The Wrestler – Interview with Rionne McAvoy


From Taekwondo wonder kid to Karate State Champion, from H. Tada Sensei’s Gessoji Dojo to the Aikikai Hombu Dojo and Y. Yokota sensei, Rionne “Fujiwara” McAvoy, a former Pacific Pro Wrestling Heavyweight Champion, has never been one for finding the easy way out. As part of “The Aiki Healings”, the online encounters hosted by Aikido Italia Network, let’s hear him tell his story in martial arts and his strong views on Aikido, physical training, cross-training and where he wants to go with his Aikido

di SIMONE CHIERCHINI

CHIERCHINI
Friends of Aikido Italia Network, welcome and happy Sunday to you all. This is Simone Chierchini. You’re watching the third session of “The Aiki Healings”. These are our online meetings aimed at bringing about good positive, energy in these uncertain times. Today our guest is Rionne McAvoy. Hi Rionne, how are you doing?

McAVOY
Hey, hello. This is really exciting. Thank you for having me.

CHIERCHINI
I am very pleased to have you. For for a while now we’ve been chatting over the net. We’ve been talking about Budo, Aikido and many other things that we cannot say here, in public.

McAVOY
Yes!

CHIERCHINI
Finally, we connected. It was quite natural to bring our conversation here and to share some of Rionne’s views with you.
I think the first thing to do to help those that are not familiar with Rionne’s path in martial arts may be a good idea to start from the beginning. So maybe Rionne if you want to tell us a couple of words about your early years in Australia? Personally, by reading your article “Issatsu no Shunkan“, it was easy enough to see for me how your father’s figure was essential in directing you towards martial arts – and of course towards a certain concept of martial arts as a form of combat. Can you tell us something about him and how you experienced your approach to Budo through him?

The full video-interview with Rionne McAvoy

McAVOY
My father was born during World War II and he didn’t meet his father until he was about two years old.
His father came back from the war and in those times all throughout Europe men were different. You had to be tough as nails and especially him growing up poor, no food, right after the war…
You know in the 50s and then into the 60s in England it was kind of the strongest survive, in his early days.
He decided that he wanted to leave England and he immigrated to Australia as a what they called a “10-pound pom”, which was a one-way ticket for 10 pounds, no return. To cut a long story short, he having done Taekwondo for a little bit, I came along. I was about eight years old when I went on a school trip – I wrote this in the article “Issatsu no Shunkan” – and I very stupidly said to a much larger boy (I think I was eight and he was 12) “You’re fat!”. He took one look at me, didn’t think twice, didn’t hesitate and just “Bang!”
I had a massive big eye out here. I was eight years old and my father wasn’t angry that I got in the fight, he wasn’t angry that I got hurt. He was angry that I didn’t fight back. And I said: “But… but.. papa, he’s so much bigger than me and he’s older than me…”. And he just said: “Right. Well, we’re going to put you in Taekwondo”. Because that’s what he had done, right? So we went down to the local Taekwondo club, which was in a high school near my house, and I very quickly went from an eight-year-old scared little boy to a 12-13-year-old in the Australian junior team for Taekwondo.
He had me kicking the bag, the heavy bag, an adult’s heavy bag for two hours a day. There was no such thing as school homework. Homework came after training. He would get home, he would have fruit on the table ready to go and it was kicking the bag. He’d come home from work and he’d watch me. Every now and then he’d peep out the window and just the sight of him looking at me, making sure I was kicking and punching the bag was enough to scare the hell out of me.

A 12 years old Rionne Training on the sandbag

When I was doing Taekwondo, there was a woman there, also from England, who was doing Taekwondo and they got talking – because they were both English – and her husband, an Australian guy, was doing Aikido. He said: “You know what? I wouldn’t mind doing Aikido”. So that was how he started his path of Aikido and kind of how I started mine, because I used to have to go down there. To be honest, it bored the hell of me, when I was a child, watching these adults do Aikido. It was so boring because I love to kick and punch – as all the kids watching young Jean Claude Van Damme and all those action stars of the 80s and 90s.
He would also hold the pads for me, when I was a child, to make sure that my roundhouse kicks were good and punches were pretty good. I was getting really really good at Taekwondo – I got second dan as a 13-year-old. They told me: “Two more years and when the Olympics accepts Taekwondo, if you’re old enough, you may be good enough, you may not be old enough, we’re not sure, but you’re definitely on the path to being in this Olympic team”.
We had this junior team, it was like a special, “generational team” they called it, where all the kids they’d pick out the ones for the future and try and train them in the anticipation that Taekwondo made the Olympics. It ended up making the Olympics, but I never got to see that, because as soon as he found out that there was a whole Olympic talk, he pulled me out and put me into Karate, as a 14-year-old. So, you can imagine, a bit of a swollen head, I was winning a lot of tournaments as a kid, black belt and he puts me back into Karate as a white belt.
I had to start all over again. But it was a good path and to cut a long story short, I ended up quitting that karate dojo. The only reason I went back – I quit when I was 17 and I went back when I was 19 – because of this old chat program, I don’t know if you remember it, it was called ICQ. Ever heard of that? I found my Karate sensei’s daughter on ICQ and I had a massive crush on her when I was a boy. I started chatting to her at ICQ and she said: “Why don’t you come down to the dojo?” I only went down to the dojo to see her, 19 years old you know… and without even knowing what happened, her mother had signed me up to enter the dojo again, as a 19-year-old.

Karate champion on his return to the dojo

I ended up winning my state championships as an orange belt at 19 and that was when I decided to take my first trip to Japan.

CHIERCHINI
That was my next question. That was in 2001 I think, yeah?

McAVOY
Yes.

CHIERCHINI
You did your first stint in Japan and clearly, from what you just described, your idea of martial arts was dominated by the concept of fighting, competitions… anyway, everything was going through punching and kicking.
Nevertheless, you ended up enrolling at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. We now know that this first experience you had at the Hombu Dojo was far from satisfactory and you gave it up soon enough. That said, it’s quite hard to figure this out.

McAVOY
As I was growing up, doing my kicking and punching, my father was also going through all the kyu grades and shodan, nidan of Aikido.
In Australia, it’s quite common to have a large swimming pool, so I was his uke in the swimming pool in the Australian summer. He’d do his entire Aikido tests on me in the pool. I vividly remember them: “Kick me as hard as you can!”. “Come, punch me! Come on, punch me!”. He’d do all his Aikido gradings in the swimming pool.
I vividly remember this kind of stuff, but I did come to Japan for Karate. Although it didn’t work out and I did end up joining Hombu. I’ll never forget: I went down to my very first class in the Hombu Dojo and I’d never done any Aikido in any other country, except for my dad in the swimming pool.
This little old lady – I’ll never forget, she would have been like 65-70 and I was a skinny little 19-year-old boy – and she puts this nikyo on me and I was like: “Oh! What are you doing? This is my first time!”, trying to tell them all…
I didn’t speak any Japanese and I looked up in the dictionary, “OK, how do you say first time?”.
I looked at that one and it said “Ichiban”. Ichiban means number one, like “You’re the best” and I said to them. I wanted to say to the sensei: “This is my first time”, but I said to him “Ichiban, you’re the best”.
He just looked at me and smiled. You know, at the Hombu Dojo there’s not a whole lot of teaching going on. It’s very old-style Japanese, where you look and copy. When you need information, you get it from your senpai after class, or you know, quietly, during class. There’s not a whole lot of instruction.
Being a white belt in Hombu, it wasn’t for me and quickly, after about a month, I quit and just went back to my partying ways until I went back to Australia.

CHIERCHINI
You actually went back to Australia but, when in Australia, you joined Aikido again.

McAVOY
Yes.

Father and son sitting together in seiza

CHIERCHINI
Something was going on between you and Aikido. You trained with Graham sensei for a couple of years and then you moved back to Japan and you started training in Hiroshi Tada sensei’s Gessoji Dojo.
Why did you choose Tada sensei and, at the time, were you aware of his particular approach to Aikido and Budo?

McAVOY
When I first joined Hombu, I was here on a working holiday visa. I went back to Australia because I realized I needed to go to university and get a degree, to have some kind of future.
My first year back in Australia was my first year of study, that’s when I started Aikido properly. In the second year of my study, I came over here as an exchange student and two coincidental things happened: the school was right near the dojo, Tada sensei’s Gessoji Dojo, it was a five-minute bicycle ride. The second thing was that the year before, when I first joined Graham sensei’s dojo in Australia, there was a guy there who had trained in Japan for a year and he had trained at Tada sensei’s dojo. So he told me about Tada sensei.
Then it just coincidentally happened that the school was right there, so I was, like, well I’m gonna join.
I stayed with Tada sensei for five years. I had numerous private conversations with the man, all in Japanese, and sometimes not having a clue what he was talking about, because not even regular Japanese folk can understand… “Hello? What he’s talking about?”
He’s very far out there sometimes, with the Universe and how everything is related… I one day hope to be able to understand just a quarter of what he understands right now.

CHIERCHINI
Can you comment on Tada sensei’s Kinorenma, his own internal power training program? What do you think? Was it beneficial to you?

McAVOY
Well, Tada sensei now is, I think, 92 years old.

CHIERCHINI
Yes, he’ll be in December.

McAVOY
He still moves like a 30-year-old. He’s amazing, and he puts it all down to his Kinorenma and his suburi. I went through the whole Kinorenma system and I also did zazen, which is seated meditation and it’s very cleansing for the soul.
When you first start doing his stuff, you don’t really know what you’re doing. You’re just making sounds: “Aaaaaa”. He makes the sounds of the Japanese alphabet: A-I-U-E-O. So goes right through the alphabet and then he does half. So he’ll go “Aaaa” and then he’ll go ah [exales] and stop halfway. Then he’ll do one silently, where you do the “A” in your head.
He does all this kind of stuff. It makes you focus so much on your training, having this 20 minutes of time to yourself, to really get to know yourself. Unfortunately, I don’t keep up the practice and it’s something that I really wish. When I go back to Australia and I open my dojo – which is hopefully not too far away – this is one of the things I will definitely be implementing in my training: it will be first the cardio system but then also Kinorema, for sure.

With Hiroshi Tada sensei at the Gessoji Dojo (2005)

CHIERCHINI
During your time at the Gessoji, you were caught between a rock and a hard place, basically. You were fascinated by Tada sensei’s charisma and teachings, but you were also missing the fighting element, your earlier days emotion of competing and coming up on top, all of that. So you started cross-training, am I right? You would juggle Tada sensei’s Aikido, Kickboxing, some gym work to put on some muscular power… An almost impossible combination, one would say. How did you manage? How did that work out?

MCAVOY
In Australia, it’s quite a country full of big muscular guys, obviously not everybody, but a lot of guys in Australia hit the gym hard. I always had this complex about being small and skinny when I was younger. By the time I was 25, I was like: “Right, I need to do something about this”.
Another reason was that with all this martial arts training I deep down always wanted to be a professional wrestler. Truth be told, the only reason that I joined Kickboxing is because I really really wanted to do professional wrestling but I was still very small at the time. An American friend of mine, who’s you know since passed away, rest in peace, Eric said to me one day: “Dude, you want to be a Pro Wrestler? In Japan, MMA guys do Pro Wrestling, Pro Wrestling guys do Kickboxing, Kickboxing guys do MMA. Everybody mixes everything. So, why don’t you come down to my kickboxing dojo and you never know, it may lead to Pro Wrestling”.
So I was hitting the gym hard, still going to Tada sensei’s dojo two or three times a week, plus Hombu once on Saturdays, then also doing Kickboxing. If you want we can get on to how Kickboxing got me in the Pro Wrestling, if I’ve answered your question.

CHIERCHINI
In a minute. You just mentioned that you actually entered the Aikikai Hombu Dojo a second time.

McAVOY
Yes.

CHIERCHINI
Again you weren’t having a lot of luck there, yeah right?

McAVOY
Right. I bounced around a lot of different classes but what I felt was that it was all kind of like cookie-cutter Aikido. I don’t want to be rude, because the Shihan are all very very brilliant in Hombu, but it was pretty much all the same. It was cookie-cutter stuff.
Tada sensei had his own style, it was very much Tada sensei. I was bouncing around the guys at Hombu, couldn’t really find anybody but I really really missed the kicking and the punching.
That’s what I got out of Kickboxing, having that, the kicking and the punching and still not finding success in the Aikido world, doing what I really really wanted to do, which was something more martial than just the kata geiko – which is like a kata in Karate, right? The kata, the patterns, the practices. What we do in aikido is kata geiko.
I was really looking for someone who understood it’s more than just the form, the practice.

CHIERCHINI
You had a chance encounter then with a specific shihan while you were almost ready to give up Aikido for good and that changed everything.

At the Aikikai Hombu Dojo with Yoshiaki Yokota sensei and some of his students

McAVOY
Yes. I was down in Tanabe doing this international seminar. I really was upset with a lot of people doing Aikido as well. There’s a lot of fake tough guys I was coming across on the mats, especially at Tanabe, not so much fake tough guys in Japan, but a lot of the foreigners that you train with put on a bit of a bravado. I was having a bit of a problem with it, ready to give up and then I came across Yokota shihan who really changed my life. When I saw it, I knew straight away: this guy is the real deal. This is the dude I need to go to and train and learn from if I’m gonna be any good.

CHIERCHINI
You thought: “This is my guy!”

McAVOY
This is my guy, straight away, from the very first technique.

CHIERCHINI
So, as a result, you actually brought your training experience at the Gessoji to an end and you started a new path in training. What did you see in Yokota sensei?

McAVOY
I quit Gessoji the very week after, I didn’t even see out the month. What I saw from Yokota sensei was that he understood Aikido from a Budo aspect. If you understand it from an Aikido aspect, it’s just the form, the kata. But Yokota sensei understood everything, because he did Karate and he did Judo and his weapons are amazing. What he understood was that he knew where you could put on armbars, he knew where he could throw sidekicks, he was throwing front kicks.
One of his earlier teachers was a guy called Kuroiwa, who was a former professional boxer – one particular Japanese teacher would only relate Aikido to boxing strikes – that was a guy called Kuroiwa sensei. Yokota sensei had this absolutely unique perspective, coming up doing Karate, doing Judo, going into Aikido full time, coming across a guy that was doing boxing techniques in his Aikido and then becoming uchideshi at Hombu Dojo and basically being Kisshomaru Doshu’s bodyguard.
He understands that you have to be able to throw, you have to be able to strike and you have to better relate it to weapons, Aiki weapons. It’s very rare that you find someone who can really understand all three of them.

CHIERCHINI
You changed dojo, changed teacher, changed training style but again something nagging at you yeah? Something that Aikido alone could not satisfy, not even Yokota sensei’s Aikido alone. This is when you go back to what you were mentioning earlier: your dream of building a career in Pro Wrestling became something that you addressed for real once, and for all. What I would like to ask you is what did it drive you to Wrestling? How crazy was that? Can you explain what you actually had to put yourself through to get to be a professional wrestler? Because I guarantee you, no one understands what you actually did, because if you don’t do it, you cannot understand. Please give us a little bit of an idea.

The two sides of the McAvoy coin

McAVOY
OK. Firstly, to be able to understand that, I need to explain how I was able to pick up Yokota sensei’s Aikido and it will relate to the wrestling part in a second.
I needed to have a translator for Yokota sensei’s Aikido and I don’t mean linguistically: what I mean is I had a senpai there, a senior. His name was DJ and he would always say to me: “Oh, what he really means is this” and “When he’s showing this, then this also means this”. He was giving me an on-the-fly lesson of Yokota sensei’s techniques and it really really made me understand the importance of senpai and kohai. That’s why you can see the kid there in the green shirt, I’m trying to pass it on to him, Tadgh, giving him the same lessons that I got. There was no give up with DJ, you weren’t let off the hook for anything. You trained hard and you trained to the best of your ability.
I’d always wanted to be a wrestler. I had applied to a couple of schools. I’d never done any wrestling in Japan or outside of Japan before. As a white guy, in the wrestling industry in Tokyo, I’m the only one.
If you’re a foreigner here in Japan and you’re wrestling, you’ve always done your training outside of Japan and then come over. Because of my language, because I can speak Japanese, I joined this Pro Wrestling dojo and I was immediately thrown in and treated like a Japanese young boy: and a Japanese young boy gets up at early hours in the morning and cleans the toilets and then we go to training.
But the training I thought I was getting when I wanted to be a Pro Wrestler, my idea of Pro Wrestling was: “Oh yeah, brother!”, you know the Hulk Hogan kind of stuff.
What I didn’t understand is that Japanese Pro Wrestling was the forefather to Japanese MMA. All the famous MMA guys that came out of Japan in the early 90s or late 80s all started in Pro Wrestling. The training here in Pro Wrestling is very very similar to MMA. So I was thinking I was going to get a 101 basic school of wrestling American-style, but what I ended up getting was combat wrestling. Learning how to hurt somebody and then learning how to not hurt them so that you didn’t actually hurt them when it comes time to perform.
We went through thousands and thousands of squats – minimum 300 squats each time. They would do whatever they could to break you. I puked my guts up more times than I can imagine. It was and forever will be the highest training I ever did in my life. I’m very thankful that I put myself through and I didn’t quit and didn’t give up and was able to to come out on top as a professional wrestler.

CHIERCHINI
So your hard work paid off eventually and you had a successful stint in the Pro Wrestling circuits, there’s plenty of videos to prove that. Another consequence was that for about three years you gave up on Aikido and the Aikikai Hombu Dojo (again!). What did Wrestling give you, compared to what Aikido was giving or not giving you?

Flying through the ropes

McAVOY
Well, here’s the thing. I went back to Hombu after three years because my senpai that I just talked about, DJ, decided he was gonna leave and go back. I thought: “Well, he’s given me so much of his time, I’d better go back and give him some of my time”. I also missed it. I missed it a little bit, I missed sensei, I missed DJ… and another one of my friends, Hussein, was there at the time… What it gave to me was a new sense…
When we grapple – because we practised legit grappling – you have a guy in front of you and he’s not going to move the way you want him to move, in grappling. You have to move, you have to react to what he’s doing, to be able to try and get a submission. This opened up my Aikido so much because I already had the kicks: when you know how to kick, you can place your distance. You know how far you have to throw a kick, you know how far you don’t have to throw a kick. I would usually use my kicks from a distance, from a faraway distance: leg shots, front kicks to the guts… What the wrestling and the grappling told me was that when it does become close-quartered, you have so many more options.
We call Aikido this all-encompassing Budo, martial art. I’m not so sure at the moment that Aikido is [that]. I always called it that but I’m not so sure. I would like to say it could be, in that we only really have a set of rules but they’re not super defined. Yes, we do iriminage, yes, we do ikkyo, yes, we do this and that, but it’s the principles that all we really have to worry about: the irimi, the different sabaki.
When you add more to your repertoire, when you know how to kick, when you know how to take people down, when you know how to throw on different submissions, your entire Aikido game just explodes.
It just gets so much bigger. It’s really hard to say but you can only get this sensation from cross-training. It only really all fell into place for me maybe three years ago, four at the most. Just one day, realizing I can put all this together and it really will work.

CHIERCHINI
How useful was your experience in Aikido for your wrestling training and the opposite idea, was Aikido actually good, could you use some of it? Or was it not useful at all?

McAVOY
Pro Wrestling here in Japan it’s different to the United States. Here in Japan, there were a lot of Judo guys and Sumo guys who were the original wrestlers here. A lot of the Japanese training is old-school Judo training. Even though the ukemi is slightly different – having the Aikido ukemi meant that I didn’t need to start at zero. I could start at 30% and not at zero. I had to retrain my ukemi, but hitting the mat and break-falling was not a new concept to me.
Professional Wrestling comes from Catch Wrestling and in Catch Wrestling, they have similar things to nikyo and they also have similar things to kotegaeshi – almost exactly the same actually, they have their own kotegaeshi in catch wrestling and professional wrestling. So I was able to to catch up on some of those things a lot faster than maybe others might have.

CHIERCHINI
There’s a side topic that I would like to touch on now. It is about peer pressure from other martial artists in Tokyo. What’s wrong with them? They have this very bad idea of Aikido, they almost ridicule it and basically, they haven’t even trained a day in it? So what’s gone wrong?

McAVOY
It takes all kinds to make a world.
We know that and we can’t all be expert Aikido people. We can train to the best of our ability, but I think what has ruined it really is basically just social media. People will look at Aikido and they’ll see absolute trash online. Just some of the worst stuff ever and they’ll immediately associate that with: “Oh, that doesn’t work”. They also see embu and we know that embu is just a performance, it’s no different to Pro Wrestling, it’s no different to a kata in Karate. They see that and they think: “Oh, well, you know, nobody’s going to throw one of these hokey Karate chops”, “No one’s going to do that”.
I think it comes down to the type of people that are attracted to Aikido and it’s a mixed bag. You’ll have a lot of people that are attracted to Aikido and they’re doing Aikido because they don’t want to do Kickboxing, or they don’t want to do Judo, because they don’t want to get punched in the head.
It’s not for me to say: “You know, you’re wrong”. Everyone does Aikido for a reason. It’s just there’s a lot of stuff going out there online today that should not be online.

CHIERCHINI
That’s the problem with social media.

McAVOY
Yes, it’s not just Aikido.

CHIERCHINI
It gives the power to anyone to do anything, to say anything, to show anything without any restraint.
That’s probably where the real problem is, that before actually filming myself doing X and Z, I should think about it. Or maybe I should publish it with a little note explaining that I’m not meaning that I’m a big Budo guy.
On the other hand though, I think that this is would be the honest answer, but a lot of people in Aikido actually don’t realize that their training lacks in martiality. They’re convinced to be effective. So the problem is not with Aikido. The problem is with people, as usual. You cannot blame Christianity or Islam, you have to blame the people that thought the ideas not the idea in itself.

McAVOY
Aikido has lost its martial edge. I think you can say this about a lot of things these days, but you know things are not the same as what they used to be.
Back in the day, I’ve heard stories in Hombu where people would grab each other by the hair or there’d be blood and there’d be fights in the corner, and Kisshomaru Doshu would just look the other way and laugh. There’s a whole risk of duty of care in dojos these days and I think people are just too scared. I can only speak from Hombu, I know for sure Hombu is definitely scared of any altercations and anything other than peace.
When you train in other martial arts, you quickly realize how easy it is to bring martial practicality into your Aikido and how easy it is that if you haven’t done other martial arts to understand that, you don’t really know proper martial arts if you’ve only really done Aikido. Because at the moment, unfortunately, it sucks to say but it really is lacking in that martial edge that it needs and definitely has.
It has it, it’s there.

Wakigatame, better known as the Fujiwara arm bar, named after Rionne “Fujiwara” McAvoy’s coach

CHIERCHINI
The justification often enough is that Aikido has a larger scope, that there are many other aspects in play and it is true, very much so. But from studying with senior teachers, from reading, from personal experience, I understood that all these other aspects only come into play if you go through the first part of breaking your ego. How do you actually break your ego? How do you realize how to harmonize your different parts – the good and the bad ones – if you never go through the bad ones? How do you control them? How do we control them today in Aikido, if all we see is a peaceful environment where basically all the stuff that we don’t like we just deny?

McAVOY
Because our Aikido training is in a comfort zone and we never get out of second gear and if we do it’s only third gear.
The most humble people that I’ve ever met, the most humble martial artists are the ones that understand that you’re going to get punched in the head for real or you’re going to get tapped out if do have some kind of ego. Because if you have an ego, there’ll always be somebody better than you, no matter where you go. When you’re training on the tatami, we have this saying that “the tatami never lies”. It’s a saying that I love to repeat. You’ll always come across that one guy who thinks he’s really really good until you take him down, until you tap him out.
I’ll never forget I had this one I was training with this, who was a 6th dan. I was taking ukemi for him, the very first technique, and he said to me: “Oh, you’re being nice to me. I’m not gonna be so nice to you”. I thought: “What? What’s this guy talking about?”. Then I do the technique to him and he stops me. OK. I do it again and he tries to stop me again and I take him to the ground. He tries to wrestle me and it was like taking candy from a baby. He tapped out before I even got to put on a technique, before I even got to touch him. He tapped straight away and I was like: “Man, look. We can play these games if you want, but you can’t wrestle with a wrestler, okay? You got to know your limits”. “Oh, you know, yeah, but I just wanted to try”. I said: “Well, you got your answer, didn’t you?”

CHIERCHINI
Yeah, nice try.

McAVOY
I have a friend there, Hussein, and when we practice in the corner, at Hombu, he’s always trying to grab my legs for a takedown. He’s always trying to do something but it’s in a friendly atmosphere, it’s in a friendly environment. Where we’re just trying to find holes in each other’s game. It’s very hard to train with someone if you don’t have that kind of camaraderie, because you know ego does come into play: I don’t want to lose to this guy, I don’t want to be made to look like a fool. When you have someone of an equal level, who can try and find the holes in your game, it’s quite fun and really worthwhile study wise. Of course. Let’s go back to your path in Aikido.

CHIERCHINI
Eventually, your career in Pro Wrestling came to an end and you went back to Aikido, as you were saying earlier.

McAVOY
Actually, it still hasn’t come to an end. It’s just more of a semi-retirement. I still wrestle, maybe I went from wrestling ten times a month to maybe six times a year now, at the most.

Celebrating Yokota Sensei’s 8th dan promotion

CHIERCHINI
You’re keeping the door open, basically. Eventually, you went back to Aikido for the third time, you could say. What had changed in the meantime? Had Aikido changed or was it you?

McAVOY
I had changed but also what had changed was that I met a few younger kids – one of them is still here, he just turned his screen off – and I became a senpai for the first time, which I had never done before.
You learn from teaching and everything started to fall into place for me when I became a senpai that people relied on.
I had to be Yokota sensei’s guy, because DJ had left. I had to be that guy that took care of sensei, who helped him with taking off his gi in the summer, because he had a lot of injuries. Help him walking up the stairs when he got hurt and stuff like that, trying to make these younger kids understand what sensei is trying to do. Hombu hadn’t changed but I definitely had. I gave up for four years and came back with a whole new set of skills, so definitely I had changed and not the art.

CHIERCHINI
I don’t think it was only the skills. I think you changed. Well, obviously, you matured in the meantime, as it happens to all of us with time. The fact that you were for the first time looking for kohai to pass on what you learned prove it clearly. What would you like to pass on these kohai?
What’s your point there, aside from the translation work that you were mentioning earlier, that is to be in between the shihan and the junior students? From your own perspective, what is it that you’d like to pass them on?

McAVOY
What I try to do is [to pass on] not how to do it. It’s why we do it. Anybody can learn a form, but how do we get there, why are we doing this… for me it’s all about the why, why are we doing this technique, not how are we doing it. To understand the why, you have to put yourself in different situations, close distance, longer distance, guys with different skill sets… This is the biggest thing that I want to try to drum into my kohai. Ask yourself why.
Yokota sensei always has a plan A-C-D-E-F, all the way down to Z. If this doesn’t work, this will work.
This is very similar to a BJJ method. BJJ and catch wrestling is basically physical chess. Especially catch wrestling, it’s actually called physical chess. There’s a guy called John Danaher out of New York – he’s actually a Kiwi – he’s a very famous BJJ sensei and he’s produced an incredible amount of world champion students, but he’s never actually fully competed by himself. His method is: if somebody does this, you do this; and then if he does that, then you do that and then if he reacts like this, then you do that.
Yokota sensei is one of the very few who took that same approach for Aikido. If he does this then you have this, but you also have this; and if he doesn’t go down then try this. It’s very important to be able to learn how to process all that on the fly and we can only do this through training.

CHIERCHINI
Talking about methodology, there’s a little bit of a discussion going around in the last while that maybe the way that Aikido – not only Aikido, traditional budo – is taught might be not as good anymore, because of the ways things have evolved in the meantime. Maybe there’s too much – that’s what it’s been said anyways – of the traditional element, which is too strong. Innovation would be necessary to produce something that is more relevant to modern times. In other styles they have done it, they got rid of the gi and stuff…
More than anything, don’t you think that sometimes that the teaching methods in Budo require too long to get you where you’re supposed to go? Obviously, we’re talking about people that train for real, that train regularly. We’re not talking about people that go there once or twice a week or when they remember. Basically to go from A to B, when you’re committed to training, there’s a discussion that maybe the method in itself should be somehow renewed, revitalized.

McAVOY
I don’t know if this is a thing about traditional martial arts because, well, first of all, in all martial arts you need a good base. Judo here in Japan still teaches an excellent excellent base. Karate here in Japan still teaches an excellent excellent base. You have your fundamentals and then you go up. You fail exams, if you’re not good enough you fail your test.
Here’s an analogy we can probably relate to. In Japan, there are two kinds of places to lift weights:
there’s a sports club and there’s a weightlifting gym. The sports club is for the not so serious people, the older people, the Sunday people. The weightlifting club, Gold’s Gym, Anytime Fitness kind of stuff is for the serious serious weightlifters. I often wonder to myself if Aikido is the sports club of martial arts.
I always say that Aikido doesn’t need to change but the way of training needs to change.
I can’t understand why we can’t spend 30 minutes, 20 minutes earlier doing a few squats, doing some push-ups. In my dojo in Australia, when I was young, we did push-ups all the time. We did push-ups like this [nikyo-style] to develop our wrists. We did a lot of ukemi practice. I just wonder if we’re missing the fundamental basics and just going straight for the cherry on top, which is the techniques.

With Tada Sensei at Kagami Biraki

CHIERCHINI
Well, earlier on, you were mentioning something about Tada sensei that I think explains perfectly your point. Tada sensei’s Aikido, you said, was based on his internal power program and training and you mentioned suburi. The man, I heard him say this many times. He was a legend for doing feats like thousands and thousands of cuts every day, every single day, rain or shine, every day etc etc. This is the base you were talking about – or one of the bases – to build good physical training. Then you have the Kinorenma.

McAVOY
The cherry on top.

CHIERCHINI
Yes. I think the problem is that a lot of our very respected teachers by now are old or they’re gone and we only see them at their peak or when they basically produced these later expressions of their training. We basically skip all the parts where they were doing the squats and the suburi cuts and they were actually going around fighting people…
Because I know plenty of stories of the shihans that built the Aikikai. They basically went out to test what they were learning. It wasn’t just a mental projection of their abilities. No, no, they went out and they went to see if they were what they were doing worked.

McAVOY
Yokota sensei is famous for it.

CHIERCHINI
Yes. There’s stories of all the Japanese shihans of the golden days. This brings me to another question. You’ve been in and out of the Hombu for about 20 years. How did it change along this time? What is very good today about the Hombu Dojo and what you don’t like about the Hombu Dojo?

McAVOY
OK. That’s a very good question. As far as teaching wise, not a whole lot changed technique-wise, because in Hombu they only ever did basics. It doesn’t matter how high-ranking essentially you were, they very very rarely got away from basics.
What changed, I think – and I really don’t want to sound like I’m putting anybody down – was just basically the level of martial artists on the mat. These days we get a lot more people doing it for fitness, the kind of sports club atmosphere. Compared to the older days, where a lot of people really did it – because you have to remember that Aikido only really came to the forefront, of everybody’s knowledge not that long ago, it’s a very relatively new martial art. A lot of guys came over from Judo, a lot of guys came over from Kendo, a lot of guys came over from Karate. It was always more of a finishing art, whereas you went into Aikido to find that thing that you were missing. You got all your throws out of Judo, you’ve got your strikes out of Karate, you’ve got all your sword cuts and stuff out of Kendo, but now you’re looking for this thing that only Ueshiba and his art could provide.
I’m not sure Aikido took a lot of those things that they had already got and implemented into their own system. I’m not so sure that we have that.
So, the second half of your question was what is not so good about it now is that, unfortunately, I’ll grab my kohai after class and I’ll try different techniques: sutemi waza, I’ll try different techniques going into takedowns… You know, it’s still all Aikido! And the look on people’s eyes… I don’t know if it’s… I don’t want to say envy. But I definitely am looked at in a not so good light. “Oh, why is he doing this? Why is he doing that?” I feel really uncomfortable practising outside of the key, of the basic syllabus of Aikido after class.

CHIERCHINI
Would you say that the syllabus, the way of training Aikido has crystallized over the last 30-40 years?
The techniques are these, the catalogue is this.

McAVOY
Exactly.

CHIERCHINI
It’s, like, for definite, so anything that goes out of what’s known as the mainstream Aikido it’s immediately rejected?

McAVOY
Taboo.

CHIERCHINI
And the comparisons: immediately you get people judging you because you’re “Oh, you’re violent”.
Blah blah blah blah, this rubbish.

McAVOY
That is exactly how I feel and it got to such a point where now I don’t bother. After class, I just fold up my hakama and you know call it a night. Anything other than the basic syllabus is taboo.

CHIERCHINI
Well and that’s okay I suppose that’s one of the Hombu Dojo’s main functions and it has to be accepted.
By the way, we’re criticizing some of the aspects of training at the Hombu. That said by almost everyone’s admission, it is still one of the (or probably the) best place in the world where to go and train. Because you can get many many different shihans, maybe not so different from each other, it doesn’t matter, to train under. You get tons of different training times that you can pick from.
You can get people from different backgrounds, from different nationalities, different styles going there… So still it’s a great place to go to train.

McAVOY
I still think it’s one of the best dojos in the world to do Aikido.

CHIERCHINI
And I want to make it clear that what we’re saying is not because we just sit here and open our mouth just to throw stones at anyone. This is a positive criticism and I think indeed that with a little bit of it all of us, we wouldn’t be saying the things that we’ve been saying so far, no?

McAVOY
Right. My mind is more of an overall view of the Aikido world and not a direct criticism of Hombu. I wouldn’t be where I was without the Hombu Dojo.

CHIERCHINI
We all love it, man, otherwise you wouldn’t be talking about it.

McAVOY
Exactly.

CHIERCHINI
Going back to you, to your personal story, you’re now building a reputation for yourself by bringing awareness and applications from combat sports into an Aikido context. By doing this, do you feel you’re continuing a tradition of adapting and incorporating that has been in Aikido since the very beginning?

McAVOY
It was all taken out and this stuff that I’m trying to do I didn’t invent any of it. It’s been around since the days of the ancient Greeks, since the days, later on, of the ancient samurai. This is not new. There are only so many ways you can do certain techniques.
What I want to show is that you don’t have to be an MMA fighter, you don’t have to be you know a Kickboxing champion… there are so many ways that you can [do things]. If we know how to do ikkyo, we know how to do a kimura armbar. If we know how to do kotegaeshi, we know how to choke somebody. It’s just not being taught. If we know how to do ushiro-waza kubishime, then we should know how to actually choke somebody from there.
I just want to take it one step further and show people: “This is how you actually do it”. And I think people want to learn. I’m just not sure there’s a whole lot of people showing it. It’s just stuff I’ve been taught. As I said, I didn’t create any of this. It’s just stuff I’ve put in my tool bag here, over the 20 years I’ve been here. Really anybody can do it.

Rionne McAvoy getting 4th dan certificate from Yokota sensei at Hombu

CHIERCHINI
There’s another thing: this is shouldn’t be a taboo. Because Aikido was born by doing this: taking out and adding other stuff and turning the whole thing into what we actually have today. So maybe one could say: “You know, Simone, Rionne, what you’re doing is rubbish. You’re trying to do A and B and it doesn’t make any sense”. Fine, I get it, but it shouldn’t be like: “No, you cannot do this: Aikido is A B C D. That doesn’t make any sense. We all know that O’Sensei actually didn’t codify one thing about Aikido. He said it on many, numerous occasions that Aikido is open, it’s a living body. So, what’s with these people?

McAVOY
Well, I think for one what we’re doing now is Kisshomaru Doshu’s Aikido, that’s one thing we can be sure of. The Aikikai is doing the stuff of Kisshomaru Doshu, who was the fifth choice, if we’re being honest, to be named Doshu. He was really really down the list of people to take over from his father.
Not to say he was a bad martial artist. That’s not for me to say, I never met the man.
But there was a guy that was married to O’Sensei’s daughter, [Kiyoshi Nakakura] who was a Kendo eighth dan, who was supposed to take over. There was Mochizuki sensei, you know, he was doing Judo, who was supposed to take over and this never happened…
There should never be anybody saying you can’t do that, that’s rubbish.

CHIERCHINI
In relation to Kisshomaru Doshu, while we’re criticizing, again, we need to recognize that without him and his efforts, we wouldn’t be here talking about Aikido. Because let’s remember that his great father was great at Aikido and Budo, but he was half a disaster in everything that had to do with organisation -basically, it wasn’t of his interest in any sort of way. Thanks to Kisshomaru, he’s done whatever he could.

McAVOY
He was a great man.

CHIERCHINI
He’s done wonders because in the space of 20 years is got Aikido out of a dojo that had maybe 10 students and brought it all over the world. He formed the generation of teachers and brought it all over the world. We have to accept that he’s done it the way he thought right. Where we are today is because of that and maybe we’re all dreaming about what it came before Kisshomaru sensei…

McAVOY
We’re only looking at it from an Aikido Aikikai point of view. You have to understand that a lot of people didn’t like the way Kisshomaru was taking it and so they went and formed their own: Shioda sensei didn’t like. Tomiki sensei didn’t like it and they had their own ideas and they went their own path. We’re looking at it from an Aikikai lens but he was definitely a great man and you know the Hombu Dojo is the Hombu Dojo because of him.

CHIERCHINI
Well, like it or not, Aikikai Aikido became mainstream and that doesn’t mean that is the “best”, if that can be applied to Aikido. Unfortunately, due to human nature and business, all this family of Aikido in the world is actually quite dysfunctional. You just mentioned other extremely important currents within Aikido that, unless you were born into them, you haven’t a clue of – or very little. With Aikido Italia Network – ours is an Aikikai-based audience, 95% – we’ve been trying to explain that there’s other ways. That Tomiki sensei is not only the bad guy that invented competitive Aikido. He was actually one of the main shihans of Ueshiba sensei and had a great connection with the Kano sensei and brought forward his work.
It’s a shame that our community is so divided, that the fences are so high and it’s so hard to climb them.

McAVOY
This is the thing about opening up your experiences to cross-training because I can see the good points to Aikikai, Yoshinkan and Tomiki, but I can see the bad points of Aikikai, Yoshinkan and Tomiki and the others. If you pigeon-turn yourself into one little, you know, you’re in trouble the minute that somebody really holds you and decides that they want to punch you.
Your little narrow-minded Aikikai view is not going to get you out of that trouble.

CHIERCHINI
Or any narrow-minded view. As you know, I live in Ireland and in both Ireland and the UK, the Tomiki Aikido community is pretty strong, probably one of the strongest around: the very same problems, the very same things, you know. They have their style and if you try and talk to them, they’re not interested, because they think: “Oh yeah, Aikikai, it’s all rubbish”, while both communities should just be open to each other.
So, you’re surprised that most aikidoka don’t want to try other, new martial arts: how can you be, when they don’t even want to try other Aikido?

McAVOY
Yes, exactly, exactly. You’re 100% right. I actually think I’d like to try the Tomiki randori but what stops me from doing it is that there’s so many rules. You have to stick to your little Aikido techniques and I know that I’ll just forget that I’m only allowed to do Aikido and probably do something stupid like a takedown or something.

CHIERCHINI
I’m sure you’ll get disqualified right away.
OK, change of subject. I had a good look at your media channels and, among other things, I noticed that you offer an image of yourself that is often focused on your body. How important for you is today the idea of physical power?

McAVOY
When I was coming up in Tada sensei’s dojo, there was an Italian guy – because obviously in his dojo there are a lot of Italian guys and they all seem to be called Stefano, by the way. Every Italian guy I’ve ever met, you’re the first Italian guy I’ve met who’s not called Stefano… I’m joking… But there was three Stefanos in this dojo and one of the Stefanos said to me: “Oh my god, you’re going to the gym! What are you doing? It’s going to ruin your Aikido!”. And this was echoed by the Japanese people: “Oh my god, you’re going to the gym? What are you doing? You’re going to get muscles and your muscles are going to ruin your soft Aikido!”
I can tell you now that having strength is something that is so vital. When I was in Aikido, I was a skinny little kid and I had the speed but now I put on the strength and I still got the speed. At the end of the day, if someone’s got your here [the collar] and your techniques aren’t working, well I think my strength is pretty good. You cannot underestimate the importance of having strength. You don’t have to go out and be a macho man.

CHIERCHINI
It’s actually unbelievable that you have to justify yourself for trying to become stronger. Why, what would you do? Try and become weaker? I don’t get it.

McAVOY
Yes, I couldn’t get it, I couldn’t get why are these people having a go at me for hitting the gym.

CHIERCHINI
Well, I have an idea: to get stronger you need to work.

McAVOY
Yeah, it’s hard work.

CHIERCHINI
Most people, when they see someone making the effort, they prefer to say: “Oh, no, no! This is not necessary, you know! You do your two minutes of breathing techniques and that’s it. You control the Ki of the Universe”. What a massive delusion!

McAVOY
You must put in the hard work off the tatami to reap the benefits on the tatami. It sounds like very basic stuff but we actually seem to have lost it.

CHIERCHINI
OK, one final question. Where do you want to bring your Aikido in the future? Where do you see yourself in, let’s say, 10 years time?

McAVOY
I think I will be teaching back in Australia, most likely, in 10 years, hopefully within the next few years.
I would like to bring the Aikikai Hombu Dojo techniques back to Australia, but my students will all have great cardio. They’ll all be able to do a push-up. They’ll all be able to do a sit-up. They’ll all be able to do squats, obviously to the best of your ability. I think, in general, the mindset that we’re doing a martial art, I think all my students will have it, I hope. That’s how I plan to teach anyway.
Because at the end of the day, it’s like I said [for] Yokota sensei’s stuff. DJ would tell me: “Oh what he really means is this. So when he’s doing this, he also means this is the oyo, the practical version of it”.
I think it’s very important to be able to show people, well we do irimi, because basically, I don’t really want to do iriminage; I want to do irimi so I can take his back, And whatever happens then, whatever happens this happens. I don’t even want to think about it, I just want to know how I can take his back.
The iriminage is the nice Aikido that we do for the dojo training. It’s more just the mindset that I want to have people know.

CHIERCHINI
I think there are some people that would like to ask questions. Raise your hand: Zoom has this function, so raise your hand and I’ll put you on.
OK, Pasquale, hold on a second.

MAZZOTTA
I would like to know from you how you implement whatever you study. I suppose and assume that it enters into your Aikido personal view. So how do you implement in technical terms all that you learn into your Aikido, in order to be teachable, if I can say so, to your students?

McAVOY
One day the penny just dropped and one day I couldn’t relate everything I learned – by the way, I’m still so far away from where I want to be and how much I want to learn, so far away – but one day the penny just dropped and it had just been from exposing myself to so many different kinds of techniques and so many different kinds of people.
And then, when I found myself in Aikido situations, I was like: “Wait, I’ve been in the same spot, but I’ve been there in Wrestling. I’ve been there in Kickboxing. I’ve been here before, but I didn’t do Aikido at that time. I think it just comes from repetitious training. It has to be a natural progression: one day the penny will just drop for everybody who does it. But the penny won’t drop unless you expose yourself to different kinds of martial arts. Obviously, for yourself, you’ve told me about your background, I think the pennies dropped for you and you’re able to also understand where you can put things. I think it has to be natural.

CHIERCHINI
I have not done many other martial arts, I have done bits and pieces in kenjutsu and Aikido most of my life. I did some Judo when I was young – but I have the same mindset anyways. I think it’s cultural, it’s not only the experience that you’re having around your Aikido that counts. It’s actually the way you are.

McAVOY
Yeah.

CHIERCHINI
Some just don’t want to know. You spoke about their comfort zone, that comfort zone of Aikido as a whole, at the moment.

McAVOY
When I train in grappling or kickboxing, I’m never comfortable, because I know I might get kicked in the head, or this guy might tap me out. I’m so out of my comfort zone. I don’t know how we can fix that in Aikido, it’s something I have to think about deeply.

CHIERCHINI
It’s quite hard now, because I’m a little older and I started my initial years with the shihans that everyone knows my main teacher was Fujimoto sensei primarily and Hosokawa sensei –
and they were of the generation that was still in Budo, they had Budo mindset. This is what they passed on to us. Not everyone actually took it, because we’re all different. For me, Budo is a path to improving myself. How can I improve myself, if I don’t test myself?

McAVOY
Exactly.

CHIERCHINI
This is what everyone should ask: today or tonight, did I get challenged in any way? It doesn’t have to be sparring or competition. It can be even within the very normal standard Aikido lines. Have I been challenged today? This should be the question that people should ask and once, you know, it can happen, it’s a class that went differently… but when you have the same answer one, two, three, four, five times, you either change dojo or I don’t know, there’s something wrong there.
OK, more questions, people?

McAVOY
Did I answer your question there, Pasquale? [sign of agreement]

CHIERCHINI
Ok, Adrian.

MONTEANU
Hello, thank you very much for today. It was really good, thank you.

McAVOY
I thank you for being here, I saw you right at the beginning.

MONTEANU
So many many many points to think of. Thank you for that. Obviously, there will be some reflection after this. The first question is why I can’t find you on Facebook.

McAVOY
OK, I just came back to Facebook two hours ago, so I could share this link. The reason is because I was on Facebook for so long and you have all these mainstream Aikido groups and this was the first thing that started getting to me, it was all the fighting that was going on in these groups. People were posting videos in these groups and then they were bashing each other out. For a very small period of time I got caught up in it and I thought: “What am I doing? This is not me”.
And I ended up quitting the groups, but then what I found out was that these Catch Wrestling and BJJ groups were doing the same thing. And then what happened was I really realized how toxic social media is and then the whole “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix got to me. I just decided it’s time to time to take a break from social media. I came back today specifically to share this link but I’ll probably go off again.

MONTEANU
I think you raised some issues that we’re all getting a bit funny about, like OK, I’m Aikikai, I’m getting offended if anyone talks about Aikikai in not great terms. To be honest, all this year – I’m Aikikai as well – I’ve been training with, I took on classes with other styles and yes everybody tries to protect their own lineage, their try to protect their own style… I think it’s good to say that there is a distinction between the admin role and the level of skill as a teacher.
As you said, Kisshomaru has the merits to actually give us the curricula in Aikikai. We have Hombu keeping the lines as a centerline – and it’s the basics and that’s the place where you go to do the basics.
You can’t go and do anything else because there’s the basic and it has to be like that, although the shihans, they do a bit different than the basic line – they are, I think Hombu is closing their eyes a bit on the variations.
I’ve been to Yoshinkan and they are not happy with Hombu Dojo because they have an email every two or three months, for instance… So we say in Aikikai we are happy that the shihans are coming over to Europe, or used to. We are proud of our Hombu and we look from our side and think Yoshinkan is doing really well but actually not, or there are other aspects they do well and we don’t. I think there will be a controversy here always, who is better. Even in Aikikai, you go and you train with people in Takemusu, for instance, Iwama and they say: “Oh we’ve never seen this, we don’t know”.

McAVOY
Iwama people hate Aikikai.

MONTEANU
Yes, but they are together in a way because they came back.

McAVOY
I don’t understand it.

MONTEANU
Yeah but that’s what I mean even in Aikikai you see this. And to be honest people who are training in that, they will be honest with you. They will tell you: “Okay I trained with the shihan in Iwama and he said I never seen this, show me”. And I said show me your weapon thing, which was open-minded. He’d never seen or did I can’t remember the technique but I was surprised.
You either go specialist in something, get digging and dig and dig and you do that to the sort of perfection level, or you go all over and you might waste yourself, because you do too many things. So that’s the tension I feel like I’ve seen it. And then yes, the Aikikai has the pyramid system, his family thing, is traditional, so that’s probably the chance for Aikido, in a way, to survive, because it goes there as the other split and then possibly in time they will die quicker than Aikikai, because we have now the fourth and then we already know the great great grandchildren coming into it, they train and that they will preserve Aikido as a whole in Aikikai. I like to think that, that’s going to happen.

McAVOY
I think we’re lucky, that the Ueshiba family are certainly very lucky, that Kisshomaru sensei did what he did and kept it all in that lineage. It’s kind of like the Queen of England and the royal family. There can only be one royal family. Prince Harry can duck out if he wants but at the end of the day, the royals are the royals.

MONTEANU
As for going to the gym and cross-training, I think they are good, but it’s good when you are at a certain level. If you go to the gym when you are doing Aikido, you get tough and you’re not going to be flexible. You think you’re in a gym where you’re in the dojo. You get confused, you get tougher and muscular. If you are cross-training again, if you go and do all this stuff, you might end up that you’re in the dojo doing Aikido but actually start to kick and get confused.

McAVOY
Can I just say it’s all about the penny dropping? I think most people will go out and do the other art and they’re not able to bring it back to Aikido. They’re not able to do it and then, one day, it’ll just drop like that and then you’ll be like: “Wow, holy shit, I can do that.
I don’t really know that’s such a massive problem. I think people that do Aikido are generally all pretty decent people and are not going to go out and try and kick somebody’s head off while they’re on the tatami. Maybe just while they have their kohai or their friend with them, they can try it out. I’ve kicked a few of my kohai before but it’s all in love.

MONTEANU
That’s how I like, you can kill with Aikido smiling and it’s hidden there, you just take it before that, so you have the basic. If you go further, you actually see that it’s destructive or you can kill actually with it but you choose not to go that far. And that’s the beauty of it but it’s not shown.

McAVOY
Right, that’s true.

CHIERCHINI
Building physical power, muscular power, again it’s a matter of choice, should be a matter of choice, in the sense that I can decide to drive a [FIAT] Cinquecento, or I can decide to drive a BMW. The speed depends on the actual car. To me, it’s better to drive a BMW at 60 or 50 miles an hour than a Cinquecento. I don’t know if I explain myself.

McAVOY
I understand.

CHIERCHINI
The fact that one does a lot of physical training, doesn’t imply that then that physical power is used in the wrong way. That’s up to the individual. If the individual is silly, of course, I’ll do Aikido in a silly way.
It’s out of the question that all athletes have an extremely well-developed body and none of them is stiff. Try and tell that to Cristiano Ronaldo. Cristiano Ronaldo’s body is extremely similar to Bruce Lee’s. He moves in a very very natural way, he’s extremely coordinated… his physical power doesn’t impede him in any sort of way.

McAVOY
In my case, I really didn’t have much of a choice, I was getting into the ring in basically my underpants.
I had to be basically naked. Now, what kind of body do I want to show people? I am an athlete who is proud to take his shirt off in the ring or am I someone who’s not.
For one, you know, the wrestling training here in Japan was three hours long, it was from 10 a.m to 1 p.m. We’d go and we’d have our lunch together with the wrestlers, maybe a nap or go play video games or whatever, but then we’d always have to hit the gym at night time. That was part of the daily routine, you couldn’t get out of it: you trained and then you hit the gym, because that was your job. I was a full-time professional wrestler and paid a monthly salary to wrestle, so the company had expectations and I had to meet them, which was I had to look the part.
Strictly as from a private personal point of view, I never felt ever that weight lifting and muscles has hindered anything I’ve ever done, in anything except for maybe the odd soreness, every now and then. Hitting the gym, I’ve never felt a hindrance, I’ve never felt that it’s been a problem ever in my life.

MONTEANU
Don’t get me wrong, sorry. I’m doing gym, I’ve done it for 10 years now. All I’m saying is that on the mat, when someone comes and he’s bulky and he’s new, he’s a beginner, it tends to do that. I think it’s great as Simone sensei said that we need to build a strong body, a flexible body and all that – and probably many Aikido people don’t and we feel like if you use the energy of others we can be lazy.

McAVOY
You’re 100% right.

MONTEANU
A good foundation good strong base, low body strong, legs and overall you are to be strong there and to be soft here, on the upper body.

McAVOY
I do like to train with the stiff raw beginners, the guys that don’t know how to move.
In Aikido ukemi, we’re all kind of pre-programmed how to move and then when you get a guy who’s stiff and doesn’t know how to take your ukemi properly you kind of get that that what’s like the unnatural reaction and that’s cool to see too.
You’re definitely right. Someone who’s stiff and big and just starting out, he’s not going to be as flexible or as fast as someone who’s not.

CHIERCHINI
OK, I think we’ve come to the end. Rionne, thanks a lot for the chat, I personally i really enjoyed it and I look forward to training with you at some stage. we’ll see, we’ll make plans.

McAVOY
My senpai, DJ, has told me that he’s actually taken ukemi for you before.

CHIERCHINI
Where?

McAVOY
Do you remember him?

CHIERCHINI
No, I don’t.

McAVOY
His name is DJ Lortie. You asked him to take ukemi for I believe it was an embu in Japan.

CHIERCHINI
Oh, right!

McAVOY
Because he’s never been to Italy.

CHIERCHINI
It’s a very small world…

McAVOY
Do you remember him?

CHIERCHINI
I do now, I think I got the picture, yeah, the Budokan… I want to train with you as well, but no funny business! By now I’m an older guy you need to take it easy on me okay?

McAVOY
Yes, we all train just to enjoy ourselves.

CHIERCHINI
At the end of the day, that’s it: it has to be enjoyable and we all need to go back to our work, our families and but when you do something it’s nice to do it to your maximum, not to go at a controlled speed.
Rionne: talk to you soon again.

McAVOY
Yes, thanks everybody.

CHIERCHINI
Thanks a lot for being with us. Thanks to everyone that got connected. I will have this also transcripted, so you’ll be able to read the interview, to watch the video on our blog.

McAVOY
For those that want to find me on Facebook before I get off again, it’s under Rionne Fujiwara.

McAVOY
Well, if you need to get in touch with Rionne after that, drop me a line and I’ll pass on the message.
I’ll just put the link in the chat now, hang on. There you go.

CHIERCHINI
Thank you.
Before going I would like to remind you that next Sunday, that’s the 7th, we’re going to meet again here on Zoom. It’s gonna be our fourth session of “The Aiki Healings”. We’re gonna talk with Ellis Amdur. Ellis is a leading player in the international Budo scene, so it doesn’t really require any introduction. It’s going to be a very interesting meeting. I’m going to have help from Daniele Petrella and Carlo Cocorullo that are senior teachers of the Italian Aikikai. The meeting will start this time at 9 00 pm English time, so Pasquale don’t get it wrong, okay?
It’s time to say arrivederci, arrivederci to everybody.

McAVOY
Arrivederci.

CHIERCHINI
One very last thing, I have to say it every time. I would like to remind you that to put together all the work that we do for Aikido Italia Network takes a lot of time and not only time, often enough it’s money: so, please give us a donation. How do you do that? Go to the website and on the homepage there’s a “Donate” link. Also, all our articles have a “Donate” button. Please, click and keep this going.
OK, thank you very much. See you soon again. Thanks Rionne.

McAVOY
Thank you.

CHIERCHINI
Bye-bye.

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Aikido Italia Network is one of the main Aikido and Budo sites in Italy and beyond. Researching and creating content for this virtual Aiki temple of ours requires a lot of time and resources. If you can, make a donation to Aikido Italia Network. Any contribution, however small, will be gratefully accepted.
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