I have tried over the last five months to write what I wanted to say. On every occasion, I would read back what I have set down, only to delete it and start again. There have been occasions in the past, when I haven't been an angel. I've misbehaved, normally to either make a point or to defend a student or the Dojo. I've come to realise I cannot write a true account of my last forty years, without mentioning bad instruction,cowboy teachers. People promoting lies, or severe back stabbing. So I have decided to mention good things which have happened throughout my Aikido career and travelling to different Dojo's and people who have stood out. So basically, if you don't get a mention, you just don't deserve to get one!
As I complete a section, I will post it below.
It is hard to believe; this length of time has gone by. I also find it an achievement to follow something so diligently with my usual lack of concentration I attach to other things in my life. I have taken sometime to dwell on what I am going to disclose in this piece. I will be very cryptic at times, as only the individuals involved will know, whereas the others around them, will only know the mantra they have been told to believe. I very much hope the readers of this, will understand there is an enormous amount of politics in Aikido. Irrespective of who you are, and how much your instructor tries to shield you. It will always find a way of reaching you in one way or another. I am determined not to let politics take over this vast look back of my first forty-year career. Where I feel it is necessary to mention items, I will. Otherwise I will gloss over it and carry on!
How and why I started.
My cousin David Rees, moved from Swansea to live with my grandmother, who lived down the road from me. He had started working for Legal & General. It was easier for him to go to work from here, than where he was living in Swansea. David is much older than me. We started to go swimming in Pontypool Leisure Centre in the evenings. Once we had finished, we would go upstairs in the centre. There was what was called the goldfish bowl. You could look down, and see what other activities were going on. I would see a group of people in white Judo suits. Some were wearing black, either unarmed or armed with sticks. As time went on, I remember seeing you only live twice bond film, which was based in Japan. I personally believed they were doing karate! I mentioned what I seen in school, and someone who was also interested, said they would go along with me and try it out.
My first Aikido Instructor
Norman Ford was my first Sensei. Little did I know, how much we had in common. Norman went to school with my father, and knew each other quite well. He lived a couple of hundred yards down the road from me, and still does. Although he had to stop practicing Aikido due to health issues, I still see him out and about the local area. Anyone who knows him or practiced with him will know. He is a true gentleman, and an excellent Aikido teacher. Never had any underlying agenda’s, or any illusions of grandeur. I have always thought of him as my Sensei, even though as time went on our ways of practice were poles apart. He still has time to talk, and always asks how the Dojo is getting on. So much of a difference to others in the area.
A different way
This is one theme which will interweave throughout my essay, the internet. There was no access to the internet in the 80’s. Everything was done through word of mouth. Some would tell you the truth, and some would not. You only had your own wits and thoughts on what you believed was right and wrong. Should you go to a certain Dojo? Were there individual people in Dojos you should avoid? While I was practicing at Ford Sensei’s Dojo, I was also cross training with another. It came to a point where Ford Sensei gave me an option of either training with him, or leaving and training with the other Dojo. I decided to leave and go with the other Dojo. It was a hard decision only in the context of leaving a good instructor, but not liking certain individuals in his Dojo. I then came up against liking the Aikido I was doing, but not liking anyone in the Dojo I was training in. On rare occasions another Dan grade instructor would turn up, whom I preferred, but was not in the local area. I had to wait until I could drive to go to his Dojo in the future. While training in this Dojo, I had my first encounter with Haydn Foster Sensei.
This forty-year autobiography will at times jump all over the place. I make no apology for this, nor do I wish for anyone to believe I will place some one higher than anyone else. This is not my intention. I will write about people who come to mind, and go from there.
I remember meeting Simon for the first time on a Shin Gi Tai course in Burry Port. This first meeting was not the occasion when we became friends. I remember being greeted as I walked down the slope to the memorial Hall, by the course instructor. I was told there was a guest student from New Zealand, and I was basically told I had to partner him and train all day with him! Most of the course if not all was based around weapon training. We trained together, and got on. I was a little perplexed why they wanted me to train with him?
The next time we met was on that years Summer School. I have to admit, not being a talented arse licker, I was asked a few times on the same day if I would attend the evening meal. I sort of realised they wanted me to attend it whether I really wanted to or not!? That year Andrew Pugh & I had set up some tents in a near by camping site for the week. Neither of us really wanted to go. We had much more fun sitting out in the constant drizzle drinking way too much alcohol and enjoying talking about what we had got up to that current day, than attending what we thought would be a boring meal. So, I believe I drove to the meal venue which was an Indian restaurant. Me being me, I remember sitting where I wanted to sit, which I could tell from the course instructors face was not what he wanted. I remember Andrew & I have a great laugh at someone else’s expense for most of the evening, telling us their past time enjoyment which I cannot mention! I thought it was very strange and rude, most of the party got up and left! I was told to look after the guest from New Zealand. I looked at Andrew and thought, why have they done this, and now we are stuck with someone we don’t know!
Being the people we are, I invited Simon to join us and we went to a local bar. Only after a few minutes of chat, I realised we had a lot in common. Talking about our past history and what he believed what Aikido was about, we instantly clicked. From a very awkward beginning, we were forced together in what I believe is a lifelong friendship. I’m sure Simon would agree he was still trying to find out who he was, and understanding his view on Aikido compared to others. I can understand how others found his views, and pure talent threatening. Whereas I understood what I could see as a breath of fresh air. While he was in the UK, he came down to our Dojo along with Justin Marchant and conducted a memorable Aikido course.
I have since that time classed Simon as a great friend of Abertillery Aikido Dojo. (Not forgetting Irene). Even though he has trouble pronouncing it! I know full well he will go on to greater things in the future. Someone who is very much misunderstood, but only by those who have something to fear. Long may our connection continue, and will look from afar at your progress within the Aikido world. Thank-you!
Ken Williams Sensei 5th Dan.
I’m not going to quibble over what grade he was. When he went over to Japan in 1976, he was graded 5th Dan by Tohei Sensei.
I came in to contact with Williams Sensei either late 1980 or early 1981. My Ki Federation grading book stated I took up membership in May 1981. I am sure I attended a course before that joining date.
It is very difficult to describe him. But I can say he was the best Aikidoka the United Kingdom has ever produced, and I have not seen anyone who has come close to him since. I think it’s very easy to over state someone, and that is true regarding Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido. There are many stories of he did this and that. Most are untrue. This also goes for Williams Sensei. But he is without doubt an extremely talented individual. I’m not going to even go anywhere near some of the bits & pieces I know, as they are not relevant. I can only state what I seen and felt, whist I trained under him.
I have witnessed three things, which to this day are very difficult to explain. He was a talented Judoka before practicing Aikido. I seen him in Pontypool Leisure centre execute a Shihonage in a Kataguruma (shoulder Wheel) movement, which was mind blowing to say the least! On the same course, he asked me to attack him with a Shomenuchi strike. He moved from in front of me, to my blind side, and I never seen him move! The third was on a course in Pentywnmawr. Someone attacked him, he moved and countered with what I can only describe as a Karate Rakken (back fist). You could see his wrist vibrate in to the students face two or three times before they even started to react.
I took him as I found him, and never dwelled on the gossip of others. I know he wasn’t a saint when it came to certain things, but he was truly an amazing Aikidoka. I learned a lot from him in more ways than just Aikido technique. He said on more than one occasion to me, I would live a very long time. We will have to wait and see if he was right!
UK Dojo etiquette. Is it as prescribed in Japan?
I have pondered this question for quite a long time now. I have to be honest; I have seen some Japanese Sensei do things which have horrified me! But, is that sentence, right? My answer today is no. I believe a regime of Aikido Dojo etiquette has been blown out of all proportion, and has been the case which goes back to the 1960’s. I feel certain individuals have manipulated what is required, and what is perceived as right and wrong.
In the not too distant past, I was someone who followed Dojo etiquette I had learned to the book! Now I am more relaxed, knowing that many items I used to believe where wrong and don’t actually exist in Aikido outside of the UK. The basics are right, but as you drill into particular items, I now know they are made up and don’t belong in my Dojo or anyone else’s. We all need to take a hard look of such things and question them in our own minds. If the Japanese don’t do them, why should we?
Yoshimitsu Yamada Shihan
8th Dan Aikikai
I believe I have only bumped into Yamada Sensei twice in the UK. The first time was a week-long course in Cardiff, 1985. The second was in Llanelli on the 29th- 30th April 2006. I’m not going to mention the Cardiff thing on this section, I will leave that for my article on Tamura Shihan.
When I saw Yamada Sensei in 2006, I was aware of what I was going to see. In 1985 was a bit of a shock. I very high graded Japanese Sensei demonstrating basic techniques. I know Yamada Sensei is more than capable of turning up the switch when it comes to execution. What he does works, as in, I am going to show you basic, and you will be lulled into thinking is that it. If you’ve ever walked away from a course with that in mind, you just didn’t understand what was going on, and basics are something you tend to gloss over!
The point which is missing is an eighth Dan doing basics! His practice is far superior, fluid, and fast! Being a resident in New York, his English is very good. He’s very approachable and kind with his time. The most important point of attending one of his courses. You are not going to learn anything you don’t already know, depending on your grade. But what you already know is better for going to the course.
Nobuyoshi Tamura Shihan
8th Dan Aikikai.
Of all the listings I am going to post, this one will probably be the most controversial. I will make statements which will contradict other people’s accounts. I will equal those accounts with other statements which will put these events in to context.
I first came in to contact with Tamura Sensei on the week-long course held in Cardiff, 1985. This was a joint course with Yamada Sensei & Pierre Chassang Sensei. I cannot remember whether I attended one or two further courses after this. I know for sure I did attend the course in Cogan Leisure Centre, Penarth.
Even though the week-long course was thirty-five years ago, I still remember freshly many things about it. This course ran from Monday to Saturday. The course organiser Mike Narey, allowed me to register as a juvenile as I was unemployed at the time. That is something I will always be grateful for. I’m sure I could say many unsavoury things about him, but on this occasion what he did for me was something very generous.
During this course, all three Instructors swapped over every day, and a timetable was set for each teaching slot. The training sessions were very hard, and usually we would practice each technique for at least 10 – 20 minutes. During the week you would see people sitting down, to try and gain some energy. We were not used to training in that way. The French students were very energetic, and had much more experience with this way of training. I have to point out, a part from the Saturday session, which was taken by then then new student of Yamada Sensei, Donovan Waite. All the weekday sessions were very poorly attended. Although I seem to have lost my formal photo with Tamura Sensei, I do still have the photo of Me & Barbara training. If you look in the background of that photo, you will see there was hardly anyone there! You can read many accounts on the Internet of individuals who state they attended this full course, alas they are telling porkies! Every day when we arrived, we would recognise individual students, and as the course went on, we would give each other a nod. We were the only ones there on a regular basis! There was an evening session arranged so students who could not attend during the day, could train with Tamura Sensei. Alas, there was apparently an abundance of glass fragments on the floor due to a recent wedding reception. So, it was swapped over to a question and answer session with him instead.
There also seems to be an abundance of statements, individuals training has been influenced by Tamura Sensei. I remember speaking to Urban Aldenklint Shihan 7th Dan Aikikai. He has trained with all the Japanese Sensei in Europe. He stated he has racked up over 500 Hours training with Tamura Sensei. He agreed with me, no one can really say their Aikido could be influenced by him or anyone else, unless they trained exclusively with that particular teacher.
Finally, my observations and training opportunities with Tamura Sensei. I noticed on the occasions I was picked to uke Tamura Sensei, was his subliminal use of his wrists. I have continued to watch YouTube clips of him to study this further. I use this in my current training of Ikkyo & Nikkyo. Lastly in Cardiff my Kokyu Ho one on one with him. Tamura Sensei doesn’t take any hostages, when it comes to him feeling if you understand what he trying to put across. He performed seated Kokyu Ho on me, then it was my turn to do it back. I could not move him, and gave me a wry smile as I tried to do so. With a move of his arms I was thrown from the seated position. A hearty chuckle and it was all over. His shikko was amazing, and moved so fast. I asked him if he had skateboards strapped to his legs, which he found funny. My last misunderstanding with him was he and Pierre Chassang Sensei talked with me, regarding my height. They had to say it twice until I realised what they were saying. I couldn't understand why they were saying tomatoes to me. Then realised they were saying deux mètres!!!!! 2 meters!
Henry Ellis 6th Dan Shihan
Derek Eastman 6th Dan Shihan.
Although I was aware of both teachers, long before I met them, we did not come in to contact until the Jack Poole affair came to light. (I did meet Eastman Sensei on the 1990 BAB course, where he was one of the instructors that year). I, like them were bloody angered with the circumstances and I wanted to make contact with Ellis Sensei, to give my 5 pence worth. I like many others had been brought up to learn and understand Aikido history in the United Kingdom. No one up to that point had ever told me Jack Poole or anyone outside of the Hut Dojo from the 1950's had been practicing Aikido either directly or indirectly other than Tomiki Aikido. So I was amazed when I read some of the postings, the BAB were going to honour someone I had never heard of? When I started to read some of the claims that this Jack Poole had done this that and the other, I knew even from my standpoint the mathematics just didn't add up. I was also astounded the governing body of Aikido was also going along with this and made some outrageous comments about not being the custodians of Aikido history? I found that standpoint quite bazaar. If it's part of your constitution to promote Aikido, that should be from the standpoint of past, present & future!
The whole situation became quite ugly, but no one thought for one second, they were dealing with students from the very beginning of Aikido in the UK. Ellis Sensei went away and started to build a very comprehensive picture of dates and times, to show everything that had been said was a complete fabrication. Details came in from a variety of sources, a who's who of Aikido. Even an old film clip showing this person a low Kyu grade many years after the stated time they started practicing Aikido. Again a main theme of these glimpses in to the past the Internet shone through and was used to it's fullest to make sure a forensic timeline was set. Alas the BAB were not very impressed and decided the best way to tackle this, was to promote a smear campaign. What they should have done is hold their hands up and say we got it wrong and try to make things right. They got their fingers burn't when it was taken to a higher level the now DCMS. They found in favour of Sensei's Ellis & Eastman. They acted in a disgraceful manner and were forced to apologise. Something they found very hard to do. I know there are students who have fully immersed themselves in this situation, and some who do not care. That's entirely up to them. But what they needed to do was just step outside of the main topic and look at the fringe elements. The BAB is supposed to be the national governing body for Aikido in the UK. They believed they were powerful enough to ignore anything they didn't like and were prepared to do what ever they thought was necessary to make the whole thing go away? To me it makes no difference is its a body covering Aikido, badminton, or knitting circles. They are only there to look after it's members. They should be in the background crossing the T's and dotting the I's. The practice of Aikido in all the Dojo's up and down the country should always be their focus. Only a few years ago, a large part of the BAB membership left. They were quite right to do so. Still at that point they did what they normally do and attack and put their heads squarely in the sand. We can but hope, things will change, but I am not holding my breath. Ellis & Eastman Shihan's have worked hard for more than fifty years to promote Aikido within their Dojo's and further afield. Their students are very lucky to have such leadership and long may it continue in to the future.
Haydn Foster 7th Dan Shihan.
I have already mentioned else where on the site, how I originally met Mr Foster. So, I am not going to go over old ground. I want to talk more about who he was, and one moment time, when I was able to sit down and talk openly with him.
I also want to clear up a part of my past history, which I was unaware of. I passed my Shodan at the Hut Dojo in May, 1990. Moving on to September of that year, I moved to London to join as a civilian member of the Metropolitan Police. Once I had got over the culture shock of living and working in London, I started to make my way to Hillingdon to re-start my Aikido training. My main two routes to the Hut, were either getting the tube from Baker Street to Uxbridge, or getting the train from Paddington to West Drayton.
I remained in London until late 1994. I tried to get to the Hut as much as I could, but working shifts was difficult. During this time, the Dojo I was attached to in Wales, had left the IOA. No one ever mentioned this, and I did not find out until much later that decade. Anyone who says otherwise is lying!
The last two occasions I met Mr Foster was in Neath 2007 for the Nakazono Memorial Course, and Cardiff 2010. Although I spoke with Mr Foster in Neath, the main point I wish to talk about is our meeting in Cardiff. A meeting which was very important to me, I had an opportunity to sit next to him and chat at length about a number of topics. Around the table on that day was Henry Ellis Sensei, Derek Eastman Sensei, Andrew Pugh, Michael Flynn Shihan. The occasion was awaiting to go up to the hotel room of the Aikikai Doshu to receive their Sixth Dan certification.
I spoke at length with Mr Foster regarding what I believed were mistakes I had made during the previous decade. He listened intently as he usually did, and give his response’s. Those will remain between us. But some of the information he passed to me, was surprising and opened my eyes to things I was not aware of. It did go some way to appease some of my feelings, but did anger me afterwards, as it was more lies and underhanded dealings which spoil my and everyone else’s Aikido.
Just before Flynn Shihan lead the three to the lift to go up to the Doshu’s room. Mr Foster did say one thing which some on the table did hear. He mentioned his regret in not supporting and speaking up more for Ellis & Eastman Sensei’s fight for the clarification of Aikido history in the UK. He believed he should have done more. We left it at that. After a reasonable amount of time, all three arrived back holding their Dan grade certification. Ellis Sensei allowed me to hold and open his certificate.
In conclusion. Mr Foster was quite rare in the UK Aikido system. He did not make himself something above his station. He continued to practice Aikido right up until his death, and still didn’t believe he was anything special. By being that way, he was special. Some students fell out with him, but only because of their view or outlook, rather than Mr Foster’s. He knew a lot, over and above Aikido. You don’t really understand that, until those rare events such as in 2010, when he would divulge information. And, not just he knew those things, but you would not expect him to know. Whether it happened the year before, or twenty five years previous!
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