Originally published in 2002 by The Sligo Champion, this is a vivid memory of a typical martial arts trip to Japan
by SIMONE CHIERCHINI
“I am just back from Japan. Yes, believe me, a lifetime experience”. This is the answer that 5th Dan Aikido of Organisation of Ireland Head Instructor Simone Chierchini repeated to his many students and friends around the Irish Northwest welcoming him home.
Simone rejoined the Aikido Organisation of Ireland activities at the beginning of November (2001 Ndr) following his two weeks instruction trip to the Aikido World Headquarters in Tokyo, Japan. At the beginning of September Simone got an official invitation by the Aikido World Headquarters in Tokyo to take part to the celebrations in occasion of the 70th Anniversary since the establishment of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. He was to represent Ireland at the celebration and that would also give him the chance to train at the Hombu Dojo for the third time in the last 20 months.
The invitation was cause of huge pride to all Sligo Aikido practitioners. Simone was going to be with the best Aikido people in the world and do his part as a result of his efforts in Sligo and the Northwest. An incredible achievement for him and his students.
Fundraising activities were promptly organised to finance Simone’s participation and thanks to the generosity of sympathisers and sponsors and a greatly successful table quiz held in The Harp Tavern, a convenient sum was raised and jointly with the Sligo Aikikai own resources the trip became a reality.
As said earlier, this was Simone’s third trip to Japan in the last 20 months. Like the previous times he attended intensive training at the Aikido World Headquarters. Each day Simone started his schedule at 6.30 in the morning attending a most interesting class under the instruction of Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba, Aikido World Chief Instructor. Many foreign high ranked practitioners present in Tokyo for the 70th Anniversary celebrations would join the activities every morning alongside local yudansha, to make training of consistently high quality. As Simone is well known to Doshu Ueshiba since 1982, he always enjoyed special attention and personal advice by Doshu, who asked Simone of the achievements of the Aikido Organisation of Ireland and about Ireland itself.
The second class of the day at Hombu starts at 8 am and is taken alternatively by top Sensei like Yokota, Endo and Seki to mention a few. They are the cream of the Aikido Instructors in Japan. Particularly Yokota Sensei’s impressive moves and powerful style gained Simone’s respect and attention. Most of the new Aikido material he brought back to the Sligo Aikikai originates from Yokota Sensei.
At lunch time it was time for Simone to travel to Kawasaki City, about one hour away from Tokyo city centre by subway. In Kawasaki Simone attended training with sword fighting Sensei Yakuhiro Sugino 9th Dan. Sugino Sensei is the Head of the Katori Shinto Ryu, an ancient and very respected style of Sword-fighting (ken-jutsu) still in activity since 1450. His Dojo is in traditional style and the atmosphere in it is strict like in the old days. Sugino Sensei is also the head of the Kawasaki Aikikai and holds a 7th Dan in Aikido.
Under Sugino Sensei’s direction Simone practiced quick drawing techniques (iai-jitsu), as well as paired sword-fighting (ken-jitsu), and stick fighting (bo-jitsu). All the techniques he was shown recall their origin in 15th & 16th centuries and can only be taught to the initiates of the Katori Shinto Ryu School. The only Irish section of this school is active in Sligo under Simone Chierchini. Tuition is open to a handful of selected Aikido students of proven maturity and high technical standard.
After getting some rest, Simone would then move on to get further training alternatively in 9th Dan Tada Hiroshi Sensei’s own club, the Gessoji Dojo, a wonderful training space situated inside a Shinto Shrine, or in Ichikawa visiting 6th Dan Jun Nomoto Sensei, or finally training alongside college students at Meiji University.
Tada Sensei is one of the most famous Aikido Sensei in the world. 72 years old, over 60 years in martial arts, a direct pupil of the founder of Aikido, he is a man of charisma and power unusual even in a master 30 years younger. He was particularly fond of seeing Simone in Tokyo, whose parents – both formerly involved in Aikido – he had first met in Rome in October 1964 when Simone was a few days old.
Nomoto Sensei’s dojo instead is a typical town Aikido club, populated by ordinary people and boasting a huge hoard of 120 kids in their uniform. Nomoto Sensei’s manners are extremely friendly yet is Aikido is surprisingly powerful. He loves to train and also to build up with his students a warm atmosphere in the dojo and after it in the izakaya, the Japanese versions of a pub. “Be careful when you come to visit the Nomoto Dojo” he likes to boast. “Practice is fine, it’s after that we become dangerous!” he laughs alluding to the enormous quantities of beer they can make disappear.
College students in Meiji University train Aikido in a very hard and army style way. They treated Simone with absolute respect and devotion, carrying his bag, folding his clothes, supplying clean and warm towels, etc. and also organising generous quantities of food, beer and sake after training. Meiji University former member Asai Sensei 7th Dan, now Chief Instructor of Germany Aikikai was present for the occasion and gave a special class enjoyed by all.
The special celebration for the 70th Anniversary of the Aikido Headquarters was held on Sunday 21st October and about 2000 delegates congregated to make the event an absolute success. Simone caught the occasion to invite Jun Nomoto Sensei to teach a week long Aikido seminar in Sligo. Nomoto Sensei thankfully accepted the invitation and hopefully will be the second Japanese top Aikido Sensei to held an instruction course in Sligo next year alongside Fujimoto Sensei 7th Dan. A schedule as rich as one would find in big Aikido locations like London or Paris.
Wherever Simone trained, he was made to feel welcome and he said he found himself at ease in Aikido terms. He brought the name of Sligo and Ireland to Tokyo and shared his love and appreciation of the Irish ways with all his many new Japanese friends.