Aikido or Squash?

Aikido people speak much and practice little?

Aikido magazines, leaflets and literature of every Aikido organisation, the Masters’ writings, common aikidoka, all repeat the following sing-song, like a well tuned and conducted chorus: Aikido is not a sport. It is instead a high level spiritual path, which covers every aspect of one’s life and aims to improve the inner well being of the student. A noble declaration of intents indeed, but what about the actual commitment to act upon it? Sport people do better!

di SIMONE CHIERCHINI

The function of Aikido as lifetime path is what mostly interests Aikido people and it is usually what attracts most of those who join our discipline for the first time. That is what differentiates Aikido from other activities in various fields – sports, philosophy, culture or religion. We all get our feathers ruffled when outsiders mistake Aikido for a sport; moreover, none of us would like Aikido teachings to be confused with those of one of the many new born religions that are trendy today.
We are genuinely proud to nourish the feeling within that the Art we committed to is really being beneficial for us. Being aikidoka also distinguishes us from other people who are unable to spare a part of their day-time to take care of their inner growth; and this in a time when most prefer to spend their spare time in less beneficial activities or doing nothing.
The above well fine tuned sing-song has a truthful and well-deserved reason to be. It is a pity though that, like in all human things, between words and action everything gets in the way.
In fact, if you really want to verify the reality of that sing-song, you will notice that among those chorus singers Tom and Jerry have to share their spare time between the activity A and B; every second class Betty is so tired that can just sit on the couch watching telly; Franco, then, just doesn’t go to the training, even if he’s not busy. The younger ones have the noble excuse to be in trouble with their school home-work, though millions of school students have exactly the same problem…
Someone could rightly say that, if Aikido is undoubtedly not a sport, it is also true that many Aikido practitioners are just sport-men: basically they are different from body-building or basket-ball trainees only in relation to the different kind of movements and techniques they engage in.
For what it concerns the rest they are definitely the same. Actually, to be honest, worse: a football coach, for example, would exclude from the team activity those players that are absent from training sessions without a proven reason.

What a shame...

We could easily object that the first rule of Aikido practice concerns the acceptance of our fellow students, it doesn’t matter in which manner they manifest themselves.
The laziness that we notice in other people, their behavior that often annoys us, what we call in them defects, all that is a sort of mirror reflecting our own lacks.
Having said that, it is be better to be reminded of the following: it is a shame to own a Ferrari car and drive it always at 20 miles an hour…

First published in 1993 on the Aikido Dojo Katharsis Milano Newsletter

Copyright Simone Chierchini ©1993-2011Simone Chierchini
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Annunci

Yoji Fujimoto Sensei: A Life in Aikido

Yoji Fujimoto

Yoji Fujimoto in Ireland (2003)

The following is a translation of a 1993 interview with Yoji Fujimoto Sensei, one of the leading world Aikido teachers of the past two decades. Fujimoto Sensei sadly passed away last February

Yoji Fujimoto Sensei was born in Yamaguchi (Japan) on 26th March 1948. Fourth of five children, since his childhood he was initiated into the way of the martial arts by his father, an 8th Dan in Kendo. Fujimoto Sr. was instructor at the Kendo Dojo of the local Police. The young Fujimoto picked up Kendo and helped his father in the Dojo. One day he went to assist at an Aikido class at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo and was stunned by what he saw. A few days after he enrolled and started training in Aikido. Promoted Shodan at about 14 years of age, at 21(1969) he was already Sandan. Fujimoto Sensei moved to Italy in 1970 to help Tada Sensei in his efforts to bring Aikido to Italy. He based himself in Milan and contributed to the development of the Italian Aikikai, increasing the number of dojo to over 100. In recognition of his efforts he was promoted to 7th Dan in 1994 and 8th Dan in 2010.

– Sensei, would you like to tell us about your beginning as an Aikido instructor?

-It goes back to when I was attending University in Tokyo. At the time I started up an Aikido Club inside Nitaidai University together with a group of friends. I had previously practised Kendo and Judo. The club wasn’t recognised by the University and we weren’t allowed to use the University facilities. We had no money and no Instructor. We took the class on a rotation list… We did our best to find a proper instructor for the club and asked the Aikikai Hombu Dojo for assistance. We were lucky because the Hombu Dojo manifested an interest in developing University Aikido. The Aikikai sent one of their finest instructors, Koichi Tohei Sensei. He was a 10th Dan and at the Hombu Dojo had the qualification of Shihan Bu-jo, Chief Instructor. Our Club was officially recognised and under the  guidance of Tohei Sensei the standards readily raised. After a while the Hombu Dojo appointed Masuda Sensei as our new Instructor. To convince him to accept the appointment I told him it wouldn’t be for long, just the time to strengthen our teeth… He didn’t know he would be involved with University Aikido for the rest of his life! in fact today Masuda Sensei is Technical Director of all University Aikido clubs in Japan.

– What did bring you to leave Japan and move to Italy?

– I fancied moving abroad since secondary school. At the time Aikido had nothing to do with it. I just had the desire to leave Japan and see other countries. I manifested my intentions to my father. He hid his feelings against it and just said to get on with my life. Having a degree it would have been easier for me anywhere, Japan or abroad, he said. I enrolled with Nitaidai University in Tokyo and studied Sports and Leisure. Nitaidai was known for being extremely tough. That fame was well deserved…

– Then it was finally time to go. In ‘71 the Aikikai Hombu Dojo sent you to Italy, to continue the work done there by Hiroshi Tada Sensei. Was it difficult at the beginning?

– Not really. If I had problems, they were mainly bureaucratic: working permits and similar. For the rest: the initial lack of students, the efforts to gather the first few beginners, no money in the pockets… this is all normal and understandable. I knew this already before moving to Milan. If you want to sell lighters where the locals always used matches you are going to have difficulties to get started!

– In an interview broadcasted by the Italian TV Channel you said that during your first period in Italy you had a hard time in financial terms.

– God! It was really tight! I took the class 3-4 times a week in a sports complex and had around 60 students. Still I couldn’t get out of it more than the few pounds to pay the rent of my flat… I used to share it with a Judo and a Karate instructor. We got used to having a continuous in & out of people of various nature, with the inhabitants of the flat constantly reaching 7 or 8 people. The agreement was that we would share the expenses: pity I was the only one to have a job, if you want to call it that way… Somehow we always had something to eat. When I got some money we would buy, for example, 20 kg of rice. I remember that once we survived for five days eating only cherries! Another time, it was summer, we fed on water melon for 2 weeks. It was hard indeed but we didn’t care. We were young!

– Let’s change matter, Sensei. Let’s talk about Ki, the universal energy.

– Leave me alone! (Fujimoto sensei explodes in a powerful laughing).

– Please Sensei, let’s talk about it. There is every sort of discussion about it: someone explains it as a sort of magic, others don’t take it seriously, others don’t talk about it at all and just prefer to practice. In your opinion what is the relation between Ki and daily life?

– I am alive. That means my Ki is good… Ask this question again when I am 70. I might have something more interesting to reveal to you…

Got the message, Sensei. You are 30 years in Italy. In the meanwhile you aged, your Aikido changed, the way to live it, practice it, teach it changed.

– I hope so!

– In which direction?

– Today the Hombu Dojo’s message is: “Aikido is for everybody”. What Hombu means is that Aikido isn’t for certain categories of people only, is for them all. It has to be suitable for everybody independent of sex, age and physical strength. When I was younger I disagreed. Certain times I had newcomers and… it is not that I sent them away but after a while they left and never came back. With time passing a man changes and gets to learn. I regret what I did in those situations. Maybe I just aged and got more mature. Maybe the world itself changed and I didn’t want this change. I never changed attitude because the Aikido Doshu said to do so. It was a natural process of evolution that Aikido went through and I participated of it.

– You are teaching Aikido in Europe for 30 years now. You undoubtedly gained a comprehensive knowledge of European Aikido. Do you think that people of different countries interpret Aikido in different ways?

– Definitely. Different cultures mean different approaches to things. In the other hand Aikido is universal. Different cultural approaches to it only make it more complete, more interesting and stimulating.

– What is it your point of view about Aikido in the country that you consider your second home, Italy?

– Italian Aikido practitioners are excellent in general terms and amongst the best in the world. Not that surprisingly though, considering that there’s always been three Japanese Shihan resident in Italy. Which other country of the same size or population can boast as much as Italy in terms of quality tuition?

– You mean that the Italian Aikido community enjoyed a privileged status and with it wider possibilities of growth?

– I think that it is self-evident. It is enough to check the Italian Aikikai website for courses: every year there is an incredible variety of seminars held by Japanese Shihan and Italian Instructors of 5th and 6th Dan. There is a concrete and constant possibility of improving one’s skills, to check out and refine what one is doing in his own dojo. With so many Instructors visiting from abroad it is always possible to compare one’s style and enrich it with new details, to add new tools to the box. This is also true from our point of view, the point of view of the instructor. If one has to relate to other realities, one cannot be the prisoner of some routine. There is always a stimulus to seek for something new, to grow.

– Which is the major problem you had to face with western Aikido practitioners?

There is something I have often met in Italy and when travelling abroad: in Japan it is of common understanding that to become Shodan only means to be at the first step of a long path. In my country a Shodan practitioner is only someone that started to walk, that’s all. Here it isn’t rare to see a new shodan acting as the ‘big master’. It is changing though. In the past it was much more common. There was only a handful of Yudansha and it was probably easier to lose contact with reality. Today the situation is different.

– Sensei, you are now 53. What do you expect from your future life in Aikido?

– I just want to go ahead, to continue to practice. I wish to keep evolving my way of living Aikido, not to stay the same. Too many Aikido practitioners get used to a certain Aikido style. They fill themselves with the teachings of a certain Sensei and become unavailable for all other input, they can’t receive guidance from other instructors. To learn, to acquire new inputs when they are proposed to us, we must empty ourselves from what we have already learnt. I’m not saying that we have to forget the basics, of course not. What I mean is that if a student comes to a course of mine with his head “full” of the teachings of his instructor back home, he will never be able to explore with profit what I will try to offer. My way is now lightened by what in Japan we call asobi, which is to create an enjoyable and relaxed atmosphere for the Aikido training. Aikido must be enjoyable and in that sense it will always be for everybody. At least this is my opinion.

Like a Rolling Stone

"We slide away upon events like a rolling stone"

As iron rusts without use and water rots,
or freezes when cold,
in the same way the mind is ruined without training

(Leonardo da Vinci, Atlantic Codex 289)

by SIMONE CHIERCHINI

It seems that in modern society the actions of people must necessarily follow well-defined behavioural cycles. Moreover, these cycles are separated from each other for ever. Considering the life of an individual from an external point of view, and observing his ages flow, what would you see? Phase one, childhood and adolescence, marked by playing and thoughtlessness; then youth, phase two, committed to studying and gaining experience; phase three, maturity, distinguished by production and work; finally, phase four, characterised by retirement and inactivity.
Events don’t always follow this rhythm, this is true; but you can easily agree that this model of existence which runs through compartments is definitely the most common one.
An unproductive adult is considered to be a mere obstruction to the functioning of the social process; the one living in a care free ‘young’ way is out of fashion, ‘hippy’, and disturbs the sight because of his dangerous and misleading example.
A young person that is thoughtful and moderate is in serious danger to be judged ill; if he is not involved enough with football, drinking and chasing girls, his parents will consider sending him to see a psychoanalyst.
What should I say about elderly people? Is there an answer to give to a retired person seeking for something to do in order to enjoy the remaining time? All they get is a couch and a telly.
There is a powerful poison hidden within us, ready to get into our system when one doesn’t want it, which is the attitude to let things roll on their own, to slide away upon events like a rolling stone. A bit at the time one gets to consider all that happens to be the result of the action of a superior and untouchable power, completely out of one’s control. A lot of people don’t live, pretend to live, from time to time situated in next compartment, like in a box, to finish deservingly in the very last container, a litter bin.

All revolutions failed

Do not be afraid, I am not calling for revolution. There have been many and all of them got nowhere. A legitimate wish would be to have the possibility of going through all the phases of one’s life, the ones still remaining at least, with a new attitude. Face, accept and live life fully through one’s different ages. Give a brand-new start to personal human and cultural development.
In order to maintain the actual trend, modern society needs automatons which spend their lives set in the right compartment, where they will be functional to the system, to feed which they will be delivered, trained, squeezed and dumped. One should expropriate the system and become again the master of his mind, thinking that the silly process that is wasting our lives can be stopped right now. All one has to do is to put hand again in personal and cultural development, call into play now, it does not matter if they universally think your time for that is over.
In the word Aikido, the Japanese martial art born from Ju-jitsu’s ashes, the ideograms Ai-ki-do mean path, way, personal development in action, perennial, for the entire life. It is not casual that in our contemporary society Aikido is one of the least known and popular disciplines, whereas activities with no other purpose than recreational are in full swing everywhere — even slaves have the right to a little fun. Amongst Aikido fans, the most popular clubs are very often those managed by people that changed Aikido into a recreational dance and the place of the practice (dojo) into some sort of tea room; here one goes to sweat a very small bit, have a chat, show off in front of the boss, and then back home, refreshed and ready to fall in line again as if nothing happened. I reckon there is no difference at all between practising martial arts with this attitude and staying home and watch the telly.
Martial arts training can become a sort of key in order to open the system and throw it out, as a first step, from the possession of our thought and its development.

First published in 1994 on the Aikido Dojo Katharsis Milano Newsletter

Copyright Simone Chierchini ©1994-2011Simone Chierchini
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Interview with Waka Sensei Moriteru Ueshiba

Simone Chierchini, Moriteru Ueshiba, Hideki Hosokawa (Roma 1982)

The following interview, conducted by Simone Chierchini with Aikido World leader Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba, was originally published in Italy by the magazine “Aikido” of the Italian Aikikai in 1982,  following the visit of the then Waka Sensei  (Young Master) at the Central Dojo Aikikai in Rome

by SIMONE CHIERCHINI

Some newspapers have interviewed Moriteru Ueshiba Waka Sensei during his stay in Rome during the seminars of Rome and Mantua, which were attended by 240 aikido. We gladly publish the interview conducted by Simone Chierchini for Aikido, 2 Kyu Rome Central Dojo.

CHIERCHINI
Sensei, what are your impressions of the city of Rome?

UESHIBA
It is the second time that I come to Rome and I must confess that for the second time I have been greatly impressed. I like this city and I was especially interested  by it from a historical point of view. In my free time I went visiting the main monuments. Through them Rome manages to share with the visitor the ancient grandeur.

CHIERCHINI
You came to Rome seven years ago with Doshu Kisshomaru. What  is your opinion on Italian Aikido in relation to your previous experience?

UESHIBA
When I came to Rome seven years ago, the prominent focus for me was tourism. Aikido was secondary, since my presence was only on the basis of assistance to Doshu Kisshomaru. Notwithstanding this, I can certainly say that in relation to seven years ago, Italian Aikido changed, and changed for the better. The work of Tada Sensei and his assistants in Italy, in accordance with the teachings and the directives from Hombu Dojo, has certainly been very successful. Hombu Dojo has much confidence in Tada Sensei and his assistants. To understand and continuously improve their technique along the Path, Italian Aikido practitioners only need follow the teachings of Tada Sensei: it is a fact that  Hombu Dojo teachers are the most reliable and qualified.
When I think back to my trip seven years ago, I find another change: namely, the maturation occurred in me.

Moriteru Ueshiba

Waka Sensei Moriteru Ueshiba in azione in Italia

CHIERCHINI
Do you believe that there are new prospects for world Aikido development after the founding of the IAF, the International Federation of Aikido?

UESHIBA
Indeed. The first task of the unitary federation should be to foster friendship between the Aikido world. This link was absent because each nation had its own federation. Now the assembly of the IAF comprises of representatives of each Aikido nation. Over time, Aikido, by virtue of the union which will become ever stronger, will develop more and more from a technical point of view. In fact, it will be possible to follow a coherent teaching pattern, based on the teaching of the Kaisho the founder. The IAF will have to divulgate, protecting it, O-Sensei’s Aikido and I consider this to be regarded as its main purpose.
A clarification, however, is required for what it concerns the figure of the Kaisho, to avoid an accusation of immobility: Kaisho is O-Sensei, but also Doshu and Waka Sensei are Kaisho. Kaisho is not a separate entity, apart from modern Aikido. Kaisho is an idea, embodied in a character, that is passed down from generation to generation, with a gradual evolution. This evolution, however, must always be seen from the inescapable starting point of O’Sensei, because his it is the true Aikido.

CHIERCHINI
Sensei, what is the message, the teachings that you intended to communicate during your Italian seminars?

UESHIBA
During the seminars in Rome and Mantua I focused my efforts, my attention on the teaching of basic techniques, which are essential in Aikido. But I must point out that this special insistence is not due to a lack of basic Aikido found in Italian Aikido students: I think every Aikido person, regardless of nationality, should apply specifically in the basic techniques. If one can talk about a “message”, that is what I wanted to launch, in perfect agreement with the teaching that I have normally adopted in Japan.

CHIERCHINI 
There is a criterion in planning your seminars abroad?

UESHIBA
No. Seminars abroad are not fixed in advance. Last year I held one in the United States, this year I came to Italy. For next year a venue has not been established yet, will see if an opportunity arises.

CHIERCHINI
Any interesting memories of your American experience that you would like to share with our readers?

UESHIBA
Aikido practiced in the United States does not differ much compared to European or Japanese. The thing that I remember with the most pleasure and a situation that stands out clearly from my every day experience is the following: in the U.S. the training is as serious and challenging as in Japan, but outside the mats between Aikido people is easily established a relationship of sincere friendship. I felt it towards me, and expressed with particular intensity here in Italy. This is in Japan hardly happens.

CHIERCHINI
What is the relationship of the Japanese Aikikai with other martial styles in Japan?

UESHIBA
In Japan each martial art follows its own path, independent of one another, each with its federation. They are separated but not divided, relations are good, friendly, to the point that each year the individual associations gather together at Budokan to hold a conference and public demonstration.

First published in 1982 by Aikido, Aikikai d’Italia

Copyright Simone Chierchini ©1982-2011Simone Chierchini
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