John Longford – A life in Aikido

Sensei John started his Aikido journey in 1980 when he joined a Beginners Course at the Cambridge Aikido Club located at the Howard Mallett Club, Cambridge. From the start, John was hooked and he was the only one of those 17 beginners who never stopped training Aikido. In those days, Sensei Tony Sargeant was Dojo-cho of Cambridge Aikido Club. There were multiple classes every week so John trained at every opportunity. His persistence, grit and determination helped him to graduate through the kyu ranks. He was graded by Sensei Tony but was also awarded his 3rd kyu, 1st kyu and eventually Shodan by Sensei Hamish McFarlane and Sensei Haydn Foster (Institute of Aikido) based at the unique training space in London simply known as “The Hut”. He was the first student of Sensei Sargeant to achieve this rank. At that time, there were frequent opportunities to train Aikido both in the UK and abroad; John visited many Aikido dojos from the beginning and saw a variety of teachers and different styles of Aikido. These experiences gave him a strong foundation for his Aikido training and his teaching subsequently.

In 1990 Sensei John gained his Nidan, again grading at The Hut in London. At this time, John was teaching 2 of 7 classes a week at Cambridge Aikido club and he started his own class on Sunday evenings. In 1994 Sensei Tony built his dojo in Orwell near Cambridge, so aikido training was divided between the Orwell dojo and the dojo in central Cambridge. Because John lived in Cambridge, he became the principal instructor at the Cambridge dojo although he remained a faithful student and friend of Sensei Tony. Sensei John enjoyed travelling abroad and frequently attended international seminars, training under Morihiro Saito Sensei on numerous occasions: – USA (1991, 1993, 1996), Germany (1994), Denmark (1996) and in the UK (1988 & 1994). He also trained under many other high-ranking teachers including Hitohira Sensei, Sensei Bill Witt, Sensei Hoa Newens, Sensei Pat Hendricks, Sensei Kayla Feder, Sensei Tom Gambol. John also trained regularly as uchi deshi with Sensei Bernice Tom in California and visited there many times; in fact, he went to the San Diego dojo so frequently, that the dojo and its students became his second Aikido home and family. Through these travels he gained many Aikido friends and the respect of Aikidoka throughout the world.

In 1991, Sensei Tony started his aikido organization (Traditional Aikido Iwama Ryu, GB) with the aim of transmitting the teachings of O’Sensei through the direct lineage of Morihiro Saito Sensei. John was a founder member of TAIR, together with Sensei Paul McGlone from Poole Aikido club. They helped Sensei Tony administrate and build it into a successful, multi dojo, international Aikido organization. Sensei John frequently taught at the annual TAIR seminars. In 1997, Sensei John became the principal instructor and dojo-cho of Cambridge Aikido Club. The Cambridge dojo moved when the Howard Mallet club closed in 1997, eventually settling at Hills Road Sports & Tennis Centre, Cambridge. Sensei John maintained his senior teaching position at the club and was entirely responsible for running the club, including financing it from his own pocket when funds were low. Sensei John had strong aikido and his teaching reflected the Iwama style of Aikido that Saito Sensei developed. His dedication to sharing his Aikido manifested in teaching classes week in, week out for years and years, regardless of his work and personal engagements. This sense of commitment was instilled into his students, so it is not surprising that, in 2010, Sensei John had 6 students grade to Shodan / Nidan under his tutelage. He described this moment as “a highlight of his Aikido career” in his personal memoire about Aikido (Blood, Sweat & Years – 2017). Sensei John was awarded his Yondan, in 2003, Godan in 2007 and Rokudan in 2018. John has been dojo-cho of Cambridge Aikido club for 23 years, part of the club for 4 decades and has helped the Cambridge Aikido club endure for over 50 years. In 2021, after 4 decades of training, Sensei John remains an Aikido instructor and enthusiastic exponent of the art.