The Danger of Weapons Training

There is a danger that when students train regularly with weapons that they become blasé, when the danger should be the weapons training itself.

There can be no lasting benefit, physically, mentally, or spiritually, in martial arts training, if it is not approached from a life and death perspective.

This can be a difficult concept to get across. Our current culture is one based on the fear of litigation and excessive insurance premiums. One in which there is a duty of care to ensure that all risks are, if not eliminated, then minimalised. A training environment where danger is an illusion and everyone knows it.

An attitude that makes a mockery of Budo.

I used to tell my students, that, if weapons training was not scary, then they were not doing it right.

Now I tell them to beat the awareness into their partner.

Kai Cho




This piece has been prompted by some recent forays I have had students make into creative, semi-free form, Aiki Jo Jutsu practice.

Arrian, Xenophon, Sun Tsu, Musashi, von Clausewitz, these and many, many other authors I have been reading since my early teens.

When other children were talking about sport, movies and music, I preferred such topics as how Alexander and the Macedonians took the Persian Gates.

Yes, I was that kind of popular at school.

I have always loved tactics and strategy.

When executed correctly, there is an elegance and beauty to them.

While I still regularly read such works, (I have lost count of how many times I have read Musashi, and have recently revisited both Xenophon’s and Arrian’s, Anabasis), thirty-five years of martial arts practice has taught me that for all their apparent complexity, the essence of tactics and strategy comes down to the application of two, interrelated principles.

Get them right and you have success:

Kai Cho



A Proud Moment

Recently my youngest daughter was bullied at her high school.

This included being restrained by one older, larger student while another stole her phone and art folder.

Without panicking, my daughter went straight into one of the self defense escape techniques she has been taught.

Despite not having attended any formal training for over a year due to the plague, she executed it perfectly, to the surprise and disbelief of the child attacking her.

A tribute to our School, its techniques and methodology, and to its student, who admitted she was angry enough to want to punch the other person, but was disciplined enough to follow her training instead.

Sad that we live in a society where it is necessary to teach self defense to children, but heartening that it is effective.

Kai Cho



2021 Bokuto

I finished making two bokuto for myself out of spotted gum. 

The larger one is only intended for suburi.  I wanted it to resemble an oar, but still have the curve and balance of a sword.  I have used other heavy long objects to simulate a sword and they never have the right weight distribution.  This one nicely combines a challenging heft with a satisfying movement.

The proportions of my new training bokuto are more slender than last year, which hopefully translates to a weapon that is more responsive.

This year’s theme in my training is sensitivity.  It is counter-intuitive to use a weighty suburito to get stronger in seeking sensitivity.  But having reserve strength and plenty of control at my disposal, I can operate at a level where I am more open to receive.

The praxis of making weapons is never complete until I use it in training for a while.  That is where intentions and hopes meet reality. 

O’Brien Sensei



Power Struggle

Recently, we did suburi in class with a slight change and I was able to observe the power in our techniques from a different perspective.

Ji Cho once challenged me after a class to think about the nature of power.   I can’t remember anything else about that class and I have no idea why she chose that moment to say that to me alone.  But, I couldn’t stop thinking about it because it forced me to look at a lot of assumptions I had about power.

I still don’t know why she said it to me, and it doesn’t matter because it resurfaces at unexpected times and it’s nice to hear echoes of her in my training.

O’Brien Sensei



Begin Again

Inspirational posters, clever quotes, goal setting, resolutions & short motivational books.  I’ve used them all in the pursuit of improvement.

Failure is often overlooked in the tool chest of productivity enhancements*.   Not the fear of failure as that is an entirely different thing.  Experiencing failure and the discovery of boundaries/limits is specifically what I am talking about.

Woody Allen talked about the correlation of not failing and risk taking.  There are management principles about failing fast to determine if something has value.   And these are useful concepts, but I think searching for failure is a misguided pursuit.

Some of my most memorable classes are when I try to do a technique and fail.   Honestly and sincerely fail.  It could be for any number of reasons, but the divide between what I thought I could do and what I was able to do is often unexpected and stings.

And as much as it hurts the ego to fail, it is a great motivator for me.  It is a good re-set to achieve the mind of a beginner. 初心 After all, who couldn’t use a little more openness and eagerness?

*Look up ‘surviorship bias’

O’Brien Sensei



Do not act following customary beliefs

It is the end of the year and we would not be a real blog if we did not leave some retrospective remarks on the past twelve months.

A year when, more than any other in recent recollection, terms such as unprecedented and decimated have been abused and misused beyond the bounds of tolerance.

From the School’s perspective, it has not been a bad year. We did not gain any new students, but then we did not loose any existing ones either.

For much of the year we have not had access to our usual training space, but it was not difficult for us to adapt to the changing circumstances. This is no surprise, we are, after all, an Aiki School. And, as I have mentioned on other occasions, the outdoor training has been both challenging and enjoyable.

Change is the nature of existence.

I will finish off with a poem, no, not another haiku; rather one of my favourite poems from one of my favourite American poets. It seems a fitting response to the year.

Kai Cho

Be Angry at the Sun

That public men publish falsehoods
Is nothing new. That America must accept
Like the historical republics corruption and empire
Has been known for years.

Be angry at the sun for setting
If these things anger you. Watch the wheel slope and turn,
They are all bound on the wheel, these people, those warriors.
This republic, Europe, Asia.

Observe them gesticulating,
Observe them going down. The gang serves lies, the passionate
Man plays his part; the cold passion for truth
Hunts in no pack.

You are not Catullus, you know,
To lampoon these crude sketches of Caesar. You are far
From Dante’s feet, but even farther from his dirty
Political hatreds.

Let boys want pleasure, and men
Struggle for power, and women perhaps for fame,
And the servile to serve a Leader and the dupes to be duped.
Yours is not theirs.

Robinson Jeffers



Sounds of Swords

It is an annoying convention for any sword depicted on television or movies to make a metallic schwing sound as it is drawn. Particularly irritating when it is meant to be a katana, given they have a wooden scabbard, so the scrape of metal on metal would be a difficult sound to achieve in real life.

Scraping the blade as it is drawn is an indication of poor skill; it is very much frowned upon in our dojo and is considered valid grounds for a strike across the back of the head with the instructor’s tenarashi.

The other compulsory noise for a screen sword is a loud whoosh as it cuts through the air. This also seems to be considered an indication of expertise by most beginner students wielding any weapon and is highly desired by them. (I recall a documentary in my youth that showed the whoosh sound for movies being produced by people in a sound booth waving strips of carpet around).

Some common names for actual, non movie, Japanese swords:

Sasanoyuki (笹の雪) “snow on a bamboo leaf” as it cuts like snow slips off a leaf

Sotto hasamibako (そっと挟箱) this refers to clothes falling from a portable storage box, silently and without notice.

Matsukaze (松風) wind in the pines, a sword that cuts as though nothing has happened.

I have yet to come across a traditional sword with a name like, “grates when drawn”, or “whooshes like a bull-roarer”.

Swords and their users were prized for their ability to cut effortlessly, without noise or fanfare. Aside from the aesthetic aspect, it just makes basic tactical sense. Silence is not just golden, it is deadly.

Kai Cho

Post Script

One of my favourite sword names is Hatchō-Nenbutsu-dango-zushi, which has been translated as:

“if you cut somebody with this blade, the person doesn’t notice it because of the sharpness and can still walk eight chō and, apart from that, you can skewer stones with it like dumplings.”

(M. Sesko, Tameshigiri The History and Development of Japanese Sword Testing, 2014, p.250)



Return to the Dojo

Perhaps I should have made the title, ‘Return to the USQ Dojo’, as for the past seven months we have still had a dojo, just one without walls or ceiling.

So, we are now permitted indoor training again, and have just had our first week back. (Technically we had our first class back the week before, but since I was not there, it never happened).

I will admit it was good to have mats to use for an open hand class; to have the freedom to fully engage with the techniques and the energy of uke again.

The formal etiquette and control of the battojutsu class was, without doubt, enhanced by the indoor space.

That said, I have thoroughly enjoyed the outdoor training, the challenges of the uneven ground, imperfect lighting, the ducks, swans, bats and the ire of the curlew. We shall not be giving this up.

We have a nice balance of training environments now, each in harmony with the needs of the particular class.

A good basis from which to start rebuilding our numbers.

Kai Cho