When did you start Aikido and Why?
I started Aikido as a gangly 18 year old when I was living in Glasgow. Having been pushed around a bit in school I wanted to learn how to get my own back! I wanted to learn Karate, as it worked OK for The Men from Uncle (Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin).
So when I left school and went to a further education college, I looked for Karate classes on the list of evening classes at that college. There was indeed a course listed. I duly turned up early one Monday evening in August 1969, but the course had been withdrawn. I was very disappointed, and over a coffee in the refectory I browsed the list of other subjects available. Noticing the name ‘Aikido’, I recalled having seen a book in the public library which featured blokes in long black skirts jumping about on mattresses. But it was a martial art, and the class was on a Monday evening, and it was due to start in 15 minutes!
Great!! I might become a superhero after all.
What are some of your main personal memories of Aikido?
Tom Weir who was responsible for setting me on my long aikido path. Thank you, Tom.
Early memories were of the basic mats we trained on, and of mat burns on my ankles, toes, wrists, elbows, and knees.
The annual Barrie Summer School in Wales – two weeks of aikido, drinking, eating, and all the fun of the fair. (Barrie Summer School was where Tony Sargeant and I first met, and was the place where a certain ten shilling bet was made and lost!)
Starting and running my own club in Baillieston and Milngavie, Glasgow, from 1974 to 1979.
Starting Poole Aikido Club when I moved to Dorset in 1979 (still going strong!)
I remember when Saito Sensei came to Uxbridge in 1985, he called me out to be his uke for morotedori kokyuho. When I grabbed hold of Saito Sensei’s left forearm I remember thinking it was sort of… well…. squidgy. Not what I expected. He then smiled that knowing smile, started to move quite slowly, and waggling his hand to show how soft his arm was, then chuckled as he proceeded to topple a very surprised 6 foot 1 inch Scotsman with seemingly no effort. My first real experience of the internal side of things. I wanted more!
My friend and colleague, Tony Sargeant. We formed our organisation together in 1990 to specifically follow Saito Sensei and train in Iwama aikido.
Travelling to different countries and meeting so many new friends with whom we communicate even though we do not share the same language (such as the USA!!).
My trips to America to train under Saito Sensei in San Diego and San Francisco. Lots of new sights, new friends, new food (and lots of it!).
My trip to Iwama to train under Saito Sensei. Bit of a culture shock, and lots of rules. Very hot! Again, new sights, new friends and new food. Also new insects!
My trips to Russia where the hospitality was superb, and the students take their training very seriously. New Sights. Great people. Great vodka!!
What are your personal goals in Aikido?
My goals now are very different from those I had when I started. From wanting to be a superhero, battling evil and defending the oppressed, I moved on to wanting to learn all those new skills, like the big flash moves where you throw yourself into mid air and land with a rolling move which puts you back on your feet, (ukemi), the difficult twirly things with the sword and the stick (suburi), and how to turn myself invisible with the power of thought alone.
As you might guess, those desires did not all come to fruition. As I progressed in aikido I learned that there is so much more beneath the surface than I could ever have imagined. Then when I trained under Saito Sensei in 1985 for the first time, I realised that this was to be my path.
I now want to be as true as I can be to the aikido which Saito Sensei passed to us directly from O-Sensei. I want to make sure that it is not lost to future students by passing it on to those who are prepared to learn. I really enjoy teaching, and it gives me a special feeling at that moment when a glimmer of realisation comes to a student.
There is a joy in aikido which O-Sensei created. I am pleased to be able to share in that feeling with others around the world. (As for the invisibility thing, that still needs a bit more work.)
Why do you think Iwama Aikido is so unique?
There are many martial arts in the world today, and within those arts there may often be many paths (styles). Not every martial art is suitable for every person, as every student has their own desires and goals in mind when they look for a martial path, whether those may include building self-confidence, learning self defence, entering competitions to win medals, trophies and titles, or to get better at fighting.
For me the best martial art is aikido, and specifically Iwama Aikido. Iwama aikido studies all the aspects of O-Sensei’s art, namely sword, stick and body techniques. There are, I know, teachers who say that the weapons (ken and jo) are not necessary to study aikido. I also know that there are teachers who do include ken and or jo but whose skill in those weapons is derived from a non-aikido source such as Iaido, Kendo, Jodo etc.
O-Sensei used Ken and Jo in his aikido, and developed techniques of Aiki-ken and Aiki-jo which are not the same as other arts. I believe that to truly study aikido one must study not only the body techniques but also the relation of sword and stick to the body (riai) as intended by O-Sensei.
As Saito Sensei studied under O-Sensei for the last 24 years of the Founder’s life, his knowledge of how the Founder’s art was developing was unsurpassed. I can think of no better path to follow to be true to O-Sensei’s Aikido.
As far as the art of aikido itself is concerned, I think the uniqueness of the Founder’s aikido lies in the application of the concept of ‘protection’, and not of ‘destruction’. This means learning to protect of your self, others who may be at risk, AND an attacker. I believe this is a very difficult concept to understand and put into practice. I also believe it may take the rest of my life to start to fully accept and assimilate this concept within my own spirit.
How long have you been training, where have I travelled and when?
I began my aikido training in Glasgow in August 1969. I travelled to England and Wales for seminars in my early days. Having moved to the south of England in 1979, I then travelled back to Scotland for some seminars, both to train and to teach.
I have trained and taught at seminars all over England and Wales, and also in Gouda in the Netherlands.
On my trips to the USA, I have attended seminars under Saito Sensei in California, training in San Diego, and San Francisco (San Leandro, Oakland, Redwood City and Tamalpais). I was also fortunate to be invited to teach a class in Allen, Texas on my way back home from California.
I travelled just once to Iwama to train under Saito Sensei and Hitohiro Sensei.
I have also been to Russia and taught seminars in St Petersburg and Cherepovets.