Teacher's New Year Message 2017

天亮了(Tian liang le), the dawn has broken, the rooster announces.

It is the year of the rooster, the Fire rooster. Rooster has represented many different virtues or symbols in different cultures. However, with the Chinese, together with its behavior and appearance, the rooster symbolizes five distinct virtues.

Starting from the top down, the roosters’ comb makes it look like an officer in the Mandarin court, the cap that the officials wore in earlier time in the Chinese court. Thus the rooster is regarded as noble as well as wise. The rooster always holds itself upright, projecting great confidence and pride.

It has two spurs which represent martial virtue. As a young boy I would often watch the adolescent roosters chasing each other, back and forth, forth and back, trying to establish dominance. They may fight for days, until one gives up. Thus its conduct in battle is associated with courage.

Leadership and family men in taking care of the hens - it will continuously call to the hens when it finds a delicious snack, a fat worm, always busily scratching the ground, helping to look for more food to feed the family. A very generous compassionate and caring heart.

The fearless rooster is also supposed to chase and drive evil influences from the house. It is one of the favorite subjects among the Chinese brush painters. So full of life and colour.

Each day it never fails to greet the dawn with its call, more reliable and accurate than the alarm clock, as it never fails. It always looks so confident when it does it. One rooster call will trigger another, pretty soon you will hear a symphony of them from different corners, that is if you did not party too much and stay up late the night before, and are able to wake up early enough.

Thus it is a ‘symbol of honesty, as well as physical and moral fortitude.’ So what are you if you are born in the year of the hen? The same as the rooster, I guess. You are supposed to be very observant, courageous, hardworking, resourceful and talented. So do not fail the rooster, you’ve got to keep on your spurs… toes, I mean.

Chinese New Year follows the lunar calendar and is just like the New Year that follows the solar calendar - it is time of new beginnings and signifies a fresh start for everyone. A complete new year to start accomplishing all our goals and to carry out our resolutions, or to finish the one left over from last year.

Looking back, 2016 was supposed to be a difficult year, as you may have heard or read in the media. But now with 2017 less than a week old I have to turn off the radio often, with so much anger and predictions of horrible things to come. Wow! Where can I hide? 

It reminds me of my childhood primary school book with the story of the chicken that ran amok screaming and shouting to every other creature that bothered to listen, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling.” Well, the morning that happened, the rooster was busy pecking and scratching the ground with its head down and a suddenly, a loud bang sent it panicking. I guess, if we double check and look around we could will be calmer and less hysterical. There is never a lack of experts in any field or subject. Just look, there are even books on all kinds of topics for ‘Dummies.. .’. The book on Tai Chi for dummies really strikes a chord in me.

It is also quite like a funny story that I had heard, it goes like this ..
Farmer Smith has a pond in his backyard. Every spring and summer he has difficulty to fall asleep. There is a symphony of frog singing every evening and night. It is not singing of course in the farmer’s perspective, but noise. So he decided and went into town to see Mr. Wong. Lao Wong, a Chinese, who of course owned a restaurant. Smith proposed to Wong a business deal, by which he would provide him with frog legs, a culinary delicacy. Smith guarantees he has millions of frog in his backyard by the amount of the croaking they make. However, next day Smith came back with empty hands, to sheepishly break the truth to a disappointed Wong, that actually there were only two frogs that make all the racket.’ So it is important to check the source. 

Chinese New Year is very much a family event where the social side of things is concerned and is a time of reunion and thanksgiving. Chinese people will always try their best to get home for the New Year Eve dinner and be with the family. Many delicious dishes will be prepared and good wishes exchanged.

At the dojo I celebrate with my family and students on the CNY eve. Students being an important part of the dojo with all the time we spend learning together, we have developed a close-knit group, each caring for one another. So what better way to celebrate a new year and our  journey together on the same path? A path of self-cultivation, self-development and mutual prosperity. We have a beautiful dinner together, with the giving of Ang Pow and singing the CNY song, a very happy and merry time together. 

I assume you have made some kind resolution for the New Year, like most of us who have not given up. Here, I think commitment is most important in order to fulfill our heart’s desire, and this requires the ‘illusive ‘discipline. In the beginning our resolution is strong and our will to succeed is clear. Every year, I pretty much have an idea what I should try to accomplish. Nothing grand or elusive, just something very ordinary or simple. I always want to improve my Tai Ji and Aikido both physically and spiritually. Always check myself not to fall into laziness. Sometimes it is difficult, as in our life there are always difficulties, conflict of time, tiredness, you name it. The students and the teaching help, as I am aware I should always be better and ahead of my students in order to set a good example for them to follow.
Keeping oneself fit both physically, mentally and spiritually, requires constant practice, taking care of one health, and resting well. Have some idle time for yourself and eat properly etc. as is necessary for good health.

It is also necessary to keep an open, curious mind. There are always two sides to anything, right or wrong, depending on which side you take. We need to go beyond our own thinking and try to understand the other side. We may disagree but if we are aware that there are different others, then we may agree that we can disagree for now. Making an effort, given an opportunity we may understand later. ‘Birds of a feather flock together.’ We tend to seek out those who agree with us and disregard those who do not.

I think it is better to seek the middle ground, as opinion is just opinion, and usually taking the extreme will often lead to discord. We all have a right to our opinion, but we just have to remember that it is limited due to our knowledge, experience, and our biases, that we looking thought a filtered glass. 

In Aikido classes, I often remind the students we have to think and look for what is appropriate in the execution of an attack or defensive move. Different situations and different circumstances require different, appropriate solutions. We are not robots, (but they are getting better,) we always make adjustments to cope with different situations. No one size fits all. This way we will develop sensitivity and improve our awareness. 
Well, I have to go and do more scratching, to find the morsels of life, ‘simplify my life and check my desire’. 

Do smile. It makes the world goes round.