Aikido Do-Nots

In training aikido nearly everyday for over two years I just thought I'd like to summarise some things I noticed. It's pretty typical stuff for novices but if you carry these things on to black belt you run the risk of looking silly at best, to making your partner think you're trying to start a fight at worst. Of course I know also that I'm not perfect, and I by no means am pointing down at anyone from a high horse. Things like pulling can be subtle and hard to notice by yourself, and we've all caught ourselves not quite in hanmi when we should have been at some stage. So yeah, let's just remind ourselves, shall we?

Basics of Holding

Just hold the arm normally. Some people have this weird tendency of holding exactly on the wrist joint and then squeezing. I don't know what you think you're doing but please stop. In extreme cases the holder seems to loose sight of the bigger picture entirely and focus solely on statically clinging to your arm like a limpet.  

Related to this is when people literally hang off you/lean on you. No. If you do that, you're giving up your balance entirely. It's too early for that. I mean if you're ready to fall over by yourself nage doesn't actually need to throw you, just get out of your way as you topple like lumber. The importance of learning good ukemi from early on is really evident here. 

Distance: Again, even as uke, you should have some sense of self-preservation. Standing too close to nage, all bunched up really doesn't do much for you in that regard. It's hard to connect from the centre that way and hard to react. Remember the objective isn't to latch on to the person for dear life. You're meant to be the attacker. Don't put yourself in a vulnerable position. 

Pulling and pushing: Happens as tori and uke. Rather than go for the opponent's centre, again become obsessed with the arm and try to move that. Really unpleasant. Pushing is the same. Sometimes the pull you on top of them. Do you want me to fall on you? Okay. I don't see how that's a win for you though. This is a really tricky one though. Most people who push and pull right up to advanced level aren't actually aware of it. Sometimes it's really obvious, sometimes only one side can feel it. Seemingly I pull when taking ukemi from shihonage sometimes and only on one side. Still working on that. Pushing only on the arm and not taking the centre is also really common on ikkyo etc. Something to watch out for.



Ah yes. The classic face ukemi. I dunno. Do you want your face rearranged like a Picasso painting? Rather than come forward from the centre, sometimes you have people willing to sacrifice their face. Totally unnecessary if you bring your whole body forward and you're more stable and a better position to react. 

Not in hanmi: Common especially if the uke follows around from an irimi-tenkan, the arrive to stand squarely in front. Totally exposed. Well within kicking distance. Think about it. Again, even as uke please have some sense of self-preservation.

Take ukemi before nage has even done anything. This especially drives me crazy in crowded dojo: when you're taking care to not hit people on either side of you and suddenly your uke just randomly repels themselves away from you in dramatic roll/backfall. If you want to do that please go do it in a field by yourself. Otherwise, please at least try to stay connected. It's not always that easy I know, but please try. Of course if nage is pulling or going ahead it can be really difficult. That's why it's interesting though: with the two sides giving their best and being sensitive to the other side you can make really interesting discoveries. First though it's important to be able to protect yourself with good ukemi and it's also great if you can build you a trust relationship to give each other feedback. Then everyone improves.

That's about it for now. People who don't do aikido will have been entirely lost but thanks for following along anyway.

All images are property of Robin Hoshino and not to be used with out permission

Crepes in the City Airstream

Last year I got asked by the lovely people at Crepes in the City to design decals for their new airstream food truck. If possible they wanted their chef mascot incorporated and something reminiscent of 1950s graphic design. 

It was my first time working on something to be printed on a 3d surface and on such a large scale. There was a lot to think about and a lot of measuring and fearing printing accidents but they came out exactly as hoped and the clients were happy. Hurray.

One personal feeling about the overall result was the images weren't as cohesive as one design overall in the end - just lots of spots as extra little requests were added on. Also I think in future I would work starting with the back because the illustrations I finished last turned out to be my favourite because by that time I'd worked out the style. 

This is what the truck looked like:

They also asked me to make the menu boards for all their trailers. Here's the ones I did especially for their trailer at Bloom.

For some reason I felt compelled to hand write everything. I think it works better with the blackboard look I suppose. So the crepes trailers have had a little tidy-up and you should go check them out if you're around Dublin or any of the festivals they're operating at this summer!

Cafe Frosch 7th Anniversary Party

It's been about six months since I've posted here. Bad form. I do have an excuse though if you're interested: I have been insanely busy. All the time. No seriously. My schedule is still jammers from here on, but I'm going to elbow in here with this little report on Cafe Frosch's party which I was heavily involved in. I made the above flyer, I was also asked to make a cake, take the photos and MC on the night. In comparison to my daily amount of tasks in general it actually didn't seem like a lot at the time... anyway. Normally I just work there three hours on Sunday talking my head off to Sumi-san the whole time.

A small introduction to Cafe Frosch. It was set-up by the Sadahisa sisters in an old machiya house in the northern Kyoto district of Nishijin. I actually wrote a rather detailed article about Frosch HERE. (This blog project was halted unfortunately so I haven't been able to talk about it as such but please do check out this article; I gave it socks.)

Next I decided we needed a cool image for the banner on the Facebook event page and got another Frosch regular with a good camera, a French student called Lili to take this frog picnic photo, making use of the substantial frog collection of the cafe. The little guy sitting on the tatami mat by himself - Sumi-san calls him the god of the cafe.

Finally on the night I had to take photos with a camera that I haven't touched since it came in to my hands. As such the results varied, but generally represented the night rather well I felt:

I will do my best to catch this blog up with other things I have done lately. Ahh where to start?

Corleggy Cheeses Port Jelly

Recently I was asked by the lovely and wonderful people at Corleggy Cheeses to design a label for their port jelly jars. The labels got printed in time for the Christmas Craft Show at the RDS in Dublin where you can buy it this week and of course every weekend at Temple Bar Food Market. 

This was a fun project as I pretty much got to do what I wanted. I wrote the words with a Japanese brush pen, trying to make the letters look tipsy but still legible and then photographed with my phone and airdropped it to my iMac and had one of those moments when you acknowledge to yourself you live in the future where technology is magic. Here's a close up of the label before we moved the important text from the top to the side of the jar.

The Escapist

As a devoted Monocle consumer I awaited my copy of The Escapist with a sense giddy anticipation, ready to bask in the “sunshine on paper” as it was described on Monocle radio, and at the same time with an inward sigh thinking that’s probably as close to a summer holiday as I might get: aspirational window shopping from my utilitarian accommodation of the kenshusei shisetsu, a world away from the Nice Things and Beautiful People usually fill the pages of a Monocle publication.

At that time I had forgotten that, in a sense I was already living The Escapist dream. I escaped the nine to five about two years ago, first getting by somehow while having all sorts of food-centered adventures in Dublin, now, I’m operating even further outside the normal framework. Indeed if I chose to I could phrase my current situation rather grandly: an aikido practitioner living in the traditional, machiya-lined northern part of Kyoto city on a intense training program to become a professional martial artist. I could curate my photo uploads to snaps of the Budo centre’s traditional-style training hall, the Kamo river, leafy temples and tasteful cafe interiors (and in fact for the most part I do). None of this really speaks anything of the financial uncertainty, the utilitarian dojo-owned share house designed by the ergonomically illiterate, or the strict training schedule which makes up the greater part of daily life. It’s living the dream, but the dream is actually tough going. Meanwhile, all that nice cultural stuff just sits in the background out of focus - Kyoto becomes a fishbowl where you just go around and round in the same circles week on week while the heat steadily rises and then remains trapped by the surrounding mountains.

This unseen, unglamorous daily reality is taken to extremes once the summer sets in proper: shedding litres of sweat in a tatami lined box with about twenty other people, throwing and taking falls, trying to aim your landing a few centimetres away from the visible print of someone else’s sweat drenched dogi. Any exotic thrill of living in Kyoto for martial arts is soon lost in that unforgiving heat bog of a city where temperatures sit at 35 degrees Celsius. The mere act of bowing in at the start of training produces visible beads of perspiration and in the time you’re not dragging yourself up from a pool of your own sweat after taking break falls over and over again in the dojo, your main preoccupation is laundry and the efficient rotation of dojo wear.

So when The Escapist arrived I was more than ready to be invited to feel the breeze of Beirut while lying on the floor my room underneath underneath the air conditioner. As it happened however, I got a slice of the real deal - to take my own journey that was very much in the spirit of the magazine. 

A few days after the magazine arrived, due to carelessness on my part, my travel arrangements to an eight hour aikido seminar in Odawara were voided. At first I was furious at myself for losing out on 2000 yen overnight bus hell; due to spending most of our time on unpaid training, we kenshusei are generally in a perpetual state of poverty. This rules out flashy options like the Shinkansen, but, when I talked with the others I was reminded that August is the season to buy a Seishun 18 ticket in Japan. For about 10,000 yen it can be used for five journeys on any local train. A nice feature is that multiple people can use the same ticket (each counting as one of the five journeys) so, with two of my fellow kenshusei, we bought one to take the train from Kyoto to Yugawara, a stop before Odawara, our final destination. This was due to it being cheaper to stay in Yugawara and travel forward on the day of the seminar. 

Last year I Inter-railed solo around Europe, and as such I have Passing Time on Trains down to a fine art, but I was surprised at the how fluidly seven hours passed with two travelling companions, homemade cake and a game of shiratori - though the latter was abandoned between trains after about an hour. There were many changes of trains but while they looked like an awful lot of work as a list on a timetable, in reality were very smooth and easy. 

Once we arrived in Yugawara it was already dark and most places were closed, but so delighted were we to move our legs the fifteen minute walk Google maps lead us on was very agreeable. We found ourselves at a non-descript street near the edge of town where there was a Teishoku-ya - a place to get a set Japanese style set meal for a reasonable price. Having lived in Kyoto about six months now I’d become sort of desensitised to the splendour of all the shrines and temples, though walking through this new environment, I was struck anew by the pleasure of being in a beautiful place, in this small seaside town south Tokyo of all places, somewhere I didn’t know existed until the week before. The small town atmosphere with a hint of the sea - in the air but also in the pointed reminders of the sea level at where ever you looked, the streets lined with paper lanterns for o-bon and the black shape of the mountains - totally different to Kyoto - somehow more open. 

At the Teishoku-ya we had a simple and delicious meal of rice, miso soup, grilled fish, a little salad and chawanmushi to the comfortable backdrop of mindless evening television. From there we contacted our ryokan owner who came and picked us up. What initially seemed like an exemplary gesture of Japanese hospitality was soon evidently more of a necessity as we rode the car up a steep winding hill devoid of any illumination. 

The ryokan was old, it seemed like it might be a converted care home - the layout was strange and the owners were insistent on the use of the elevator for a journey between floors of about ten seconds by stairs. It’s selling point was the ‘mikan bath’ which was literally a big Japanese style bath filled with citrus bobbing about on the surface filling the bathroom with steamy zestiness, was a new and slightly surreal experience. There was also a coveted rotemburo - outdoor bath which we were entitled to use for a half an hour. Being the unlikely trio of an Irish woman, a Japanese man and a French man, it was delicately agreed the fairest way was to divide this time into two fifteen minute slots with me going first. Rotemburo against the clock is not exactly the gently restorative experience Japanese people get dreamy-eyed over, but it wasn’t unsatisfying.  

The room was somewhat more equipped than your average European budget hotel, what’s considered the essentials in hospitality and how it varies from place to place is always interesting. Here, it seems one cannot get by without a hot water dispenser, lacquer box with full Japanese tea set, low table with big plush zabuton, in addition to the tv and hairdryer. Our futons were laid out already on the immaculate tatami. A huge window faced down on the town towards the mountain and though it wasn’t visible at the given hour, in the morning we woke to a spectacular vista, which is just what you want when you wake up in a strange place.

In the morning we had a leisurely stroll along the citrus tree lined mountain road, then took another quick soak in the baths before getting ready for an intense weekend of sweating it out on the tatami. Sitting in the wooden lined bath by myself at seven a.m. facing an unfamiliar mountain range which was vibrant in the August morning sunshine, I perused an article about Perth and felt a deep sense of pleasure at how I had come to be here, a how happy coincidence and lack of both money and expectations opened the door to an overall richer experience than the most obvious travel option. To recall the actual seminar only draws up a hazy blur of people, litres Pocari Sweat and even more actual sweat, it's the memory of the unexpected journey with two unlikely companions that lingers sweetly: sunlight citrus and the sea, and will remain something to treasure.


They often brag that Japan has four distinct seasons unlike Ireland, and indeed, it did neatly switch from Autumn to Winter overnight here in Kyoto. Winter, as we all know, is porridge weather. Unfortunately though, porridge is not really heard of here in Japan - to get across the idea you'd have to say something clunky like oats-mugi okayu. This is the first time I felt that something I take as the most normal of dishes might be quite foreign and strange to some: when the name has to actually explain what it is in the culinary terms of another culture; that's when you feel it.

I'm sure porridge is yet to have its boom in Japan - seeing as it's often eaten in the ever-trendy Nordic region - but for the moment it remains rather obscure and therefore difficult to obtain without laying down a few Noguchis. What I'm getting at, Irish people, is that you should be bloody glad of your delicious and cheap Flahavans Organic Jumbo Oats: 1kg for about 2 quid. If you're not that fancy you can get more for less of course but for me even the regular sized organic oats are a serious compromise. Here you pay twice the price for the half the amount of tiny powdery tasteless American oats that come in a horrible silver resealable plastic bag - the concept of paper packaging is something the food industry really struggles with in Japan - which is covered in words telling of the nutritional wonders of this strange matter to an assumed ignorant average Japanese shopper. 

So while I can't enjoy the delicious porridge that I now have an even greater appreciation of, I will share my favourite recipe for you at home to enjoy. I can't remember when I started making porridge like this, it happened at some point during college. At some point Flahavans Jumbo Oats, a Tesco bag of lunchbox apples, raisins and ground almonds from lidl came together in a holy union that was delicious but also effective both nutritionally and economically - I recall it worked out as something like 7c for breakfast. Once I graduated from college I became more accustomed to buying apples at Temple Bar market and upgraded from the dubious and often disappointing Cox to bright, sweet, yet tangy Elstars. Toppings also vary based on availability on a given morning but nuts and seeds are the way to go. Ok this is it:

Robin's Apple Porridge

  • Flahavan's Jumbo Oats - about a cup, or a handful and a bit, more accurately.
  • One apple of your choice: I recommend Elstars. Stay away from Pink Lady whatever you do.
  • Half a lemon
  • A scattering of raisins
  • About a tablespoonful of ground almonds (other options: chia seeds, toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds)
  • Option: A drop of milk. 
  • Option: Honey or Orchard Syrup
  1. Oats in pot. Add enough water to cover then some. Add the raisins and turn on the heat. 
  2. If you have a ceramic hob and it takes ages to heat up now is the time so grate your apple while stirring the porridge occasionally. Once it's grated lemon juice it so it doesn't discolour. If you have more control over the temperature of your hob, do this step first.
  3. As the porridge comes up to heat you need to keep stirring. This is really important as it makes it really creamy and stops it from sticking. 
  4. Once it's porridgey in consistency and bubbling add the apple and mix in. 
  5. Take off heat, serve up in your bowl and add toppings. It starts to set quickly in spite of the heat so that's where the drop of milk comes in. It pluses the natural creaminess of the oats and boosts the ground almonds too. Orchard syrup goes well with this but just a drop. If you fancy something crunchy, then toasted seeds and honey is for you.

To imitate this in Japan with infinitely inferior ingredients is depressing. It costs something like 3 euro a bowl and is totally off balance in flavour. I've tried to come up with the Japanese version of my cheap satisfying porridge and I reckon, for starters you'd be better off make actual okayu which is rice porridge and for extras I go with either banana and black sesame seeds or tsubu-an (coarse azuki bean paste) and kinako powder, cooked with soy milk. This, to Japanese is pretty much dessert, not breakfast. Since I prefer to not have to defend my breakfast from judgemental eyes as I'm eating it, I usually opt for the more typical natto on rice or something else savory. Though I probably needn't be so self-conscious; my housemate habitually eats processed cheese and anko on toast. I know, shocking. That's a world without porridge for you.

Aikido Kyoto Tenugui

Recently it was Yoko-sensei's 60th birthday and I got to design the commemorative tenugui for Aikido Kyoto. It's inspired by the choju giga scrolls which are very famous, and much loved in Kyoto. 

I didn't actually see it until the day of the seminar. It was a relief to see it came out pretty much as I designed it. All the members got one, and Yoko-sensei also sent some to all dojos we have a relationship so they've gone to Europe and America too. The remaining tenugui will be on sale for 1000 yen each. 



To all my coffee friends*: Announcing MUGS FOR BEANS: a monthly bit of fun where in exchange for a bag of delicious coffee I will draw a little portrait shot of you.

*You don't have to be my friend for real but you should be into coffee to take part.


  • First, if you don't already you'll need to follow me on instagram (@merryko).
  • When you see #mugsforbeans post a comment with your coffee on offer: 
  • [Roaster + Coffee Details] is the format.
  • After twenty four hours from the point of posting the competition is closed and I chose a winner.
  • You send me your mug to be drawn (doesn't have to be your own) and I'll send you the postal address. When your coffee gets to me, you'll get your portrait.

 Here's some examples of what you can expect: