The first time I met Mr Foster, was in 1982, at the Abersychan Leisure Centre. He was down in Wales to conduct a course. I had no idea who he was, but knew he was someone important. I was only sixteen at the time, so my knowledge of Aikido personalities was a little vague. We would not meet again until later on that decade.
Thanks to Janet, she confirmed my membership of the Institute started in 1987. I attended a few courses in Oakdale with Mr Foster. At least once, may be more, Paul came down with him. In 1989 I started training for my Shodan exam. I had already been graded by another organisation to 1st Dan, so my grading in the Hut was a re-evaluation.
The date on my certificate is the 28th April, 1990. I remember the grading very well. If there was an AGM before it started, I have no recollection of it taking place. The grading panel was Mr Foster, Hamish McFarlane, Andy Allen, & David Timms. There was an odd number of students going for 1st Dan, so I had to do the grading twice. Mr Foster had forgotten his commando knife for the grading, so my Japanese tanto was offered for the grading. I think it slightly unnerved a few, as the blade length was eleven inches. I remember during my knife session, Mr MacFarlane stopped us a few times. I was adamant I had failed my grading. Later on, in the pub, I asked him why he had stopped me so many times. He explained he wanted by partner to attack me with more vigour, as I made the techniques look too easy.
The grading process took all day, which was due to the number of students attending. If my memory serves me right, four passed 1st Dan, & two passed 2nd Dan. All I remember Mr Foster saying, when someone’s name was called out, try again next time. After the number of times I was stopped during the Tanto Dori section, I was sure I had also failed. I was stunned when he said pass.
Later in 1990, I was successful in gaining employment with the Metropolitan Police. That September, I moved up to London. This was the start of just over four years of living, working and trying to understand London culture. I would attend the Hut Dojo for training. I use to train with Ron Russell Sensei on a Thursday evening, and Mr Fosters class on a Sunday morning. I couldn’t make every class, but attended as and when I could. I remember making some of the courses, training under Hamish once or twice. I never attended any classes by Andy Allen. I only seen him the once, which was for my grading. Hamish, I found very difficult to understand, which is unusual as I never find any trouble understanding the Scottish accent. He was very fast, and positive. Not someone I ever felt uncomfortable with. His Aikido was technical but straight to the point. I also remember a class taken by Fiona & Robert Brodie Sensei's. I had a quick conversation with Rob at Mr Fosters funeral. I mentioned the one class he took when demonstrating knife techniques, and putting a realistic way on how folk in a particular Scottish City, used Stanley knives. Although he could not remember the class, he said it is something he would have done.
The last time I ever seen Mr Foster, was sitting with him and Ellis Sensei & Eastman Sensei in the bar of the hotel, waiting for them to go up and meet the Doshu, to receive their Six Dan certificates. It was good to catch up with him, and chat about many past and present topics. I always had time to speak to Mr Foster, and always enjoyed our talks. I have always believed the older Aikido Instructors were misunderstood, especially Mr Foster. He was a very knowledgeable Aikidoka, and was often put in a box by others. Mr Foster usually only showed Tenkan on external courses, and was well known for doing so. He believed is was a very important part of Taisabaki. It is also the first thing I show at the beginning of every class.
It was very rare, to see Mr Foster either lose his temper, or show frustration during class. If he did, it was the only time I would say, he would act in the same way as Ken Williams Sensei. Both were very similar in letting everyone know, they were not doing the technique correctly. They also had a way of connecting with each person, making everyone feel the pressure. Finally, they would crank up to fifth gear and show something spectacular. By the time the demo was over, the frustration was over and everyone was left to try and copy what they seen.
My first and last attendance of a national BAB course was at Brunel University in 1990. The main instructors were, Mr Foster, Derek Eastman Sensei, & W Smith Shihan.
To be continued...
I have always believed in putting my students interests first, before my own. (The reason for this idea, is suffering in the past from my seniors thinking about themselves and I having to suffer for their mistakes). There are many others who feel they are much more important than anyone else. This has always been the case of splits or divisions within Aikido organisations in the United Kingdom. There are also others who feel they have to bend the truth when it comes to matters of importance. I have never had to lie or bend the truth when it comes to my principles. If I don’t agree with anything, however big or small, I speak out. If it’s not acceptable to the parties concerned, and it affects my students, actions are taken to equal out the wrong doings, or move on.
My Aikido career has been long and bumpy! But I have always travelled along the path to the best of my abilities. If I am challenged by inconsistencies, I will face them. My traditional values will always come in to conflict with more modern thinking. I cannot stand by and watch someone or something being incompatible with who Aikido should be governed.
Ten years ago, I decided to join the Aikikai. Not something I have ever seriously thought about doing, other than a brief brush with the BAF in the 80’s. I agreed to join as a 1st Kyu, and underwent gradings to Shodan then Nidan. I encouraged my students to participate in every way, as that was required as a Dojo collective. As with any journey, it had its moments. But on the whole, we were extremely happy, especially with the 6-7th Dan tuition from Japan and Europe.
When you go in to a shop and buy an item, you are often given a guarantee. It is a list of terms and conditions; the item is covered for. Once obtained, you feel solace in the fact that it is a backup for any future developments. If those terms and conditions are changed long In to the future, you will begin to feel or wonder if the original product is worth what it was. Especially if it is going to impact others. It doesn’t really make any difference to the reason why those terms are being changed. You have to think whether that change is going to make a larger impact. In my case it would. I didn’t really want my students to have a watered-down commitment, nor did I want to have to revise my original promises of what they would expect. This is why I left the Aikikai, and the association we were attached too.
I personally do not harbour any bad feeling, as it was a transaction of my own making. I felt we were not being offered the same deal, which was stated at the very beginning. It was a natural progression to move on. Some will probably not understand the move to where we went. But for me, it was joining something I trust. The trust element is very important to me. Looking at the negative view, it can be hard to understand why others want to cloud the truth, or shield others from innocent questioning? No one leaves anything on a whim. There is always an underlying reason for something.
O’Sensei stated, in Aikido we are the centre of the universe and everything moves around us. There are no blocks, nor should there be any bending of the truth. What happened is stated above.