theaikidad

Aikido, Parenting and Everything in Between

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.

Intellectual Vomit-Kokyu-ho

I’m running a fever, my wife last check 37.9 degrees, further more than that, I’m running an intellectual vomit. when I close my eyes, there’s so much about Aikido swimming inside that I have to put it in writing. The Chinese have this saying “三天热”, is this happening to me?

There’s this particular situation that caught me and I want to share it. I was down at NUS that specific evening, for the hell of things, (by the way, for the hell of it cost me $10 bucks). anyway what happen was probably a non event but it gave me such an impression that I cannot put it in words anymore than what i am doing now.

We ended the class with the usual kokyu-ho. My partner was a brown belt, young chap, stocky fella. When it was time for me to be the Uke and hold his hands, I held on and he did the technique. as he continued to complete his turn of four, by the time he reached the fourth turn, he cannot lift his hands anymore. I simply held his hands in place, what went through my head was a mixed feeling of puzzlement and curiosity. He simply cannot raise his hands and complete the kokyu-ho. I can feel the ‘physics’ of the movement, he tried his damnest to leverage with his shoulders, but the hands stayed. No amount of force and energy could make him move the hand.

There was no struggle. not for me and not for him either, he simply is moving something immovable. did I played a part in it? Sure. I did, but not my ego. I held his hands, that’s all, not tight, just hold. Its not a matter of one being superior over the other. If that has happened then, there will be a struggle, because the less advantaged will struggle against the advantaged and swing the entire situation around. In that event, we are equal. My level of understanding now is that the point where our hands held are neutral, the one who brings and intent or ego to the hand will struggle. The one with less intent struggle less. I know this for a fact because I still struggle against Harry sensei, the same way the brownie struggle against me. Harry sensei has a clearer intent, less ego. So he is more neutral, struggle less.

Its a feeling of amazement because I cannot comprehend the simplicity of the whole situation. There is really no struggle, no need to. simply do the technique of kokyu-ho with a good intent, appreciate the movement all the way to the end. It really doesn’t matter how it end, it will end eventually, so our job is to appreciate it at the end, with or without orchestration. It is my first true experience where physics stays in the realm of physics and could do no more, I’m a small fella, the brownie’s a big fella, he should be able to move me, no sweat.

The kinesthetic description is the sensitivity of the palm, all the way down to the very tip of our fingers. I placed my curiosity there, the touch I held the brownie with was one of learning. I want to know what he can do. not so much as to counter him with what I know. at that moment, what i know didn’t matter. I didn’t matter. he matters. It doesn’t matter if he can bring me down, it doesn’t matter if he cannot, what happens, happens. Nothing more nothing less. The ‘isness’ is so spontaneous and immediate none of us struggled. He tried his best, but I’m sure he is not uncomfortable. He got so caught up trying to bring the hand up he didn’t stop to think what has actually happened. So do I feel powerful over the whole thing? No, in fact, the more powerful I feel, the more he can feel me. I just feel very human. There was no power in my grasp, just a feeling I transmit, in that moment nothing else matter except the part where out hands meet.

It is like a satori, the Ah-ha! I knew it, I knew I got it, it cannot leave me anymore. that doesn’t mean that I can consistently harness that because partners change, mood swings, people learn. One thing for sure is that once I have it, it’s with me for me to harness it. Its a very personal thing and it gives me the kind of satisfaction to know that such skill and knowledge is achievable, I am no one special and yet i can learn it. The paradox is that its nothing special since someone as ordinary as me can learn it I’m sure anyone can, but this ‘ordinary’ skill is so unique to me, it will manifest itself in me in a manner that is different from anyone else.

First Published on: Jul 8, 2010

All the Small Things

All the Small Things

The difference between experience is the ability to notice how the small things contribute to the big picture. Having spent this amount of time in Aikido, my progress is getting smaller, improvements made is not significant, but minute adjustments to the hand tension, position of the fingers, small, small awareness.

When we first started out as beginners, our teachers showed us big adjustments to how we stand, our body posture, movements. from there we learn awkwardly how to do an irimi-tenkan, how a nikkyo is done, with big exaggerated movements, using lots of physical and muscular strength.

All the small movements necessary to tip the balance lies in incessant practice and training.

The longer we practice, the more we noticed how we are nagged with a level of incompetency that no matter how hard we try we can never improve? Those countless of nikkyos we did over the years didn’t seem to make much of a difference. until we discover for ourselves that the difference is in the certain tension we have in our wrists, the small turn of the finger, will tilt the uke’s entire body to our favour. All the small things.

I trained with Gabriel on Nikkyo yesterday and from that I observed that the level of ‘noticibility’ between us is quite significant. He is caught up in the level of technical, geometric approach of how the lock is done. As much as I would like to point this out to him, I can’t because it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. There is no way that I can move him to a level of noticibility similar to mine. It took me about fifteen years to notice what I notice in him, will he be able to harness my observations and bring his awareness to my level. hardly, if he can, I wouldn’t have need to point it out to him would I?

All the small movements necessary to tip the balance lies in incessant practice and training. No one can point that out for anyone, everyone has to take these lesson personally, feel, and experience. Open your heart, and allow the essence of the training to touch and change you. There is no logical discussion, or technical discourse in Aikido. The longer you stay learning Aikido, the less significant the form and functions matter. At the end of the day, all you need to do is to twitch your fingers and the world is with you.

First posted Dec 23, 2010

Aikido is total movement

Aikido is total movement

There is much to learn in a beginner’s class and one very common way to help beginners to learn Aikido is to break down one single waza into steps. This will help with the absorption of movement, the positioning and physicality of the waza, in relation to the uke.

Well, this is not rocket science. Almost everyone learn and master skills this way, so even with the most complex task, can be learned one step at a time. This methodology also helps to build confidence and taking things one step at a time, allows troubleshooting, guidance and corrections in timely interventions.

We need to understand that this is not the ‘Beginner’s Mind’, this is in fact, a fixation to the ‘Beginner’s Mind’ which defeats the principles of the ‘Beginner’s Mind’ in the first place.

As we begin to gain proficiency in our movement, we begin to move in a seemingly skillful manner. Things becomes easier to do, we can do them without much thought. This is the departure from a junior belt and the journey into a more senior grade.

I still see a lot of senior belt, taking the whole waza step by step, despite of them already familiar with the moves, and has done it many, many times.

As we move into senior grade, stoppages needs to become shorter, until the entire movement becomes one seamless stream of energy from beginning to the end.

So we need to progress from a step by step waza to one that smoothly transfer motion from one end to another. Being a more senior grade requires the understanding of this transfer, in our physical body.

Our arms and legs can only stretch so much, and at my height, any given men, or women taller than me will have better reach and range of motion than me. Yet, in Aikido, we are able to move bigger opponents, this is not only through the use of leveraging, but more importantly, our understanding in the transition of power, motion and continuity, and leverage is only a small part of that equation.

simply move, and everything will fall in place.

When our opponent catches us, we need to move so that we hyper-extends our opponent, in such a manner that it displaces the balance. But our range of movement will get exhausted, and stop, before that happens, we need to move something else to keep keep our motion, and initiative. Keep the tension, so that our opponent remains engaged, until we finish our moves.

It is not only just having the energy move from left hand to the right, but it is also in simultaneous motion, left leg and hand, synchronous with the hips. The hands and legs will move together. A junior belt will move the hand, then the leg, then the hand…any and all stoppages is an opening for your uke to become the nage.

There is this habit of a junior belt ‘ownself checking ownself’, but stopping every now and then in the movement. This stops the flow and makes the whole waza static, and the uke difficult to follow. More often than not, it is a habit, albeit a bad one, to stop every now and then to check. There is no need to check, simply move, and everything will fall in place.