My Aikido history

Aikido has been a major part of my life for over forty-five years. This is a potted history of my aikido career, which is by no means exceptional, but may be of some interest if you know me.

A friend of mine, Mike Horsfield, enthused about aikido whenever we got together when I was on vacation from university. He showed me some techniques that he had learned at a class he was attending and fascinated me when he demonstrated knee walking. It all seemed so mysterious and intriguing. So, when I left university and started work in Leicester, I looked for an aikido club to join. I found one in 1972 and, together with my new wife, Barbara, started training once a week. I don’t remember much about it, other than the instructor, probably  encouraging me about my diminutive stature (which has never really bothered me anyway) once said to me “Even a giant who steps on a marble will fall over”. Barbara gave up after a particularly painful training session in which repeated forward rolls scraped skin off her leg and made it bleed. I continued until I left Leicester and returned home to the North East.

When I returned to the North East in 1974, Mike and I started to train together on a Sunday morning at a local community centre. I remember very cold mornings in a freezing cold room, practising on thick straw mats in which mice were nesting. Later we joined a dojo in East Boldon run by Lee and Beryl Crow (married), both nidan graded by Chiba sensei when he was based in the North East. At the time, they were two of the highest graded aikido practitioners in the area, if not the country. I learned a lot from both of them, but particularly from Beryl who continued the class after Lee was asked to leave by the dojo committee not long after I joined the dojo. I wasn’t sure what was going on but it seemed that he was having an affair with one of the young students and becoming very unreliable. Anyway, he stopped teaching and he and Beryl split up.

After a few years Beryl had to stop training because of a shoulder injury and asked me to take over. At the time I was only 1st kyu and was unwilling to start teaching but reluctantly agreed. Still feeling the need for expert guidance I began to practice with John Emmerson sensei of the European Aikido Association (EAU) headed by the  late Andre Nocquet sensei. He had a dojo at the school where he taught in Sunderland. He was a good instructor  and I soon got the opportunity to test for shodan with a visiting French instructor called Andre Nugue. I can’t remember anything about the test except that I passed.

The club in East Boldon eventually folded and I continued to train with Emmerson sensei, accompanying him to France to train with  Nocquet sensei at Grenoble on two occasions. On the second occasion, in 1982, Nocquet sensei awarded me my nidan certificate. Some time later, I can’t recall exactly when, I began to feel that there was an indefinable something lacking in my training and I began to attend courses conducted by British Aikido Federation (BAF) instructors, namely Kanetsuka sensei and his second-in-command Terry Ezra sensei. I quickly realised that they had what I was subconsciously looking for and so I joined the BAF and left the EAU after a great deal of soul-searching.

When I joined the BAF I knew that my nidan grade would not be recognised and I stopped wearing my hakama in favour of a white belt. I began to train with Ian McClarence sensei at North Shields and attended BAF courses on a regular basis. I was awarded 1st kyu by Kanetsuka sensei and invited to test for shodan (again) after an appropriate interval (of about one year).  Wearing a white belt again after reaching nidan in the EAU was a salutary experience. Every aspiring aikido teacher, whatever their experience, corrected my technique, often contradicting what the instructor was showing, but I bit my tongue and just accepted the ‘guidance’. But I stuck with it and  was awarded shodan by Kanetsuka sensei at the 1986 summer school held in Chester.

Although I admired Kanetsuka sensei’s profound understanding of aikido and his superb technique, my main interest was in what I was learning from Ezra sensei, and I was drawn more and more to his teaching. As a member of the BAF I rose to sandan, the latter grading being on the occasion of a visit by Moriteru Ueshiba, at the time Waka sensei. I was also honored by being chosen to be one of two ukes for Kanetsuka sensei for the demonstrations at the end of Ueshiba sensei’s visit.

In 1999 Ezra sensei left the BAF to form his own organisation, the Komyokan Aikido Association. I decided to join him and my dojo became a founder member of the KAA.

My various instructors over the years have all contributed to my current level of progress in aikido, but my major influence is undoubtedly Ezra sensei whom I feel embodies the essence of aikido. His aikido appears to be soft, but I know from long and sometimes painful experience that it is not at all ineffectual. What he teaches appears on the surface to be simple, but it has a depth that most of his students, including me, can only aspire to but never actually achieve.

My current stage in aikido training is following a classical pattern in which the student feels that it is time to explore personal ideas and methods rather than trying to be a clone of his/her teacher. I realised long ago that I would never be able to duplicate exactly the skills of my teachers, only at best approximate them. After training with Ezra sensei for many years I recently came to the conclusion that I needed to stop relying on him for my future progress and start taking responsibility for it myself. I almost left the KAA because of this realisation but Ezra sensei, characteristically sympathising with my feelings, gave me permission to pursue my own ideas and still stay with the KAA. This I was pleased and relieved to do.

Since joining the KAA I have been promoted three times by Ezra sensei and am now rokudan. For me these three promotions are the most valuable that I have received, being awarded by an aikido practitioner of the highest quality.

I teach aikido classses at my dojo (where I also live with my Russian wife), which is a converted church in a small village in the North East of England. As the most senior student of Ezra sensei I have represented our association at national courses several times. I also teach in Russia (Moscow and Sevastopol) and the Netherlands every year. I also conduct intensive uchi deshi programmes for aikido students, from the UK and abroad, several times each year. (Details here if you are interested: http://www.aikido-koteikan.co.uk/)