Category Archives: Life

TOKYO

Japan Trip – Week 3

I returned to Ireland last Sunday and having had some time to reflect on my visit to Japan here is a short piece on the last part (for now) of my travels in Japan

I spent the last part of my trip in Tokyo! I stayed in a capsule hostel in the Chou district, a quieter part of Tokyo with easy access of the rest of the city via the metro. Stayed in a capsule was a surprisingly comfortable experience, not as tight as I would have thought, clean and well ventilated.

My main reason for wanting to visit Tokyo was to visit the Dojo of Onoha Itto Ryu. I spent a weekend training there. The Reigakudō is headed by Sasamori Takemi the 17th Soke of the school. I had meet Sasamori Sensei last year at a seminar in Italy and have wanted to learn more of this system since. It is a deeply fascinating Art, one that requires a great deal of focus to perform even the most basic of movements. The atmosphere at this Dojo needs to be experienced to be understood. It is both a very friendly, warm open environment and at the same time intense and serious. I was able to train with each person there and had a slightly different feeling of the Kata each time. As I am new to this School I was working on the first 5 Kata. These are quite short compared to Kata of other school. Each seems to focus on a specific principle requiring a lot of repetition to have any level of understanding. I am very grateful to Sasamori Soke for being permitted to train in his Dojo. Domo Arigato. Also thanks very much to his students there for their patience when training with me. Very much appreciated.

About my experince of Onoha Itto Ryu training in Italy last Year – aikijoseph.wordpress.com/2015/06/11/onoha-itto-ryu/

The rest of my stay in Tokyo was just 3 days. I had few plans for this time as I mostly just wanted to get a feel for the place. I toured around the city a bit, spent some time sitting in cafes and bars, just watching people go by, met up with an Argentinian friend ‘Nahuel’ for a day. Visited the Aikikai Hombu Dojo for a few classes and had a lovely night out with a couple of people I met there! Ate some strange, tasty food and sampled the local Drink!

 

 

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Muden Juku Sapporo

Japan Trip- Week 2

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View from top of Mount Maruyama

I arrived in Tokyo on Friday after a wonderful week in Sapporo, training with Iida Sensei and his students of the Muden Juku.
On the Saturday there was an Embu. A demonstration organised by the Muden Juku and also included an Aikido demo and a sword group which seemed to incorporate Iai with a traditional dance. I participated in the Embu by showing 3 techniques from Seiza. What normally could have been a nerve wrecking experience was made quite relaxed by the attitude of the group, everyone showed some techniques with Iida Sensei showing the more complex waza. There was also a shakahachi performance.
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On the Sunday we had a seminar with about 10 people in attendance. We studied a lot of waza, but the most interesting aspects would have to be the training method, the subtle differences from person to person and Iida Sensei’s explanations some of which a couple of students were nice enough to translate for me! The attention to detail is remarkable, with each person working at their own level and improving bit by bit. The most difficult thing for me about studying Daito Ryu would have to be that there is so much to focus on and at the same time it must be relaxed and clear headed!

On Monday evening was the regular class! We took a closer close at some techniques from the day course and the Embu. For me Iida Sensei adviced taking a lot more Ukeki which is how I spent that class. A fairly intense experience! He also adviced on staying more in line. As the techniques of Daito Ryu are mostly direct this is something essential to work on!

On Wednesday I trained in the Dojo of Katano Miwako. Normally her class is for Women so I was honoured to be invited. She was an exceptional understanding of Aiki, and is well enabled to pass on the most subtle aspects of the school.

The rest of my time in Sapporo was spent exploring the city and its surrounding hills, from where you can see the city, a beautiful place and some truly amazing people. Thank You Sapporo!

hokkaido shrine

hokkaido shrine

 

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Shōganji Zen

Japan Trip- Week 1

For the last week I have been staying at Shōganji Zen Temple the home of Zen Monk Jiho Kongo and his Mother in the beautiful coastal village of Ojuki about a half hour from the city of Oita.

The day begin at 5.30 with a half hour of chanting before an hour of Zazen meditation. At 8 some tea and from 9 till 10 with Pierre who is currently living there for a half year. Lunch is at half 11 and was consistency amazing. The range is food is just wonderful. It was great to have a week of such tasty and heathy food. The rest of the day differs. There is some chores and small jobs around the temple and garden. A few days we went off as a group and the rest of the afternoons I spent mostly on my own, walking through the local villages, forests and along the coast.

The meditation I found quite difficult in the beginning but the second day was already easier. However the ease or not of it, it still is a great way to start your day. I found going early and listening to some of the chanting to be quite helpful. Pierre made the point though that the quality of meditation is not as important as just doing it. I found myself starting to fell asleep, just waking up as I leaned forward enough to disturb my balance. I asked Jiho about this and he said its fine just go with it. Which is quite reassuring. This is definitely a practice I will continue with.

My stay here has been a wonderful experience. A quiet and relaxed time, exactly what I needed.

zenretreat.com

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Lost in Detail

This short piece is an attempt to answer a question posed by a fellow student.

There are so many things to focus on in training. Timing, distance, balance, posture, technique an. The thing is though that all too often focusing on these can serve the opposite of the desired effect. With more things on mind than can be sensibly dealt with we can’t see clearly. Its something I’ve been noticing more and more in people. Self criticism and an emotional need to succeed. While perfectly understandable these things are often counter productive, slowing down progress and take away from any enjoyment in training. Teaching methods used in Budo can help to overcome these problems.

A consistency in the teaching of Traditional Budo is that technique is taught in layers. With little to no explanation at first, complexity being added as the student advances. By learning the first idea we become ready for the second and so on. Some people I have met have gotten quite upset about this, seeing it as a kind of elitist arrogance on the part of instructors as if holding back what they know to keep a student in the Dark. This is not the intention (rarely). It is quite an important aspect of education in quite a general sense, enabling the practitioner to gain a solid grounding from which to learn from. The understanding gained in this way will be far more intuitive than if you took a more intellectual approach. When learning with the body it is necessary to put a lot of mental activity to the side, not to say that it cant be helpful to think but it just needs to be kept in balance.

For example I am learning to play the fiddle at the moment. Quite a painful process at times, for my family more than me! I have an excellent teacher, Stefanie. I practice with her weekly, mostly very simple bowing exercises such as going up and down scales. With the learning of tunes I prefer to take it slow. adding to what I have already learnt as slowly as is practical. Only when one has been learnt to heart should another be added to practice. Like in Budo, the constant practice of basics builds the habits useful for complexity. Any teacher I work with teaches in a similar way to this. Having accepted this process makes learning new skills more enjoyable and  far less frustrating. I always find that it is a pity when a person can not just enjoy training, study or anything in life just for its own sake.

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Onoha Ittō Ryū

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a seminar of  Onoha Ittō Ryū given by Soke Sasamori Takemi in Gradara Italy. A very interesting experience and a really lovely group to train with. In and out of the Dojo.

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A month ago during the Budo Springs in Verona I met some students of OHIR. I was given a brief introduction to the system and became intrigued. I felt a need to explore the school more. Valentino told me that the Head of the school was making his annual trip to Europe soon, this time to Italy. I organised myself and went along. The trip over was less than fun. I had to spend Thursday night in Stansted Airport, and got little sleep. Two flights and a train ride later I arrived at Cattolica. Waiting to greet and take me to the training where Claudio and Mirco, both in keikogi and hakama. Mirco I had met in Verona last month and Claudio just then. We arrive at the Dojo with training already in full swing. It was about 4 o clock so I was quite late. After a introduction to Soke, I began training. I worked on Kamae and the first Kata for this training. I was extremely tired already when I arrived, but I tried my best. I was probably even less coherent than usual, but it was really touching how patient everyone I trained with was.

The feeling among this group was very positive. People came from Japan, Germany, Belgium, United States, Italy to train together with the Soke. Despite living so far apart, it really felt like the extension of one Dojo. I was one of 5 beginners at this course, and happy to say I didn’t feel that I was slowing anyone down as everyone I trained with had a good attitude towards training.

After a good meal, some wine and a decent nights sleep I was in better spirits to focus my attention on training. The training started the same way each day. With Rei, Warm up,  Suburi, Kamae practice. The Reishiki is of intense importance to the School and is quite unique I think. You face your partner in Seigan and lower the bokken together till on the ground overlapping a few inches. Sitting back into Seiza we bow to each other. Timing is of great importance to this. This is done at the beginning and the end of practice. The rest of the time, the rei is performed by subtly lowering the hips. Soke cares about the Reishiki of his school and had us repeat this a few times till he was satisfied.

The first principle of OHIR Kenjutsu is Kiriotoshi. This is the basic cut and the first kata. Stepping into the attack a fraction later and gaining the centre line and raising again with forward pressure cutting again. Stepping into the attack was a lot to get used too, but there is something very liberating about this also. The movements of this school are relaxed and natural, and yet the pressure of a sword raising forward towards the neck is oddly unsettling.  This is however what attracted me to this school in the first place. Both the intensity and the relaxed nature of OHIR make it very interesting and also enjoyable.

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photos taken by Nao Ishiyama

Saturday evening we had a meal all together. I think we where in Pesaro, but Iam not quite sure. We where in restaurant on a beach. After a couple of hours of eating from a continually replenished buffet there were a few speeches given by the organisers and Sasamori Soke, Asai sensei and Ishizaki sensei. This was all very heart felt. Everyone was thanked for their attendance and for helping making the weekend a success. The Soke spoke of being happy that people where continuing to practice. He had also brought along a Print he had made from a piece of his own calligraphy. He had one for each student. Which simply says ‘Itto’ along with the symbol of the school. I very much look forward to training Onoha Ittō Ryū again.

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onohaittoryuitalia.org

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Sorry?- Don’t be

Hope this is helpful. This is based on many people passing through my classes the past 5 years. The sooner this automatic apologising can be gotten over the better. Its not about being polite. Actually saying Sorry out of context completely invalidates the word. And if I hear it repetitively for small things it loses all meaning.

I hear this a lot. Sorry, sorry, sorry. There is no need to apologise for making a mistake or not understanding something explained. This is perhaps one of the biggest mental blocks to making progress I have found in people. Its a bad habit that needs to be overcome and doing so will have positive repercussions on life in general.
Please don’t apologise for your existence. Its depressing to say the least. It shows that the individual is constantly disappointed with themselves. Not being Perfect isn’t a problem, but being upset about it is. So long as there is a focus on this, there cant be real genuine progress.

I think the only way to truly start understanding Budo is just to train and keep at it. Focusing on progressing is very counter productive. Worrying about getting better will only slow a person down. Anyone. Try to stop judging yourself and especially comparing yourself to others. A totally pointless thing to do. Quite understandably though in all fairness. Everyone feels like this sometimes. Accept it and keep training.

Our society is obsessed with progress. Few things are done for their own sake. To win at a game is a very small victory, to get a new grade is also. If reading a book only to know how it ends can you really enjoy the experience of just reading? A Dojo isn’t a place to get things right, its a place of study and you cant study anything without getting it wrong. I don’t know why a person would expect themselves to be able to come into a martial arts class and be able to train at the same level as everyone else. It has been said by many people that an instructor can only transmit a part of an art. It is up to student to absorb and make it their own. To begin to do this the mind must be clear.

Sorry? So Please forget about being Sorry and just accept yourself as you are. You ll be happier for it and so will everyone else.

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Adaptation

Written in collaboration with my Aikido teacher and friend, Sensei Simone Chierchini. Head Instructor of the International Aikido Academy which I represent in Ireland. Other Dojo in Italy, Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

internationalaikidoacademy.com

Adaptability was a theme of our Aikido Spring Course. Sensei Simone stressed the importance of retaining flexibility of mind. For this to sink in it is important to keep calm ,centered, and not to fixate on technique. It is easy of course to fall into the trap of applying techniques against the will of an attacker\ partner but in terms of learning Aiki its pointless. Moving from the centre, an attack must be led to its logical conclusion, without resorting to brunt strength or with aggression.

The ability to adapt to different situations and people is at the heart of Aikido. In particular this touches the meaning of Takemusu Aiki. For Simone Takemusu Aikido is not defined by techniques but by the idea of Takemusu. With the study of natural movement and principles, the expression of Aikido should sprout spontaneously, like water from a well. Therefore his teaching is centered around encouraging this in others. In his words ‘My vision of training in Aikido is that of, looking for the authentic and individual spark that we all have and to be able to manifest it, at least to some degree.’ Kata and Kihon exercises are extremely useful insofar as instilling martial principles and correct body habits. But the more dynamic, fluid and expressive aspect of Aikido must be explored as well. ‘any kind of training I propose, even the army style ones, with rigid forms and no freedom, is actually intended to evolve into an increasingly wider degree of freedom of movement and expression. Aikido for me means to gain access to tools of self enlightenment.’

Also when training with these things in mind, it becomes easier for the body to absorb the underlying principles. For example for some beginning students, the temptation is to studying the technique, to understand it at an intellectual level. This is useful to the extent of learning footwork but litte further. To truly begin to train we must learn to switch off the head and being to study with body and mind integrated. When the student has absorbed the basics, it should become possible to explore Takemusu Aiki. Breaking free of restraints and moving freely.

When not focused on technique we can relax our minds and hopefully the underlining principles of Aiki can start to seep in. How may this be helpful in general life? For example when faced with confrontation it is easier to hold to our own fixed view. Inflexible and unable to comprehend the reality of what may be going on. If we are able to apply the ideas of Takemusu into daily life we should gain a greater understanding of ourselves and others.

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Besides from Ireland, Sensei Simone is also teaching in Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and of course Italy. The week before coming to Ireland he had been in Iran. Between teaching he was able to do a lot of site seeing and to immerse himself into this fascinating culture. He found the Iranian people to be wonderfully warm, open and joyous. This contradicts the impression of the European mainstream and perhaps suggests that many of our preconceived notions may of off center if not completely incorrect. We often hold so true to our own ideas and beliefs that we cant see the wood for the trees.

Bringing this idea full circle and back to training. We train together as a Dojo.

We are all training with the same aim. To know who we are.

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Healthy Budo

What is the value of martial arts training? Besides from self defence that is. What are we left with? For me the benefits of training are of a particular interest. Whether physical or spiritual we must get something from our practice to continue.

Budo was for me a big step forward in my life. I was never interested in sports as a child and still not much now.  My initial training in Aikido gave me an understanding of physicality that previously I had lacked. It made me more aware of various health problems I had had for years before starting. Asthma probably most notably and also flat feet. The flat feet condition is almost completely controlled just by sitting in Seiza on a daily basis. This condition that had on occasion made it difficult to walk sometimes in very inconvenient circumstances has now gone to the point that I probably think about it just every few months. The Asthma I have had since 5 years old and although it can still cause problems I have gained a greater awareness of how it can triggered and therefore calmed. The breathing patterns used in Aikido and Katori Shinto Ryu are a great focus to regaining control of this most basic of necessities. Breathing out when being thrown, throwing or cutting with sword, moving in time with a partner, bringing breath in line with body and mind.

Good Budo training, practice with awareness can give a person a new more natural understanding of their body and way of moving. Through correct body alignment old habits can replaced and a healthier more relaxed way can be instilled. The highest ranking instructors of Aikido, Daito Ryu and Katori Shinto Ryu all have something in common. They tend to be in their later years and still training. Although they usually slow down, this usually comes with an increase in efficacy of movement. These arts all teach good relaxed movement, correct body alignment with a awareness of breathing. Unlike most Sports and hard style martial arts, a practitioner can continue to improve right till the end. No one part of the body should be overly stressed and become worn down. Also harder more strenuous activities causing people to stop training all together can lead to a rapid decline in health as the activity may have been the only thing keeping the person going. I have a few students for Aikido and Katori Shinto Ryu who have come to train with me after many years of study in other subjects. They say that although they enjoyed their previous art/sport, injury made it too difficult to continue. I am always happy to find a way for a person to train, with whatever physical difficulties they may have.

The more psychological benefits of training are far more subjective. I hope that people are open to allow for change in their own lives and that their change is purely positive. That of course depends solely on the individual and what they choose to focus their intend on. You get out of it what you put in. For me the study of martial art is partly the study of aggression. What it is and how to deal with it. I have witnessed and experienced enough aggression and violence to know how ugly a person can get. Horrible as it is, it is also fascinating. If you want peace in your life surely you can not avoid its opposite. To truly understand ourselves and humanity it must be necessary to look directly at the root of the problem. Conflicts arise due to huge complexity of issues.  But I think that there are consistences. Greed and the putting an ideology higher than the value of human life are two of them.

I should hope that my training has help me separate aggression from aggressor and see people more as they truly are. Scared and acting out of fear. When we feel safe and secure within ourselves we have the power to direct our own behaviour and can stop being victims of fate and design. It is all too easy of react to anger with anger,  it rarely solves anything. Budo has the possibility to create a more empowered individual with the capacity to direct their own lives. This of course depends almost entirely on the individual.

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Budo Time

How to find the time? Most people are a lot more busy than me. I work as a night care worker about 25 hours a week, affording me plenty of time with my wife and kids with still enough left over for hobbies. Budo training however has for me surpassed its meaning as a hobby. Without it, I could well have have committed! Still though…often I get very busy and keeping to a regular training schedule can be hectic.

I think it usually comes down of a simple question of priorities. Plenty of people would think nothing of watching television for 3 hours straight, but all the same are far too busy to get to the Dojo. Besides from being busy, the standard conventional lifestyle is exhausting. For most full time working people, the end of Day is when they finally get home. Tired more mentally than physically, and although Budo training could do them a world of good, its just to exhausting to even think about. Just the thought if it, getting packed up, out the door, driving or walking to the Dojo, getting changed only to get thrown or swing a stick around for a couple of hours. Really why bother! What can you possible get out of that? Well that’s a fairly subjective question. I get plenty from the experience and so do many others.

Sometimes my most rewarding training sessions happened when I really felt like I could not be bothered going out the door. Move beyond this and maybe you’ll find a new experience and perhaps a more open relaxed state of mind. When you make a commitment to study anything and persevere even when you don’t feel like it, you will learn a lot more than someone studying once a month or only when they feel perfectly up for it. Complacency and half arseing things isn’t constructive to good budo practice or any kind of study.

People train for their own reasons and that’s grand by me. However to progress you will need to train on a regular basis. Twice a week is good for a start. Train once a week and you’ll probably just about maintain your level. I see this a lot, people training maybe a few times a month for years. It won’t do much in terms of conditioning.  Sure for some it’s difficult to train in a Dojo on a consistent basis, due to work and family commitments, quite understandably, but no reason not to train. You can train on your own between classes. It will make all the difference. Just a question of priorities. Budo training can give us a space to put aside our daily stresses and  repetitive thoughts. This ‘head space’ is in itself a great reason to persist with a regular schedule of practice.

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So the basic gist of what I’am trying to say is that maybe it’s not a matter of finding the time, maybe it more about giving yourself the time.

 

 

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A Year in Koryu

By Aidan O’ Reilly

 

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So I decided to write something up to celebrate my first year practicing Koryu martial arts. Ideally, this will serve as an interesting catalogue that I can return to in years to come… As well being a glorious exercise in narcissism. Maybe it will also give me a little insight into how my little mind works.

So what are koryu martial arts? Koryu martial arts are not being explained to you now you smug git wherever you are, I know my audience and I should not have to explain this to you. You probably know more than me about the Meiji restoration and all it entailed for Japan, so let’s not go off on a history lesson. Koryu martial arts are old martial arts. Enough said there, really.

 The better question would be why am I doing koryu martial arts, for which a history lesson is completely necessary, because, well, that’s why I’m doing koryu martial arts. I have always loved history, I have a qualification in military history and strategic studies, so martial arts is right up my street. In particular, martial arts that preserve techniques that may have been used on the battlefield are of particular interest. So being able to learn specifics of feudal era combat, as well getting a bit of excercise, now that sounds pretty interesting. The other reason should also be pretty bloody obvious. Why am I learning martial arts that involve weapons and techniques that are wholly inappropriate for street defence and only focused on using swords, polearms and other weaponry to overcome a similarly armed and armoured opponent?

 That, children, is what we call a rhetorical question.

 If it isn’t absolutely bloody obvious why I am trying to learn this, then I don’t know how else to lay it out in front of you, other than to say swords are cool, bro. I hope in years to come, that I may be able to tell someone with confidence and with no input from my (oversized) ego that I am a swordsman. Just because a skill is impractical in the modern era, does not mean that I do not benefit from struggling to master it.

 So what are my amazing and subtle insights having practiced these esoteric arts for the slim expanse of a year? What delicate and meaningful understanding can I visit upon you?

 KORYU MARTIAL ARTS ARE HARD.

 There it is grasshopper. You take that little kernel of knowledge and go freeze your ass off on a mountain somewhere thinking about it. I’m gonna stay here, maybe try and work on my cuts a little.

 Koryu martial arts are not easy. A more simplistic statement I don’t think I could possibly come up with, but it encompasses an experience that I have had so far that defines both the arts themselves as well as what is entailed in improving your skill both at them and, eventually yourself.

 I walked into my first Katori Shinto Ryu class having learned how to swing a sword in a jujutsu class, with a smattering of kendo and a couple of other arts that claimed to be knowledgeable on the sword. I walked out confused, with bits of my first kata and a vague idea that there was a lot more to this sword malarky than I had originally assumed.

 A short while after this, I began learning Jikishinkage Ryu, which took all the small suppositions I had originally been building in my mind, decorated them with neon lights, and superglued them to the inside of my eyelids.

 I will not say I had some moment of clarity. The clouds did not part. Enlightenment did not dawn on me like half forgotten memories of a drunken night previous coming into sharp focus. But I was aware after speaking to these people who had taken the time to work with me (more on them later) that there was much more to kobojutsu than circle motion exercises and tricks to catch your opponent unawares.

 To gain any level of skill was going to take practice, but it was also going to require a level of mental commitment I hadn’t been familiar with previously. I am familiar with a various types of physical exertion. I’m relatively fit, I still go out for a run the odd time. But I am not familiar with an exercise that requires my mind to stay sharp and focused on the task at hand for the duration of the time I am practicing. I like getting lost in exertion sometimes. This was not happening. I call it brain sweats, and my brain has been sweating a lot recently.

 There is more to write, but I realise I’m going on a bit. So I must put down a word or six regarding my teachers and how fantastically patient they are. I could wax on about how these people are knowledgeable, excellent practitioners of their art and good teachers (which they are), but the thing that strikes me most about these people is their down-to-earth, no bullshit attitude. The people who teach me kobojutsu are not trying to show me the deeper meaning of the universe, they are trying to show me kobojutsu. If there is some meaning to be found in such, I’m not going to get it from doing kobojutsu wrong, and damned if they are going to teach the thing incorrectly. I am deeply thankful for this. People often sell martial arts for more than they are, or as some kind of all in one package for spiritual balance. I’m glad that it’s been left to me to try and find that. If indeed I want it.

 I have written more than I wanted, which is a little annoying, I don’t want to act knowledgeable on a subject I have not learned enough about. Suffice to say, this will hopefully the first page on a long journey.


Thank you for reading.

 

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