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



First Demonstration

Recently we performed our first public Aiki demonstrations since the current plague began.

It was an interesting exercise, since, for the past five months we have not been permitted any open hand training. That is the longest period that either myself or my uke, O’Brien Sensei, have ever gone without any open hand practice, since we began our respective training lives.

As it turned out, all went well.

Apparently, decades of consistent training has a residual effect.

The three groups of grade three students we entertained were delightfully interactive, with often insightful questions and, equally often, not.

I will admit we had some cardio issues, and, lack of regular practice may have meant I was not as gentle with my partner as my reputation expects.

But, nevertheless, it was thoroughly enjoyable to be back doing uninhibited Aiki.

Towards the end, one child asked, why do I do this?

I began with the standard responses of, way of life, philosophy, interaction with the world, etcetera, etcetera, but then, looking at her glazing over eight year old eyes, said, it brings me immense joy.

And it does.

Kai Cho



Return to Open Hand

With the latest easing of restrictions, we have returned to open hand training.

We have not, however, returned to our old indoor dojo, and, indeed, may never do so, as the university is unlikely to reopen this year and in addition, are talking about eliminating small clubs regardless.

This opens up a number of challenges.

Do we start searching for a new training space, with all the attendant financial and logistic difficulties, so that we can again use mats?

Or do we continue to train in the open?

Does this mean students need to learn to do their ukemi on dirt and grass?

Should we be exchanging our uniforms for something more suited to a less pristine environment? I stopped wearing my white hakama months ago. Maybe the white gi need to go as well?

Outdoor classes have lacked the ritual formality of the indoor space, but that can easily be remedied.

The lack of a kamiza as a focal point would also need to be addressed.

There is something very appealing about the outdoor training with the flying foxes, curlews and uneven ground.

Do we embrace the current circumstances and extend our ronin school status to our dojo as well?

Kai Cho



The Zen of Suburi

Under the current restrictions we have been limited to weapons classes only, so suburi is a primary focus.

Actually, suburi has always been a primary focus, irrespective of the plague.

The main difference now, is that students are having to do more of it in class, rather than just pretending to listen to me when I tell them how important it is for them to do it as part of their daily homework.

Aside from the obvious physical benefits of muscle memory, control, precision, etcetera; suburi is the zazen of martial arts.

It is a way of stilling the mind.

A way to coordinate breath and movement.

A way to develop awareness and focus without engaging conscious thinking.

No matter how many shomen uchi one does, each one is the only one.

Without losing any of the physical budo, suburi, when approached correctly, transcends mundane practice to become a form of zen meditation.

It is an ideal way to begin the day as the sun rises.



– 老子

To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.

– Lǎozi



Kai Cho



Training During the Plague Times

It has been a few weeks now of training under the social distancing rules.

We are, in many ways, more fortunate than a number of other martial arts schools. If open hand techniques were all we had, then it would be impossible for us to continue under the current restrictions.

However, we have the ability to run one on one classes, taking each student through weapons’ kihon, kata, kamae and suburi. And we have enough of these to easily outlast the virus.

The students seem to be responding well to the new regime; all are learning new techniques, some even new weapons and there is noticeable improvement in the fundamentals, probably due to the more intense focus required in an individual lesson.

From an instructor’s perspective, while this is all good budo and of immense benefit on multiple levels, it is still, in many ways, just wax on, wax off.

Where is the Aiki?

It does exist in a more subtle form.

It is built into the kata and the very nature of how the weapons are wielded.

But I miss its expression through the dynamic interaction of uke/nage, uchitachi/shitachi.

It takes restraint to teach whilst maintaining a two meter distance.

Nevertheless, we are laying solid foundations for future partnered practice and keeping the School alive during these circumscribed times.



Kai Cho




Anticipation is the brain using information at hand to make a prediction.  It is a gamble.  In some instances, I would even call it hubris.  Our perception of reality is imperfect and much of our environment is intentionally trying to mislead us.  The notion that we can predict the future is folly.

Students can confuse their anticipation with being prepared.  It is not the same thing.

I find myself in a world in which there is a looming threat that hasn’t seemed real for months, and yet we all know it is at our doorstep.  We don’t know if or when it will come into our homes.  We don’t know how seriously it will affect us.  We don’t know when it will end.

Am I prepared?  Yes.  I can rest in the knowledge that I have treated this situation seriously and didn’t act in haste.  Am I scared? Yes. It is a very real threat with potentially serious consequences for people I love.

That is the extent of what I know for sure.

Everything you do in a typical class can be expanded and used to deal with the current pandemic.

  • The opening ceremony sets your mind and attitude to focus on something special that you are undertaking.  Start your day with something mindful and intentional.
  • Warm-ups and ukemi.  Eat breakfast and do something that gets your mind ready for the day.
  • Technique.  If you attend class in our dojo, you usually have no idea what techniques and principles the instructor is going to teach.  But you listen, you watch, you take in the information and act.
  • The closing ceremony ends the class.  We thank the people who created our art, we thank our teachers, and we thank each other.  The class ends, but we take what we have learned and incorporate it into our life.

The longer you train, the easier all of this gets.  The more accepting you are of the gift of teaching.  The more thankful you are for the experience.  Surprises are a delight!  Setbacks remind us why we keep showing up.  The lessons learned from the unexpected are treasures.

Our art can be used daily, whether you are wearing a sword, or not. My advice is: spend your time staying ever ready.  Don’t waste energy and thought on what you don’t know or what your imagination conjures. Be thankful for what trials reveal about you.


O’Brien Sensei



Interest Peaks at Technique


Not too long ago I was having a conversation with the founder of our School, and inevitably, when two old instructors get together, the conversation at some point will drift towards complaining about the quality and quantity of students, both past and present.

Being a traditional Japanese art, there is so much more to the School than what appears on the surface and often any attempt to teach or present the more holistic aspects is met with indifference by the majority of students.

My predecessor summed them up nicely: “Their interest peaks at technique”, he said.

Who are these students, so shallow as to not see beyond the physical shapes, the wrist locks, the throws, the samurai excitement of playing with swords?

They are the ones who are no longer students.

There are many reasons for people to start martial arts training, but ultimately, if your interest peaks at technique, you are probably better off moving over to sports, perhaps even one of those that pretends to be a martial art.

The students whose interests extend beyond technique are still with us.


Kai Cho




As the head of a martial arts school, I am regularly presented with ads for how to successfully market my business and become a martial arts millionaire, (perhaps everyone is hit with these ads and I just think I am special because I do actually have a martial arts school).

We are promised ways to find our niche market, create simple and easy ways to convince students to walk through the door, along with magic language skills to ensure high levels of retention.

What would Musashi do if faced with such high end consumerism, I muse, as I subconsciously reach for my sword.

Possibly influenced by my own innate dislike of capitalism, to me, such an approach is anathema to the very heart of budo.

Our niche is that we practice a traditional martial art, taught in the traditional way.
I do this not out of a motivation to become rich, but because of the inherent value of the art and my passion for it.

I will continue to practice for the rest of my life, irrespective of whether there are any students or not and even if I do not become a millionaire.

Indeed, the whole modern marketing approach is backwards: it is up to the individual to convince the sensei that they are worthy to join their School and receive instruction. By reversing this traditional approach, we reduce our martial arts schools to gyms and childcare centres.

I no longer put contact details on my business card:

We are, needless to say, a very small School, but our students are sincere.


Kai Cho