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



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