at SIM University, so I can only post a group photo of those who went)
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.
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.
Harry sensei did a few KokyuNage 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We went through the a series of techniques which also includes Sankyo, where the uke executes a shomenuchi, 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, gyakuhanmi 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.