The following texts where written by Joseph Kennedy. First published on his Blog Irish Budoka.

aikijoseph.wordpress.com

 

Koryu

Literally translated as ‘old school’ or ‘old flow’ generally understood as a term to describe Japanese Martial Arts predating the Meiji Restoration (1868)

 

My first experience of Koryu Bujutsu was Katori Shinto Ryu which I have continued to study. I was immediately attracted to the movements, the consistent patterns of Kata and structure of the class. Unlike more modern arts like Aikido, there is little to no debate about how things should be done, at least within specific Ryu ha. Koryu Arts are to be preserved with the upmost care and dedication. It is this consistency that I found most appealing .

 

A student must absorb the underlining principle of technique by constant repetition. Internal dialogue must be switched off to be able to at least try to replicate the movement of the instructor. It is not just a system of combat but also an important heritage of Japanese culture.

 

My instructor for Katori Shinto Ryu, Sensei Luigi Carniel sees it as his responsibility to transmit the system with respect and accuracy. The atmosphere in his Dojo is both friendly and serious. Sensei Luigi is relaxed in person but will never give a student more than they can handle at any one time. Basics are emphasized.

 

Traditional training requires both persistence in both body and mind. It has often been said that to master a technique you must do it 10,000 times. This is not entirely true, it is pointless to repeat the same movement so many times if it is wrong. All you’d be doing is ingraining mistakes. For this reason finding a teacher who faithfully transmits the Art and tradition is vital. Without precision, how can there be meaning? It is to be understood that what we study is important and that we must strive to get it right. With this in mind training becomes far bigger than the individual.

 

Luigi also studies and teaches Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu and Wado-Ryu Karate. His Dojo is in Neuchatel, Switzerland. I visit there about twice a year { more when possible } and attend annual courses in Italy and England. I have studied Katori Shinto Ryu for 8 years, the last 3 with Sensei Luigi. My first introduction to Katori was under Sensei Simone Chierchini, a 1 st Dan who I continue to study Takemusu Aikido with. He lived in Ireland until 2010, I am very grateful for being able to start my training with him.  Between then and meeting Sensei Luigi, I visited the Dojo of Sensei Frank Brownsword in Stoke- on- Trent , England. He studies the Hatakeyama Line of Katori. An excellent instructor and Dojo, however it is fairly pointless to study 2 lines of the same school so I started to focus on the Sugino Line and training with Sensei Luigi.

 

Through Katori Shinto Ryu I have found a Art steeped in history and tradition. The wide range of students from many backgrounds of life, reflects the many reasons a person would be drawn to this Art. For some it is an interest in history and Japanese Culture, for others it is often more of an interested in the technique. For me it was the movements that first took my attention. Now the more mental aspects are of interest to me, along with everything else.

 

Dojo of Sensei Luigi Carniel in Neuchatel, Switzerland. www.anamj.ch

 

Originally published on - aikijoseph.wordpress.com/2014/08/02/koryu

 

 

Maki Uchi

 

For me a most interesting and enjoyable aspect of studying Katori Shinto Ryu is that there is always more to learn. Even just looking at one form you can always find nuances that you may not have seen before.

 

The system as I have learnt it is taught in layers. A beginning student is at first to focus on getting the stance and cuts right. The first kata of kenjutsu is learnt, and once the general gist of the form is understood, however simply, the real training can begin. When the steps become reactions, we move beyond working from memory, it becomes clearer, a little at a time, why the Kata is the way it is. There seems to be no end to this as such. Once you understand the Kata you can realize that there is another deeper level of understanding. In this way we can retain our beginners spirit and be constantly looking for what we may have missed till now.

 

Although Katori Shinto Ryu is a complete Martial System we tend to focus on basics. The Kenjutsu must be understood {at a basic level}before studying the next weapon {bo}. After Bo is Naginata. I think there must be a good reason for this. Perhaps it is third as it contains principles found both in Ken and Bo and so by studying Ken and Bo first the student is better prepared for Naginata practice. The Naginata is longer than the bo staff with a curved blade on one end and a solid blunt end on the other. It is held in the middle and the forms usually contain both striking and cutting movements thus in a way it is a combination of both ken and bo. It is somewhat reassuring that so much thought went into creating these methodologies. Similar considerations can be found in most Koryu Arts. Each principle builds on the next, allowing the student to build a stronger base for their training continuously.  

aikijoseph.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/maki-uchi

 

 

Zanshin

 

Relaxed awareness. Remaining spirit.

Being mindful during training is important for lots of reason, to many to mention so I will look at just a few.

 

Zanshin is a state of mental readiness and a alert kind of relaxation. In Aikido training this takes a few shapes. Awarness of Maai {distance} is essential. Good Maai shows good Zanshin. At the point of a throw or pin it is keeping focus between Uke and Tori. For example not turning away after a technique shows that the connection is still maintained. It is also a awareness of the space around you and other Students. For both reasons for correct Budo practice and safety this is essential.

 

In Kenjutsu practice Zanshin is just as important. The connection between partners, awareness of space, the extension of the sword all involve Zanshin. Don’t treat the end of a Kata as the end of training. Focus is kept and pressure is not depleted. In Iaijutsu training, Zanshin becomes quite interesting. By training Solo we give ourselves another challenge. We must keep focus in the intended direction without a partner being there.

 

It is easy to become complacent in training as it is in daily life in general but for our practice to have any integrity we must maintain ourselves. Often this means being present in the moment and not focusing on the thousand or so things that may be going on in our lives. Budo is not for Sport and it is not for mere amusement either.

 

For any benefits of Budo practice to come into Daily life we must practice well. Only with constantly engaged Mindfulness in our training can we hope to truly understand what we are doing.

aikijoseph.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/zanshin

 

 

Kiai!

 

Kiai – Usually understood as a sudden exclamation of energy within an attack accompanied by a deep sound resonating from the Hara. There are other ways of understandings of Kiai such as silent Kiai.

 

I love Kiai. Making noise is fun, especially when swinging a stick at someone’s head. It’s one of things the first attracted me to studying Budo, in particular Katori Shinto Ryu.

 

But besides from the enjoyment of it, what else does it add to training?

 

Kiai is useful for study, it adds a quality to training which is difficult to obtain otherwise. By using Kiai we can sink our energy down into our Center, relaxing the upper body, ensuring that the movements are coming from the right place. This of course only applies when the Kiai is correct, if it is ‘throaty’ then it will likely serve the opposite effect.

 

The Kiai also works to unified breath with movement. Essential to training in all Budo Arts, correct breathing relaxes body and mind, with a partner in Kata training it will also help to maintain a shared rhythm and pace.

 

For some beginning students Kiai can help lower inhibitions. If they can get over making noise and perhaps feeling a bit foolish doing so, they can better able to receive the correct instruction. I have often seen a turning point in students, when they accept Kiai as a necessary part of training. It can do wonders for training and perhaps has further reaching repercussions. Hopefully helping build self confidence.

 

The Kiai is also very useful as a way to focus your attention on the moment, your partner and all of what you are doing. The Kiai in Katori Shinto Ryu is accompanied by taking the line of attack, adding greatly to the precision of technique.

 

The eyes Kiai, the voice Kiai, the whole person is brought into the moment. This sensation is extremely valuable to me and is certainly something I would like to pass on. People’s minds are often so distracted with the many obligations of life, taking them out of the present, always thinking of what they must do tomorrow or left undone yesterday. Budo training in general serves to bring people together in a signal moment. Training with passionate intend simply exemplifies this.

aikijoseph.wordpress.com/2014/11/01/kiai

 

 

Starting Katori Shinto Ryu

 

Every few months I open up the Dojo and invite new students in. I prefer to have a few in the class at once, as opposed to a constant trickle of beginners. It benefits the more experienced students greatly. To revert to basics for a few weeks, can really improve the overall standard in the Dojo.

 

Currently the KSR class is small. Over the Summer frequently just one or two people showing up for training. Come September it’d be 4 maybe. So we have some space. Although not much. Only looking a couple more. I prefer to keep the class small. So I can train with each person and give some correction and advice to each student. Obviously I am also learning, and so keeping the class small is to my benefit also. I started this class two years ago with the guidance of Sensei Luigi Carniel, a 5th Dan in KSR under Yoshio Sugino. Sensei Luigi is living in Neuchatel, Switzerland. I will be going to train in his Dojo this October, anyone training in my Dojo is welcome to come along.

 

The first couple of classes will have a lot of repetition. Suburi, stances and Kihon exercises. Cutting with the sword, how to stand and a few simple paired forms. After about 6 sessions a student can expect to have learnt the first Kata of Kenjutsu and a couple of Iaijutsu forms. At this point training can become more enjoyable. Fun as it is, training requires focus and a relaxed kind of attentiveness. A beginning student is likely to be frustrated at some point. Just go with the flow, everyone learns at their own pace. Although we take our training seriously, there is no pressure to learn quickly or to keep up with others progress. Better to learn anything at your own pace, slowly allowing things to sink into your mind over months as opposed to days.

aikijoseph.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/starting-katori-shinto-ryu

shoshin

 

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki.

 

Shoshin- Beginners mind. Sho – first or beginner. Shin – mind or spirit. An attitude of openness and lack to preconceptions enabling one to better study a art. Seeing things each time as if the first, keeping training both fresh and alive. To maintain such a state of awareness requires putting aside the ego while training, allowing body and mind to be conditioned suitably. While simple at first as a student gains proficiency this important state of mind is often lost and with it the opportunity it contains.  Internal dialogue and {over} self criticism make it next to impossible to effectively study. Rushing to learn will only slow us down.

 

This concept came to my mind recently. Whilst training with a yudansha student from a different system of Aikido on a course which was different to both of us. This person was having problems understanding the technique as the instructor was showing it. His frustration got the better of him and he just started to do things his own way. He lost his beginners mind, only doing things the way he was comfortable with and in doing so ceasing to learn.

 

This is a common problem among advanced students/instructors of marital arts in general. People get so comfortable in what they do that they forget that there is another way.

I train in a few arts, having the opportunity to train in many systems and I consider myself lucky to be able to do so. If I go to a seminar of Jujutsu or Iaido I leave behind my Nidan in Aikido. I go to learn from a particular instructor. My previous experience is likely to be more of a hindrance than an advantage. I believe this mentality is especially important for studying more than one art.

 

I have found that students of traditional Karate are especially good at retaining this attitude . I have two students who have previously studied Karate, quite in depth. I think through intense Kata practice they have conditioned their minds to retain this  shoshin, enabling them to better learn Aikido and Katori Shinto Ryu.

 

Shoshin is only one aspect of training in Budo, but I find that the instructors I am drawn too, retain at least some aspect of this in their training. To effectively study Kata it is necessary to see each move as both the first and the last, otherwise its just going through familiar steps. Likewise in Aikido or Jujutsu there are many ways to do a technique. You may have one which you prefer but if studying with a instructor perhaps from a different system it is helpful to take a fresh look.

 

The 5 Spirits of Budo – – Shoshin (beginners Mind)

                                                – Zanshin (Lingering Mind)

                                                – Mushin (No Mind)

                                                – Fudoshin (Immovable Mind)

                                                – Senshin (Purified spirit; enlightened attitude)

aikijoseph.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/shoshin

 

Rei

 

Rei – Respect, Etiquette. An essential part of Budo practice and yet often misunderstood. I wish to speak about this from my own perspective and understanding based on studying Budo far from Japan.

Rei has many aspects.

A beginner’s first impression of Rei would likely be focused on the physical act of bowing.

Firstly upon entering the Dojo. This signifies honoring the space, fellow students, teacher and tradition. It should also help the student leave their cares behind and enter into a space where they can focus and learn. Put differently ‘To Leave their Ego at the door’.

Katori Shinto Ryu and Takemusu Aikido share a similar method of bowing to the Kamiza. The Shinto ritual of clapping twice between bowing is observed at the beginning and end of classes I teach. From what I understand, it is believed in Shinto that this has the effect of clearing negative energies or spirits from the space. Another more practical function is to get everyone together as students studying something they deeply wish to learn. If people are able to do this with the correct timing this may help make the session go more smoothly.

We also bow to each other before and after training together. This should help encourage mutual respect, hopefully making training safer.

For me this mutual respect is essential. It is however no guarantee, while etiquette may help achieve mutual respect in a Dojo, it is possible to follow these steps as empty gestures bowing to your partner and then throwing them into the mat with no concern for their well being.

While it is important that respect is shown to the teacher without whom there would be no class, the teacher must have respect for his/her students and by doing so help create an atmosphere of mutual respect.

This being said it is vital for a student to follow the teachers lead. A good student of Budo must try to absorb the form by repeating movements over and over gain. Only then can he/she be conditioned by it and perhaps learn the essence of the art.

Martial Arts are dangerous at the best of times. Without respect for each other a lot more injuries are likely to occur. Injuries will of course happen even with the best intentions but it should be a lot less. Rei should encourage students and teachers to accept each other’s training levels, flexibility or lack thereof, strengths and weaknesses. A simple example being to know or feel a person ability of ukemi before throwing them. Challenging them a bit maybe, but not too much.

For me learning etiquette is an interesting experience. For example going to a seminar or visiting another Dojo and not being 100% sure where to sit. For this I found it is best to go with the flow and if at all possible to be informed before hand.

So Rei is many things, and can differ. I feel that the overall purpose is the same in all traditional arts. To honor the Tradition, the Sensei, the Space and  fellow students.

aikijoseph.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/rei

 

 

Kata

 

Kata – a set of pre-arranged movements, a form to instill principle. 

 

Kata forms the basis of most traditional Budo. The more modern the Art generally the less importance is placed on Kata and Kihon. With the rapid increase of competition in martial arts such as Karate and Judo {with exceptions}, Kata are being performed less. There must be a reason why so many traditional martial arts {China as well as Japan} placed such emphasis on Kata. In my study of Katori Shinto Ryu, Daito Ryu and Takemusu Aikido I have found that the importance of Kata and Kihon should not be underrated. Katori Shinto Ryu is an art that places such a high emphasis on Kata to the extent that the syllabus is composed entirely by it. As far as I understand it, Kata where practice as a safe and effective means to ingrain concept and an instinctive understanding of combat. Through repetitive movements the warrior develops the ability to move without hesitation. Kata being repetitive allows the practitioner to focus in a unique way. One that is both relaxed and alert. This is also the reason why it is usually better to wait and focus on just one or two as a beginner. If too much is studied the student will be spending the class trying to remember the form, which is not practicing it.

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

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

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

aikijoseph.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/kata

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