theaikidad

Aikido, Parenting and Everything in Between

I Do

I Do

Dear Boys,

This is not about a wedding vow.

It is about something just as important and just as life changing, perhaps even more.

It is about suicide.

Let me be honest here.

Your dad has thought about it.

And is sometimes thinking about it still.

What is suicide?

I’ll not be clinical here, as you boys can read about it in the many, many journals out there. I’m also not trained or studied (in a serious academic way) in psychology or psychiatry. I know suicide in my own personal, macabre, deep dark way.

It’s not a sad thing, nor happy thing.

It is mostly an existential thing. Like what is the purpose of struggle? The purpose of life? Those big profound ‘cheem, cheem’ (deep, deep) stuff. These thoughts keeps me up, and they still do.

Sometimes it can be very mundane things like annoying colleagues, the day to day struggles, and why we do it. It can be as easy as lazy to live. Yes, it can be a chore to get up, get dressed, get up the next day and groundhog day, over and over and over and over and over again, and again, and again…monotony kills.

Just writing about it puts me in that train of thought…

Anyway…

Why I hadn’t kill myself yet.

Contrary to many out there who thinks that suicide is a form of escaping reality, it is in fact a very courageous thing to do, under some circumstances of suicide. It takes a tremendous amount of energy and will power to set up a rope to hang yourself, or to cut yourself to bleed dry, or hurl yourself off a building. It is not an easy thing to do. In fact it is one of the hardest thoughts any living being can entertain.

It is a powerful thought to have in your mind about killing yourself, and it is not necessarily a good or bad thing. It is a thing.

So use that thing, that powerful thing purposefully. Of course if your purpose is kill yourself, then perhaps its your thing then.

What is more salient here is the powerful thing you have. I learned about this when I heard one Mediacorp Actress/Host, I think it was Irene Ang who said that you need a tremendous amount of will power to kill yourself ( I think she was speaking from experience) and why not use that willpower to kill yourself, to do good and live? And that made sense to me

The other reason why I hadn’t kill myself

Your mother, she will not let me die. If I’d kill myself, she’d revive me and kill me herself. Joking lah. On a serious note, she is the meaning of my life. Sorry boys, you both comes in second. Really, without her, I’d have no meaning.

But with suicide tendency, it is an ironic twist. It took me a while to look outside of my own selfishness to see her. In the past, I’d still think of killing myself, despite of what she has done for me, and after all the love and affection we have shown each other.

But as it grows, and me talking to her about my suicide tendencies, she somehow has opened a part of my feelings that allow me to depend on her, and see my importance to her. I wouldn’t want to leave her alone in this world and change her title from ‘wife’ to ‘widow’.

In short, I see her life and well being as more important to mine, in a very intimate, and interconnected way. Sometimes, you might think that killing yourself is a way of setting your loved ones free from the burden of being with you, the other side of the argument is just as true. When I die, the world will be robbed of an unique individual, well not that I am that great an individual, but the bigger truth is, I am robbing my wife, her companionship, her someone to hold her hands, and make meaning in her life.

We all contribute to the world in our own small way and killing ourselves rob the world of a life, no matter how small, or insignificant it can be. Think of it this way, Wayne, if you kill yourself, your friend, Angel (pun unintended) will never have a chance of bumping into you on the streets. Neither will you ever find out how stupid or smart you can be.

Death robs

I attended 2 funerals this year. Both my friends died of ailments and a genetic disease. Its not the death that matters, it is the fact that, when I walk the streets, I can never bump into Grace or Peter anymore, because they are dead. There will never be another Peter, someone who looks liker Peter, but not Peter.  While death robs, suicide is almost like grand theft arson of life. You deliberately choose to eject yourself of life, and robs  everyone around you a friend, brother, son, sister, mother, father, cousin, student, child, singer, driver, chef and so on.

I Do

Recently the lead singer of Linkin Park, Chester committed suicide. The band wrote a song One More Light for one their friend who died of cancer. Somehow, my association of the song was more related to Chester Bennington’s suicide than anything else. I think it is the context of the song that matters. Sometimes, we take signs of suicide too lightly and wrote them off as some wild thoughts, our loved ones shrugged our thoughts of self-death as non-sense, out of fear or the lacking in understanding and openness to talk about suicide.

Well, boys, I do. I do want to talk to you both if you wants someone to talk to about killing yourself. About suicide, about gays and lesbians. I’m your dad, and somehow have I am gifted this unique exposure towards suicide.

Getting over it

There is, unfortunately, no getting over it. It is part and parcel of life, and just like flu, you will ‘get it’ again and again. The thoughts of suicide continues to linger around me, and if I slipped into the darker character of Randy Lim, yes, death is always there. But unlike flu, there is no visible symptoms. Suicidal thoughts, depressions and other mental conditions cannot be seen outwardly. Which is why Chester’s death is so haunting for me. He was okay and laughing and having family time 36 hours before he killed himself. He was happy, or so it appears to be.

So it will come and it will go, and let it go (of course!) when it leaves and if it stays longer than you are comfortable, your mum and dad are here for you to talk to.

Telling it like it is.

There is no sugar coating, no code word or whatsoever. Boys, if you have a feeling of wanting to kill yourself, just come to us and say: ‘Mum/ Papa, I feel like killing myself.’ We will not judge you, nor will be shrug you off like it was nothing. If you have suicide thoughts, we are here, we will drop everything and talk. Thanks to your mum’s chat, he voice and presences grew larger than the suicidal thought and when I think about suicide, I think of her, and everything is okay.

Suicide is the ultimate leveler

Suicide, if properly done, leads to death. There is no turning back from death. No saves, no close call, nothing, once you’re dead, you stay dead. And death has no age limit, gender or political orientation, you kill yourself you die. Period. And you can die at any age, time and space.

I don’t care if you are nine, or ninety, if you want to kill yourself, you can talk to me, boys.

thoughts taken off an eight year old’s school journal

 

 

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No Permanent Friends, No Permanent Enemies

Dear boys,

Humans are the strangest creatures, making friends one moment, and enemies the next.

Your Grandma’s experience

Last week, while we are at your Grands’ house, for our usual Saturday get-together, your grandma revealed an unhappy episode she had when she was in Secondary 2. She mentioned that the senior Sec 3 girls would pass their past year materials to their junior Sec 2 girls to copy, so that the juniors can have some advantage into their tests. Your grandma also ‘enjoyed’ such a privilege, until one day her friends turned on her. Her group of friend started avoiding her like she was a plague.

She couldn’t understand why, given no reason, she was perplexed. Eventually she managed to find out from her best friend, who somewhat sheepishly told her that their Sec 3 senior girls, told the rest of them not to share these materials with Kan Tee (Your grandma) as she didn’t want to go to church with them.

Your grandma was no pushover. To hell with that, she studied on her own. And during the good times, they will all walk to school together, and now, whilst they still walk the same way, it was a frosty walk, no one would talk to your grandma, and she kept to herself as well.

Eventually, the girls failed their test, and your grandma passed it. We jokingly say that Grandma’s Guanyin, is more powerful than the girls’ God.

It is not about the religion, but about the people who likes to group together. It is a common in-group and out-group phenomenon.

Your dad and mum’s experience

We too encountered our own share of relationship woes, with friends and colleagues. Both your parents encountered wonderful and lovely people as colleagues, folks we felt close and have that great friendship with. We talked to these friends and colleagues about everything, and some, even invited to our houses and vice versa.

All can fall apart the next day.

No given reason or revelations.

When we were younger, it hurts us in some ways. We like to think we have a healthy ego and we can socialise quite well, we can make friends take care of them, and them take care of us. That is a great feeling to know that we can build on these friendships to count on years later.

It was not, never meant to be.

It has been quite a few years ago and it happened to me more than twice, the hurt is no longer there, but it was replaced with a immense sense of curiosity. Why? Why did these seemingly good friendly folks turn? Colleagues who lunched and laugh at your silly jokes, you laughing at theirs, suddenly stop asking you out for lunch, buys everyone coffee except for you, no longer small talk, chit chat with you, no longer asks you ‘How’s you day?’ They just stopped caring about you and aiming to effectively wiped away your existence, socially.

I felt quite lousy, insignificant and somewhat indignant back then.

Not so much these days.

It made a difference I have your mum, and you mum have me. With the both of us, we pretty don’t quite give a f**k about what happened at work. Your mum is my pillar, and she came from a more complete family, she has her family to fall back on, no matter what friends and colleagues does to her. I relied more of my social circles to give me my sense of worth, and this kind of ‘sudden relationship winter’ hit me hard. But your mum has always been there for me, and it took me some time to accept her as my solace.

But that’s that. We are all much older now and I have grown not to take these kind of cliffhanger relationships personally anymore.

In the latest spat, I learned that some things was said about me, in my absence, and people started distancing themselves from me, typical signs of a drop coming. I’ve seen it all happen before.

Not to be affected, I continue with my work. People chit chat and joked around me, not involving me in their conversation, when I am clearly, physically in the room. I hear all the banter going on, and people asking each other about their personal lives, weaving care and concern all around. I just have this cold, hard shell, and continue plowing into my work. Keeping myself busy at work, helps you keep away from all these subtle insidious  negative attacks. The aim of making you invisible is to make you feel bad, and them feel good.

I felt nothing, no good no bad, its a job, do it well and go home. I only feel bad if I don’t do a good job.

It will be over soon

Good times like bad times always ends, no matter what. Friends always comes and go, so does your haters. No one stays at a spot forever, well, at least not let yourself be the one. Move on and find something new. After a few years, these haters will no longer know why they hated you, or did those things to you. Heck, some might need you to do something for them in future. If your haters need you to help them, help them. It is not because you need to prove them wrong, you help because you can, period.

So while at times, especially when it is happening, it might seem like it will go on forever, but it doesn’t. Always remember what happens at work stays at work, you boys have a family to come back to. At home we can heal each other from the hurt we got outside in the big bad world. And over time, it will all be buried in the past, even the hurt to appear to have will be gone.

While the world may judge you boys badly, you can always come home where no one judges you destructively. There are no enemy in our family.

 

 

 

 

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The Problem with Aikido

Osensei

COMPETITON

People are always comparing.

People are always critical over things they don’t understand.

People are always wondering the efficacy of Aikido.

Well, it can’t be helped, as Aikido is a kind of mixed bag.

I think I’ve finally figured out what and why people think there is a problem with Aikido.

The Number ONE question is:

“Does Aikido Works?” 

Well, nobody really knows, actually.

Because Aikido doesn’t encourage competition, and without the typical competition, you really cannot tell who is better who, and what works and what doesn’t.

A typical Aikido (me included) don’t really experience loss, defeat or setback, bestowed by an opponent. No one in Aikido wins a medal, and since there are no winners, there are no bitter lessons for losers to learn.

There is no way to validate if Aikido is effective in a controlled, rule-based environment. There are no championships to decide who is the best Aikidoka out there.

Fake Aikido

Which leads to the accusations flying all over the place, ripping into Aikido that looks ‘fake’ and the mysterious ki force that ‘Grand-masters’ uses and causes people to fly all over the place at a touch, or worse, no touch. Almost every Aikido ‘Grand-master’ wants to look fantastic and awesome!

There are no fake Aikido, only fake representation of Aikido. Remember, it is the Singer, not the Song. If it works, Aikido works, and if it doesn’t, blame me as a lousy practitioner. This will apply in any martial arts, just as there are fake MMA fighters, and excellent street brawlers.

Aikido as designed and engineered by O’sensei in his days, isn’t capable of standing up to a variety of barrage in our current era. There is no concrete proof out there that really says conclusively Aikido works. Period.

We are not the sum of the medals we won, or lost. 

False Sense of Security

So most Aikidokas goes to practice in an environment, that doesn’t pit you against one another, so we will never know what works and what doesn’t. And Aikido works best in a constructive, helpful environment, unfortunately it also imbue into people that if your Aikido works in the dojo, your Aikido will work as a self defense platform. Which, is two totally different matter altogether.

Blame it on the spirit of Aikido, which is love, peace and harmony, all those hippy slogans. Hard, fighting people wants to know if it works, and proof that it does. No Aikidokas has appear to be so generous to step up and to put those questions to rest, one and for all.

So it might work, it might not, don’t get too comfortable with it! Just practice, practice and practice some more!

One of its kind

Then again, there are so many questions about the effectiveness of Aikido, precisely because it is a very unique martial way. As an Aikidoka, we are not walking mainstream, we don’t get into fights, just for the sake of proving if it works or not. Aikido takes away extrinsic competition, so that we can have the time to reflect within. We are not pressured by competition (which is plentiful nowadays!Robots and AI!) to perform. We prefer to tuck ourselves away, quietly work on improving our own techniques, help each other get better, build and collaborate, not fight to destroy.

True, putting other people into our performance and competition, steeps up the learning curve, which is precisely what we do not endorse. We, as humans bloom at our own pace, and we all with wither, sooner than we think. Why spend our time in vain trying to prove if it works or not? Sure it might not work as well as we wanted it to, which is why we practices right? We need to turn up at the dojo and practice like no tomorrow, since there is no right outcome. For an Aikidoka, the outcome is a continuum, a process, and it is never completed. We are not the sum of the medals we won, or lost.

Aikido is

There cannot be a comparison. O’sensei created Aikido in post-war Japan. I cannot imagine the horrors he has to witness and seeing friends and students go to war, and never return, those returned; never the same again. O’sensei himself fought in a couple of wars. While I have never experience war, (Thank goodness!), war changes people, and O’sensei saw that, I can only presume that he created Aikido to promote love, peace and harmony, which is so much lacking in his time and surely our time as well. So if you want to fight, compare and win medals, there is always an octagon around the corner, but please, not in an Aikido dojo.

Talk to the Hand!

Talk to the Hand!

Harry sensei is very particular with how your hands ‘should’ be. Can anyone guess which is the ‘right’ kind of open hand for practising Aikido?

There is no wrong or right answer, some schools teaches this some school teaches that, but Harry sensei is very specific and often nagged at us for going into our default hand.

DSC_0969_Fotor
Default hand

He says that the ‘default hand’ is soft, and while he didn’t say that it is ‘wrong’ he did say that ki cannot flow. it will be stuck at the palms, or worse, wrist, elbow or shoulder. This is soft, and he doesn’t want soft aikido. Soft aikido has no life.

DSC_0967_Fotor
Aikido hand

Harry sensei constantly reminds us to keep our hands extended and relaxed, like pictured above. He says this way, the hand is extended ki can flow underneath the pinky. such hands is not ‘stuck’ nor it is soft, but when we encounter a partner who gripped our hands tight, the tension in the grip around the wrist will cause the ligaments and muscles inside to get pulled and close the palm. Hence focus on keep the palms open and extended helps us counter that collapse and open the wrists to movement and oppose the constriction.

DSC_0971_Fotor
Fingers will start to curl under a tight grip

While there is no scientific proof that opening the hands like how Harry sensei suggested can improve ‘ki’ flow, he has however demonstrated in every lesson how he can displace a younger stronger person. simply by opening the hand.

He says he walks like that too, with the hands extended and like us, he sometimes forgets and goes into the default hand.

Different dojo teaches different ways of extension and how your hands should open, some may not find it effective doing what Harry sensei suggested, but it is a way he has discovered that allows him to train and still consistently displace his students.

While I am still on the way to discovering my own Aikido journey, there are certain truths to Harry sensei’s way of open hand. With his teaching on how the hand should be held open, I am able to extend and displace my partners, and not just get stuck at the point of the grasp.

United we Stand, Divided we Fall

Harry sensei also advise against us, opening out our palms like that. He wants us to keep all the fingers close, like sticking together, instead of spreading them apart, where the ki will dissipate into 5 different directions. He often says ‘United we stand, divided we fall’. as an analogy to explain why we need to keep the fingers together.

Ki as a water hose

He explained that ki is like a water hose that flows out from our hands, and not having the correct hand extension, restricts the ki at a specific spot, the wrist, elbows or even the shoulders. Proper extension would mean that you can extend beyond the physical limits of your hands. Improper extension, he describes as a runaway hose, out of control, spraying water all over the place.

We all need to bring that hose into our control and that can only be done by understanding ki flows from the under hand, through the pinky.

Hitchhiking

hitch hike
Hitchhiking thumb

Of  course that is not the only way, he has also shown the hitchhiking hand gesture. And used the thumb to stab towards the direction he wants to go. He is able to direct the energy through his fingers and you will follow, holding his hands, going wherever he wants you to go, and more often the trip ends up with me on the mat.

 

 His logic of explaining direction and ki flow is quite normal and seems like an everyday thing. However in the dojo, in practice we all seem to be caught up in the habit of overdoing it, and making things worse, instead of simply listening to his instructions.

 

Supernormal Stimulation-When real is no longer real

I just learned about this ‘super-normal stimulus’ recently and instantly connect to hows and the whys and the contemporary challenges in learning an art like Aikido.

I will no delve on the subject of Supernormal Stimulus, you can read it up at:

“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supernormal_stimulus”

or you can refer to the excellent comics drawn by Stuart McMillen.

“http://www.stuartmcmillen.com/comics_en/supernormal-stimuli/”

Why do I specifically say contemporary challenges?

And when we talk about contemporary, how do I define that?

I guess it all begins with the word ‘super’. And of course the proverbial evil dollar.

I guess, humans, like all biological creatures are endowed with ‘supernormal stimulus’, it is closely linked to our fight/flight response. When we are still not so intellectual to analyse a specific threat, on hindsight, we simply respond.

But when we start to develop language, and start to analyse things, we get recounts like ‘The Sabre tooth tiger’s teeth is BIGGER than my HEAD!” or “the artillery round was BIGGER than my car!” When things gets exaggerated, you know there is something being ‘surprised’ in there.

Why? We need that attention, we need that drama, we need to be captivated by something. Normal mundane life, well, seem like normal mundane life. And when one captivates, one sells more! In our capitalistic world, the more you sell, the rest is history.
Success in life is now very much ‘surprised’. Everything is, and the advertising industry is not helping, in fact they are perpetuating it! Why? It boils down to a marketing term call ‘a share of mind.’ Or a share of whatever you want to call it. This ‘share of Whatchamacallit’ is perceived as a limitation of a human’s ability to absorb the larger picture of things.

So when a stimulus gets ‘surprised’, it hypes us up, and that is exactly what the perpetrators wants, a hyped up sense of being so that they can capture our attention and holds our reality hostage. And a hype gives us a sense of high, and that sense of high gives us a feel good feeling. But that feel good feeling, never feels good for a long period of time. It will become mundane once again, and when that happens, we look for a new high. And another and another, until we become saturated with highs, and we avoid the lows. The higher we gets hyped, the less grounded we become. The less detached we are from reality.

Aikido is as close to reality as you can get. Why is it unique from other arts, is precisely due to its non-competitive nature. When you compete, you stimulate a fight/flight response, things gets suprised. Opponents becomes bigger, we get fixated at finding out their weak moves. We get fixated on winning. Everything else does not mater anymore.

Aikido allows you to be, just be. Attacks are not really attacks but it is mean to give you a reasonable amount of stimulus. But not overly. It is calibrated according to skill levels. And all Aikido moves looked the same, generally a beginner’s irimi nage looks the same as an advanced practitioner’s irimi nage. The only difference is the level of speed and the ‘smoothness’ of the technique. I wouldn’t really consider an Aikido practice as ‘intense’ unless you are in the practice yourself. Anyone observing Aikidokas in practice will seldom describe Aikido as ‘intense’.

There is a reason for Aikido’s design. It is to help us regain our balance. bring our supernormal stimulus back to a manageable manner. Bring attention back to reality. Bring reality back to our lives. The contemporary challenge is that an Aikido class will last, at best, 2 hours. we have another 22 more hours to be super-stimulated. and right now with the world going 24/7 to 24/365, there is no more room in us to find that equilibrium. We perpetuate from one highs to another, and keep on finding issues to relate our identity to. At what costs? To what end?

Aikido is telling us, life. That is all to it. And life is much larger than the supernormal stimulated self, settle down and go to an Aikido class.

First Published on: Feb 18, 2014

A Mirror with No Reflections

A Mirror with No Reflections

I was hit with an epiphany 2 days back.

What if you can take a picture of a mirror, standing right in front of it, and; there is no reflection of yourself?

We have all heard about this popular metaphor.

When you disturb the surface of a pond, you will not be able to see a clear reflection of yourself. But when the water is still, you can see your own reflection.

Hence, the inference to a ‘still mind’.

We need to delve deeper than that, agree that though a still mind reflects, it takes more than that to project.

If you are an angry person, a still mind will reflect that anger, yes. that reflection might bring about an awareness to the realization of anger, but it does not necessarily bring about the cessation of that anger. It might not attend to the cause of the anger. See the reflection of an angry face, might even exacerbate the anger. All you need to do is to YouTube the phrase “animals looking in mirror” and you can see a variety of animal reactions to mirrors. Of course you can argue that humans behave otherwise, but do we really?

A still mind, might not be a peaceful mind. A robber, sitting still, is no peaceful mind. There is no action of a robbery, but the intent is there. The stillness cannot be misinterpreted as a solace refuge.

Therefore, we need to be more than a still pond, simply reflecting off whatever that comes along. We have to be a pond of peace. We have to project the inner-ness of the pond, the fishes swimming serenely in the pond. the peaceful sway of the seaweeds, the entire ecology of the pond, giving life, giving peace. When an angry person look at the pond, the angry person can see beyond the reflection, they can see the peace within the pond, and that perhaps calm the anger. Perhaps, the angry person lost something valuable, something the person might have dropped into the pond, a precious gold ring. So the clarity of the pond can allow the person to look into the pond and see the ring lying in the bottom of the pond, and reach out into the pond to retrieve the lost ring, and reunite what is lost with the one finding.

Similarly, we must see past our angry partners. Sometimes, we are the source of their anger, we are angry first, and when we are not conscious, we think that others are angry first, when truth to the matter, we are ‘patient zero’. But when that happens, we need all of our training and wisdom to see past that reflection of anger. To see that our partners have good, have value, and we can find our lost gold ring in them. And they also have lost gold rings in our ponds.

So it is pointless, to have a surface calm, to be still, and reflect. A still and calm pond is pretty much useless, if, the waters are murky and muddy and hides the contents in it. If you cannot see into the water, a reflection is, merely a reflection.

First Published on: Apr 21, 2014

Saving water

Dear Boys,

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I decided to put a pail of water for the both of you to bathe. Each of you, a pail of water; well as for Wayne, he gets about 80% filled, since his body mass is so little!

You boys took to it with novelty, and I was worried that you both might be resistant to it.

You see, water is a very precious resource, and once you turn on the tap, those water flowing out, cannot be recovered. (Well, you can, actually, but it does comes with a cost.) What I am trying to drive at is, we all have some bad habits; bathing is one of them. It cannot be helped when water is so readily available. You turn the tap on, clean, drinkable water flows. We never really took it to heart about those save water campaign thing.

Our PUB- Public Utilities Board, constant nagged at us to save water, but do we really? I too have been nagging at the both of you to stop taking long baths, but to no avail. I think this is a common problem in every household unannounced.

So I am glad that you boys like the pail bath idea.

This is nothing new, and people has been bathing like this for ages. And this primitive method works, as long as you stick to one pail, and not top it up after you emptied it.

Sometimes old school ways works and I hope the both of you can remember these ways, and use them constantly to make sure we keep our water usage in check.