Sharer not Teacher

Sharer not Teacher

I always enjoy a good chat with Steven and I told him about my recent experience teaching Aikido. We both have very similar ideas towards teaching, or in his context, sharing.

As mentioned in my earlier blog post, I decided to ‘teach’ and not split my efforts trying to train. We explored in depth and agreed that teaching brings a practitioner’s journey to full circle, and teaching doesn’t mean that learning stops, there are other learning points as a teacher. If you don’t learn something while you’re teaching, then there is a valuable opportunity wasted!

So while I decided to teach, I also walk away with plenty of lessons for myself to become a better teacher, person and sharer of knowledge.

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Knowledge is knowledge shared

Steven is right to point out, we are all amassing our own nuggets of wisdom and knowledge and if they are not shared, they will be gone… just like that, when we die. I’ve been in Aikido for more than half of my life and that would count for something as a sharing. Aikido as an art is constantly evolving, as the people trained in this discipline are evolving through the various societal pressures and adjustments. I have to play my small part to help perpetuate Aikido into the future, and make sure the link to the past is not forgotten.

As a practitioner, I’m beginning to see the growing importance to make sure I impart Aikido to those who are keen to take it from me. (I almost wanted to type ‘younger’ guys, but I stopped myself, it would have a mindset, limiting myself to a stereotypical knowledge transfer from old to young.)

Not always so.

Not being a conceited teacher 

There is a reluctance to teach due to a competency issue, but we discussed rightfully that I never wanted to teach, but the students found the teacher in me. This is an important revelation for me, as I need to be very careful, do I want to teach, when I am not ready? Or would I fall into a trap where I am ready to teach and yet, turn away from becoming one?

It is a judgement call, and I’m glad I made the right call.

It is kind of the same in my perspective of getting your grade. Say if you got a black belt, there is a few scenarios:

  1. Your level of skills does not meet the requirements of a black belt (work harder!)
  2. Your level of skills exceed the requirements of a black belt (long overdue!)
  3. Your level of skills meet the requirements of a black belt (almost never happens!)

So similarly, taking on a role of a teacher, I am very acutely trying to avoid scenario 1, where I wear a hat too big for myself. Scenario 2 is where I think I am at, and at the same time, I need to play my own devil’s advocate and make sure I do not become scenario 3, which mean I would have a level of conceit seeping in. Which is not only not good for me, but worse for the people I’m trying to teach. (On hindsight, there is also a level of conceit in scenario 2, if we are not careful!!)

Share, Transfer, not Teach

Steven shared with me an experience he had with one of his art students, the student wanted Steven to teach him how to draw like way Steven does his drawing. To which Steven replied: “I cannot teach you, but I can show you, how this pencil is held in my hand, and how my arm move, and create the drawing as desired. But I cannot teach your hand and your arm how to move to create that drawing.” I think that student was very disappointed. He has to draw his own drawings the way his hands and arms move he pencil.

But Steven is right, there is no way for us to really ‘teach’.

At the end of the day…

…there is really nothing to teach that the student already not know. You cannot teach what the students are not ready or unwilling to learn. I’m very thankful that my fellow Aikidokas, juniors, seniors and peers alike sees a value in my perspective and is generally encouraging towards my effort in imparting my knowledge to them.

Please enjoy!

It is a phrase I use often when I am taking a class, and I am a firm believer in enjoyment. While there is a martial arts part of Aikido class, where you need decisiveness to defeat an opponent in a potential life and death situation, it doesn’t mean a dojo have to have that aura.

Training needs to be tough, in a way people enjoys it. My aim is to make it enjoyable for people to attend class.

Come on, let’s be realistic, Aikidokas are humans and have a life, they left their life and give 2 hours to you so that you can show them some Aikido stuffs. They need to learn something, enjoy the journey, it is not a Special Forces selection class. They came by choice and they can leave by choice. Let the students enjoy the lessons so that they can better absorb the experience.

Show and tell

Likewise, a valuable lesson I learned from Steven, which basically crystallizes my thought-process further. There is nothing to teach, I can only show and tell the class how I do what I do, and what is effective for me, which might not be effective for them, they need to take what I’ve shared, and do a little show and tell for themselves to see if it works for them. If it doesn’t, well, don’t take it. Take it but put it aside, you might find a need for that sometime down the road.

So all a teacher can do is show and tell. And thinking about a class like a sharing session, a laboratory, a test-bed for dialogue, not a monologue. Going in to teach risks a monologue, sharing helps me learn what my students can share with me in return and together, both the ‘teacher’ and student grow and mature together.

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It’s ’bout damn time

It’s about damn time.

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

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

I decided to teach, I mean really teach.

WHAT???

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

How many times have we heard that before?

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

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

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

How to find an Aikido Teacher

How to find an Aikido Teacher

Of course I’d be biased.

I have the best Aikido teacher in the world!

After more than 2 decades with Harry sensei, it has been decided that he will be my Aikido teacher as good as a marriage vow; “Till death do us part.”

Well, isn’t that Aikido? The first ‘ai’ being 爱? Love is universal and that’s one thing I learned from Harry sensei.

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Love-

He loved all of his students, in a rather naive and unconditional way. That aside, he criticized everyone just about the same, almost ‘drill-instructor’ like. No matter how well you did, there is always room for him to say something disparaging. There will be always something wrong in everyone’s technique although some might be better than others, irrespective of how good you are in iriminage, he will always chide the entire class for not turning enough, or entering enough. that is always something not enough about our technique. But as much as he criticizes us, he love us all the same.

That means he can be quite a disarming person, that’s a nicer way to say ‘vulnerable’. People can and has made use of him for their own selfish gains. He shrugged them off and continue with his teaching. He has never harbor vengeance or seek legal recourse for those who has done harm to him. he is simply not interested in dealing with people who hurt, even those who hurt him.

He wants you to be better than him

Admit it, his level of Aikido is at a level high that no one can attain. At the same time, he is aging, weakening as the days eats into his life. I can feel it being his uke, he is not as sharp, as strong as he use to be. As a younger person, I can be better than him. And he wants you to be that, but not the artificial better, the genuinely better, kind of better.

As his uke for so many years, I’ve always received fully from him, he has never held back, kept a secret move, and gives you that twinkle of the eye, to hint that he still knows a few tricks and you don’t, and you are not privileged to get his ‘secrets’; there is simply no such thing with Harry sensei. He has never kept anything from us, and if we, granted the ability to learn all there is to learn from him, he will teach you all he as to teach, and more. There is really no secrets to Harry sensei’s teaching, the only problem is we are not open enough to receive his gifts fully.

There are times he don’t say a lot, that doesn’t mean that he is keeping these Aiki secrets to his graves, or he is saving these secrets for that special someone ton take over the helm. He has no successor, nor has an interest in appointing one. He treats everyone the same, and he scolds everyone the same, well almost, being his students for so long, he has a soft spot for ladies, my sensei is a gentleman.

Do as I do, not as I say

He told us to follow him, and do exactly what he does. And don’t question that. Don’t ask why, don’t ponder, don’t think. Don’t seek the answers. Just do what he is doing to our best ability. He said that simply because he admits that at times he is not able to explain. It is ‘in him’ and the only way to show how, is to show how, it cannot be spoken of nor explained.

So he wants us to copy him, not to be like him, but to understand how Harry sensei moves and understands Aiki, so that we can become better than him. We can use what Harry sensei has, and incorporate it what what we have, and comes up with something better than what Harry sensei has, a newer better version.

Of course, if you do things too far off the Aiki-do, he will rebuke you sharply, With so many years of experience, he can spot a wayward egomaniac easily. When you have a basic understanding of Aikido, he will leave you alone to develop yourself and become creative with your technique. Ever-so-watchful, if you stray, he will make sure he brings you back in line.

He is the best guide.

As my sensei, I see him as my guide. and helps me with my journey. Basically we are walking the path he has trodden for many decades. It is the same path we use, and he continues to point out to us, where we have gone wrong, where we got lost in our technique, his voice and guidance steers us back to track. When we are on track, he pushes us to keep going.

He knows that while the path is the same for everyone, everyone takes the path at a different pace. I have never seen him compare one student to another, he has often used students as example. Like how he said Tri comees to the dojo and trains, even if it mean that there is only 15 minutes left in class. He has compared and say Tri is better than you, or you are not as good as Tri.

All he says is:

  • Tri like Aikido,
  • Tri comes to training even if it is just 15 minutes left,
  • Tri is hardworking,
  • Be like Tri.

Harry sensei nurtures

I’ve seen many students, really sub-par (that’s me, being critical) and it frustrates me to see him teach these new students. Some of these students have serious, motor movements, clumsy like hell, can’t do a tenkan, and takes forever to learn an irimi. He can turn these rocks into gems. He has all the the patience and acceptance in the world to temper these rough cuts. Ah Beng being one of the many, he’s been in the the dojo for years, and as a beginner many years back, he was clumsy and took a long time to learn the ropes, far longer than an ‘average’ beginner Aikidoka. But he keeps on coming back, and now being a brown, he is at a level where he posses enough skills and competency to move like an aikidoka. Such is the heart of Harry sensei, he brings out the best in the ‘lousiest’ students. As long as you have the heart and grit, and keeps coming back, he will turn you into a decent Aikidoka, no matter how long it takes.

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He is hands-on

Until today, he stills vacuums the dojo floor, mops and lay the mats. We students as much as we can help it, will come as early as we can to help him, but he has never waited for anyone to do it for him. If it so happens that everyone is late, he would have set up class all by himself, at Shihan, 7th dan, close to eighty years of age, he has never taken his status nor seniority for granted. He has never asked for anything to be done for him. I fold his hakama because I want to, he didn’t ask for it. He is never high handed in how he wants his students to ‘serve’ him.

He is human

He is not into fancy twirling or high falls, and dramatic throws, he wants us to roll low, and keep safe. Nothing is worth high risk, unless absolute necessary. Minimizing impact is one way he has learned to live to this age without much serious injury.

He doesn’t do anything extraordinary, he explained aikido in the most basic fundamental way, he is just frustrated at times, when we as his students failed to grasp his teaching, which is often so simple and easy. All we need to do is to surrender ourselves, wholeheartedly and unreservedly to his teaching, and that is simply the hardest thing to do.