Lai See

A black belt after 11 months of blood, sweat and tears

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 November, 2013, 3:12am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 November, 2013, 1:29pm

Why would you quit a good job in financial communications and a comfortable life in Hong Kong for 11 months of unremitting pain, exertion and tears? Yet this is what Rosie Slater let herself in for by leaving her well-paid job in corporate communications with an investment bank and taking herself off to Tokyo where she enrolled in the senshusei course, which is an intensive aikido course originally developed in the early 1960s to train the Tokyo Metropolitan Riot Police.

The course, which practises Yoshinkan Aikido, was opened to foreigners in the early 1990s. The course website notes that while previous aikido experience is highly recommended, it is not a prerequisite. "It is a very physical course that is difficult for both the experienced and novice to undertake."

Slater had no experience in either aikido. Nor did she speak Japanese. The first six months, she says, were "awful, awful, awful". In the blog she kept while doing the course, one entry entitled "snot and tears" describes her struggle to get through a critical test early on.

A normal session might consist of doing 180 press-ups or 800 backward break-falls. Classes were from 7.30am to 2pm, five days a week. At the end of a session, students would be bleeding from their exertions. She described doing 400 sit-ups as a relief from other more rigorous exertions. But she now has a black belt and did an extra four months to qualify as an instructor and, towards the end of her time, was teaching in Japanese.

The course attracted international attention after award-winning Oxford poet Robert Twigger did the course and wrote a book about it called Angry White Pyjamas. Slater read this some years ago and the idea nagged at her. In the years following the financial crisis, she wondered about her choice of job in the finance industry and this, together with her advancing years (33), convinced her that she could put it off no longer. The experience, she says, has been "transformational". "It made me feel very strongly how different your life can be when you are doing something that makes you feel good on a daily basis."

Clearly, she says, a course like that gives you confidence in your own ability and tolerance for pain and discomfort. "Before, I was very afraid of not having a job, an income and all the props that make you feel more secure and are afraid to lose. I think once you lose that fear, you are able to control much more what you do rather than just responding to a need or a fear."

Now back in Hong Kong and reunited with her husband, she wants to pass on some of this hard-earned experience. Slater has already started teaching children, and she's going to teach families at the Hong Kong Cricket Club. For some years, alumni of the senshusei course have been to a seminar in Japan to demonstrate how the principles of aikido can improve professional management skills. This is something she hopes to bring to corporates in Hong Kong.


How clean are incinerators?

Despite the proliferation of news about different technologies for treating Hong Kong's municipal solid waste, the Environmental Protection Department shows no sign of shifting from its initial plan. This is to install a large incinerator on Shek Kwu Chau, near Lantau, and then barge the toxic ash to be dumped in the ash lagoon near Tuen Mun. The pro-incinerator lobby insists that the modern incinerators give off very low emissions compared to their predecessors.

An Italian study in 2010 concluded that mothers exposed to air pollution from incinerators caused preterm deliveries of babies. That is, they were born within 37 weeks, which can lead to death and neurological disorders. A study in Spain in 2012 said there was a statistically higher risk among men and women alike of death from cancers in towns situated near incinerators and hazardous waste treatment plants.

A French study in 2010 confirms "a link between the risk of urinary tract birth defects and exposure to [municipal solid waste incinerator] emissions in early pregnancy". A report in the 1990s by the Belgian government on the Sint-Niklaas incinerator detailed a litany of horrific cancers in children.

Given this track record, we'd like to be assured that we are not going to get all this in Hong Kong.


Have you got any stories that Lai See should know about? E-mail them to