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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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(, 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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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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