Focusing on the syllabus too much can actually slow down the learning process

This article is a continuation from the piece ‘Adaptation‘ which I wrote following our Spring Seminar


This month we held our week long Summer School with Sensei Simone Chierchini at various locations in the south east.
If there was a theme for the week , it would have to be Takemusu. First I try to explain what that means. ‘Take’ is usually understood to mean the same as bu in bujutsu or budo. ‘Musu’ is to give birth too. So Takemusu Aikido is too spontaneously adapt to the changing circumstances of life through limitless creativity and expression.

One of the things I appreciate very much about how Simone teaches is that he tends not to teach a lot of techniques at a time. Instead he seems to prefer a focus on principle. It is very common in Martial Arts in general for people to get bogged down with learning techniques. With the sheer scope of Aikido this can get frustrating very quickly. Focusing on the syllabus too much can actually slow down the learning process.

However to delve into Takemusu it is necessary to have solid ground to work from. Study the basics enough, then move on, adapt, experiment and return again to the basics, the kihon. Constantly ensuring that training is still grounded in good principle and a Budo mindset. This kind of training would take many forms. Whether weapons practice, Taijutsu or Kokyu the idea is too free up the mind and see what has been truly understood by the body.

Take Jiyu Waza for example. Jiyu Waza is a free style practice common to most Aikido Dojo, usually one person acting as Tori and one or more as Uke. Regardless of the level of a student it is possible to see how well they have absorbed the training. A fixation on technique will quickly land the student in difficulty as their reaction time will be too slow. I would say to my students doing this exercise it is better to repeat the same technique 10 times than to pause in thought of what to do. Better still is is clear the mind and continuously move forwards absorbing the attacks before their at full strength. Stepping back should be only be done strategically.

To better enable a student to respond to changing circumstances, Simone had us practice at 3 different timings. One where Tori initiates the attack, another where we meet in the middle and the third waiting a moment and extending the attack. These timings are important to practice. Each equal in their own right. To practice just one of these would take training in far too specific a direction. For example by only focusing on the third of waiting and then extending the attack the important principle of moving forward would be lacking. Likewise by focusing on the first, a student may become too forward in their training and perhaps forget the softer side of training. For the concept of Takemusu to be explored, a student must first possess the correct reflexes in order to continually adapt.

This is in a way a goal of Kata, to instill these reflexes into the mind of a student. Adding a more free form of practice beside this and you see that has been absorbed. The student becoming one with the training can than start with Takemusu.

Freely moving the mind can become clear and enter into the moment, unconcerned for tomorrow or yesterday. In this way Aikido can be a way for people to become free of mental constraints and preconceptions.


Copyright Joseph Kennedy ©2015 DSC_1151-001
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Adapt or be exinct!

Adapt or be exinct!

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


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 begin 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.

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 be 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.

Copyright Joseph Kennedy ©2015 DSC_1151-001
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A Katori Shinto Ryu Suwari Iai Kata

A Katori Shinto Ryu Suwari Iai Kata

Kata – a set of pre-arranged movements, a form to instill principle (Wikipedia)


Kata forms the basis of most traditional Budo. The more modern the Art generally the less importance is placed on Kata and Kihon.

With the rapid increase of competition in martial arts such as Karate and Judo, Kata are being performed less. There must be a reason why so many traditional martial arts {China as well as Japan} placed such emphasis on Kata.

In my study of Katori Shinto Ryu, Daito Ryu and Takemusu Aikido I have found that the importance of Kata and Kihon should not be underrated. Katori Shinto Ryu is an art that places such a high emphasis on Kata to the extent that the syllabus is composed entirely by it. As far as I understand it, Kata where practice as a safe and effective means to ingrain concept and an instinctive understanding of combat. Through repetitive movements the warrior develops the ability to move without hesitation. Kata being repetitive allows the practitioner to focus in a unique way. One that is both relaxed and alert. This is also the reason why it is usually better to wait and focus on just one or two as a beginner. If too much is studied the student will be spending the class trying to remember the form, which is not practicing it.

I spent about 3 years practicing the first Kata of Katori Kenjutsu. Sometimes this was frustrating, but now, 4 years later, I feel the benefit. Quality must come before quantity. The rest of the Kata I learnt in about 6 months.

In Takemusu Aikido Kata is very important. The weapons syllabus mirrors in many ways the Taijutsu. For a beginner studying the Bukiwaza {weapons} allows an easier way to learn to relax, easier holding a Bokken or Jo than if someone bigger and stronger is grabbing your arm with all their might.

Kata provides a truly wonderful quality to training. One that should not be lost, in any Art.

Copyright Joseph Kennedy 2014 joseph_kennedy
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Originally published as http://aikijoseph.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/kata/