What is Aikido?

This conversation will never cease, and probably I’m just adding to the fray.

I’ve asked myself such questions from time to time to make sure that my knowledge and understanding stays relevant. It is important for me to do that so I don;t begin to assume things, and become dogmatic in thinking, at the same time I need to see how the art can evolve or become ‘bastardized’ into something else, not Aikido, yet called Aikido.

So what is Aikido?

There are plenty of explanation out there, for me I prefer the more traditional one. As long as you practice a style with a specific lineage, and belongs to some major school of Aikido style then, yes, you are practicing Aikido.

Most of the Aikido practitioners have a sensei and their sensei has a sensei, so on and so forth. You can basically trace a source back a couple of down lines to where your Aikido style comes from.

It is getting more difficult these days, when dojos are sprouting out faster than a 7-Eleven can, so tracing a linage can be a problem.

What is NOT Aikido

This is a huge grey area, as Aikido is such an open art with a very open interpretations. There are many variations of the art, as many of the masters tends to explain the mysterious ‘ki’ in their own way according to their own experience and interpretations. Many of these so called masters trained narrowly and the only training partners they faced are those limited in their dojo.

Some others might like to hijack ‘Aikido’ as a brand name and use it to define their own arts, there could be some vague resemblance to the traditional mainstream Aikido style, but these folks try to differentiate themselves by wearing an all black Gi, or have some fancy, aggressive, and dynamic looking logo, of a skull, fist or something else.

Since there is no copyright doe ‘Aikido’ as a brand, there is no way to control it. what I’m saying isn’t about control, it is about the ability to discern ‘not Aikido’ style from ‘Aikido’ style. And it is not a problem unique to Aikido. As of today, there are many Shaolin schools that teaches ‘authentic’ Shaolin kungfu, where there is actually only one place to learn Shaolin Kungfu, which is the one and only Shaolin Temple.

Me-Too Marital Arts

This points to the popularity of these martial arts so much so people what to copy it, so that they can get something out of it, be it money, or fame. These me-too martial arts while cashing in by attaching themselves to these arts, can mislead students and the general public about what these arts are.

While I welcome the evolution of Aikido, with newer understandings and emerging variations, hijacking the name Aikido, just because someone knows an Ikkyo or two, or have taken a brief class in Aikido, mixed in with Systema, and some other arts, and for a lack of a better name, decides to call it ‘Aikido’. That is something not so welcomed.

 

 

 

 

 

Aikido Plateau

Aikido Plateau

Have you ever trained until you feel as if you are no longer progressing?

Or seems like going to Aikido is kind of a sian (bothersome).

You feel like you are doing the same ol’ irimi nage with no sense of progress or improvement?

Appears to be making the same mistakes, or re-injuring the same injury point?

Or you are just simply jaded.

Welcome to the Aikido Plateau

plateau0004It happens to everyone, I guess not only just in Aikido but also in other endeavors, sometimes, you might feel like you have dropped from 85kg to 80kg and then it seems to stop at an odd 79.52kg… for a long time. Instead of losing weight, you lose interest in losing weight.

Then you feel disheartened, and tries something else, or tries harder, this time not with vigor, but a sense of feet dragging. You seem to have visited the same plateau many, many times going round in circles.

It is a feeling of same old place, same old pain, same old shit, same old same old.

It happened to me too.

That was when I was going from 2nd Kyu to 1st Kyu…I went to class like it was a drag. I’m kind of stuck in my head, not getting anywhere with training. Or I’m simply frustrated with something.

Back then I remembered I didn’t feel a sense of improvement, progress or refinement in my Aikido, or worse, I’m deteriorating! Or the Jones has caught up, or is getting better than me!

Look at the mirror

Back then I didn’t the wisdom or maturity. Right now, I don’t feel a sense of plateau anymore. Sometimes on my way to the dojo, I get a sense that I am going round in circles with the same technique, but the thought didn’t surface with anger, frustration or a sense of inadequacies within and without. It’s just a revisiting of the curriculum and it lead me to think about other techniques I can potentially do.

plateau0003More importantly, it is a sense of curiosity I bring to class, not a sense of familiarity. Every class is not the same, even the same partner you have been training with for years is not the same partner you have been training with for years. While life ebb and flow in a continuum of circle, the irony is we will never relive the same day again. In life there is no Groundhog Day.

The same circle is not the same

If you ever feel stuck like I did in the past, you need to ask yourself a very crucial question? Who’s turning up for class? Your current present self? Or your ego self? If you are bored, be careful, your ego is in play, in a bad way. You want something new, something flashy, something dynamic, you want to throw your uke in a flawless ‘Aikido style’, but you got frustrated by the reality of the struggle. Then you get upset, or to be more specific, your ego got upset. Then you fall into that same miserable feeling as if you are not improving.

What you can do

1-Train harder, think lesser.

There is a common understanding as to why potential Navy SEALs wannabes quit. Researchers found out that they usually don’t quit during their tough training, when they are swimming, or they are humping. Most SEALs student quit when they are taking a break, queuing for their meals, during downtime. They quit in expecting the tough time. The tough times didn’t make them quit, thinking or over-thinking the tough times made them ring the bell.

plateau0002Similarly Aikido training is nowhere near as tough as SEALs training. But thinking of the impending boredom can kill the zest of an aspiring Aikidoka. Don’t over-think, and especially on the mat, don’t think, don’t anal-yze your movements, your failures. Train harder, and be less critical when you screw up. Let your body, your physicality helps you shut the ego up. Just shut the bleep up and bloody train LIKE MAD.

2-Take a break

It is not something I deemed necessary now as I don’t have a sense of plateau anymore. In my younger days, it seems to help not turning up for training say, for a month. A slight hiatus will help refresh your mind, and let the body take a break from the usual tenkan and irimis. 

On hindsight, I felt that my hiatus back then was totally unnecessary and it reflects a kind of escapist attitude, and shows lack of commitment. But hey, if it works for you to take one step back and then two steps forward, why not?

3- Talk to someone

Your senpais 先輩, and fellow classmates will feel the same plateau as you, talk it out and it is a great morale booster. That is why we have a dojo, with a community to help each other. If your sensei isn’t too fierce, talk to your sensei and he/she can help you unstuck your technique and potentially get you out of your rut.

There is a higher calling

If you are bored, there is another voice in you calling for a higher standards of training, and skill. It is not a feeling of ‘plateau’ but a hint you are on a verge of getting deeper into your discipline. There is always a new discoveries to be made, even with the same ol’ Shihonage. Just two evenings back, I did a technique which was quite familiar to me, and Harry sensei came along and told me to take a bigger side-step. I did and the entire, seemingly familiar technique changed; I learned some finer, more elaborate details I previously missed in the technique.

Had I succumb to my plateau and took a break, I would have missed that potential chance of making that small minor improvements that helps deepen my understanding of a familiar and simple technique.

So plateau is a state of mind, you need to be careful why you feel like that and instead of getting frustrated, let your curiosity investigates the plateau. It is a time to dig deeper and train harder. Taking a break is not something I’d recommend now, but if you need to, and it does helps you overcome the boredom, why not? Who’s judging anyway? 🙂

plateau0001

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.