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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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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No straight lines

Nothing on Earth travels in a straight line, everything has a curvature, even a seemingly ‘straight’ line. Take any given ‘straight’ line, magnify it 500x, and you’ll see features and landscape that ebb and flow like any other terrain, magnify it yet another 500x, your straight lines will vanish into microscopic images.

Point in case, my eldest son asked me a very, very good question.

Son: “Pa”

Me: “Yes?”

Son: “The Earth is round right?”

Me: “Yes, of course.”

Son: Why don’t the people staying at the lower parts of the earth feels as if they are upside down?” (While I’m sure there is a perfectly sound,  scientific explanation for that, but it struck me as a pretty darn good question!)

Life is always delusional, and it will always be a horizon. we can see the horizon as a straight line, but we all know by now, beyond that ‘straight’ line, is the curve of the Earth.

When you think Aikido, it is precisely that, a straight curve line. It is grounded in a spherical nature because that is ultimately, how thing, in nature is, a curve, a circle. Sometimes, the circle is small,very, very small, sometimes it is very big, as in 365 days orbit-ally big. Some times even larger, many lifetimes larger.

So we need to see things in a bigger light. Aikido, to many, appears on the surface as a straight line, we look at the technicalities of it, the effectiveness, and the this-versus-that argument, well that is all straight line talk. Aikido is a curve ball no one can see coming, and yet it has no secrets, all you need to do is endure the travel of the curve, and the teachings will always reveal itself, just round the curve.

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Aikido dogfight

Anyone has seen aerial dogfight? Or how a fighter plane twist, turn, yaw, roll to get away from a tailing missile? Or another enemy fighter plane?

That is the principle of leading.

I was glad that ‘Dr Foo’ turned up last evening for training, as I hadn’t seen him for a while, Or perhaps it is because he hadn’t seen me for a while, as it has been a while since I’ve trained in Ceylon Sports Club. Anyway, we trained in ‘morote dori shihonage omote waza’. It was a rather difficult technique which requires a fair bit of movement and considerable amount of energy.

We got comfortable with the technique and we started to move in a pace where leading become necessary.

Harry sensei has taught us a few ‘tricks’ in respect to leading and one of them was to move the hand first, so as to draw movement from the uke. Dr Foo’s leading, however, was more linear and no matter how much he ‘lead’ as a uke, i managed to catch him strongly at a specific point.

You see, Aikido is principally circular as when things are moving in a circular energy, it becomes hard to intercept. Draw 2 straight lines and bring them together, surely, they will converge and meet at one specific point, creating an ‘X’ sometimes a ‘V’ but you get the drift. There will be an inevitable converging and slowly (in fact, faster than we can imagine) it will meet.

Draw 2 circles then, and converge them, yes they will meet at one point too, but principally, the point does not stop, the converging creates a figure of ‘8’. When 2 circles meet, it will roll. Case in point, put any circular object, say a paper cup, or the centre of a toilet roll on its side, try to put another round thing on top of it, it is obvious that it will roll away, creating energy.

Aerial dogfight is just one example, you see the fighter jets performing rolls and turns, all in a broad or tight circular movement of maneuver to get an edge over their adversary. A straight line is a dead line for any fighter pilot. And decent surface to air missile will catch a plane flying straight. Twisting and turning makes the plane a much difficult target for the missile to track and destroy.

Its a funny thing with curves, it creates a degree of unpredictability. The human brain can track anything moving in a linear trajectory, but when it comes to circles, the energy becomes very dynamic. Ask any living antelope which has escaped a cheetah’s chase, will tell you that, you can never outrun a cheetah in a straight line, but the antelope’s feints, twists and turns, gives the docile animal a better chance of beating the faster cheetah. I rest my case.

So leading is always circular, knowing that the uke will track your movement, you move something to activate that tracking system and distracts the uke from carrying out the real attack. Leading also takes the initiative of the attack away from the uke. Leading also helps the nage stays a wee bit ahead of the uke. Hence in Aikido, the real skill is not in waiting for the uke to attack, putting the nage waits in reactive stage. Aikido is to use circular movement to create, occupy and dominate a space, leading the uke out and away from his/her position or space into a more neutral and controllable space.

Do it in a linear fashion, and for sure a faster, ‘cheetah’ uke will be able to catch and intercept you and a given point in line. Move in a circular motion, and you will constantly create a space for leading and neutralizing your uke.

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Love as the ultimate epiphany

It is 1.25am, right now, and for a very sleep deprived me, I woke up with a feeling of profound insight. It took me a while to understand what that is and why I felt so strongly about it.

I have to record this.

When I was young, I took on this Buddhist learning of saying ‘thank you’ for everything that comes my way, more specifically, someone, I cannot remember who, said that we should say thank you everytime people tries to hurt us. So I took this concept to school, and tried it out, as naively as a kid would. So during school assembly, I said this to a classmate and he smacked my hand to ‘test’ me, I of course, true to the ‘teachings’ said, ‘thank you’. What happened? He smacked me again! ‘Thank you.” Smack! “Thank you.” Smack!

Eventually, I got irritated and I think the smack won that day. It hadn’t dawned to me that had I continue, found the depth in me to continue, I can, say thank you, many more times than my friend could continue with his smack. In short, he will get physically tired. Of course, I’d be hurt, physically to a certain degree, but the spirit of saying thank you…will endure! Thank you!

Point is, ‘Thank you’ is a message, and the message is love. For as long as I can remember, I’ve without fail Whatsapp my wife ‘I love you.’ we always end our call with ‘love you.’ As much as we can remember, sans the times where we are using the phone to hurl quarrels as one another. Well, there are times we can only understood love that much.

Point is, how much can you say ‘I hate you’ as compared to “I love you?’ Eventually, you’d want the hate to end, hate will have to end one way or another. It is commonly known that hate will ‘eat’ into you. I don’t know how that can happened, but how much do you have in you to feed hate? I’ve hated in my life, and it’d always ends, good way or bad. and you’ll never get better with hate.

I cannot imagine where I’d be as a human being if I’d say ‘I hate you’ to a person, everyday. Words being words, has a profound effect on people, the emotions associated with hate is very very different from the emotions linked to love.

I woke up thinking of why O sensei came up with Aikido. During his times, he has seen his fair share of conflict, World War 2 was a terrible event he has to live through. There is a massive sense of tragedy, sadness, destruction, death and many more other bad things beyond words. I think he saw through all that and see a immense sense of love under all that. Love helped people endured hardship and suffering, not hate. Love heals the hate that comes from the bitterness of defeat. Humble pie can only taste sweet in the hands of love. I think, after seeing all those suffering around him, he can see that only love is universal, after all that has fallen off, dead and gone, really, as Colin Raye sings it, Love Remains.

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Can Aikido Cultivate Evil?

I was plagued by this thought for a while now, and I didn’t quite know how to explain it to a level that is sufficiently satisfied for me.

So I put up the question to my friends from National University of Singapore Aikido Club. They gave some really deep insights on this subject matter, I guess it bothered them as much as it bothered me. I thanks them for helping me to the ‘right’ answer.

Evil is a strong word, and it can be quite abstract, so in order for this post to continue, let’s refer to Wikipedia for a general reference on ‘evil’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evil) Personally for me, evil kind of refers to ‘doing harm to others so as to achieve a person’s own selfish agenda.’ I think the adjective used in Wikipedia is ‘immoral’ well, we can work with that.

I think we all have a general sense of what ‘evil’ is. Then again I just want to be safe here to declare, this post is about evil as I see it. Hopefully, I can generalise it sufficiently to get a sense of platonic agreement. Its heavy stuff here, so the post will be long. Caveat Emptor.

This thought came to me, more specifically for Aikido, because of how Aikido is ‘branded’. People who knows, read about, learned, studied about Aikido, will know the martial art’s general value. the few common adjectives is ‘harmony’, ‘love’, ‘gentle’ and so on, you get the drift.

So originally, I was thinking, can an evil person learn Aikido, uses its teachings and techniques to achieve evil intents? Can a very well learned Aikdioka, start a war? Carry out a rape? Rob? Maim? Kill? Peddle drugs? Plot murder? Cheat?

The consensus is still one that describes the ‘Abuse of Aikido.’. Well, if you look at the techniques of Aikido, they can be deadly. You can kill, maim, and hurt someone seriously, if you want to. but to orchestrate that?

Or as my title proposes, can Aikido Cultivate Evil?

We are not talking about a person joined Aikido for a decent cause, and then turned ‘evil’ later on. I am specifically asking, a person, who is already ‘evil’, harboring immoral thoughts, join Aikido, learn sufficiently to carry out evil deeds?

Not to stereotype other martial arts, but striking arts like Karate, Tae Kwon Do, MMA, showcased a far greater range of ‘kinetic’ techniques, punches, kicks, chokes, take downs, which can be easily learned. One can become quite technically sound after a short span of time in these arts, and these skills can be effectively employed on anyone with obvious devastating effect. Put it in a simple form, most Armed Forces in world would teach their cadres Krav Maga, as oppose to Taichi. I hope I’ve made my point. I think, someone with an evil mind can learn such a skill and apply it with quite a devastating effect.

That brings us to the the ‘application’ of the art. ‘Applied Aikido’

It is about application, I want to narrow the argument and not look at 2 very diplomatic response.

1-‘It depends                              2- ‘Its the singer not the song’

I can look at these 2 response and feel perfectly happy. If I simply embrace these 2 answers, we can keep this protracted post relatively short.

‘It depends’

Sure, Aikido is just a system,a martial arts, it depends on who learns it and how it is being used. Just like any other tools. It also depends on the circumstance of the person who is in training.

‘Its the singer not the song’

This discharges the Art of Aikido of all responsibilities on what kind of person it churns out. So it simply put it ‘Evil in, evil out.’ If the person already has a predisposed evil qualities, the person can learn Aikido for ten years and still continue to commit immoral acts. Its the person who takes the art, whatever art, that might be, and interpret it in a manner that suits the person’s predisposition.

There I’ve nailed it. Case Close.

But wait, it is not that simple.

Anyone who wants to learn Aikido to do evil, or twist the principles of Aikido for harm and selfish means, are wasting their time.  Aikido is not easy to master, and apply. The techniques are pretty easy, but the principle behind them are more difficult. Martial arts makes people think, feel and fail, long time practitioners of any martial arts discipline are generally nice folks. The relentless and rigorous regime of a martial arts discipline helps to temper the most violent souls, or at least those who are willing to undergo the tempering.

For Aikido, it is all the more difficult, as there are little or no kinetic based moves, kicks, explosive punches, deadly armbars, neck chokes. Most of the time Aikido moves are smooth and graceful, there are dramatic moves that hardly qualifies as violent. Aikidokas take swords, disarm daggers, but we are not really taught how to use them to great effect, we do not have ‘tanto-waza’, those who wants to learn how to use the katana to kill? Better grab a kitchen knife instead.

Evil or crime has to do with time. for anyone to seriously thinking about using Aikido as a skill to commit crime, will end up spending years before any proficiency can be attained. Crimes and wars are opportunistic events, you need to capitalise on that moment of weakness to achieve your gain, get your loot. It is a tactical game. Martial arts is a strategic game, it does things to your head in the long term, sure it can be tactically applied, but why? Why waste time learning irimi nage, to rob a person, when you can simply grab a knife and rob a person? Stab a person? Martial arts is about the relentless chase of perfection in the techniques, anyone who has a criminal mind, is unlikely to stay long enough to learn the skills to use in a crime.

Moreover, anyone who is serious in Martial Arts, knows that long time study of it can change a person, change the way you think about violence, how unfair the world is. The longitudinal endeavour of Martial Arts, helps a person discover and build character. It makes you become more related to the environment, helps cultivate a sense of interdependence. foster teamwork. You’ll understand that that is so much more to gain working together, than just with your own selfish agendas, as to commit an unlawful act.

Surely, there are some singers out there who wants to twist the songs to suit their needs,  but generally these are lousy singers, who just wants to sing a song anyway they want, and hence, any song will do, as long as the means gets them to the end. If you are serious about singing ONE song well, then you’ll have to take the time to find that song, in you. And when you sing a song well, you’ll have to sing it repeatedly, until the song becomes you, that will take too much time for anyone who just wants to sing a song.

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