When did you start Aikido and why?
From 1991 to date, 5th Dan
I started training at 19. I had no long-held desire to learn a martial art, I wasn’t trying to get fitter, in fact I wasn’t looking for anything in particular when I attended my first class. I went along because my brother had attended a class the week before and said he enjoyed it. A couple of lads that we used to hang around with at school had started to go and it was walking distance from home, so I figured I had nothing to lose. It was a regular class, so I was training with different grades from day one. This was great because there was always someone to correct you, even when the instructor was working with another student.
I don’t know what hooked me. I think it must have been a mixture of the positive energy and enthusiasm of the teachers and students. As I have found ever since that first class, Aikido is simply a bunch of the most friendly people you will ever meet,from completely different backgrounds, all with pretty much the same goal - to keep improving and support each other along the way.
What are some of your main memories in Aikido?
I was always encouraged to attend seminars, see different instructors and it was at the Easter '93 seminar in Cambridge where I first met Senseis Tony Sergeant and Paul McGlone, who taught alongside Pat Hendricks Sensei of San Leandro dojo in California. It was probably that seminar that changed my direction. I continued to train at my old club, but attended as many Iwama seminars as I could. Shortly after receiving my shodan I made the decision to change styles. This was a tough time as I had to learn new ways and change the focus of my techniques. In 1997 I decided to study as uchi deshi in the Orwell dojo near Cambridge under Tony Sensei. I stayed for 3 months, training six and seven days a week, attending other classes in the area and any seminars that Tony Sensei taught at. I made some life-long friends and learned a lot of Aikido and a lot about myself. At the end of the uchi deshi my Shodan grade was ratified. The following year I went back to Orwell for another 4 weeks and on my return home I moved to South Derbyshire. I soon realised that if I wanted to continue training in the same style I would have to open a club and teach myself, and so in January 1999 Shiro Kashi opened its doors for the first time.
What are your personal goals in Aikido?
The 2nd Dan black belts in my first club always seemed so good and I thought that if I ever got to that standard I would really have achieved something, but that was just a pipe dream for many years. I’m quite stubborn and once I commit to something I give it everything I can, so I decided I’d keep going and see where it took me. I was awarded 2nd Dan in 2002 and it was everything I dreamed of. Since then every day I just try to get a little bit better. A lot of my time is spent developing my students. I see so many with potential and it’s very rewarding to inspire them to reach their goals. There is nothing like the feeling when your first student reaches black belt. I figure if I can do that I must be doing something right.
Why do you think Iwama Aikido is so unique?
As I said, I changed styles of Aikido after about 5 years, and that was simply because I couldn’t see myself developing any further in my original organisation.From blue or brown belt (2nd /1st kyu) students were being told to develop their own style. I still felt I didn’t know the techniques well enough and when I trained with other styles they could block my techniques. They were just too strong! I tried to convince myself that they were being deliberately awkward, but my flowing style couldn’t move them. Looking across the mat I realised there were some quite small blackbelts delivering really powerful techniques, I figured there must be something in it. I realised that it was down to the teachers, they would break the technique down to the smallest detail, so everyone could clearly see what was happening. This method of teaching really helped me. I could understand exactly what worked and what wouldn’t. That is the real strength in Iwama Aikido, the instructors. They really know the techniques, because they have studied them in depth and ‘nearly right’ isn’t good enough. I love teaching smaller people now, who feel they don’t stand a chance against a big brute. The look of excitement and satisfaction when they realise they don’t need to be strong, they just need to be precise and anyone can do that.
What can Aikido offer people, in your opinion?
It has offered me the chance to meet and make friends with people I would never normally have met. I met my wife through Aikido, she didn’t train back then, but after we started dating she came along to class and after several years of training, and two children, would you believe she earned her Shodan? She wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told her 25 years ago. I heard about job opportunities, which led to several careers. The experience of being scrutinized by your teachers on a weekly basis makes it easy to deliver a presentation to a bunch of strangers or sit through an interview. As a student I realised how easy it is to get hurt in a fight situation, even for the best martial artists and that awareness has kept me out of more trouble than techniques ever did. You get so much more than just fitness, strength and flexibility, they are almost a given, but the rest is up to you.
How long have you been training?
29 years (up to 2020). It sounds a long time when you tell colleagues, but I never planned to train for that long (or even teach), I just didn’t stop going to class. I think there hasn’t been a period of more than two weeks when I didn’t train in all those years. Even during Corona Virus lockdown I trained at home every week. If I can’t motivate myself to train, how can I hope to motivate my students?
Where have you travelled?
I haven’t trained in as many countries as many of my peers, but I have been fortunate to train and teach all across the UK, Channel Islands and Greece.