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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Ueshiba Morihei: The Outlier

If Daitō-ryū aiki-jūjutsu is the ‘father’ of the Aikido, then Ōmoto-kyō should rightfully be the ‘mother’.

I do not need to retell the history of Aikido here. There are plenty of books and stories out there, if you are interested.

The questions that is swirling in my mind is, What makes  Ueshiba Morihei create Aikido?

I mean, he is already the top student of his master Takeda Sōkaku, of the  Daitō-ryū aiki-jūjutsu. He could have continued to spread the teachings and techniques of that art. Frankly, we all could be learning  Daitō-ryū aiki-jūjutsu today!

I think there lies a great discontent in ‘O’ sensei, something is missing in the art he excelled in. He was also a student of Onisaburo Deguchi, in religious and spiritual teachings. Hence when he synthesize his spiritual and martial lessons, Aikido is the genesis.

Think about it, he must have had some guts to strike it out on his own, to chart his path, in a highly structure and hierarchical society like Japan. By ‘branding’ his art as Aikido and not Daitō-ryū aiki-jūjutsu, it certainly will not go well with his sensei. It is all about a certain lineage where we can trace the origins of our skills. In the spirit of ‘Loyalty’, he must have been seen like a ‘traitor’ in the eyes of his fellow Daitō-ryū aiki-jūjutsu practitioners.

Anyway, think about it, when he first started out, how can people tell Aikido apart from Daitō-ryū aiki-jūjutsu? In a material sense, you cannot tell apart a Levi’s Jeans from a GAP Jeans. they are all ‘jeans’. And yet, ‘O’ sensei’s ‘jeans’ is different, looks different, and most importantly feels different.

But today, while we practice Aikido, we are only able to shadow ‘O’sensei. so far no one has come close to what ‘O’ sensei can do. His greatness lies in his originality.

And that is what he wants us to be! Original!

Look at the diversity in Aikido practice, there is simply no patent to it, the structure is fluid in the way it fits the principles of Aikido, of Love and of Harmony. There are thousands of ways to do a Shihonage, and everyone can claim to be effective. But is is only effective, if you apply the principles of Love and Harmony.

So we cannot be seen as practicing ‘aikido’, that would have made ‘O’ sensei turn in his graves. He does not want us to ‘do Aikido’, he wants us to be original, come up with something new, a new style, and a new way, but never forget to incorporate Love and Harmony. So go ahead! let’s all start a new martial arts today!

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Why is there only one known ‘O’ sensei???

Put it simply, ‘O’ Sensei means ‘great teacher’ in loose translation. So effectively, we can address any of our teachers ‘O’ sensei, if we like to.

That begs the argument, why is there only one ‘O’ sensei?

Those who knows, will know that ‘O’ sensei generally refers to the founder to Aikido. But has anyone wondered why is ‘O’ sensei called ‘O’ sensei in the first place to begin with? Why wasn’t the founder of Modern Judo, another great teacher Jigoro Kano, known as ‘O’ sensei to his art and his followers? Or founders of other martial arts?

And who actually started addressing Ueshiba Morihei as ‘O’ sensei?


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Here’s a Question.

Would anyone considers O’sensei to be an Outlier?

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We all say this at the beginning of our class. What does it mean? Well you can Google it and get the general meaning of the term.

Harry sensei told the entire cohorts of new NUS Aikidokas last Tuesday about おねがいします, and well, it was like anything that you’d tell a beginner, the meaning, the protocol in a dojo. Somehow this time it made a little difference in me.

おねがいします is not just a phrase, it is an attitude of life.

Why don’t we try saying おねがいします! in the morning the moment we wake? I mean, if おねがいします loosely means ‘Please take care of me’, ‘Please allow me to receive your teachings.’ ‘Please allow me to receive your gifts.’ Would’t it be a great attitude to begin your day with?

I was thinking a little more divine that evening when Harry sensei says it. I mean, I’m not a religious person, but to utter おねがいします like a prayer, would bring about a whole new attitude of humility, openness and joy. It allows your psyche to open up to divine assistance. おねがいします is non-judgmental, you cannot say oh! I would おねがいします to this and not おねがいします to that! it is simply おねがいします, and you cannot refuse, you can only receive.

Much like in the dojo, we train with whoever we train with, like it or not, we tap our partner and say おねがいします! sometimes I turned to the person next to me and tap the person’s sleeve and say おねがいします! I’m not really concern who that person is, junior, senior, tall, short, guy, girl, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if my persona like that fella or not, when we おねがいします, we おねがいします, period.

I think this is a good attitude to begin your day with.


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Of Light and Darkness

I vividly remembered this quote and I think it explains a lot about us as human beings.

“There’s always going to be bad stuff out there. But here’s the amazing thing — light trumps darkness, every time. You stick a candle into the dark, but you can’t stick the dark into the light.”

Jodi Picoult, Change of Heart

It explains so much about what Aikido is, and please pardon me for hijacking this quote to explain this blog post.

Martial arts is basically born out of our human nature to fight. We have been fighting and killing one another for the longest of time. It is our humanistic attempt to uphold our self preservation. Can we make sense of all that? At the end of the day, what do we achieve killing one another? For a certain circumstances and situation, it is kill or be killed, thinking back, how did we end up in that place and time where we are so limited in our choice? How did we allow a circumstance to overpower our faculty of choice? Darkness is the circumstance, we are the light. we need to know that no matter how dark it gets, we are still the light.

And we are all light. Where there is life, there is light, In our attempt to kill each other, we fail to see that you cannot extinguish a light, with a light, neither can you extinguish the light, with darkness, we all know that universal truth, Light is light and light, light up the dark, as the quote aptly puts it, you cannot ‘stick the dark into the light.’

So we need to close ourselves, shut our eyes to the light, and in the midst of blindness, kill and maim indiscriminately. It has to be that way, you cannot kill, the moment you open your eyes, with sight, there will be light.

There will always be light, and as long as we continue to keep our eyes open, more light will be allowed into our psyche and the light we bring in, will light up the dark places in us, and allows us to see more wisdom within us, and when that happens, we overcome our spiritual inertia and gain momentum. Gathering speed, we will move forward, leaving the past behind, leaving the dark behind. You cannot get to where you are, searching in the dark, you need that light to guide you, out of the dark, and Aikido is that light.

I feel that the ultimate aim of Aikido is simple, the cessation of all fighting. That has to cease in us. we must stop fighting ourselves, stop engulfing ourselves with darkness, because we know deep in us, it is a futile attempt. Light will always light the dark. Fighting will continue to mask our true potentials from coming to light. So we need to stop fighting, and let the light shine. It is our human nature, and you do not need to search the universe for that light and peace, it has always been and always will be residing in you.

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Pros and Cons

I was training with this young chap last evening and when we settled down to do our kokyu-ho. he was self reflecting about his disadvantages in height. You see, he’s on a tall side. (On the other hand, I’m short, so most people are taller than me.)

I corrected him saying that is his height. HIS height, he has to work with it, and accept it. It cannot be changed.

“Pros and cons.” he said.

I advised him to think more than. I told this young man. ‘Your cons will by my pro. So when you pro, it will be the other person con. And ironically, when you think of your pro, you’ll somehow attract more pros into your life!

It is all about mindset. While it is alright to be humble, it is not so alright if you sell yourself short. Pros and cons are fine,  but it is not so fine when you think more cons than pros. then the balance is lost.

Physically, we cannot change who we are, we are tall, short, fat, skinny, missing and arm or leg. most of the physicality of who we are cannot be changed. BUT we can change our thinking, which in turn help the body cope with our physical limitations and maximise our physics.

Aikido is all that, using our best attributes to help us handle the worst the world throw at us. If we use our cons to deal with the troubles of the world, then we are in really deep quandary.

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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.

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