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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Taking classess

I think it is a matter of time I have to start conducting classes. My Sempai, Han Tiong has ‘retired’ from teaching NUS’s Friday Aikido class, and the job now falls on the next in line, primarily Foo, Luke then me.

Harry sensei made it very public on an evening sometime back, that only Foo and Luke was to take class, and when clarified, Harry sensei specifically mentioned that there will be on exceptions. Frankly I was a tad disappointed, admittedly, taking a class bodes well for my ego, which mean I have more work to be done, before I evolved to overcome my egotistical persona.

The reality is that sometimes, both Foo and Luke will get held up with work, and occasionally, I will have to stand in and take a Friday class, now and then. Of course this was done with full consent and knowledge from my sensei, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. He has to know and give his blessings then I will take the class. Its the way order is held and preserved, I have to respect my sensei’s decision, even when his decision is not in my favour.

Primarily I want to break the myth of Aikido, as a martial art. because, it is really not about fighting, opposing will. Imposing your victory over your opponent. I want to look at it from a relational view, because Aikido is a PhD in Applied Social Science. If you get into a fight, there is very little in an Aikido curriculum that can help you ‘win’ the fight. but there is plenty in an Aikido curriculum for you to stay centered in an explosive, emotionally charged situation and come out of that preserving the peace.

My obsession is the Uke. Other than Harry sensei, the next most senior belt in NUS is me, it’s not a brag, usually it is a fact, and I trained and learned the most being Harry sensei’s Uke. And for any Aikido technique to be performed safely, the Uke has to be trained to receive, and to receive well. The junior belts as Ukes are usually too soft with the grip or they do a ‘death grip’. either way compromises the movement and the relationship between the Uke and Nage. So I take pains to explain that an ‘attack’ from an Uke is not really an ‘attack’ in the strictest sense. If the Uke give too much as to hold on too tightly, then the uke has given away too much. And if the uke doesn’t hold tight and chooses a loose grip, the Uke will not be able to receive what the Nage has to offer. The relationship between the Uke and Nage, changes constantly and I’m quite drawn to making sure the Uke catches the Nage with the right amount of grip, with a proper distance, and appropriate spirit, so that everyone can enjoy the exercise.

My other focus is on the core muscles, the back and abs. the torso down to the hips, where both power and stability resides. Once you are physically comfortable and centered, you can think straight, get into a superior position, all without provoking a fight. Once you lean too much forward, you can be read as being aggressive. and leaning to much back, will invite people to attack you as a sign of weakness. the posture has to be centered and balanced, so the core muscles is paramount to delivering that body language.

There are also some funny things I do that is not the actual sanctioned Aikido moves, this is in hopes to keep the class interesting and also allows me to inject some creativity into the class. I think the feedback I get from some hearsay is that Foo does the class in a typical Aikido sense, following structure and form, Luke adds a bit more realism to the class, and me? I heard that I’m non-typical and my technique ain’t the cleanest, book perfect type. Heck, I’m having fun, and I certainly hope the students in my class have fun too!

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Over Correcting

White Belt

A couple of lessons back, a chirpy white belter, Mary asked me if what she was doing was correct, as I partnered her. I told her that just enjoy the moves, as it will be too much to correct as almost everything she is doing is ‘wrong’.

We need to understand that getting from ‘wrong’ to ‘right’ in martial arts, takes a heck of a long time, and sometimes, you will go from wrong to right and back to wrong. Personally for me, as long as the Aikidoka enjoys the moves, and stay relaxed, avoids injury, that is a decent session of Aikido.

One thing we must be careful as beginners is the penchant to over correct, we analyze over the nitty and the gritty, until we think that everything we do needs improvement! Well, duh, that is precisely why we come to the dojo right? To day by day, unlearn our habits, and learn something that is closely resembling Aikido.

…is very un-instant gratification

Nobody gets it right at the onset, so why even bother to try? It is a long arduous process that is very un-instant gratification. The more you try to get it right, the more wrong it will get, for beginners, there is only a general sense of body movement, positioning and effectively use of our strengths. the other stuffs we learn along the way.

So everytime I go to class, I will look forward to enjoying the movement, enjoying the company. Right movement will come from right attitude, and when you enjoy your movement, you will be cultivating the right attitude.

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Kotegaishi Story

There’s a time, when I was a brown belt working in as a retail shop assistant. My colleagues didn’t know about my martial arts background.

One of my colleague was a funny, peppy fella who knew what Steven Seagal and his martial arts flicks. He was impressed with how Steven Seagal took out people using his fighting skills and I asked him to show me one of his moves.

He promptly went to show a kotegaishi and I asked him to try it on me. He took my hand and deftly did what he has seen on TV and I helped myself with a break fall, which looked pretty dramatic.

Until now I can still remember the look on his face, when he saw me flipped and landed as he did his kotegaishi. It is just one of those crazy things you did when you were younger.

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A Teacher’s Peril

  “Because whatever we say, is wrong.”

Of late, I was given the privilege of conducting a couple of classes with my NUS Aikidokas. Although it was a refreshing change from being attending the class to someone conducting the class, the more salient point is the new learning experience for me being in a teacher role. Yes, you still learn while you teach.

For the sake of clarification, and for as a matter of technicality, I am not a teacher in Aikido. Those times when I was tasked to take the class, I happened to be the next most senior student in the class, so I guess by that fact, not virtue, I will have to chaperone the class in the teacher’s absence. I’m not officially delegated, nor in some strict sense, holds a teacher’s license. And for the records, I’m neither officially assigned by Harry sensei to teach, or conduct class. So I happen to do what I did as a matter of circumstance.

No talking in class

Anyway, given that I’m tasked into the limelight, standing in front of a class of 20-plus Aikidokas, some of them, a good 20 years my junior, I realized again why Harry sensei do not want us to talk amongst ourselves during training, he does not want us to correct the techniques amongst ourselves in training. If our partner is wrong in executing the techniques and what we can do as their training partners, and if we happen to be the senior member of the class, we can correct by action, not by telling. He abhors us talking among ourselves trying to figure out the wrongs and rights by discussion. There is an apparent reason for that. Because whatever we say, is wrong.

This goes back to my old adage of ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’. As this few sessions of conducting classes has taught me, as the guy standing there, telling people about the techniques, not matter what I say, with all the good in mind, is wrong. Well, sure the argument is what I say might be fitting, and if that is the case, then there will not be a case at all to begin with, right? 

And the teacher’s role is very heavy, the students listens, and during class they will usually not retort, but after the class ends, they will take what you say and go home to digest it, break it down,and over-analyze your sayings, and if what you say is too narrowly defined, you will open yourself to your own bag of skeletons. More often than not, what’re we say is usable to a certain context. And if you want to play it safe and use a sweeping statement, and generalize, you’ll end up not giving anything useful to your audience. The ‘it depends’ really depends on what the depending is depending on. 

Then again you still have to say something, so you have to become really careful and wise up about what you say, because people will take your saying as their doctrine, and if what you say is not empirically robust, then the blood is on your hands when they use what you said would work, but end up not working as well as you said it would.

Caveat Emptor

I have this at the onset of my blog, and let’s revisit the word a little, there is no disclaimer in class, just as I learned that there are no disclaimer in life. Perhaps it is due to a force of habit, I have a disclaimer of sorts for my blog. You see, as a former banker, we will have disclaimer clauses to protect the bank from any thing that the standard terms don’t cover. It’s bureaucracy by the way. 

But the disclaimer exists for a reason, because well meaning individuals do get trapped by anything and everything that falls out of the contextual domain of the terms. People do hijack your good intentions for their own narrow and sometimes self-centered desires. Being the guy saying a lot of things, means those things I’ve said may one day come back to haunt me. That is the risk of a teacher. 

Do as I do

So in class, in the old days, the sensei don’t really talk much, you really do as the sensei do as close to his movement as possible. But this type of teaching will no longer sit well with the new generations of human beings who will go into YouTube and other portals to find out for themselves and learn for themselves, never mind what they learned is right or not, hence we have the rise of ‘self radicalized’ individuals. 

That is the teacher’s peril. And I’m not sure if there will be other opportunities for me to take another class, but if I do, I’ll always bear in mind to tell my younger broods what Harry sensei likes to say ‘do also cannot do properly, still want to talk among yourselves?’

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Zero Stance

zero stance

Pardon my very rudimentary stick-man illustration, it serves to prove a very subtle point. The principle of ‘Zero’ stance.

Aikido stance, as I’ve understood it since I first practising it, is not the most comfortable stance, there are many other more dynamic stances out there that one can learn and use.

The stance is also one that is very greatly misunderstood and least looked into by practitioners. The stance is neutral.

Before we get into that, there is this story I learned from my friend Steve. He knew of a guy who was an exponent in Tae Kwon Do(TKD), this TKD guy got into a heat quarrel another man (who have no idea the other guy is  TKD trained) and it came to a point where things are going to get physical. the man stood up and escalated the argument significantly, challenging the TKD guy to a fight. The TKD guy got up and went into a TKD stance. The man looked for a moment, said: “Seow (crazy) ah!” and took flight. Fight averted.

Case in point, a stance, well practiced and executed, can deter aggression, or encourage it. The argument is that “its the singer, not the song.” Sure, it is the practitioner’s intent that delivers the stance. Here’s my argument, try to sing “Yesterday” by the Beatles; arguably one of the saddest songs on the market, in the most upbeat manner and you’ll get what I mean. It is not designed t be sung in any other way than sad, melancholy.

Similarly, a stance delivers a message. Aikido stance delivers a message. From my observation, how the message is delivered, depends on the yaw. This is very experiential, and very fundamental, beginners has to get this right, lock in the right, physical experience and then the full potential of Aikido experience can be better harnessed. Get it wrong and you’ll keep wondering why your technique is not effective, or why your Uke seems to be either too fast or too slow.

Here is where my stick-men comes in to help. The Stick-man to the left; let’s call him Stick-man 1 (+1), the middle guy, Stick-man 2 (0), and the right one, Stick-man 3 (-1).

Some techniques in Aikido requires you to hyper-extend your uke, sending the energy outwards (+1). If your stance is ‘-1’, you need to travel from ‘-1’ to ‘0’ to ‘+1’. Some techniques are ‘negative'(-1), where you need to draw your Uke’s energy inwards and if your default is set at ‘+1’, you need to start, from ‘+1’ to ‘0’ to ‘-1’. Having the wrong settings as default is like having an incorrectly zeroed rifle, you’ll always be either short where your rounds hit in front of the target, or long, where your bullets whizzed harmlessly over your intended target. You aimed right, but you are not hitting right.

For Aikido, or any other marital arts, the consequences are more acute. as we do not carry a rifle and shoot everyday in our lives. but if we are constantly setting our stance, mental and physical at ‘+1’, we will always be stepping over some people, taking advantage of people, always looking for ‘first mover advantage’ often at the expense of other people, people always finds us too unreasonably fast to catch up, we get frustrated by ‘slow’ people. Well, if you are constantly set to  ‘-1’, you’re likely to be a bit of a laggard, even if you are one of the clever ones, you’ll subjugate yourself, by choice; and let yourself be a tool, to be used at your disadvantage, you might be a td slow for your friends, and you frustrates people by making them wait for you.

Stick-man 2 held a ‘Zero Stance’. The chap is neither aggressive, leaning forward nor passive, letting things happen then take reactive action.

It means that Stick-man 2 can take positive actions, and at the same time choose to hang loose and let things happen. There is a choice, because the stance is neutral, your energy is potential, not expended. There is a real sense of ‘extension’ not extended, neither retracted. There is a choice of fast and slow. Fast for fast, and slow for slow.

Think long and hard, why Aikido stance is designed in such a manner. It is non-aggressive, it does not offer a challenge. If it does, chances are, it might deter some from challenging you, some might not. Lean too much back ‘-1’ and people will think that you are in ‘flight’ mode, the stance is weak, as if you are leaning away from the fight. It might actually invite one. Keep it ‘0’, and keep your opponent guessing, you might hit, you might not. There is not hint of action from your part, nor a hint of an opening.

So set it right, so that your technique can truly draw power from the right source, move quickly, and avoid being too slow. One caveat though, this stance is highly elusive and like Aikido, when you think you have actually figured it out, that is where you realized that you hadn’t.

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Judo and Aikido

There is an old Martial Arts saying: Judo: When pushed, pull. When pulled, push. Aikido: When pushed, turn. When pulled, enter

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Aikido teaches us to be nice

I was hit by an epiphany.

All I really learned from Aikido was to be nice to myself and to be nice to other people. that means you do not take advantage of people when they are down, or injured.

It is probably the only martial arts that does that. You really have to treat your partner with respect and preserve your partner’s well being so as to make sure he or she turns up for training the next time!

Those who are movie buffs would have remembered the climax scene from both the original as well as the latest version of The Karate Kid. In both movies, we have the bad guys fighting Ralph Macchio or Jaden Smith. Both of them were severely injured no thanks to the bad guys and, the bad guys capitalised on the injuries.

Well, that is life, you can put it that way, survival of the fittest.

If you are in a Kumite and it is the championship round, you know your opponent is probably nursing a cracked rib from his previous bout, would you have decide to not to attack his cracked rib, or you would go specifically for the wounded area, so as to incapacitate him and win the bout?

As far as where I am practicing, when my partner is injured, or I have knowledge that there are some injuries, I’d be mindful not to further aggravate that injury. It is not me being noble, it is something I see happening in Aikido; your partner will take care of you, if you need to train when you are injured. There is a genuine level of care, we want our partners to be well.

I think we all go to our dojo, ‘wounded’ one way or another, and if we are conditioned to compete for a win, foresaking our opponent’s vulnerability, we are also foresaking our own vulnerabilities. If we cannot help our partners heal their wound, we cannot open ourselves to help from others, to help us heal our wound.

I’d like to go to a dojo, knowing that I can be myself, that my fellow students will take care of me. instead of going to a dojo with a brave front, hiding my injuries, so that I will not be taken advantage of. It is a lot harder for me to learn in such an environment.

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