Teacher's New Year Message 2017

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

This is the year of the Fire Rooster. Rooster has represented many different virtues or symbols in different cultures. However, for the Chinese, from its behavior and appearance, the rooster symbolizes five distinct virtues.
Starting at the top.. 
The rooster’s comb makes it look like an officer in the Mandarin court, with the cap that the officials wore in earlier times in China. 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 is associated with courage in battle.

Leadership in taking care of the hens and chicks - it will always call to them 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 believed 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 greets the dawn with its call, more reliable and accurate than an alarm clock, it never fails. It always looks so confident when it crows. One rooster call will trigger another, and 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 if you are born in the year of the rooster? 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 a time of new beginnings, and signifies a fresh start for everyone. A whole new year to start accomplishing all our goals and carrying out our resolutions, or to finish ones 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 with 2017 less than a week old I had 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 suddenly, a loud bang sent it panicking. I think if we double check and look around we could 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 disturbs me. 
There is a funny story that I 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 frogs singing every evening and night. It is not singing of course to the farmers ears, but noise. So he decided and went into town to see Mr. Wong, a Chinese, who owned a restaurant. Smith proposed to Wong a business deal, by which he would provide him with frog legs, a culinary delicacy. Smith guaranteed he has millions of frogs 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 Chinese New Year 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 Chinese New Year song, a very happy and merry time together.
I assume you have made some kind of 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 ‘ellusive’ 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, just something very ordinary or simple. I always want to improve my Tai Chi and Aikido both physically and spiritually. Always I 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 our 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 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, and 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, 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 desires’. 

Do smile. It makes the world go round.