When did you start Aikido and why?
From 1991 to date, but with time off for good behaviour
Around the time that Steven Seagal was establishing himself as an “action-hero”, and at age 21, I happened upon a group of black skirted gi wearers at a local leisure centre who confirmed that they were practicing aikido. I was playing a lot of badminton at the time but knew I wouldn’t be forever, so was looking for something “interesting” to carry on with, once my playing days were over.
After a couple of months, the club held a weekend seminar with a visiting 5th dan instructor (at the time), Bill Smith MBE. Mr Smith was of relatively short stature so obviously he wanted the tallest person on the mat, which just happened to be lanky me, and although I was slightly apprehensive, he proceeded to throw me all around the mat with ease whilst ensuring I felt 100% safe. It was great and I have been completely hooked ever since.
What are some of your main memories in Aikido?
By around 1996, I was studying Japanese in my spare time and jumped at the opportunity for a weeklong Summer School of aikido held by Nobuyoshi Tamura sensei, 8th dan. I was hoping to practice both aikido and listen to some authentic Japanese. Imagine my disappointment when he conducted all his lessons in French! It was understandable really, as I discovered later that he had been living in France since 1964.
One time whilst in Japan, I decided to have a day visit to the Ibaragi dojo in Iwama. During the train journey from Tokyo, there had been an earthquake, so actually getting there had been more difficult than usual. Imagine my surprise as I am finally walking down the driveway to the dojo, to be greeted by some foreign (non-English speaking) students who started treating me like I was their long-lost friend. They couldn’t do enough for me. Now I know aikido students are generally very helpful and friendly, but this was way over the top. Turns out, someone from Canada was supposed to be coming for a week-long period as an uchi-deshi and, presumably because of the earthquake, he was now many hours overdue and they thought I was him!
Finally getting my brown belt.
What are your personal goals in Aikido?
Just to carry on practicing for as long as possible.
If I can improve along the way, then that’s a bonus. Some days you feel like you haven’t learned anything or you are even going backwards and I certainly don’t enjoy myself when that happens, but the discipline of continually showing up to train is eventually rewarded. It helps also, if you can be active with your own training and continually make short-term goals to work on, and not just leave it up to sensei to suggest things.
Why do you think Iwama Aikido is so unique?
Iwama aikido is not the only style of aikido to purposefully combine the use of weapons with body movements. But it was the first.
When not at the dojo, most of us probably don’t have access to someone to train with, but the bokken and jo make excellent substitute partners and are always available at any time, day or night.
What can Aikido offer people, in your opinion?
Aikido can be a gateway to many places. It can simply be an interest in the many different physical exercises on offer, the spiritual aspects of this so-called “non-violent” martial art or a combination of both. Or it can simply lead to an interest in Japanese culture.
The studying of an art that ends in -jitsu (techniques) such as ken-jutsu or ju-jitsu is really about learning self-defence techniques. Arts ending in -do (the way) such as kendo, judo, iaido and aikido however, came about once the civil wars in Japan were over, as a means to develop a practitioner’s character whilst simultaneously preserving the techniques of old. If what you learn in these arts can be used as self-defence then all well and good, but, provided you approach the practice in a “martial” manner, then you can’t go wrong.
How long have you been training?
I started aikido in 1991 in the north west of England and after 3.5 years, circumstances changed, and I left as a blue belt. I subsequently joined a club affiliated to Mr Smith’s organisation based in Shropshire. Due to work commitments I was forced to leave after 2.5 years, but not before once again reaching blue belt. A career change resulted in me studying at the University of Reading where I took a break from aikido but within a year of graduation I was back on the mat with Reading Zenshin Aikido Club, where I have been the club’s registrar since 2011. This time it only took me two years to reach blue belt, although some people might say that my aikido has been heading south ever since I started.
Where have you travelled?
I have wished the present Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba a “Merry Christmas” at the Hombu dojo in Tokyo, and visited the Ibaraki dojo in Iwama, but I’m not much of a traveller. Most of my aikido practice has been spent within a two-hour drive from wherever I was living at the time, but this could have been for anything from a one hour lesson to a whole week of Summer School.