When did you start Aikido and why?
I began on my path in 1974 as an introverted 18 year old, short and skinny teenager trying to find his place in the world as an apprentice technician. Being short, and slight of build I felt insecure and vulnerable and wanted to be able to take care of myself should I need to.
At about this time, Kung Fu the TV series had arrived in the UK and was causing quite a stir, and in the cinemas Bruce Lee had arrived with his feral kiai, causing extraordinary reactions throughout the world with this little known martial art.
I tried to enrol into the local judo club but such was the demand, there was a minimum of a three months waiting list. It was purely by accident a work colleague heard of what I was seeking and suggested I go to my local Aikido club, run by his lodger.
At that time, nobody had even heard of Aikido. So, I went to the club, liked what I saw and that is how I began on my path.
Since then, I was forced to take leave of the art, including stints working abroad, but, it was always an ember burning in the back of my mind. I returned to the art ‘full time’ (or so I thought) in 1991, only for my training to be interrupted once again to live and work in Hong Kong for another six years. I have been been training and teaching non-stop since my return to UK in 2002.
What are some of your main memories in Aikido?
By far my fondest memories of Aikido were the years I devoted to train with my Sensei, Tony Sargeant in his private dojo in a small village close to Cambridge. Although my little daughter was born in 1992, it did not prevent me from attending weekend uchideshi courses. I must also thank my ex wife for her patience, tolerance and understanding by allowing me to make such trips at least once a month.
The amazing thing about those weekends was the common language we all shared, Aikido. Even after a tough day training in the dojo, or outside with our weapons we would gather for an evening meal in a local pub, or sensei would arrange a BBQ on his patio and still we could not get enough, talking and comparing experiences and often, running through the intricacies of one particular technique or another with our peers.
Added to this was the humour, and camaraderie generated. I think I can truly say that I remain close friends with many aikidoka, even after so many years of training.
My fondest memories are from the years we would travel to the Greek island of Kefalonia, where Sensei Tony had set up home with his lovely partner, Jane. These were one week uchideshi courses and attended by Brits, Greeks (local and from Athens) and Russians from St. Petersburg or Cherepovets.
Such great fun to train in natural surroundings early morning on the beach, with a refreshing dip into the sea and then breakfast at a local taverna. Plus the social life was second to none, all nationalities joining in and having one hell of a frivolous time (all to often into the wee hours).
Other memories most vivid in my mind are those instances when I was called as uke up by the sensei teaching at courses in order for sensei to demonstrate a technique. Attacking with 100% intent, one would find oneself flying through the air, or pinned to the mat and be thinking “how the hell did I end up here” (smile).
What are your personal goals in Aikido?
Mmmmm, a good question. I tend not to consider this matter anymore, but I shall attempt to convey my thoughts and answer the question.
When a kyu grade, my goal was to achieve my black belt. However, when I was awarded my grade in 2004, I felt inside there was still so much to learn and understand. Thus, I continued training but now with no specific goal, only to get better and better and learn more of the inner side of the art.
Since 2013 I have established my own club, and am lucky enough to have an excellent and dedicated group of students, across different levels of age and experience. It gives me great pleasure to pass down my knowledge to them and see them flourish. Through this ‘giving’ I have benefited also as it has increased my understanding of the Art and improved my abilities.
Upon receiving my Shodan grade from Sensei Tony Sargeant, I shall never forget his words “Doug is not one of the youngest I have awarded shodan to (I was 48 years old at the time), and i foresee he could reach Yondan (4th dan) on his path”. Well, those words made it my personal quest and challenge to exceed Yondan and strive for Godan (5th dan).
Sure, I do not think about it now as after all, what is a grade? Just another stepping stone across a stream called Aikido, just another step on our walk through life))))))
Why do you think Iwama Aikido is so unique?
All martial arts are unique, whatever the art. For example karate, judo, jui jitsu, kung fu etc. Within each of these martial arts are different styles.
The founders of these martial arts all believed in their hearts that their art was the best.
The Founder of Aikido (O Sensei) was an expert martial artist in several arts, but felt something was missing. Thus he devised and formulated Aikido, the ‘Art of Peace, harmony or love’.
O Sensei did not want a martial art to overcome and defeat another, he wanted a martial art that would subdue rather than overcome or defeat.
It is said Iwama style Aikido is not flowing Aikido. Furthemore the Iwama syle includes Aiki ken and Aiki jo it’s syllabus.
The Iwama style is called thus owing to the location of O Sensei’s home in the village of Iwama, Iberagi prefecture in Japan. It was there in his later years he studied the art, developing and perfecting it with the inclusion of the bokken and jo. And, for the last 24 years of his life he passed on his teachings to his devoted student and retainer Morihiro Saito Sensei.
Saito sensei brought Iwama Aikido the world. Our style is taught from basics, from static start. This is more challenging to deal with than from a moving attack and comes under some criticism that it is not practical, too stylised.
We are the only style within which weapons are taught as a symbiosis with empty hand (tai jitsu) techniques. The weapons compliment empty hand as empty hands compliment the weapons techniques.
When I first began in this style of Aikido, I often asked myself “What good is it learning these weapons if I cannot carry them with me in everyday life?” and, it was only after years of training that one can see, feel and appreciate the close connection between empty hand techniques and weapons movements.
What can Aikido offer people, in your opinion?
Different people gain different benefits from Aikido. People learn at different speeds and maybe better at picking up different aspects from person to person. For example, one person may excel in tai jitsu, but not excel at weapons, and vice versa.
Certainly, Aikido can assist in improving one’s level of fitness and improve ones health. However one will not become fit doing Aikido alone unless if becomes a daily routine (which for most of us is impossible). In the same breath, one does not have to be fit to train in Aikido (but it helps if you do have a personal level of fitness).
I used to be a shy, introverted teenager and it was Aikido that helped to ‘bring me out of my shell’ with the better I became. Not to become an extrovert but, to have much more self esteem and confidence.
The longer one trains, the less important it becomes to think of Aikido as only a means of defending oneself. It becomes a part of one’s daily life.
It can be said that Aikido has influenced my thought processes in daily life, becoming more self aware and aware of those around us, to me more considerate to listen to another’s point of view.
At more advanced levels there are those with desires to learn and become familiar with the inner and spiritual side of Aikido, it can open up many different paths to consider. For example, many Aikidoka learn tai chi, yoga, chi kung. Some love to delve into more diverse pursuits such as alternative healing methods and meditation.
So to summarize, there is much in life Aikido can offer. All one has to accept is that it will not come to you in a heartbeat, it is a lifelong path.
How long have you been training?
I walked into an Aikido dojo 46 years ago. However, my training was interrupted by life and its challenges. I guess the total time I have spent actually training is around thirty years. But you know? The strangest thing is, even when I was forced by circumstance not to train, there was always a spark of Aikido in my thoughts.
I am now 64 years young, and run my own club with a small group of dedicated students. I still have a very strong desire to perfect my Aikido and, if not as perfect as O Sensei’s, I can be proud in the fact that I have not become complacent and I continually strive to become better and better.
Where have you travelled?
I am fortunate enough to have travelled quite a bit in my lifetime through my profession. However, it would be unfair of me to say I have travelled extensively to train in Aikido or to follow a particular sensei.
I have attended seminars throughout the UK to see international Sensei of repute. I have trained intensively under Sensei Tony Sargeant in Greece. I have trained in Hong Kong, and Shanghai, though mostly personalised solo training developing my knowledge of weapons.