Everything has changed

Everything has changed

The whole world is no longer the same. We all heard of the cliche ‘The only constant is change.’ Heraclitus said that, a long time ago. Human beings are stubborn creatures embracing homeostasis long after being stoic means to be dead.

Aikido along with all other marital arts, or contact sports, are forced to change, there is no more choosing or delaying. Change is unceremoniously gate crashing onto us. COVID-19 has made all physical contact near impossible, and as human beings it is near impossible to refrain from physical contact.

What is the new norm?

Honestly I’m not sure. Many Aikidoka suggests we do weapons training, which naturally gives us social distancing, but what about kote gaishi? What about irimi nage? From where I am in Singapore, the authorities has banned groups of more than 5 people. For an Aikido class, that means, the instructor, and 4 other students. Yay…soooo exciting. Other instructors has gone hi-tech, and holds virtual classes, and yet, these are still contactless.

  • So what happens to the rest of us who are left out?
  • What happens if we have no access to Zoom, or hates Aikido E-learning?
  • Or if we are the 6th person?…oops… too bad, next class then!

Does that means that with all my 20 odd years in Aikido is all for nothing?

I’ve been out for Aikido for the past 4 months (or more, lost count!) and many of us has more pressing bread and butter issues to deal with than to think about Aikido training. Many lost their jobs, me included, or worse, lost their loved ones to COVID19, and are constantly fighting a day to day battle to keep themselves upbeat. or just simply pay the bills. The last thing on our mind is training.

So put it plainly, Aikido, is in fact, pretty much useless in this pandemic, Ki cannot fight the corona virus, only our brave healthcare workers can help us with our fight. Honestly, even if O’sensei is alive, I bet he would be at a loss as how to handle this situation. There is simply nothing a martial art system is capable of dealing with this. It is almost like bringing a pen knife to a gun fight. so we all have to heed the advise of medical professionals, be good boys and girls, stay away from physical contact as much as possible, wear a mask, sanitize and keep good personal hygiene. Even O’sensei have to do that, if he is still alive; he is, after all, only human.

The irony is Aikido never left our psyche even when we have other pressing issues to deal with, it is a necessary luxury that keeps us going mad in this crazy time. O’sensei might not have any answer to a COVID19, but he left us with something more valuable, our humanity, in a form known as Aikido.

Practice, practice and practice

While we cannot physically practice, we can still practice the precepts and virtues of Aikido, which is peace, love and harmony. while we cannot enter a physical dojo, we have to enter the dojo in our mind, Aikido is simply an end, we have to find other means to get there.

Practice Peace

Similarly in a dojo, where we do not want to wish our uke harm, we have to engage the people around us with peaceful intent. If harm comes our way, we have to engage it constructively, tenkan (転換)-turn away to neutralise the harm, physical or verbal. Or irimi-tenkan-enter and turn, agree to disagree, allow the person to enter and then turn him or her towards a more peaceful and constructive resolution. We must try to change and convert an incendiary situation to something less destructive.

This is difficult for me to do, as I have a critically cynical mind, which I am learning to self-disarm. So I try to practice peace, even more so now when we are faced with Covidiots- who refused to wear a mask in public, and will continue to refuse, no matter what. Remember, it is the virus that’s trying to kill us, not our fellow human beings.

Practice Love

The good ol’ days back in 2016

This one is really tough, even in the dojo, when our uke attacks us, do we want to ‘love’ our uke? Not really, our constantly combative mind will want to turn even the most harmonious Aikido waza in to a man-killing, harm neutralizing technique. We constantly think that our uke is the ‘attacker’ and we need to ‘protect’ ourselves from ‘harm’ at all cost, or at least, more harm to the uke than to me? That’s what self defense is, isn’t it?

So the concept of Love in Aikido levels the playing field, the nage and uke are just elements in contact and play, and now that we cannot have contact, we can still play. Love means we need to be less spiteful to someone who do not understand, refuse to understand the seriousness of the matter. Some might even think it is fake news, and some government cockamimi to control us.

Practicing Love in Aikido mean that we look at what matters to us most. Skeptics are skeptics because they fear change, and like to keep to a constant ‘known’ where they can feel safe and secure. In some sense, as Aikidokas, we are also susceptible to becoming a skeptic, so we have to learn to love ourselves, allay that frightened little skeptic in us and find the right answers to help us learn and become more knowledgeable.

more Kokyu-Ho in future?

Harmony

We all try to maintain a harmonious aura in the dojo, which is quite easy due to the tight culture in a dojo, there is a sensei, there are senpai(先輩), there are kōhai (後輩), and there is the uniform and the martial arts curriculum, it’s a school afterall and it helps keeps us sane with a structure where we can follow.

The world right now is in a tumultuous stage, and we need all the harmony we can get, and it starts with us. We need to bring our dojo out to the world and understand that, while we learn the Way of Aiki in the dojo, we need to learn the Way of the Virus, Covido, to put a pun in it. The virus is virtually invisible, like ki, if ki is the ‘life-force’; the virus is the ‘death-force’, we can only defeat it by learning more about it. The senseis and senpais are the good people in the medical profession, saving lives while trying to find out more about the virus, and the possible cure. Our kōhai are the people less educated about COVID19, our job is to keep them safe, help them learn about COVID19, like how we are helping them learn Aikido, many of us turn up in the dojo skeptics and it is our senseis and senpais that helped changed us. We as Aikidokas, or martial arts practitioners let’s bring the harmony we practice in the dojo, out and spread it to the world, which needs it more than ever.

Slow-mo Aikido

Slow-mo Aikido

Last night, I gave a class, and as a warm up, I asked the class to do a basic Aikido technique “Taino Tenkan“, or more colloquially known as “Tenkan“.

This is the basic block of Aikido. Every beginner knows this. So let’s make it a little different.

It’s not something new that I’m doing, so I told them to slow down, while they do their tenkan. Instead of the normal speed, slow down, slow down, S-L-O-W D-O-W-N…

Apparently, it seems to be a tall order.

The students cannot slow down. Those who did, did it more in counting a cadence… 1-2-3-4, 2-2-3-4… That’s not what I meant.

SSSSSSSLLLLLLLOOOOOOOWWWWWW DDDDDDDOOOOOOWWWWWWNNNN….

It wouldn’t take more than a second to do a tenkan. Faster still 0.8 seconds, it can go faster than that. But that is not the point. I want the tenkan to be dragged, longer, perhaps 5 seconds, but that is not my point either. I want to slowness to bring about awareness…

Anyone can go fast, it is always a trade off, you go fast, technique will be compromised. While it needs skills to go fast, you need just as much skills to go slow. It is not easy, when you want it done, slowly, smoothly, with full awareness.

When you tenkan slowly, you will need to bring attention to your muscular contractions, movement and direction. The position of your legs, hips, shoulders and tension will become obvious. When things become static, there is no momentum for you to capitalise and use to your advantage.

Slow Tenkan is full tai sabaki

All Aikido movement is tai sabaki, there is no ‘part 1- leads to part 2 leads to part 3’. In any Aikido movement, everything moves, there is no body parts to isolate. when you slow down the tenkan, your uke has more advantage than you, he is simply holding your wrist, while you try to tenkan slowly. you have to move in such a slow deliberate manner while he has every advantage to shift his body weight to counter-act you.

So when you move slowly, you need to use your entire body to respond to a wrist grab. You need to become more aware than just that grab, and in order for you to neutralise the grab, you need to learn to shift the body, and become aware of how shifting the body changes your partner’s centre of gravity in such a manner that you are able to gain a superior position.

Centre and rhythm

The focus for most novice is the legs, as they often mistake the movement originating from the legs. While it is true to a certain sense, to really master a martial art, the movement comes from the hips, the legs, is simply an apparatus to  transports the body to a more advantageous place desired.

So when a tenkan happens, the centre shifts and moves to accommodate the uke, the leg simply carry out an ‘instruction’ to move, and the pivot point, again, comes from the hips, the leg cannot pivot, the hips can. The turn of tenkan comes from a concentrated focus on the hips, which is why when a tenkan is done properly, it is very difficult to counter. And tenkan is very difficult to master, simply because most people are unable to connect at the hips.

I want the class to slow down, so that there is rhythm. If the uke is static, the nage respond appropriately. If the uke is skilled and fluid, the nage respond appropriately. What usually happens is a dead kind of Aikido, where the nage will do what the nage does in a fixed, consistent tempo, irrespective of who the uke is and what the uke brings to the table. When you slow down, and pay attention to rhythm, the technique comes alive, because rhythm is existential. If you are stuck in your own tempo, you will be defeated, because when your opponent can catch your tempo, they can exploit it. Rhythm, on the other hand, relies on what your partner brings to the table and your movement, speed, tempo, will be an appropriate response, then the relationship comes alive.