When did you start Aikido and why?
I started training at the age of 23. At that time I was working for myself as a motor mechanic, I was married, and I had very little time to spare. But I wanted to get fit — I had not done any sports activity since I was at school, and then I only enjoyed cross-country running. I knew that even though I was a busy person in my daily life, it was not getting me fit.
My Aikido journey began at an evening class for beginners at a secondary modern school. It was once a week. I remember turning up in jeans and a tee shirt; the wrong clothing, but how did I know you had to move in positions which meant that flexible clothing would be required? I thought you just went along, they showed you how to handle yourself, and you did it. I was under the same impression as a lot of people, thinking it would only take twelve weeks to learn because that was the duration of the evening classes. Wow, was I wrong! After 35 years of training, and still learning, I must have been mad to start. Or was I?
Definitely “not mad”, because of what it has given me.
What are some of your main memories in Aikido?
I have travelled to many countries and mixed with like-minded people who all would be coming together, just to see the one teacher from Japan or America. Many of these people I could not speak to because of the different languages. And yet we all trained together, understanding each other by what we felt when training with each other; we didn’t really need words.
A funny thing that I well remember is, at night after training and going to the local bars and having one too many drinks, I could understand any language and the other nationalities could understand me. Wow! Instant learning; just by having a drink with another Aikidoka. On the language front, the easy seminars were the UK ones; but who can talk anyway when you are fighting for breath?
My main memory out of hundreds of great ones was meeting my first real master, and what a master he was. I had received my 1st Dan black belt and thought that I had arrived in the master class, only to be blown away like a feather when he called me up to attack him. At this point, after ten years of hard training (so I thought), I realised I was nothing, and was about to meet the master for me who would last the rest of my life. His name was Saito Sensei 9th Dan, who was taught by the very first founder of Aikido in a small village in Japan named Iwama.
What are your personal goals in Aikido?
To keep improving and become a better person is my main goal. Why a better person?
Well, as you train in a martial art, over the years you find that you do not want to have conflict with another human being; you have had all the fights that you want in life. Not real fights, but the struggling to get someone down easily time and time again makes you realise fighting is the last thing you want.
After this enlightenment, which takes many years of training to understand, I look at life with the attitude that we should not go against nature, we should go with it as much as we can. The helping of others seems to be easy. Once I thought only of myself and what I wanted out of life, but meeting so many different people from different backgrounds, and seeing them give without wanting something back, has made me want to do the same. This comes naturally to many, but not all.
Thankfully, it did come to me. From being a male chauvinistic pig, through Aikido I became a man and realised the joy of giving is far greater than receiving. That’s what I think, anyway. I hope to find a much deeper understanding of this in my life ahead.
Why do you think Iwama Aikido is so unique?
I do not think it is unique as far as martial arts go, as each art is the best to the person who has chosen it. Even other styles of Aikido, and there are many now, all suit a different type of person.
Sadly, I do not want a copy of the Mona Lisa — I always wanted the real thing. After researching aikido around the world, I went back to the original training place in the village of Iwama, Japan, where there was still someone training as the founder left this wonderful art. Nothing had been changed.
I worry that in the future it will die out, and yet it is the original art and the only one that has the true weapons training. Many of the variant Aikido forms have now given up this part of training, and have, in my opinion, lost the very essence of what one needs to find.
To be able to avoid an oncoming weapon at speed, one has to face panic and fear. The person who faces only the grab or fist week after week soon takes little notice of this and becomes complacent, but with a weapon attacking you, you reach a greater height in understanding. This understanding will unlock the real person and give all the treasures that the others cannot give.
Originally the founder had three parts to his art called Aikido:
- Body techniques
- The Ken, a wooden sword
- The Jo, a wooden staff
They were used to achieve simple understanding. Saito Sensei said when you use the weapons think of body movements; when you use body movements think of the weapons. It is all about training the body to adapt so that you avoid whatever is attacking you, and what a better way to put someone under pressure than to throw everything at you at different times and to see how you react. Survive all these tests, and you become what you originally thought you wanted from this art. You are the art itself.
A creation of movement that cannot be seen, or stopped
What can Aikido offer people, in your opinion?
Well, this may be a strange way of putting it but: I did a hypnotherapy course once, and the college had to write about what they thought of me, and I did the same. The teacher wrote that I was a very outgoing person who had no trouble speaking up, and that I was the one who others asked to talk for the group when a question came up because I was always the person who was not shy. In fact he got me so wrong, because before I started Aikido I was the shyest person on the planet, or so I thought.
So all I can say is, it allows you to come out of yourself and find the other person that you may otherwise never know is inside you. They say two halves make a whole.
Aikido gets you fit, but very slowly. If you worry about being so unfit (like I did), you do not need to, because the pace of training allows you to work hard, but not to be embarrassed that you are not the ultimate athlete. But in time you may be.
It holds more for the person who does not think that they are the ultimate in fitness and speed in life, but who just wants to do something different. Most of all, it is for the perfectionist — you will never perfect this art, so you will realise that we are all imperfect, but at the same time the desire not to acknowledge this will keep you going in the hope that you will be the one to break the mould. And who knows? You may be just that person. I always think I am and that is why I am still training.
How long have you been training?
I have been training for 35 years, and feel the buzz to train more now than ever. When I say train, obviously at 57 years of age I cannot train like a young person, but I now teach. To me that is the real training, helping others not to make the mistakes I made. By having all this knowledge that I can give to others, I can save them time and give short cuts “where there can be” so that they reach what I never could achieve because when I started teachers were not skilled in the way we modern teachers are.
Where have you travelled?
I have seen five continents of the world, and seen them through the warmth of other Aikido students who had never met me, but only knew me from telephone calls or emails, or just a friend passing on the odd word. They have met me at airports, given me a bed for the night, and fed me, all to the highest level of friendship that one could wish for. To me, that means more than words can express. I am grateful for meeting all those who helped me, and I hope that I helped them when it was their turn to visit my island. This was the best gift of all “Remembering it all.”