Monthly Archives: April 2014


In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki.


Shoshin- Beginners mind. Sho – first or beginner. Shin – mind or spirit. An attitude of openness and lack to preconceptions enabling one to better study a art. Seeing things each time as if the first, keeping training both fresh and alive. To maintain such a state of awareness requires putting aside the ego while training, allowing body and mind to be conditioned suitably. While simple at first as a student gains proficiency this important state of mind is often lost and with it the opportunity it contains.  Internal dialogue and {over} self criticism make it next to impossible to effectively study. Rushing to learn will only slow us down.

This concept came to my mind recently. Whilst training with a yudansha student from a different system of Aikido on a course which was different to both of us. This person was having problems understanding the technique as the instructor was showing it. His frustration got the better of him and he just started to do things his own way. He lost his beginners mind, only doing things the way he was comfortable with and in doing so ceasing to learn.

This is a common problem among advanced students/instructors of marital arts in general. People get so comfortable in what they do that they forget that there is another way.
I train in a few arts, having the opportunity to train in many systems and I consider myself lucky to be able to do so. If I go to a seminar of Jujutsu or Iaido I leave behind my Nidan in Aikido. I go to learn from a particular instructor. My previous experience is likely to be more of a hindrance than an advantage. I believe this mentality is especially important for studying more than one art.

I have found that students of traditional Karate are especially good at retaining this attitude . I have two students who have previously studied Karate, quite in depth. I think through intense Kata practice they have conditioned their minds to retain this  shoshin, enabling them to better learn Aikido and Katori Shinto Ryu.

Shoshin is only one aspect of training in Budo, but I find that the instructors I am drawn too, retain at least some aspect of this in their training. To effectively study Kata it is necessary to see each move as both the first and the last, otherwise its just going through familiar steps. Likewise in Aikido or Jujutsu there are many ways to do a technique. You may have one which you prefer but if studying with a instructor perhaps from a different system it is helpful to take a fresh look.

The 5 Spirits of Budo – – Shoshin (beginners Mind)
                                                – Zanshin (Lingering Mind)
                                                – Mushin (No Mind)
                                                – Fudoshin (Immovable Mind)
                                                – Senshin (Purified spirit; enlightened attitude)


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Sensei Ray visits Waterford Dojo

On Sunday 6th April Waterford Aikido welcomed Sensei Ray Butcher 4th Dan and his students to our Dojo.


Ray is the head instructor of Henshin Aikido and also teaches Brazilian Jujutsu and Ashtanga Yoga. He is a student of Patrick Cassidy Sensei based in Switzerland. Ray’s approach to Aikido is not unlike our own. Reishiki is performed the same way and like Takemusu has a good grounding in Kihon {basics}. Over the three hours we practiced many exercises, starting with Tai No Henko. Using the same principle and applying it to different situations, stances and technique. This is a wonderful way to train, and not to confusing for our beginners.

Ray also talked about the important of working with your partner to improve. For Uke to look for Keishi Waza {reversals} and in doing so improve Tori technique. It is important to not see Aikido in terms of taking Goes. Doing the technique 4 times and then changing sides. That is a boring mentality to have. Better to learn all the time and enjoy the entire practice. As Ray said ‘ It’s all Aikido ‘ He also spoke about not seeing your partner as separate but rather as an extension of yourself. This state allows for more free flowing movement.

After training Sensei Ray and his student Alan went to visit Inistioge and had some lunch made by my wife Susie. We exchanged stories and jokes, and had a stroll along the River. I very much look forward to having Ray back.

Henshin Aikido –





Filed under Aikido, Courses

Demo in Windgap, Co. Kilkenny

On Friday 4th April Joseph Kennedy and Kieran Nipress gave a Demo of  Takemusu Aikido and Katori Shinto Ryu to the Windgap Youth Club. There where about 40 kids present and several adults. When we arrived the kids where running all over the place and yelling. Just generally being kids. They did however in all fairness sit down and stay more or less quiet while we showed them what we do. I gave a brief talk about Aikido and why I do it, and the kids listened responsively.  They where especially attentive when I took out my Iaito and showed the Iaijutsu of Katori Shinto Ryu. The demo concluded and we invited the children up two at a time to have a go at the shihonage throw. Me and Kieran must have taken ukemi 100 times on that cold hard floor. All part of training I supposed. We finished with everyone standing doing some Kiai’s. Hope fun was had by all and thanks to Liz Jackson for the invite.20140404_162132

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Atemi – A strike to body, in Aikido and Traditional Jujutsu is followed by a throw or pinning technique.


In Aikido Atemi is commonly used to distract or unbalance as a precursor to technique. A strike generally to the head, sometimes to the chest is used accompanied by a movement of entering to the side, possibly while turning. The atemi should change the positioning of uke. It is a means to an end. In this way it differs from Karate where students learn to perform the ‘perfect’ strike.

There is another form of Atemi which is a lot less obvious to an on-looker or beginner. The Atemi is not shown but it is there. For example, Ikkyo Ura { am armbar technique involving stepping behind}.  In Ikkyo Ura {Ai Hamni Katatedori}, You use at least 2 Atemi. The first to the face but with the grab of uke this is not a full Atemi but necessary all the same. The second at uke’s side is to the side of the head. But the elbow is in the way, this Atemi facilitates the taking of the arm. The forward pressure continues till uke is on the ground. Either of these Atemi make contact with the head, but this is why it is effective. There is a lot of this kind of Atemi in Aikido. The founder of Aikido is often quoted as saying ‘ Atemi is 90% of Aikido’ or 70% sometimes. This needs to be taken in context of the different kinds of Atemi.

Whatever the amount, it is important. So why do many not bother with it. I think this has a lot to do with instructors obsessing with non-violence and wanting a specific image for themselves. This is nonsense in my opinion. It is something to hide behind and feel good about yourself. Safe in the illusion that you could defend yourself without doing any harm.

I understand that Aikido has with it a philosophy of non-violence and I think that’s great but again it needs to do taken into context. A aspect of Aikido is to take violence and turn it around, it is not brutality.  However a smack to the face of an attacker isn’t violent as I see it. As the saying goes ‘Everyone can do with a good kick on the arse now and then’.

Non-Violence is an Aim, a spiritual concept, something to strive for, doing less harm. But hiding behind ideas is pointless at best.

Image“My technique is 70 percent atemi (striking) and 30 percent nage (throwing).” Ueshiba Sensei

For more on this subject please see this excellent article by Stanley Pranin of Aikido Journal


Filed under Aikido, Budo Concepts



Rei – Respect, Etiquette. An essential part of Budo practice and yet often misunderstood. I wish to speak about this from my own perspective and understanding based on studying Budo far from Japan.

Rei has many aspects.

A beginner’s first impression of Rei would likely be focused on the physical act of bowing.

Firstly upon entering the Dojo. This signifies honoring the space, fellow students, teacher and tradition. It should also help the student leave their cares behind and enter into a space where they can focus and learn. Put differently ‘To Leave their Ego at the door’.

Katori Shinto Ryu and Takemusu Aikido share a similar method of bowing to the Kamiza. The Shinto ritual of clapping twice between bowing is observed at the beginning and end of classes I teach. From what I understand, it is believed in Shinto that this has the effect of clearing negative energies or spirits from the space. Another more practical function is to get everyone together as students studying something they deeply wish to learn. If people are able to do this with the correct timing this may help make the session go more smoothly.

We also bow to each other before and after training together. This should help encourage mutual respect, hopefully making training safer.

For me this mutual respect is essential. It is however no guarantee, while etiquette may help achieve mutual respect in a Dojo, it is possible to follow these steps as empty gestures bowing to your partner and then throwing them into the mat with no concern for their well being.

While it is important that respect is shown to the teacher without whom there would be no class, the teacher must have respect for his/her students and by doing so help create an atmosphere of mutual respect.

This being said it is vital for a student to follow the teachers lead. A good student of Budo must try to absorb the form by repeating movements over and over gain. Only then can he/she be conditioned by it and perhaps learn the essence of the art.

Martial Arts are dangerous at the best of times. Without respect for each other a lot more injuries are likely to occur. Injuries will of course happen even with the best intentions but it should be a lot less. Rei should encourage students and teachers to accept each other’s training levels, flexibility or lack thereof, strengths and weaknesses. A simple example being to know or feel a person ability of ukemi before throwing them. Challenging them a bit maybe, but not too much.

For me learning etiquette is an interesting experience. For example going to a seminar or visiting another Dojo and not being 100% sure where to sit. For this I found it is best to go with the flow and if at all possible to be informed before hand.

So Rei is many things, and can differ. I feel that the overall purpose is the same in all traditional arts. To honor the Tradition, the Sensei, the Space and  fellow students.


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