Eternally curious kohai, trying to explore the less known pathways of Aïkido, it gives me great pleasure to present you this interview, which wouldn't have been possible without the precious help of my wife. Her malaysian heritage has always counted for our family, and despite of the distance between France and Malaysia, we are constantly curious about how things evolve over there.
With this is mind, I am truly interested in Malaysian and Australian martial arts, and particularly the legacy of the late Sugano Shihan Sensei. However, this research, made difficult by the distance, has allowed me to discover a community of aikidokas, really kind, full of humor and simplicity, that I would like to present you.
One of the instructors, Jeng Min Pang, from the Penang Aikido dojo, has had the patience and the kindness to respond positively to my request of interview and, above all ,to start an interesting exchange, full of my kohai-type questions.
Here is the result of this exchange, about the pratice of our common discipline, Sugano Shihan and the famous malaysian weather.
I hope it will make you want to take a look at Malaysian aïkido, little known in France and yet of a very high-quality.
[Aïki-kohaï] : Pang Sensei, you are now Nidan, instructor at the aikido Dojo of Penang in Malaysia and you are also assistant instructor for the MAA (Malaysia Aikido Association). Obviously you have been practising Aikido for many years but….how did you discover this martial art ?
[JM Pang] : First of all, thank you for your interest in getting to know more about Aikido in Malaysia. I learn and pass on the knowledge and joy in Aikido but I am no Sensei by all means… probably 20~30 more years later I can consider so [laughs].
I discovered Aikido when I was 17 years old. During my university time, I had a chance to participate in Aikido, Karate and Judo classes. Aikido feels right… yes a feeling that is hard to describe by words. I continue to practise the art since then. Now that I am at my 30’s and being able to meet with many aikidoka and non-aikidoka, I started to appreciate Aikido even more, be it physically or philosophically.
[Aïki-kohaï] : The choice of a Sensei is essential. Who were the Sensei you have had the chance to work with since the beginning of your path? Do some of them continue to influence your current practice of aikido? If yes, how?
[JM Pang] : Malaysia Aikido Association are under the guidance of Seiichi Sugano Shihan. Sugano Shihan had influence our Aikido prominently. I am fortunate to learn from such great teacher and be graded by him. Dr. Leong Kok Weng Sensei (4th Dan, MAA, Malaysia) is one of my initial Sensei and I continue to learn from him to date. He is my teacher and mentor.
Throughout the years, I am fortunate to be able to meet and learn from many Shihan/Sensei. Among them are Hironobu Yamada Shihan (8th dan, Japan), Ikuhiro Kubota Shihan (8th dan, Japan), Tony Smibert Shihan (7th dan, Australia), Louis van Thieghem Shihan (6th dan, Belgium) and many more. Back here in Malaysia, I have a close relationship with Low Thian Seng Sensei (5th Dan, MAA, Malaysia), who is the president of MAA. He is a great teacher with ample of experience
Being able to learn from them has helped me to be better a person. They have demonstrated their technical knowledge and wisdom from time to time. I am grateful towards all the teachers whom had influenced my path in Aikido.
[Aïki-kohaï] : Being a professor must be a big responsability. What is the reason why you decided to specifically turn to teaching aikido? Do you teach in other dojos?
[JM Pang] : Aikido leaves a lot of positive impact to people. Body, mind and spirit. From physical aspect, Aikido brings health and safety knowledge to people. From mental aspect, Aikido improves awareness and attentiveness towards a matter or another fellow human via nage-uke practise. From spiritual aspect, I feel more calm, fulfilled and joyful after each keiko. It is also my personal fulfilment of being able to meet and connect with people around the world. Aikido enables me to connect to you now [laughs].
I have four Aikido dojos in Penang. Apart from teaching Aikido, I give Self Defense seminars.
J.M Pang in Penang Dojo (source : J.M P)
[Aïki-kohaï] : I found MAA had many dojos in Malaysia. Is our discipline really popular?
[JM Pang] : Yes there are a number of MAA Aikido Dojo(s) throughout Malaysia. With the dedication from MAA Sensei(s) and students, the art has become more popular. We continuously promote the art and provide our help and support for anyone who wishes to understand Aikido more.
[Aïki-kohaï] : I'm glad to hear that ! In France, aikido has existed for 50 years. The first time it was represented was in 1951, by Master Minoru Mochizuki. Our aikido then became independent thanks to successive representants of Aikikai and then French professors such as Christian Tissier shihan or Bernard Palmier shihan, themselves trained in Japan. Could you tell us about how aikido and specifically MAA became popular in Malaysia?
[JM Pang] : You may refer to the History of Malaysia Aikido Association [...]
[Aïki-kohaï's note] : In the web links J.M Pang sent me, it is explained that Malaysian aïkido was introduced in the 1960s by Thamby Rajah sensei from Yoshinkan Aikido. In 1965, Michael Tham Sensei started Aikikai Aikido in Seremban dojo and then in 1975 at the YMCA of Kuala Lumpur. Masatake Fujita, Kisaburo Osawa Sensei and Moriteru Ueshiba, named waka sensei at that time, visited Malaysia.
For 20 years, several sucessive japanese senseïs have visited the country in order to promote Aikido. In 1982, when Michael Tham Sensei retired, George Lo Sensei was appointed as Instructor at Kuala Lumpur dojo but in 1988, George Lo Sensei left for Australia. The Malaysia Aikido Association was formed and registered in 1994 and in 1999 Seiichi Sugano Shihan finally accepted to guide the MAA.
[Aïki-kohaï] : I have read that the MAA was very close to Seiichi Sugano Shihan, pioneer of Aikido. Have you ever had the chance to meet him? Have you ever worked under his guidance? Do you have any anecdote to tell us regarding this inspiring Sensei, who is unfortunately less known in France compared to Nakazono sensei, Noro Sensei or Tamura Sensei?
[JM Pang] : Sugano Shihan was one of O'Sensei uchi deshi. He had guided MAA and graded many Sensei(s) and students of MAA. I have been attending his classes and seminars here in Malaysia. Sugano Shihan continue to travel the world teaching Aikido albeit he had a below the knee amputation in 2003. Sugano Shihan was a great man with extraordinary Aikido spirit and dedication. After the passing of Sugano Shihan, we continue preserve his legacy and teaching standard. We often invite his senior students such as Tony Smibert Shihan, Robert Botterill Shihan, Hanan Janiv Shihan, Louis van Thieghem Shihan, and George Lo Sensei for seminars in Malaysia.
Seiichi Sugano Sensei in 1965
(source : John Turnbull/budoshugyosha that I recommend you :-))
[Aïki-kohaï] : Do you know about French aikido? If yes, how is it regarded in Malaysia?
[JM Pang] : I have attended Christian Tissier Shihan classes in IAF (International Aikido Federation) seminar but personally, I have not trained in French Aikido. Christian Tissier Shihan is well known and FFAAA is a big Aikido organization. I am happy to see many people enjoying Aikido in France daily.
[Aïki-kohaï] : Have you already been to Hombu Dojo in Japan?
[JM Pang] : Yes. During my visit to Hombu Dojo, I have met Hayato Osawa Shihan. Osawa Shihan had visited Malaysia too. I was fortunate to be one of his uke during his visit.
[JM Pang] : George Lo Sensei is one of the pioneer teacher in Malaysia in the early 80’s. In the late 80’s, he had moved to Australia. George Lo Sensei is a student of Sugano Shihan and now AikiKai Australia 6th Dan Shidoin. He often come back to Malaysia for seminars and classes. Besides seminars in Kuala Lumpur, George Lo Sensei had visited my dojo in Penang few times.
[Aïki-kohaï] : How does a keiko look like in a Malaysian Dojo? For instance, do you spend time practising buki waza or any special exercises? Do you organize sporting and playful activities? Children courses?
[JM Pang] ; Every Sensei has his/her specific way of conducting a class but generally MAA Sensei conducts classes closely adhere to the syllabus approved by MAA National Technical Teaching Committee. For my dojo, we have a monthly weapons class along with general classes. We practise breathing exercise and some specific exercises passed down by Sugano Shihan. I conduct children classes too. It is very joyful for me to see children smiling and sharing their stories to me after class. We do have yearly gathering and leisure activities. I believe in training hard and having fun along.
[Aïki-kohaï] : Malaysia is well known for its heat and humidity (my wife is always telling me about it). Do you think a French aikidoka would suffer from the climate? Do you have a different pedagogical approach due to the environment?
[JM Pang] : Yes, I have students from Germany who felt the same at the beginning. Some aikidoka even told me it’s hard to breath during my class in Penang Dojo. Initially non-Malaysian aikidoka will feel discomfort due to the weather and humidity here but after a week or so, body starts to adjust and the keiko will be fine. Everyone now enjoys the condition as part of the training. Be prepared to sweat... a lot [laughs].
A keiko under the guidance of J.M Pang (source : J.M P)
[Aïki-kohaï] : Luckily, in France, many high-level women practice aikido. Are there any woman Sensei in the MAA?
[JM Pang] : There are a number of women fuku-shidoin in MAA. I would say there no difference between man and woman in Aikido. Everyone can learn Aikido, and pass on the knowledge.
[Aïki-kohaï] : According to you, what are the essential values of Aikido? And what can it do for you?
[JM Pang] :“Aikido is a way. There is commitment and there is obligation. Do not abuse or misuse the art of Aikido. Study carefully, honestly and humbly. Respect your seniors and take care of your juniors. "
These are the values passed down by Sugano Shihan. They continue to inspire me to be a better person in Aikido as well as in my daily life. From my point of view, Aikido is a continuous learning process. It does not matter when you start, but it matters if you continue doing it, enjoy the journey and grow to be a better person.
[Aïki-kohaï] : Thank you JM Pang for this interview and for your time, despite of the jetlag ! [laughs]
[JM Pang] : I wish you all the best in your Aikido journey. Thank you and hope to meet you someday at dojo. Take care!