At the beginning of this month, three days of great martial arts action were held in Sligo on the occasion of the long-awaited Aikido Organisation of Ireland Spring Course 2001. The seminar was directed by top Japanese instructor Yoji Fujimoto, a 7th Dan Aikido Sensei from the Aikido World Headquarters. Fujimoto Sensei is the highest-ranked martial artist to visit the West of Ireland and he is amongst the selected few main Aikido instructors in the world
Yoji Fujimoto sensei is based in Milan, Italy, where he directs his 300-member club. He is also Chief Instructor of the Italian Aikido main federation, the Italian Aikikai, an organisation with over 100 clubs and about 6000 registered members.
Now 53 tears old, Fujimoto sensei has an outstanding career in martial arts that stretches for over 40 years of training. He instructed thousands of Aikido students over the years and his name is well known among martial artists of all styles. A student of Masuda sensei and Doshu Ueshiba Kisshomaru, Yoji Fujimoto is resident in Europe since 1970. Since then, he has instructed in seminars all over the world, travelling from South Africa to the former Yugoslavia and from Germany to Wales.
His Sligo seminar was hosted by the Sligo Aikikai in the Sligo Regional Sports Centre. 150 Aikido students gathered on the mats for this huge martial art event that resulted to have the highest attendance ever in an Aikido seminar in Ireland. Visiting students included a 25 people strong team from the Italian Aikikai, some of them of high rank, to make the occasion even more interesting. Roberto Foglietta from Pesaro (Italy), a valued 5th Dan instructor shared his experience with local Aikido students, along with 3rd Dan instructors Valentino Guzzinati from Ferrara and Giorgio Rizzi from Verona.
Aikido students from all over Ireland travelled and met in Sligo for this weekend of training with Fujimoto Sensei. A noticeable variety of Aikido styles was easily spotted while the activities went on, but despite the obvious differences in their approach to Aikido, they all harmonised together under the expert guidance of Fujimoto Sensei. Thus, the occasion turned into an unprecedented success and a true martial arts celebration.
The seminar was started by Sligo Deputy-Mayor Mr Tommy Cummins (see article’s main photo), who welcomed the large attendance to Sligo. Mr Cummins pointed out his appreciation for the work that Sligo Aikikai instructors Simone Chierchini and Lara Natali carried on since their coming to Sligo in 1996. He recognised the importance of Aikido as a discipline centred on mutual respect and control. He acknowledged the commitment that the Sligo Aikido Club has always shown towards the local youths. Mr Cummins said that as a sportsman himself he would like to see more people picking up sports and enjoy the true values present in them, of which Aikido was an outstanding example. He thanked Yoji Fujimoto sensei for his coming to Sligo and offering his invaluable knowledge for the common growth of both local and national Aikido students. He finally showed to be a great sportsman himself by sitting on his knees the Japanese way for a group photo with the students in attendance.
Besides being the largest Aikido event ever organised in Ireland, the 2001 Spring Course with Yoji Fujimoto sensei was the most important event organised so far by the Aikido Organisation of Ireland. The AOI, whose headquarters are located at the Sligo Aikido Club, was set up in 1996 by Italian instructors Simone Chierchini, Aikido, 4th Dan, and Lara Natali, Aikido 2nd Dan. Aikido Organisation of Ireland registered clubs include the Sligo Aikido Club, Enniskillen Aikikai, Sligo Institute of Technology Aikido Club, the Drumshanbo based Leitrim Aikido Club and the Ballinamore Youth, totalling over 100 members.
At the end of the seminar, Fujimoto sensei held grading examinations reserved to members of the Aikido Organisation of Ireland. Sligo students Declan Bray, Eamon Coyne and Trevor Pigott were successful in their 1st Dan black belt grading, to the satisfaction of their instructor. Declan, Trevor and Eamon are the first black belts to come out of the Sligo Aikido Club. Their achievement was as good as their commitment to Aikido, strong and constant over their 5 years of Aikido training in Sligo. The new qualifications will be registered with the Aikido World Headquarters, Tokyo, Japan, and the new black belts will be allowed to instruct.
The Italian guests spent a week in Sligo and surrounding areas. The Sligo Aikido club organised sightseeing and entertainment for them, including a trip to Westport and Croagh Patrick and a boat trip along the Shannon on the Moon River. On Saturday night, after the training, a social dinner open to all participants and sympathisers was held in Rosses Point, with celebrations continuing locally afterwards.
All in all, the course resulted in a resounding success. What is more, Fujimoto sensei has already announced that he is going to come back to Sligo again in 2002 for another great seminar.
Source: “The Sligo Champion”, 01/04/2001