36 Years On and It Is Still Great Fun
It is celebration time: after a decade long wait, at last Simone Chierchini Sensei received a well deserved promotion to Godan, 5th Dan. Although most certainly overdue, this recognition of Chierchini Sensei's hard work in the name of Irish Aikido comes as a wonderful boost for the Aikido Organisation of Ireland's international reputation. 36 years after the beginning, as a little child in Tada Sensei's class in Rome, passing next to Hosokawa Sensei's years in Rome Aikido Central School as an adolescent, continuing to grow in Milan with his main mentor, Fujimoto Sensei, maturing the hard way in Ireland, starting up his own organisation, going his own way and receiving Hombu Dojo recognition… 36 years on and it is still great fun! Chierchini Sensei's son, Luke, assisted by Grandma Carla, the first Italian woman to reach Nidan, asks his dad why.
Luke: Hi Sensei, all my friends from the kids class would like to know where are you from.
Sensei: I am from Roma, Italia. I only came to Ireland 12 years ago.
L. Why did you decide to come to Ireland?
S. Because it was lovely and green and crowded with happy leprechauns like you! Only kidding, I came here because at the time I liked it. What do you think about Ireland yourself?
L. I like it apart from the weather. I love to see all the green grass around and the view of the hills from my home. What age were you when you started Aikido?
S. I was 8 years old and I used to go training with my dad.
L. Was your dad doing Aikido as well as you?
S. Yes, Danilo Chierchini, my dad was one of the main teachers of the Roma Aikido Central School. I don't remember much about that time apart from the fact that I was a nuisance on the mats! I have a clear memory of one particular class when my father had to stop the seiza and say: "If I can manage to find that blackbird I'll shoot him on the spot!", because I was whistling along, all happy with myself… I remember enjoying being with the grown-ups and travelling to other places for courses.
L. What is the name of your Aikido teacher?
S. I had more than one teacher. As a child I did my 10th Kyu with Tada Sensei, which is probably a world record! Then for a while I was in Hosokawa Sensei's children's class, always in Roma. He had just arrived from Japan and at the beginning had very little Italian. We used to drive him crazy! Once he thought that a boy had done his jobbies in his suit. Instead this boy had hidden a chocolate bar in its bottoms and it had melted during the warm-ups…
L. How did you understand what he was saying if he had little Italian?
S. We did not understand a word! Also we were too busy laughing all the time to notice what was going on. The poor Sensei eventually became more fluent and he made us pay for being brats by breaking our backs with tonnes of prison-style exercises…
L. You said that you had other teachers. Who were they? Were they Italian or Japanese?
S. Both. Earlier on, as a teenager, I learned a lot from two Italian teachers of the Roma Dojo, Roberto Candido aka Bob Rock and Ivano Zintu or the Aikido Bulldozer. As their nicknames suggest, these were guys you didn't want to mess with. Unfortunately I had to, all the time. I happened to be light and flexible and they always called me for taking ukemi during class or demonstrations. Hosokawa Sensei did too, adding up to that retroactive punishment that I mentioned with you before… When I was 20 and Shodan, I moved to Milan, where I quickly became very close to Fujimoto Sensei. He has been my role model as an Aikido teacher for a long time and even though I now follow my own path, I am very grateful to him for all his teachings and for the good time I had in my 10 Milano years.
L. What Dan are you now, Sensei?
S. I have been recently promoted to 5th Dan by Tada Sensei, who was my mum and dad's Aikido teacher a long time ago, even before you and most of the adult students of our dojo were born. I have been following him on and off for my entire Aikido life but only loosely, as my Aikido is more centred on building up a strong relationship with people than on some not too well identified spiritual research. I don't like religion, especially on the Aikido mats. That's maybe a touch too difficult for you, my dear baba. What grade are you, Luke?
L. I am 7th/6th Kyu. I graded in June this year.
S. That's very good, congratulations! How long have you been training for?
L. I started when I was 3, so that means I have been training for 7 years now. How long have you been training?
S. I started in 1972 when I was 8. It took me 36 years to become 5th Dan!!! I would have been out of jail earlier if I had killed JFK…
L. Why did it get you so long to get to 5th Dan?
S. Firstly because just like you I started very young, second because my dad being the chairman of the Italian Aikikai I got no discounts. My teachers always made it very hard for me and failed me a few times. Most of all, it depended on the fact that the Aikikai, our school, has a very unfair grading system. Most senior teachers are like those bully boys who never want to pass you the ball in a football match, no matter how good you are.
L. Apart from Aikido did you ever do any other martial art?
S. Yes, I have been practising Ken-jitsu of the Katori Shinto Ryu style for quite a while; that is one of the most famous sword schools in Japan. I have a Shodan of the Sugino Ryu even though I don't follow the school anymore. Ken-jitsu has greatly helped me to develop my Aikido in the last 12 years, more than following any Aikido Sensei. When I was a young child I did a bit of Judo too.
L. Why did you decide to stop Judo and do Aikido instead?
S. My dad used to be a very good Judo teacher. One day he heard of Aikido but there was no Aikido teacher in Italy yet at the time. Then he got lucky when a Judo friend introduced him with a young Japanese named Kawamukai who was a 3rd Dan of Aikido. They started together the first Italian Aikido Dojo in my father's Monopoli Judo Club and a few months later they called Tada Sensei to Italy. My dad became Aikido mad and Judo was gone for both of us.
L. Were you ever badly injured doing Aikido?
S. I had a couple of injuries all right but that is part of the business if you are on the mats for 36 years, isn't it? Do you think that Aikido is dangerous?
L. No, but it can be if you are not very careful and don't follow the instructions.
S. That's it, very well said Luke.
L. What is the most important thing about Aikido?
S. Uuuuuuuh! Now, that's a question… What is the most important thing about ice cream? What do you think?
L. I think the way you breathe and soft movement are the most important things in Aikido.
S. That's a good point. Remember though that for each Aikido student the most important thing is a different one. So that must be the most important thing about Aikido...
Re: 36 Years On and It Is Still Great Fun
Congratulations from the Philippines!
Re: 36 Years On and It Is Still Great Fun
Congratulations!! Very well deserved. I have to say I am very impressed (and pleasantly surprised) with the level of penetration and quality of Aikido in Ireland, of which I'm sure you have played a key role. I'm looking forward to visiting again in the summer to the Cavan and hopefully Sligo dojos.
I'm planning a 10 day trip in early January also, so I hope I can squeeze in at least one session (Aikido that is) :p
Hey, we're of the same aikido generation. I also started in 1972. Time flies...
After three years I had a kind of boost of inspiration in my aikido. I'd like to call it an aikido satori of sorts (when I feel pompous). After twelve years I had another.
Maybe this year it's time for the third one?
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