When did you start Aikido and why?
I started Aikido back in 2008, following a class with Sensei Paul Lowing where I was amazed beyond belief.
I was 24 at the time and in a period of my life when I wasn’t really doing much in the way of health and fitness. I had just lost my father several months before due to unfortunate circumstances and I was in the process of starting a new job.
My passion at the time was snowboarding and this was the only form of exercise I really enjoyed. This however was once a year, during my annual trip to Europe. My only other real source of exercise at the time was football, though this was a chore for me. I occasionally participated, more for fitness and the social aspect rather than enjoyment. Football really triggered my asthma, so playing wasn’t particularly pleasurable.
I began to search, looking for something that would suit me. I wanted something holistic, that would resonate on a deeper level and that would also be useful in daily life. I was always drawn to martial arts and achieved a 1st Kyu in Shukokai Karate as a teenager. I stopped training though due to various injuries and actually tried to restart in my early 20’s but the passion was not the same as before.
It was only when a friend suggested trying something different, that I then started searching for other martial arts. I looked at what clubs were local and found Aikido classes run by Sensei Paul Lowing. I didn’t really know much about Aikido but was attracted to the weapons after seeing a performance online by Sensei Daniel Toutain.
Despite being quite critical, I thought I would give it a go and I decided to attend the trial class. On arrival, I remember seeing Paul and thinking to myself: Is he the teacher? He doesn’t look like a (stereotypical) martial artist? He looks more like a scientist. I was soon to be surprised and learnt that looks can be deceiving. On the mat I remember being mesmerised by the shear power Paul was able to generate. He was able to move me about with very little effort and didn’t seem to get tired at all. Both his weapons and body techniques were extremely powerful and he moved in a way that I had not experienced before. I arrived at that class feeling sceptical and left feeling inspired. I knew immediately I had found what I was looking for.
What are some of your main memories in Aikido?
I have built up so many good memories over the years whilst training Aikido. This includes events and socials with our local Aikido club, visiting other Aikido teachers across the country and attending international seminars.
I guess my most significant memory was when Sensei Paul Lowing moved and left me the keys to the Dojo. This was a very emotional time. I was sad to see him leave the area but also excited to take on the challenge of running the club. My long term training partner ran the club alongside me, we started at around the same time. However, he left soon after Paul had gone and many questions started to run through my mind. Am I ready to teach alone? Will everyone stay to learn from me? How will I train myself? All these questions were answered positively. The students remained and the numbers gradually started to grow. My Aikido started to develop rapidly as I was put under pressure to improve my skills to teach. I really learnt how valuable teaching is and how much can be learnt from it. Despite moving a couple of hours away, Paul continues to visit the club as a technical advisor and runs seminars on a frequent basis.
My other most memorable events would probably be my two trips to Avtovo Dojo in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The first time in summer 2018 and the second time in summer 2019. The purpose was to attend a week-long Uchideshi program. Sensei Tony Sargeant was teaching along with several Russian teachers. This was an amazing opportunity and great experience. It was nice to train alongside such dedicated and highly skilled students. Everyone was warm, friendly and very welcoming. Although we covered so much on the mat, so much was also learnt off the mat. We would have interesting and deep conversations late into the night and train throughout the day. These trips were also particularly special as both times I travelled from the UK by car, driving across Europe and crossing the Baltic sea. There was plenty of time to reflect and enjoy the journey both before and after the Uchideshi. It was so good I did it twice and I plan to do it again in the future all being well!
What are your personal goals in Aikido?
My ultimate goal is to better myself by carrying on teaching and training at any opportunity I get. My specific goals relate to the weapons, flexibility and Aikido in daily life.
I have been working extensively on with the Jo, particularly around ambidexterity. I find the skills and knowledge I gain from my weapons’ practice transitions nicely into other training I do.
I would also like to improve my flexibility. From my late teenage years to early 20s I became very stiff in my movement. With Aikido I started to relax, lose tension and I became more agile. I still have a long way to go but I am continuing to work on my flexibility to improve my range of movement.
This last goal is a bit hard to measure and it also ties in with other two points. I have always found Aikido useful off the mat. Whether this be through its application in other martial arts, conflict resolution or general confidence, I seem to regularly find new ways in which to incorporate Aikido into my daily life. I have found more balance in what I do and the decisions I make. I hope to continue with these discoveries in years to come.
Why do you think Iwama Aikido is so unique?
There is one main factor that I think makes Iwama Aikido unique. This is the specialised weapons training. Although some other Aikido styles train with weapons, no other style places as much attention to it as Iwama Aikido. It focuses quite heavily on this aspect, making up two-thirds of the training.
When one learns Aikido body techniques for the first time, it is very difficult to recognise self progression and identify mistakes. Sometimes a student may exert a lot of force without even realising. Also training with various partners may feel different. So what may feel right with one person, feels wrong with another. This is due to the fact that there are so many variables such as the size of the training partner and level of strength for example. In contrast the weapons we use are inanimate objects that do not change shape and they only move when moved. Therefore, they respond immediately, providing instant tangible feedback, making it easier to troubleshoot problems and develop unity with the weapon.
As harmony is developed with the weapon it becomes an extension of oneself. This in itself embodies the principles of Aikido, This principle can be applied and integrated into body techniques. Internal power and forward intention is also developed through the weapons training, which makes these techniques more powerful.
What can Aikido offer people, in your opinion?
In my opinion Aikido is a holistic martial art and can offer people different things depending on what they want to receive. I have personally benefited from Aikido in several ways since I started, all of which can be applied to other activities and daily life.
Calmness & Relaxation
I have become more calm and relaxed both in my body and mind. I used to get easily annoyed in disagreements and things such as bad driving and unreliable people really used to irritate me! All these now seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and I have become a lot more patient in general. My body is also far more relaxed as a result and my general stress levels are much lower than what they used to be. I feel Aikido gave me this discipline which I am continuously trying to improve.
Although from a physical aspect my balance has improved, in my opinion balance in daily life is a greater reward. I have more clarity in my mind and I am less driven by emotion and more by reason. I avoid extremes (either way) in anything I do and try take the middle path. I find it easier to see things from the perspective of others, which gives me a balanced view and subsequently helps me make better decisions.
I am much more confident in the way I conduct myself, which has had a huge impact on my life, particularly at work. It has always been a challenge for me, given that I am an introverted person. My confidence may be attributed to the previous points about being calm and more decisive in my actions. This decisiveness comes from the way we train and the intent we put into the various techniques and movements.
To start with Aikido can be very technical, with precise movements and timing. This applies to both weapon and body techniques. This type of training improves dexterity and coordination and it helped me in a lot with other activities, requiring these transferable skills.
This is a hard concept to explain as it is probably the hardest aspect to achieve. Essentially Aikido changes the way one moves, to a more holistic movement rather than isolated actions. This leads to extremely efficient movements with explosive power. I feel this concept can transition well and compliment other martial arts and activities requiring explosive power. As I am an active person I have found this to be the case in many other things I do.
How long have you been training?
As of 2020, I have been training for 12 years. I now teach on a regular basis and continue to train.
Where have you travelled?
I have travelled extensively and visited many countries, way too many to list! These have mainly been in Europe, South East Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. In terms of Aikido I have attended classes and seminars in various locations within and outside of the UK. Outside of the UK I have also taught Aikido both in Russia and in Malaysia. It has been a great experience meeting all the new people throughout the years of training. I always think the best ways to learn in general is through travelling and teaching. Therefore, I am looking forward to continuing with my travels and my personal journey through Aikido.