How long have you been training?

I’ve often been asked, ‘How long have you been training in Aikido?’ Sometimes I would reveal the actual chronological investment I’ve made. More often than not, my response was ‘Long enough.’ The period of time often does not accurately indicate the amount of skill a person has. Especially in martial arts.

I understand that now with the ubiquitous ranking system, being a Kyu or Dan actually meant something to some folks. Generally it should indicate a level of proficiency, But its a nice concept for the more logical mind to grasp. as it gives people a sense of progress. In our go getter, result oriented world, visual progress is important. in businesses, we always have metrics and indexes to measure result against the goals we set. KPIs, or Key Performance Index is one of them. Many folks migrate this kind of quantitative measurements over when they take up martial arts. How many medals taken. For boxing, how many wins, KOs, loss. So in Aikido, do you set a goal to attain a dan grade by…?

For modern Aikido, we have our own KPIs too, ‘Ki’ Performance Index? Upon getting a dan grade, you’ll get this Yudansha booklet, a passport size book where you can get Shihan to stamp and endorse your participation in his training. So theoretically speaking the more stamps and ‘autographs’ you got, the better you are? So does it helps to measure a Aikidoka ‘KPI’ when you have the entire book filled? Pardon my ignorance as I’m still figuring out how does having the whole book filled measures a practitioner’s competency. I mothballed by Yudansha the moment I got it, and it will stay that way for as long as I live.

I’ve followed Harry sensei from the time I started until now, and I probably would do so until one of us dies first. There is so much that he has to teach that I cannot absorb fully for me to learn from another sensei. My learning from him is never complete, neither his teaching. It’s always work in progress. Sometimes he still finds difficulty transmitting his idea and experience to us, because at our level we do not comprehend what he sees at his level. So what does that says about him as a 6th dan? And what does it says about us? Does it mean that being a more senior belt, we display more competency to absorb his transmission? So what if I’ve practised for such a long time and yet I’m still as ignorant and clumsy as ever?

Finishing moves

Finishing moves

‘When we have an ego, we will always want to throw our partner.’

Harry sensei not focusing on throwing the uke. The uke fell on his own merit

Harry sensei always scolds us for focusing on throwing our partner, which points to our overly inflated ego. He always says that, ‘When we have an ego, we will always want to throw our partner.’ We want to look good throwing our uke, and in that myopic quest, we missed out the more salient focus, improving ourselves, our technique.

I’ve long known that we need not worry about our uke, as long as we do the waza properly. The uke will fall if the technique is proper and complete.

What I failed to understand is what Harry sensei is driving at. It is not about the technique, properly executed. It is the finishing.

Where is the point of finishing?

As we continue our practice in Aikido, it seems like a lengthy, longitudinal continuum. Practice never ends, or we actually do not know where it ends. Or more microscopically, we think our technique ends when our partner falls, and we end up focusing on the throw, and gets scolded by Harry sensei, for doing our technique improperly.

In a metaphorical sense, Aikido is like life. It is never ending, a circle. There is no beginning, nor ending, so we keep doing our waza, day in, day out, and gets scolded the same way, so much so we are numb to our sensei’s nagging. It all sounds the same. Not it is not the same, once there is a level of epiphany to open our minds to what our sensei is actually saying.

New level of understanding

There is an ending and beginning in a circle, we as humans, sees it, as the Earth revolves around the Sun, day will end and night will begin, as a part of a continuous process. As Aikidoka, we train to become discerning to where it ends and begins.

So our waza does not end wiith us throwing  our uke.

Our uke takes an ukemi as the consequence of our finishing.

Where we look at the problem, is the problem

That is very much a cliché, but it is true, in this aspect. Harry sensei has seen this happening for decades; techniques that are too fast, or too slow, to jerky, too stiff, not soft enough (one of his pet gripes), not relaxed and the list goes on.

All these problems point towards the focus on throwing our uke. We as the nage wants to throw, lock, pin our uke, as in a role, our uke is ‘attacking’ us, and we need to ‘defend’ ourselves. This thought process does not escapes us in the technique and we get arrested by the thinking that we have to successfully defend ourselves, by throwing, locking and/or pinning our uke. We seal the deal, even before the uke commence the ‘attack’.

Aikido is continuum

Aikido practice is much bigger than that, as part of the continuum of life, we need to discern and decide where our waza ends, and it ends at the point where our uke takes the fall. After that, everything belongs to the uke, which is the falling. The problem begins, when we extend our influence into the uke’s fall, which is totally unnecessary, and that is where the ego rears is head.

it is the form, not the falling

So we do not decide when the uke will fall, of course, in an irimi nage for example, we will know, from practice; when the fall comes, and we focus on that ending. So we need to free ourselves from that, and let the fall comes, when it comes. We are not determinant of the fall, we can’t, that is the uke’s job. Our job is our job, to execute the technique and focus on improving ourselves using the good grace of the uke’s participation.

When we have an uke who is selfless, skilled and totally devoted to the role of an uke, we as the nage cannot mess things up by stepping into and influencing the uke’s ability to take a fall. Let the uke fall, we just focus on improving our technique, and constantly polish again and again with the help of the uke.

Harry sensei is human

Harry sensei is human

I’ve been training with Harry sensei, since I joined Aikido. That was more than 20 years ago, and while the thought of looking for other sensei has occurred to me, I never really gotten around to actually do that. I don’t know if it is a ‘loyalty’ thing, or what, but I like training with him and I cannot see myself training under another sensei.

Harry sensei is slowly inching towards eighty. He is human, and while he ages, his Aikido will slowly degrades. I can sense it as I’ve been training with him for a long time. He is still sharp, and very technically sound with his Aikido, but you can feel the strength waning. All martial arts is still a matter of physics, muscles, youth still trumps with strength and brute force. Aikido will all the blending can only blend so much. A bone will still crack and break if you put the strength of a young 20 year-old karateka in a straight punch.

Don’t get me wrong, Harry sensei still has it in him, he can still move, he still amazes people, upsetting their balance with a flick of his wrist.  But the day will come where he will no longer be able to do it.

The question for me is, as his uke, will I still allow him throw me around.

When that time comes, as his uke, do I still continue to fall, ala charity. Or not fall, as he will not be able to make me?

It makes me melancholy just to think of that. I will never forget the video clip showcasing Morihiro Saito and his uchideshi, Tristan Da Cunha. It was so obvious that Tristan was giving charity fall, as Saito sensei is no longer effective as an Aikidoka, but he is still Tristan’s teacher. (Loyalty illustrated)

I’m not sure if the general public, or even practicing Aikidoka can understand that when, Harry sensei reaches that age, I’d probably do what sempai Tristan did as well, to give “charity fall”. While the entire thing will surely look fake, I certain do hope that people can see the spirit and the connection between two persons training together for a very long time, the connection between the teacher and the student, the connection between a sunset and sunrise. While the sun sets, into darkness and gives in to the moon, the sun never really goes away.

Metaphorically, that is how it goes, Aikido is very much like the sun, it will not go away, and the warmth and light will still be felt, very much long after the sensei is gone. The only question is that, what will the student, become?

Back in Bukit Merah SAFRA Dojo, I was holding a brown belt, try and spot me!

 

When your time is up…

A few evenings back, we had our class in a small room, which is long and narrow. It wasn’t the best place to train, but it was the best place to listen to Harry sensei, because in the enclosed confines, we can finally hear our soft-speaking sensei clearly!

He is 78 years old this year, and he spoke about a lot of things, many of which was memorable, one specific thing that stayed with me was the existence of our lives.

Sensei is 78 years old.

He mentioned something like, ‘When someone reaches 80, and asks god if it is time, and sometimes god will decide, well if this person is still useful to others, let this person stay for another year or two.’

That is not in his exact words, but it was enlightening.

What Harry sensei said forces us to think above and beyond ourselves. Specific to training in martial arts, we tend to get caught up in ‘my’ movement, and how ‘I’ throw the opponent, and ‘I’ control the situation. Everything we made up to be, it is all ‘we’.

Although the lives we lived are often a very egocentric, we are born, live a life, and die in the most personal way, no one else can die for us, except ourselves, and no one else can live our lives except us. But the irony is, our existence will not have happened the way it did, had it not been for other people. We cannot be who we are today, without the help and assistance of other people.

So we fear death, and try to hold it at a distance, hoping to live a few more years, doing the things we love. What Harry sensei say urges us to be above and beyond that, we need to live our lives helping other people, make ourselves useful- to other people. Let us become a tool for other to become better people, we extend our lives and longevity as long as we continue to be useful to other people and the world and society at large.

At his ripe old age, Harry sensei is a far more optimistic person than I am. Prior to the class, I was caught in my own familiar self-depreciating mood, questioning my own existence, and the seemingly ‘groundhog day’ mentality. Everyday seems to be the same to me. Even Aikido training feels the same… perhaps it was a plateau…until you hear an old Aikidoka says that. At that age, and pretty much sees whatever he has seen in life, he is still learning, still thinking of how to contribute to others.

While we think of the ‘I” in an egocentric circle, we want people to need us, so we try to build ourselves to a level of importance that makes us feels as if we are the centre of activity. Contrary to that, we need other people too, and these people are as fragile as us. As much as I like to dwell in my own finite existence, Harry sensei said something that tells me, we have to be nice to other people, because as much as we will not be around for our next breath, others are also having the same existential crisis. They might not be around for the next breath, and we might lose that opportunity to show kindness and love to these folks who, we need, and needed us.

Life is communication

Life is communication

One flawed parenting script was to say “I never want my kids to go through the same hardship I did.”

Dear Boys,

I was wondering why are Hollywood actors paid so much? I mean, there is no such thing a Batman, and yet, Christian Bale are making tonnes of money playing a fictitious character. Why is George Lucas earning like crazy having created Star Wars from nothing. It is insane to earn that kind of money doing something that is essentially non-existent!

So are actors liars? They basically fake it to make it. So much props and effects to make something imaginative look real. Everything that is take as fake, people flocked to watch it. This can extends to business people, politicians, religious leaders, cult leaders, motivational speakers.

The I realised. It all boils down to one word: COMMUNICATION.

Nothing, absolutely nothing works, without communication. There will be no team work, no collaboration, no celebrations, no creation, no life, no nothing. everything; DEAD.

These talented people are not liars, they didn’t create nothing out of nothing. Everything that happens, brought into the world, are work. Work that people communicated with others, to get them to do the work in a way, one single person cannot do. Communication is the key to life.

It is not only our human dimension, communication on a broader sense, works in ways can cannot be seen. A flower, communicates with the bees, through their vibrant colours. All mediums possible are used for communication, sound, light, magnets, weather, radio waves, cosmic energy.

Interaction happens all the time, like it or not. It is only in our capacity as a human being to facilitate the interactions through meaningful communication.

That boils down to another important point, “SELF-Communication.”

If you boys has been brought up from birth, being told that you have been disadvantaged, bullied, the world is unfair, unkind, unwavering, all the messages you both will get is that, you need to be self centered, cruel, manipulative to survive. If the message is that of grace, gratitude and greatness, then you boys will be empowered, decisive and resourceful. The self communication starts with communication within the family. Sure; as your dad, I am also a human adult with my own limits, fears, flaws and pain. My own self communication is also a work in progress, but of course, I need to make my communication to the both of you a different matter. I try as much as I can, tell you boys stories, inspire you, motivate you, and keep my own demons away from your child’s purity. Sometimes I succeed, more often I fail. My dad’s communication with me wasn’t the most ideal, and most of  the things I’ve learned, I was glad I learned it from the good friends I had with me since young.

One flawed parenting script was to say “I never want my kids to go through the same hardship I did.” In fact, as a parent, your dad, I cannot fully protect you from all the pain and suffering in the world, that’s not a dad’s job. My job is to arm you boys with the right resources to deal with all the cruelties and unfairness the world is going to duke it out with you. You both is most likely going to walk the same path I did, faced with the same kind of shit I went through, I can’t stop that, but I can given you guys a better message in your head, than what my dad gave me. I want you boys to be armed with a superior mode of communication, a better way you talk to yourself, to get yourself out of limbo. You can walk the same difficult path as you parents did, with the limited resources, but you will know the path better, more prepared, we will help you along, but you, and you alone have to walk that path, with your own skill, your own level of self communication. If all your self communication is a constant berating, self depreciating, own-self  blame own-self type of mind script, then your journey will be difficult, no matter how much resources you have.

So there you have it, the fundamental difference between a Hollywood star and a Prison convict is that constant self talk in their head. One is able to skillfully communicate the emotions and roles so much so that the people watching it shed tears, paid millions, adored by all. Or one who is able to manipulate his/her victims for their own self centred gains, to succeed criminal goals, damage society, and hurt those people who loved them so much. More importantly, I hope I am able to arm you boys with good, quality self talk so that you boys grow up to become strong independent men, capable of inspiring people with your ability to communicate your goals and aspirations. That all starts from within.

Love as the ultimate epiphany

Love as the ultimate epiphany

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

I have to record this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published on: Jan 20, 2015 @ 01:52

Aikido is action

Aikido is action

 

This is why Aikido is so difficult to learn. Because this ‘reaction’ that we can relate in Aikido is not that of physics, but that of metaphysic, the not-so-visible movement in life.

Aikido is dependent on action. Period.

We can all talk about ki until we run out of it, but Aikido works simply because there is action, If in the case of ‘NATO’- No Action, Talk Only, Aikido will not work.

But it is more complex than that. Because we know that Aikido is dependent on action, we attempt to provoke the other person into action, and then justify the use of our Aikido against the action/aggression that we’ve provoked. The action was not started by the other person’s action, because the other person is not not the aggressor, you are the aggressor.

As mentioned, Aikido is dependent on action, if that aggression arises in your sub-conscious, into your conscious, and from there you scheme and plot mind games to create an outburst of anger from the other person, then you might not have an equal or opposite reaction. Simply because, you caused the action, and the other person is simply giving you an ‘equal and opposite reaction’, and simply because you cannot really, accurately gauge your own action, you might not be able to handle an ‘equal and opposite reaction’ coming your way.

So Aikido is dependent on action, generally not that of yours. That doesn’t mean that Aikido is latent, as it is not. It is a very sensitive art, you have to make sure the action is pure, and the reaction is purer. If you act first with impunity, then the spirit of Aikido is lost. If you act too late, then the spirit of Aikido is lost too, and perhaps your life as well.

Hence, it is an equal and opposite reaction.

To be able to respond to an action, with an equal and opposite reaction, one must not only react, but react with the clarity of a human being. Anyone can kill, maim and injure, it takes a highly conscious human being to be able to hold back, and protect, even in the most devastating moments. In all moments of death and destruction, we must strive to give an equal and opposite reaction, and not to add to the damage.

  • The opposite reaction to war, is peace.
  • The opposite reaction to fighting, is non-violence.
  • The opposite reaction to hurt, is love
  • The opposite reaction to pride and jealousy, is humility and acceptance.

So, reaction is not reaction in the purest, animal sense. We are human as animal, and we are endowed with a conscious choice, so if you are trained, and trained well, you will react, to an action, with not too much, nor too little, but with suffice equal and opposite reaction.

So please, react, and react well.

Published on: Feb 23, 2014 @ 22:30