To Yield or not to Yield

To Yield or not to Yield

This is the million dollar question in Aikido.

You see, if we are able to forget everything and move like how nature intends for us to be, then we would have solve our dilemma, sort of. That would also means that we are becoming more like an organism, no faculty of self awareness, choice, autonomy and critical thinking, all the hallmarks of being ‘human’.

Nature’s way

It Takes Time

Nature will take it’s time to work around things; trees will grow around an impediment, you will not see it today tomorrow, but over time, the tree ‘wins’. Sometimes we see a dramatic volcano explosion, or an terrifying earthquake, that happened suddenly; more often than not, it is a cumulation of years, decades or even centuries of work, grinding, moving, building up the pressure and at an instant, BOOM!

Just like nature, we need to understand things take time, and we can choose a path of willing, exercise our free will to train harder, train longer, put in more focus, study Aikido texts or we can simply choose to focus on something else.

Photo by Pixabay, Pexels

Time or Timing

On the mat, it is usually about timing, you need to watch earnestly the opening, and also where your partner might be strong and where there is a pause in his movement and that is where you can apply countermeasures. Not everything can be countered, or forced. and if the point of opposition becomes predictable, mechanical, or cyclical, then the Aikido technique is dead.

That means if you as an Uke can catch your Nage at a stoppage every single time, then something is wrong, it might not necessarily be a Nage’s ‘fault’ nor it boils down to a uncooperative Uke, neither is the problem and also both possess the solution. The Nage needs to change something to break that stalemate, and the Uke needs to yield a little so that the Nage can continue with the movement.

This is the kind of subtle communication between Aikidokas in movement that takes years of practice to build, and this is what we train for, there is little spoken between movements and we read each other instantly, keeping everything in a stable flux. This is level of training, both Aikidokas melt into each other and then you can see no distinction between winning and losing. So much so it looks like a dance, except it’s deadlier.

Photo by Gratisography, Pexels

No Competition

Naturally, when you don’t compete for pecking order, there is a more collaborative output, since we are not looking for winners by knockout, or winning by points.

In a competitive environment, there is no yielding, you can expect opposition at every given moment, and even if there is yielding, you can’t help but think if it is a feint. Once we put ourselves in a zero-sum game, everyone loses, even the winner. Eventually, such environment builds resentment and people will train hard so that they can topple the top dog, which defeats the purpose of training altogether.

Even if you come around and shake hands, hugs and all, there is still a level of distrust and guardedness which will not be conducive for mutually beneficial learning and advancement. Everyone will be watching everyone and I wouldn’t want to teach you my mat tactics; in the event I meet you on the mat, you will use what you learned about me, against me.

Photo by cottonbro, Pexels

So yielding, or not; is a judgement call on the mat, and it takes years to discern how to compromise and how to stand firm. Sometimes it can be frustrating to learn that you cannot execute a specific technique against one specific guy in the dojo, then that is a sign you need to train more with that difficult guy, because your greatest lessons awaits.

Round the Island Walk (Part One)

Round the Island Walk (Part One)

Dear Boys,

Your dad went on a round island walk with a couple of months back with Andy, we were following a predetermined 150km route that covers almost all the 33 corners of Singapore. We didn’t do it at one go, we broke it into parts of 10km on average, only on a few of the routes, we did about 20km++.

https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=1XmNLQFjX_FBH9q6Y3cjD6yaoen2XhRuw&ll=1.3420718159739893%2C103.84128639160157&z=11
Source: SGTREK – Round Island Route-https://sgtrek.com

It started when Andy, my trusty cycling buddy called a few of us to try walking these routes. A few of us was game, there was some discussion and we decided to start 29 Jan and hope to complete it over a couple of Saturdays. I was still thinking we are gonna do this 150km at one go. Crazy.

Andy kept a detailed chronology of it in a Google sheet, and we will talk about part 1 here, which will cover our start to East Coast (24km) which was one of our longest leg then to Gardens by the Bay. Part 2 will cover the rest of the journey all the way to the end, our finale was another one helluva walk, the final 28km!

The Logistics

Since we are doing this in segments, it meant that we need to get to the starting point on our own, Andy drove for a few of the legs, and the rest was accomplished by Grab or Gojek. Food wise, your dad always carry my own supply of biscuits, and Andy did his own as well, and sometimes having munchies during these long walks does helps with the morale.

These walks also let me try out a few loads, sometimes I’d carry a waist pack, which seems to hold all my items, and sometimes for the longer leg, I opt for a small backpack with a larger water bladder, and as always, I have first aid with me.

First Leg! Kranji MRT to Yishun (Canberra MRT)

Nicholas and Isaiah joined us and we have 4 guys walking the first 13 km. We visited the Sembawang hotspring, Woodlands jetty for a few of the highlights.

Andy, Isaiah, Nick and me

It was a good warm up crowd, and the pace was good, we didn’t encounter any bad weather and apart from a few constructions here and there, we do get some quite scenic views.

Following that,, Nick and Isaiah couldn’t continue for the rest of our Round Island trek due to weekend commitments, (Isaiah did joined for the Punggol to Changi leg), it was down to Andy and me to continue with the walk.

Changi to East Coast Leg

View from the Changi Beach

The second longest leg in our RIR

This was actually 2 segments combined into one, since the end of one part was Changi Naval Base bus stop, Andy and I both agreed that we should push on and end it at East Coast, which would makes more sense, since it would be easier for us to hail transport back home, and also a better place to kick off the next leg.

It was a tough 24 km, since the last time I walked so much was in my National Service days, where we had a 24 km route march in FBO (Full Battle Order), doing it when you are 18 years old and now in my forties makes me question my existence. When you are young, you don’t think so much, and just do what your buddies are doing.

The East Coast route, however did come with some respite as there are human traffic, cyclists and some beach scene, wait till I tell you boys about our last final leg walking from Jurong to Kranji!

East Coast to Bayfront MRT

After our long walk the week before, this was easy, besides, we still get to enjoy some very scenic East Coast, and Gardens By the Bay Views, which kept our morale up. Mentally, we were also stronger, knowing that we did 24km before, and this leg is just a mere 13km, no sweat!

Systems… They are Everywhere

Systems… They are Everywhere

Dear Boys,

Things don’t happen by default, there is a process, system, flow that we might not understand. There is no such thing as a ‘simple’ thing. Situations, issues and problems are all linked and doesn’t happen in isolation. even when it looks like the last straw that broke the camel’s back, it usually isn’t that one last straw, dig deeper.

For you to better survive and thrive, a keen understanding and appreciation of ‘The System’ is necessary so that you do not break yourself against something seemingly random and abstract. It will also help you work with The System, analyze the root cause and come to a better more holistic understanding of how things work around the world.

A Home

Even at home, your dad runs a system that is unique (and yet not quite) that keeps the house a home. As mentioned in my earlier post on Adulting, even mundane things takes time to build and I have to think of end to end. Even changing a simple light bulb, once it is blown, I have to know the size, cost, brand, and where to get it. How to change it and discarding the blown fluorescent tube. While my part of the deal ends when I thrown it into the bin, the ‘rubbish’ has its own systems that makes it way to where ever it might become. Even before I buy the new tube, there is also a manufacturing system at the backend that make sure the replacement tube reaches me, the consumer, the dad/ electrician at home.

Source: Karla Hernandez-Unsplash

Watch and learn

The challenge for me as a dad is to make you boys see beyond the simple day to day chores. How to ignite that investigative and curious seeking nature that is latent in all of us? Going in depth and asking the questions that matters.

Why? How? What? When? Which? and Who?

Is there a risk of overthinking even for something as simple as a household chore? Quite the contrary, in our world right how, we lack thinkers, no need to overthink the overthinking, it is over worrying that we need to worry about. When we bother to think critically, long and deep, we will find that ‘solutions’ are not really solutions, rather they are compromised outcome. There are still problems in solutions and there are also solutions hiding in the problems. So these solutions might cause minor inconveniences, but it keeps the greater larger systems wheel going.

When we go back to the tube replacement example. You boys flip the switch and the light is turned on, or not. If you do not understand that it is The Dad that changes the tube, you might go whining to the Mom, which is not the right contact point. Or you can understand how The Dad goes about replacing the tube, and do it yourself.

From there, you might trigger a thought:

“Why do we keep replacing the tubes?”

“Can I improve it?”

“Make a tube that don’t need replacement, ever.”

Then you’ll need to work The Systems to see how, if that is possible. Improvements which seems to come in leaps and bounds is often supported by unknown and unseen minor constructions which is done by countless of people who are keeping The System going.

Without getting a clarity for how The System works, it will be difficult for you to make a difference in this world, in fact, you will be blinded, and indifferent to the realities and inconveniences in this world. You will end up whining and complaining about how things are unfair to you and you will make an issue out of every single things that don’t go your way.

The System don’t Care

The world really don’t care about us, our plans and our whiny, puny thoughts. The System won’t respects us, until we respect The System. That said, The System isn’t a big huge machine that we are powerless against, work The System, and find out the pros and cons, and what you can do to make the pros work in your favour while you circumvent the cons. Not everything will go your way, so when things does, appreciate it, don’t gloat, and when things don’t it just means that there’s issues in The System you didn’t learn or understand.

Waking up to a different World

Everyday might seems like a Groundhog Day, the movie is a very good analogy for our cyclical life where, if we are not careful, will fall into a trap that grinds us, and we become de-personalized. The ever talented Bill Murray, trapped in an endless Groundhog Day, finally took his time to learn, appreciate and fully dive into that very one day, only when he can get to the grind of things, he is able to break free from the repetitive wheel and do something different.

But it is never so dramatic, work small and don’t let the larger, seemingly insurmountable big machine of The System makes a mockery out of the ingenuity, authenticity and originality you both are endowed with. If The Systems seems too big, always remember the Navy SEAL saying:

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Who would you hurt?

Imagine, you are the most skilled martial artist in the world, you have mastered Karate, MMA, Judo, Boxing, Muay Thai, and other lethal martial arts. You certain can kill someone with your moves!

Who is the first person you’ll end up hurting first, other than yourself?

Chances are, you will end up hitting and hurting your loved ones. People you care about, your wife, your husband, you kid, your training partner, your sparring partner, your colleague, your drinking friends. Almost towards the last of your list, are strangers, criminals, mafia, Jason Bourne, James Bond, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise and the neighborhood cat.

“We need to be the centre of calm in a very volatile situation.”

It happened to me and I will never forget it. My elder brother and I got in to a very heat argument when we were very young then. If I remembered correctly I was in my early twenties. I was so pissed that I wanted to leave home, the anger was simmering and I wasn’t really out to hurt anyone, I just want to get away, for good.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

My elder brother, another extremely hot headed and irrational guy, held me back as I reached for the gates. He restrained me from getting away, and I snapped; turned around and punched him, once, hard, on his chest. I will never forget the sound he made, when his brother, me, hit him. The sound of the hurt I inflicted on him, made me very very reluctant to hit another person like that.

Okay, call me a softie, that’s fine. I really didn’t like him, much less love him. I still don’t. But that served a reminder to me, that I will hurt the people closest to me. It is a statistically given fact, we interact more and on a higher level with people we know than with people we don’t know. well, duh. So people close to us will see us, good, bad and the ugly, warts and all. they will rub us the wrong way and we might end up fighting them.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

Isn’t that ironic? We always know our loved ones deeply, we often use that intimate knowledge to hurt them, instead of using it to love them more. Or they might have unwittingly done something that hurt us, and we instinctively want to hurt them back.

Take another hypothetical example. Your very very drunk and emotionally unstable friend, who got aggressive, and take a swing towards anything, anyone close enough. You are that person, will you block the punch and snap a front kick to take him out, or will you enter (irimi) to his side, control him with an Ikkyo, and assert authority over him, and make sure he do not embarrass himself further? Use a circular motion to diffuse the tension, to dissipate the anger. We need to be the centre of calm in a very volatile situation.

Aikido gives us that skill to end a very violent situation peacefully. More important, it cultivates the wisdom in us to help us see beyond violence, the violent person has a very good nature, and when he or she has sufficiently calmed down, the person is actually a very reasonable person.  Well, under duress, we are all dumbassess. But in a stressful situation, we only need one dumbass, the other person has to have some good sense to stop the dumbass from becoming a bigger dumbass.

First Published: October 1, 2015

Senpai and Sensei- My Opinion

Senpai and Sensei- My Opinion
Back in Bukit Merah SAFRA days

To put things in context, being a sensei means nothing if we do not acknowledge our senpai, that is my perspective anyway.

Jason, is my senpai. James is also my senpai, and although I’m sensei, they outrank me in Dan, in age and in years of training, particularly with Jason. Yet in class, I teach and they learn, they bow to me as they would to any sensei. I make sure the reverence is reciprocated.

It doesn’t matter that in future if I rise and outrank them in grade, in age and in years of training they outrank me. When I was a white belt, Jason is already holding a coloured belt, he contributed in ways big and small to me becoming who I am today. I cannot forget that and write off his goodwill.

Senpai ( 先辈 )

Loosely speaking, it means senior, elder or predecessor. To me I cannot erase the memories of those senpais that taught me, Soh, Uncle Tong, Alvin, Loh Tuck Yean (hope I got his name right!) and many others, who has showed me Aikido. Many of them has left training for good and might no longer be as proficient on the mat as they were some 20 years ago. Still they are senior to me in age, and every time I train or teach, part of what they taught me come alive in the moves.

While Harry sensei and many other Aikido teachers, taught me Aikido, sometimes it is our senpais who quietly egged us on, encouraged us, and helped us when we don’t get the technique right and yet still too timid to ask the sensei; our senpai will help us makes sense of the nitty gritty stuff. Without their care and contributions, we simply cannot get to our level of skill as quickly as we have done on our own. I have many, many big brothers and sisters in Aikido to thank and be eternally grateful for.

Not all Senpais are created equal

This is the spirit of hierarchy, we naturally align and bestowed respect and seniority to those seated to our right. Sometimes, our senpais might not have conducted themselves in best faith, others might push their weight around (pun intended) and strut their stuff on the mat simply because they literally outrank almost everyone on the mat, sans the sensei. They might also suck up to the sensei and put everyone more junior down, and treat peers like competitors for the sensei’s attention.

We scoff in contempt such outlandish and belligerent senpais, but think deeper, senpais are also human, and they have their own fallacy. I’ve long learned that anyone’s ‘supremacy’ on the mat, does not necessarily translate to a supremacy in life. People often make one part of their lives, such as being an Aikidoka fantastically awesome to make up for some shortfall in other areas of their lives. The best is we try to live a balances holistic lives. Bumping into these overbearing senpais, I did, of course, and I’ve long learned to give them a wide berth, akin oil and water.

With Harry sensei in Taiwan

Sensei (先生)

This is just an honorific term, while there is usually one sensei, the sensei cannot become effective without a cadre of senpais. While the sensei might teach and pass down techniques and knowledge, the senpais are the one who help distill these to the more junior ones. Senpais help spread the culture and excellence further and wider.

So the relationship between a sensei and senpai is very much symbiotic. A sensei can only do so much alone, but along with a group of senpais, the sensei can do much more, and show that the school can be more than just one person.

My message to my fellow students and Aikidokas is, never forget your senpais as you progress, and advance in rank senior than them. Sometimes, our senpais might no longer be as fluid and skilled as us, but we still need to show them the due respect. Rank aside, please remember that they were here before us, and without their guidance and support, we will not get where we are, the school will not exist, no Aikido will continue.

So if you want to show that you have now become better than your senpai, all you did was limit yourself from becoming better than you are.

Sparing the rod

Source from Google
Source from Google

Dear boys,

I’ve spared the rod, a few months back, did I spoil the child?

Frankly, I don’t think so, to begin with, looking back, it was not the wisest thing to do, caning you boys for the mistakes you both made, and of course the mischief you boys do.

The use of the rod has long outlived its purpose, and the reason I continued to use it is that I hadn’t found another method to replace it. Admittedly, it is somewhat like an addiction. And since it worked so well before, it will continue to work well now and into the future, when in reality it has long outlived its usefulness.

To be honest, your dad then was too immature to handle the 2 of you. It was a dark learning process for all of us. When I wield the cane, the rage compliments the pain it dispense, unfortunately you both bear much of the brunt. And now looking back, much of the caning was quite unnecessary, uncalled for. I just didn’t have enough patience wisdom and good in between my ears to handle your misdeeds appropriately.

Everything that should happen the way it should happen, on hindsight, that is where regret resides. But I justified it shallowly by saying, my parents cane me and I turned out alright! I fell victim to the ‘spare the rod, and spoil the child!’ Argument, and defended using the rod, since i was part of its indoctrination, so I’d indoctrinate my kiddos the same why, it didn’t hurt me that much, and it sure as hell will not hurt my kiddos more that it hurt me, but the truth is, it hurts me having to resort to caning.

There is a better way than this.

Using the cane, honestly limits me. Limits my options to educate and teach you decently. In defense of using the rod, every problem becomes a nail because the only tool I got was a hammer. Any misbehavior will almost always result in the cane being deployed. And I justified it with shallow reasons every time, while that little voice in me tells me otherwise. ‘There is a better way than this.

There is indeed a better way to do this, but it requires a lot more patience, love, understanding, time and more patience, love, understanding and time. I have to find ways to educate the both of you on what was done wrong, what needs to be done right, and how the punishment needs to be met. There is a lot more reasoning involved, and while I do lose my temper due to the insolence of you both, I screamed and threatened, but never spanked again.

So did the earlier days of spanking helped made the both of you the way you are today? I do think so, as I’d like to see things in a positive perspective, no matter how dark it was before. I just feel that the spanking was a little too much, too overdue.

The beauty of you boys are your innocence, right now as we walked forward, and putting those caning days further and further in the past, I can see that you both are just as sensible and mischievous as before, I honestly do not expect the both of you to forget those emotionally heavy and intense days of being caned. I hope I hadn’t cane you both so badly to become emotionally scarred by the experience. And from the looks of it, no, you boys remembered the caning but no in a horrified ways. For that I’m thankful that both of you are resilient in such manner.

When you boys have kiddos of your own, I hope I’ll still be around to tell you how unnecessary it is to cane them. I hope I’ll live long enough not to protect them from your caning, but to protect you from your children’s mischief. And when you have to punish them for their misdeeds, let’s do it together, in a much more mature and novel way, sans the cane.

First Published: July 25, 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.

A Pair of Foam Dinosaurs

A Pair of Foam Dinosaurs
Foam Dinosaurs
T-Rex belonged to Ian, and the Diplodocus belonged to Wayne

Dear Boys,

As kids you will be able to make the most in-animated items as fun as any toys. Having siblings helped I guess. When you bounce of the most ridiculous ideas off each other, anything can come alive.

We got you these pair of foam dinosaurs from the Science Centre (www.science.edu.sg), when we went for the Titans of the Past Exhibition. I mean, as your dad, and as an adult, it is simply a foam cut outline of a Dinosaur. Not to the both of you.

Wayne with his Diplodocus

Throughout the journey back from Jurong home, we’d expect Wayne to fall asleep on the train, since you 2 looked beat from the whole day of fun. But no, you boys were playing and playing with your foam Dinos all the way back! There was so much things a T-Rex can tell a Diplodocus! Well, Seeing how friendly T-Rex was to  the Diplodocus was interesting, because in the Dinosaur time, one would be predator and the other, prey.

Working on the colours

This fun and play continued noisily when we boarded the bus home. You 2 took a single seat and was busily playing, there was another boy perhaps a little younger than Ian, looked on at the both of you, pensively. I observed him for a while and shared with your mum, either he was looking with a sense of envy that you boys had foam Dinos, or he was looking at the kind of fun 2 two have. From my observation, he, who appeared to be the only kid (He was with his parents, with no evidence of him having another sibling, but I could be wrong) in the family and it looked like he would like to have the same kind of fun. Having a brother, or sibling to play with certainly helps!

Finding ‘fossils’ in the sand

Anything, and everything comes alive when your 2 boys put your imagination together, otherwise, a foam dinosaur, will remain a foam dinosaur.

First Publish January 12, 2014

Yesterday is always better/worse

Your future and my past is very different

Dear Boys,

In your lifetime, you will certainly hear this from other people, and it usually goes something like:

“Back in those days…” or “In my time, things were a lot tougher! easier! better! worse!” Or “compare to our times…”You youngsters had it easy!”

Well, your dad, will probably pull the same script on you from time to time and I have been told umpteenth times by folks from all walks of life, young and old, the same thing.

Our concerns back in 1993

People will always try to compare things. And when they compare, there will only be 2 outcomes that will influence their decision making;

1- things were better in the past, so if currently things are worse off I’d better do something.

2- if things were worse in the past, and we have it better now, we’d better do something.

We all have to do something, irrespective of how well or bad things were in the past. You job, as the future, is to make things the best you can, with your resources at your given specific time and space. Sure people like to reminiscence things, tell you things of their good ‘ol days, don’t be fooled into thinking that you had it better, you will not. Neither did you had it worse, you didn’t.

Newspaper clipping from 1993

‘In my days’, when I was in national service, I wore helmets dating back to the Vietnam War, Kevlar helmets was considered a luxury, and our instructors used that as a motivation for us to do well in our obstacle course, saying we get to wear ‘Air-con’ helmets, owing to its more cooling design. Nowadays, all helmets in the Armed forces are Kevlar, and the newer ones are even better than the ones I had. I’m telling you boys this, is not to tell you that you are going to have it better. Well that is a given, but the task at hand is still very much a challenging one. It never has been any better.

My School’s Assessment Report

So the point is, don’t envy, if someone had it better in their heydays, don’t gloat if someone’s worse off than you. That was that, this is now. Your future and my past is very different, I will tell you boys stories, my experiences, do some of these ‘in my days things’ but please understand it from your context, not mine. Use my experiences as lessons, understand that problems then were different, solutions to those problems are different too. You will have your own set of problems and requires the solutions that is only appropriate at your time.

Take away one thing though, the spirit, attitude to problem solving is the same, you must apply the same tenacity, dedication and focus to solving them, the problems you have now and the problems you will have in future. And when you tell you children and the newer generation your ‘In my days’ story, please remember, that was in your days, not theirs! So give them a break!

First Publish June 15, 2015

What do you learn in an ‘Advanced’ class

For long time Aikido practitioners, it is can be difficult to discern what is a ‘beginner’s class’ and an ‘advanced’ class. Since most of the techniques we do, looks pretty much the same from the day we started training. Unlike other martial arts, where there are advanced katas, or even a special ‘elite’ group within a school that trains more intensively or exclusively for competition.

As far as I know, I haven’t heard of something like this in Aikido, as Aikido predominantly doesn’t encourage competition.

What is prevalent is this ‘advanced’ class segment, and what do we learn?

Same same, but Different

I’m not sure about other schools but for us, we are still looking at doing the same thing, irimi nage, shiho nage, the 5 Principles/ Teachings (一教 to 五教), and the usual stuffs.

The only difference is the movement, our tai sabaki is different, at different levels of proficiency, and years of practice, it will be smoother, more familiar and we are more confident with our positioning and placement. As with conditioning and muscle memory, it gets easier doing these moves day in, day out.

Herein lies the difficulty, when a beginner join us, we are not too particular with the specifics, as long as a shiho nage, looks vaguely like a shiho nage, it will be passable, and beginners are not conscious about ma-ai, stiff and uncomfortable with the movement, proximity and all that. So we would not want to overload a beginner’s sensory experience during the formative years in Aikido.

A similar example will be one of sword forging, a swordsmith will hammer a block of iron, and form the basic shape of the sword, constantly banging and banging until a crude shape of sword starts to emerge. Also removing any excess parts, constantly shaping and shaping.

Good Habits, Bad Habits

As we progress, habits are formed, some bad, some good, but without being too critical, we know what a good clean technique looks like and we work towards a high standards to executing a shiho-nage.

So in an ‘advanced’ class, we are looking to fine tune our technique, get rid of anything extra. like a small steps we take, or an extra back step, the hands might not be optimally rotated. Hips not squared nor centred.

Personally, I don’t prefer the word ‘advanced; Aikidoka, as it robs us of our focus on the beginner’s mind. Advance can distracts us from the reality that we are simply just beginning to discover our own body in relation to the waza. Advance might be a lie that we are closer to perfection, where we are much further from the truth. ‘Long time practicing Aikidoka’ sounds like a mouthful but it works for me.

‘Advanced’ Techniques

Of course you’ll see on social media, dynamic and dramatic high falls, and hip throws, fast and fluid movements in Aikido demonstrations. The reality is these folks trained very long and hard on the basic techniques, there is nothing additional in these techniques. There is no secret to how it is done. These techniques look amazing because these Aikidoka continuously polish themselves, ruthlessly removing any extra steps, deleting self doubts, cancelling out unnecessary movements and filtered down to the pure essence of body movement. They don’t move for the sake of moving, nothing is extra, everything is necessary.

Back to the swordsmith example, once the basic shape is hammered out, the sharpening and polishing begins, and the swordsmith might put the blade through many many rounds of fine grinding and minute sanding to get that shine and sharpness.

Also once the sword is made, and sharpen, it will need a regular level of attention to re-sharpen, for continuous use, fine minute adjustment here and there, regular maintenance of the entire sword, but essentially the structure is already made, it’s just the daily fine tuning here and there.

Aikido in the advance years of learning is the same, in the formative years you build the rough cut of a waza, then as you progress, you’ll make micro adjustments here and there, as you become dissatisfied with your movement, and realised that certain position is not optimal, or your uke exposes a critical flaw in your technique.

Self correct

Similarly, I implore our long time aikidokas to look at themselves to reflect, self correct, and check themselves. An honest and sincere uke is an external instrument to help us keeping ourselves grounded, ensure that we are constantly practicing, polishing and never settles for the fallacy of expert, nor perfection. There is always room for improvements, we just need to clear our clutter.