Written by Gaku Homma’s student Tony Dolan, after the AHAN Irish Seminar 2006 – organised by Simone Chierchini – this article gives us the perfect picture of an Aikido travel to Ireland
by TONY DOLAN
There I was in the middle of an intense session of motion and sweat when the question was asked. “Tony, would you like to go to Ireland with Sensei as his Otomo?” I am not sure exactly how long I thought about it but the look on Emily Sensei’s face when I just about screamed YES was rather funny. She told me to check first; make sure I can arrange things with work and in my private life. A few days later I made all the necessary arrangements to travel over seas.
Simone Sensei picked us up from Dublin Airport just before noon. We were on our way out of Dublin when he asked us if we had any trouble getting through the airport after the British bomb scare. We hadn’t known that anything had happened until Simone Sensei asked. Dublin Airport was running and we passed through the airport moments before the lockdown began. On our way to Ballyfarnan we stopped off at Lough’s Inn & Pub for a pint and brown soup. It was my first Guinness in Ireland and it was a grand experience. It almost brought a tear to my eye; it was so good! After checking in, Homma Sensei and I took a taxi to Carrick-on-Shannon for a bite then back to the B&B for a well earned sleep. B&B’s (Bed and Breakfast) are every where in Ireland.
Let me tell you about the ‘Full Irish Breakfast’. This is apparently a main staple in the Irish diet. It consists of dense Irish soda bread, bacon, eggs, baked beans, a tomato, white pudding and black pudding. I later found out black pudding is also called blood pudding, very interesting. It is a lot to eat and we ate it every morning while in Ireland.
After breakfast Sensei stayed in town while Simone Sensei picked me up with his two children and we drove to get his wife. Next we were on our way to rent a van, and then drove to Sligo to pick up floor mats for the seminar. Once the mats were picked up and we had lunch we drove on to Donegal to unload the mats. After a day of driving and mild labor throwing mats around I was invited to Simone Sensei’s house for an authentic Italian dinner. Simone Sensei’s wife Lara (Sensei) served homemade lasagna with salad and pizza. Afterwards we had homemade tiramisu. The night was still a bit young so Simone Sensei and myself talked about Aikido over a cigar. It was a very enjoyable dinner and I thank them for their hospitality. I hope I might be able to return the favor someday.
The following morning, after another full Irish breakfast, Homma Sensei and I traveled to Donegal for the seminar. It was held in the Bluestack hostile just outside of Donegal. It was a large building with a main hall and rooms up top that slept 28. Most of the attendees took advantage of this and slept at the hostile. Many of them slept on the floor. We arrived up with barely enough time to change into our Keiko-gi’s and hop on the mat. Homma Sensei opened with a speech and the 52 Aikidoka from 13 dojo’s that attended where very focused on what he had to say. Homma Sensei talked about conflict management and the relations behind the circle, triangle and square. The eyes around us where wide and Keiko went fast.
During the seminar lunch break Homma Sensei and I hurriedly checked into another B&B, dropped of our bags, then sped back to the seminar. Have you ever heard of an Otomo with out a Hakama? Well, you have now. I felt so foolish telling Homma Sensei that I left my Hakama at the B&B but he smiled at me and laughed. Back at the seminar a very kind man by the name of Paul Burke graciously lent me his Hakama so I could return to mat. Homma Sensei spent the afternoon teaching the Bokken relationship to open handed Shihonage.
That night Homma Sensei and I were invited to the Hill Park Inn for drinks and socializing with the attendees of the seminar. There we found the tastiness of Bulmer’s Cider. I shared stories of Colorado life and they told me of Irish history and how they were introduced to Aikido. It was a very enjoyable evening and I made many friends that I won’t forget.
Day two of the seminar started with more weapons practice starting with free form Jo movement followed by the Jo kata. We went out into the courtyard behind the hostile that was two tennis courts. I think I clipped the net once or twice. Once we all had ‘Jo’ down Homma Sensei taught the Ken kata and we paired up for ‘Jo’ and ‘Ken’. During lunch the talk was about weapons and their relations to open hand. I was asked many questions and answered as best as I could. After lunch it was more Bokken relations with Shihonage and Iriminage. It was great working with my Irish friends and watching the light go on in their head when a technique clicked. Simone Sensei gave a closing speech and outlined what he wanted to do with the Seminar money. He is going to buy lots of mats so he can travel around Ireland and provide a means for Dojo’s to interact with each other across the border. Many mats will be bought with the $3,000 that was collected from the seminar, book, and t-shirt sales. Sensei was also given a gift. A dark blue Aran sweater made of very think wool. This is a traditional Irish sweater worn in fishing villages.
After the seminar Homma Sensei and I rode with Eddie and Barry into Dublin. We crossed over the border into Northern Ireland for a bit then back to the Republic. We were four hours from the seminar location when I realized I had Simone Sensei’s car keys. I felt very bad for my mistake but was assured by Eddie that it was okay. He would return Simone Sensei’s keys at a later date. We pulled into Dublin around 11:00pm that night and settled into our room. Homma Sensei and I were hungry so I ventured out into the Dublin night in search for a Chipper’s shop (fish and chips).
We woke the next day to our fourth full Irish breakfast and Homma Sensei turned me lose to roam around Dublin. I saw St. Patrick’s cathedral, Trinity College, Temple bar, the Guinness brewery and many locations. I had plenty of time to think and reflect about the two day seminar and people I trained with. Later that night Homma Sensei and I met up with Eddie and Barry and took them to dinner in thanks for driving us to Dublin. We found out they are in the process of opening their own Dojo in Dublin with the help of a few other friends.
The last day in Dublin was my favorite. After yet another full Irish breakfast Homma Sensei and I wandered Dublin looking at all kinds of shops. We went to China town and found a tiny restaurant were Homma Sensei ordered spicy crab, very spicy flounder, and beef in a mushroom and black pepper sauce. I have never had crab before and what I saw on my plate made me hesitant. Homma Sensei showed me how to eat it and I gave it try. Imagine a crab cut in half length wise. That is what I ate, shell and all. The flounder was my favorite item on the table due to the amount of spice it had. Homma Sensei and I talked about the seminar and about teaching in general. He shared his thoughts and I shared mine. With lunch behind us we waited for nightfall then invited Eddie and Barry to the hotel lobby for some calligraphy. Since we were now not allowed to take liquids with us on the plane Homma Sensei thought he should use some calligraphy ink. Homma Sensei drew three words; Ken, Dream, and Aikou (to love). Eddie and Barry were very grateful for these gifts. I stayed up with Eddie and Barry for one final Guinness that soon became more. We talked of their new dojo and the excitement that entails. We talked of them coming to Colorado and training with us at Nippon Kan.
In the morning we took a taxi to the airport and ended our time in Ireland. I have many fond memories of my time in Ireland thanks to those people I meet, the places I visited and the hospitality of Simone Sensei and his students. I want to personally thank Simone Chierchini Sensei, his wife Lara Sensei, their two children Luke and Lorena. I also want to thank Eddie, Barry, Eamon, Declan, Trevor and Paul for showing me my Irish roots and all the excellent Aikidoka that I met and practiced with on my visit to Ireland.
Sláinte (to your health)