One on One-An Interview

I still keep this little black magazine commemorating the 15th Anniversary of Aikikai(Singapore) dated 18th September 1995, which i guess was about the time i started Aikido. This is an interview with Harry Sensei, typed out word for word, in true fidelity. … Continue reading

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Aikido and longevity

Last Tuesday evening Harry sensei said, (practising) Aikido does not make you live longer, you just die healthier. And he pointed up, implying when you go is entirely decided ‘up there’. While I am not a God kind of person, it kind of rang true.

It ties in lately that I had a brief thought on why O sensei died of cance? Of course it is not fair for me to say that if he is so in sync with the universe, he ought to be able to live longer, well, maybe become immortal! That kind of thought qualifies me to be a Hindsight Expert.

Harry sensei was right, He asked the class of young NUS student, who has gone to a funeral? And looked into the coffin? Did the person who died, has a smile on the face? Or the person died plagues with ill health and misery? If you die of ill health and misery, then that is not a very nice way to die. It is better to die when you are healthy, and with a smile on your face.

That is an opinion you cannot argue with.

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The Aikido ecosystem

When you come to class, and train with your fellow Aikidokas, you are not training only with that person. Like I mentioned earlier, you are training with the person’s parents, carrying their aspirations, dreams and ideals.

You are also training with your partner’s friends, siblings, relatives, cousins, uncles, the nurses and doctors that brought your partner to this world, the bus driver who sent your partner to Aikido, the hawker who sold delicious food, the cleaner who cleaned your block, your colleagues, the retail sales guy whom you bought your latest sandals from. You are training with a partner, who is a sum of a whole ecosystem.

Had there been a hiccup in that ecosystem, that partner would not have appeared in class. the bus driver fell ill, the bus would have came. The cleaner failed to clean your block, you stepped on something filthy. fell and got hurt. Well, if that ecosystem collapse, your partner cease to exist.

So you are also part of your partner’s ecosystem too, if you hurt your partner, your partner will not be able to turn up somewhere else he or she is supposed to be.

If you kill your partner, you literally destroy a universe, wipe out an entire ecosystem. So that is why we have to protect and nurture life, it is so vital that we see that inter-connectedness. Everything is linked to everything. You are linked to the doctors who brought you out from your mum’s womb. You are linked to the production worker who works in a factory making milk for your mum to buy, to feed you. You are linked to the cows, who gave you its milk for your ‘calcium needs’. You are also linked to the future people you are going to meet.

So it is rather easy to look at an angry person and launch ourselves into an angry assault and quarrel, insult and belittle our belligerent. when we do that, their entire ecosystem shakes, and rattles, you literally insult that many nameless faces that has brought that person having that angry conversation with you. Sure, his or her anger would have shaken your ecosystem and insulted that many countless nameless faces too. But remember, those people in our ecosystem brought us into existence to be a decent human being, and being decent means not to anger, insult and belittle others! And certainly not to respond in kind!

We need to understand that, contrary to many success stories, where a person’s success is perched on the shoulder of giants, a more down to earth version would be that we are all standing, simply because we are held up by the countless of people in our lives, but to hold our head up, in pride and love, that is entirely us.

So never face hurt, anger, pain and suffering with ignorance, fear and delusion, those are closed loops. Open your heart, and in it you’ll find boundless love, energy, light, understanding, patience, and understanding, which are all timeless. Anger is timed, you have to be directed at a specific event, a person, a single something. but when you open up your heart, you can accommodate that. What we have in our heart is light that is so bright, hate, ignorance and delusion will vanish. Jodi Picoult says light triumphs darkness, that is why we need to face the world with our open heart, because we carry our eternal light in our heart, to close it, cannot hide the light, light will always escape, so why not fully open it, and let your light shine?

Your open heart may look vulnerable, weak and nubile. But it is far more superior to hate. Aikido opens me to that, love is eternal, it will always triumph over hate, which is limited in energy. Love soothes, hate comes in bumps. Once you have experienced love, you will not want to hate, or response to hate, with hate, because, once you’ve known and used a far more superior approach, why revert to plain, reactive hate and hurt? You cannot be hurt any further if you embrace love. Love will protects you, when you fully open your heart.

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Your first Aikido sensei

Who is your first Aikido sensei? Who is my first Aikido sensei? The fellow teaching you how to turn, roll and wears a funny black pleated skirt-looking pants?

You first Aikido sensei is your parents.

Your mother showed you love, and affection, your father protects and nurtures you. They are the foundations of love and harmony that Aikido is all about.

I watch last evening as Harry sensei taught this young Aikidoka how to roll properly. As I watched, I came to this realization that he is like a father teaching his son. I can feel that because I am a father myself, and I would use the same energy, attitude, of unconditional effort, openness, hands on to teach my sons, whatever they are learning. I saw that in Harry sensei last evening, the effort, and unconditional love is the same.

It was a very profound experience as the whole relationship paradigm in my Aikido training was radically shifted.  I left the class with a feeling of total awe, and more importantly a renewed sense of humility.

It was more than that.

Training with NUS students has opened another level of understanding for me. These young boys and girls, is easily 20 years my junior. And I had almost 20 years of training in Aikido. That said, what about Harry sensei, he has close to 50 years of training! He has been training long before anyone one in class was born!

So when I look at the faces of my young fellow Aikidokas, the youth is still there, the innocence are still present. I can sense that because, given another 10 years, my elder son, Ian, will be 19 years old, about that age of a NUS student.

They still carry the dreams and aspirations their parents have for them. Edna, Jia Hwee, Tri, Glenn, Jade, Darius, Cathryn, Rachel, just to name a few names, their parents gave them the names, very much like how I bestowed upon my sons, theirs. They came to class, to NUS with their parents, in spirit and in faith. Hence, you are not simply training with that person, you are training with a person who has been exposed to love and affection, with understanding and attention long before they stepped into an Aikido class. So they are an expert in their 18- 19 years of living, and me? I’m just a beginner in their lives!

That can be said for Harry sensei himself! He has parents, his parents has aspirations for him, perhaps they’d wanted him to become someone of stature, or they had other expectations, I wondered, had his parents came back and look at him now, taking a class, 6th Dan in Aikido, would that had been what they wanted from him? Certainly my parents didn’t expect me to embark in Aikido training.

More often than not, we did not choose to embark on our Aikido journey, but somehow stumbled into it, and continued because of certain circumstances that compels us to continue, it was probably one of the last thing our parents expects of us.

We need to give back, our parents has been our first Aikido sensei, and now when we learn how to love and live in harmony from someone else, we need to give this back to them, perhaps now that we’ve grown up and our parents might have thought that their kids no longer need so much love and care, but they still do care and love us, just as much, or perhaps more. Now that we are adults training in Aikido, we need to love them back. Things we learned in the dojo, we need to practise it with our parents, let them know that their love and efforts has manifested, their kids has not wasted their love and effort, well we may not be everything our parents wants us to be, but we can let them know that their love and efforts hadn’t gone to waste, their children has done fine and is now learning how to love on the foundations that they have given us.

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National University of Aikido

I have been training at NUS(National University of Singapore) Aikido club for a while now, Harry sensei teaches there as well.

The experience is quite extraordinary, as I am handling juniors, boys and girls sometimes 20 years younger than me. With some many of them being beginners, I often become the few more senior Aikidokas in the class. And the class can be as huge as 30 – 40 students.

It is a good and refreshing change from Ceylon Sports Club, my usual Aikido haunts. Being the older and more senior Aikidoka there, admittedly it does stroke my ego a little that my opinion is being look up upon and my offer of guidance is being appreciated. That is why I keep going back.

Not so much that I like being given attention, but the fact that I like being given the attention, which means that there is an attachment to pleasure, which I want to be aware of and make sure it does not disrupt my equilibrium. Sure, I love to be Harry sensei’s uke in front of these kids and sometimes, given my long years of training with Harry sensei, together we are able to showcase some higher levels of Aikido to these beginners.

That was one of the reasons why I went, because I could sense that sometimes Harry sensei would like to show them some advanced techniques, and without a more advanced Uke, he is not able to and he is somewhat stuck in teaching very fundamental, curriculum based techniques. I hoped that my attendance can give him more confidence to really do a proper advanced technique from start to end. So that the beginners in NUS can see the whole schematics and not stuck in the day to day basic techniques.

While there is nothing wrong with that, doing the basics, I still love doing the basics in NUS, I hoped that they can see, in NUS Aikido a higher level of skill. I’m sure these youngsters visits Youtube(who don’t?) and asked why are they not doing the things they do in Youtube Aikido? Fact is what those guys can do, takes years of training. and yes, Harry sensei is able to do that.

Hopefully, they can see, right before their very eyes, Aikido in real, and Aikido in youtube is very, very different, Aikido in life, manifest love, respect and harmony, hopefully they can see that it takes years of practice under one sensei, constantly, to be able to blend in. To become a decent Uke, takes years of training. what I can do as Harry sensei’s uke, takes a lot of openness and joy. I love training under Harry sensei and after so many years, the net effect is that I could complement him quite well. Hopefully, the beginners in NUS can see that and aspire to understand Aikido as a how Harry sensei wants them to.

Back to the ego part, my ego. I wanted to go, so that I can learn to melt my ego, that ‘feel-good’ feeling, being the more advanced student. Afterall, looking at Harry sensei, and other great teachers, there is no teachers without the students. so somewhat similar to the chicken and egg conundrum. who comes first? Over time, I hope that I can blend into NUS Aikido (if I hadn’t already) and dissolve the ‘me’ into a greater ‘us’. That is another lesson for me as well, how to be a senior student without being a senior student. Making sure that my personality does not becomes overbearing, keeping my ego in check and not inflated.

From my honest feel on training, and how much I’m enjoying practicing with these newbies, I think I’m OK.

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Competitive Aikido

The spirit and core of Aikido is non-competition.

That’s it simple, easy.

The bottom line is, that has been taken out of context. Nowadays people say it without knowing why O sensei decides against ‘competition’.

O sensei, is being specific. He is against the having competition in his art, He does not want Aikidoka to practice Aikido for the sake of competition. and he does not want a competitive element to be imbued into the art of Aikido.

But that doesn’t mean that Aikidokas cannot be competitive.

What O sensei wants us to learn from the practice of Aikido is the universal spirit of harmony and love. There was a story about the Spaniard Ivan Fernandez Anaya, who didn’t want to win his cross country race by capitalizing on his competitor’s mistake. That is the spirit of harmony and love, which is manifested though the practice of Aikido. It is a competitive sport, but Ivan didn’t lose his humanity to gain a piece of metal.

So what O sensei implied is, go ahead, we have to compete, sometimes, because we have that competitive nature. In every organism, there is a pecking order, we have to climb and fight, and race, and compete, that is fine. We must not, however, lose our humanity. If you have to hurt a person to win, then it is better to lose. We will make ourselves smaller through plots, schemes, rules and regulations. These limits imposed makes competition ‘fair’, but it limits our human capacity to fully function.

Eventually we want to win the human race. That is the race, and competition Aikido is preparing us for. We are not aiming to be a champion Karateka, top salesman, best entertainer, at the neglect of our loved ones, our health, our spirit. Aikido aims for the higher order of becoming a better human being, a better person, a better Earthling.

Yes, it is a tall order, I can imagine that during the time when O sensei is bringing his art to the public, what kind of stir he would have created in the martial arts fraternity in Japan. Karatekas, Judokas, Jiujitsu practitioners, would have look upon O sensei and says some not so constructive things. Had O sensei bent on competing with these folks, he might win, the fight but lose the entire spirit of Aikido. He can do it, he competed against no one else but himself, to be a better human being, to be the best, and so inspire and continues to inspire millions of people globally.

So keep the big picture, look at what Aikido is making us become, a Champion Human Being.

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If we hold on together

This is a song title, by Diana Ross. It explains the fundamental principle of Aikido, and why the holding is a guiding foundation of Aikido, not punching, not kicking.

When a person grab, grip, hold, held, grasp, clench, snatch (Did I miss out any other verb?), the person is under the impression that the one who holds, controls. Truth is the one who holds, extends. Extends the person’s intent, desire. That extension, to whatever the person is holding on to, become a relationship.

That relationship, can exhibit aggression, fear, a desire to manipulate an outcome and love, care, and concern, the subject being held onto is being put in a relationship, but that subject, if so happens to be a person, can change the nature of the relationship. That is what Aikido is about.

The uke (The person who grabs) and the nage (the person who is grabbed) develops a relationship, through the connection. you see, the uke, will think that the grip controls the nage, to some extent, a very skillful uke is able to do that, but more fundamentally, the uke, holds the nage, to create a link. The uke is limited, to the fixation of the grasp. This is why, in Aikdio, the uke has to grab with sincerity, without hidden agenda, or other motives. The uke’s clarity will donate to the quality of the outcome.

The nage, is given an opportunity to make the link better. Sure the uke initiated the grab, (a skillful nage can ‘trick’ the uke into initiating the grab, when it actually isn’t so) the onus is now on the nage to direct the uke together with the nage to a more neutral stance.

Its like, the uke holds the nage and say, ‘Hey! look at the beautiful bird! You GOTTA SEE THIS!’ and the nage, tells the uke, through skillful means, ‘Look at the beautiful FOREST, when you look up!’ Simply explained, uke is telling the nage, hey let’s look at this! nage’s role is to redirect, sure! I saw that, and now let’s look at something else, larger, bigger, better, prettier.’ And both goes ‘WOW!’

It is ‘easy’ to explain a physical hand holding. the more abstract is when your idea takes a ‘hold’ in another person’s head. A hand can simply let go, and that is the physical end of the link. How many of us, are guilty of keeping the hand held, long after the physical hand has already been released?

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I Love my Job!

Many years back, I recalled that the doshu (can’t remember if it was the 2nd or 3rd) mentioned that the translation got it wrong. Aikido’s kanji is 合気道, which literally means ‘The Way of Harmony”. The Doshu says that the ‘Ai’ in Aikido is actually Love, not Harmony. So Aikido is The Way of Love.

Things kind of happen to me in a serendipitous manner. I had a friend who recently mentioned that she has been in the same company for 40 years, and she didn’t love her job, but grew to love her job. I’ve just finished watching, in admiration (again) how Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cesar_Millan), does his things. and in one of the episodes, he said, “That is why I love my job!” coupled with a million dollar smile on his face. He does what he does because he is good at it? Or is it because he love what he does so well, he became good at it. Chicken or Egg, huh. He has his bad times, and he certainly shine bright in his best moments.

O sensei made it very simple for us.

You go to work because you have to make a living. Most of the time we do what we have to do because we have to do it. This is a problem, the pragmatic, objective, Cause and Effect attitude. We do what we do, not because we love what we do, that is usually further down the list.

So what about Aikido? Do you do Aikido because you love Aikido? Do you really fell in love with Aikido the moment you saw it? Even if you do there, will be times you feel less lovey dovey about Aikido. And frankly for me, I did Aikido, because Steven Seagal made it look so cool. No, I didn’t fell in love with Aikido, I grew to love it.

That is the antidote!

‘O’sensei, never sold Aikido, people bought it, and he never forced anyone to stay in Aikido, you stayed because you stayed, and of course, you are very much empowered to leave, if you so deem fit. That is why Aikido is so paradoxically addictive. You don’t get addicted to Aikido so that you can win medal. Aikido is like a bad lover, damn it if you love, and damn it if you don’t. and frankly dear, nobody gives a damn.

So you have to learn to love, or rather, let the love you have in you flower. The love is always there, Aikido gives you the pace and time and space for your love to flower. There is no rush, no pushing of agenda. No competition to push you to the limit, no time limit; when the class ends, you can always come back another day. Aikido does not end in a win, nor in a defeat. you are only defeated when you give up. and when you decide to come back again, you can simply pick up where you left off and continue the journey, no one will scrutinize you, no one will criticize you, it is a very mature, automatic and accepting art, you call the shots to your own development.

So it gives you time to love, to feel, to affect people, and to feel the effect of people on you. Things that makes love, love.

Not the mushy kind of love, as it requires discipline, sometime, we turn up at the dojo, not feeling the training, and the love, and yet we have to do it. It sometimes feels like an empty shell, you are not your best, love is the furthest thing you are feeling. Frustration creep in, and anger and all that. Aikido give us that space to feel frustrated, and let us, let it out, through a quiet discipline.

Love is only love when you are disciplined, Love, lacking discipline, becomes lust, becomes desire, becomes attraction, all these will lead to the loss of your centre, and unbalance you. Then urgency sets in, anxiety creeps in, anger and impatience set in, love gets edged out. Slowly, with quiet discipline, you have to win your love back from all those belligerents.

Aikido teaches us love, and teaches us to love, in the most difficult times. Even when we do not love our jobs, our partners, but with discipline, we have to continue to love, and let the love grows on us. Only then can we excel, do our best, in our own way, dominate our lives and not let the opinion of others dominate us.

Love is universal, the expression is universal, the feeling is universal, but the interpretations and judgments and the opinions is what clouds us. Dive into our Aikido training.

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