Saturday, 8 December 2018

30 Years A Black Belt!

I've just realised that next year is the 30th anniversary of my grading to black belt. I took my 1st dan grading in 1989, and my belt was awarded by my former teacher, Sensei David Currie. Where did the time go...?

Meanwhile, here's a video of Koichi Tohei, sadly no longer with us. Other than my own teacher, Tohei has been the greatest single influence on my own aikido.

Saturday, 29 September 2018

No Strength in Aikido!

The power of softness, the effectiveness of removing strength... these are the things that my students find hardest to understand. And they are the things which, in my view, are the most important to understand. I sometimes talk about "following the path of least resistance". For example, if someone is holding you strongly, by removing your own strength you will be able to let the person who is holding you find a path of movement that is simple and effortless. If you use strength against strength you will never find this path. Here's a short clip in which Endo Sensei illustrates this idea...

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Aikido Weapons - Martial Arts training in North Devon

The study of weapons in some styles of aikido is almost ignored. In fact, weapons are at the heart of aikido. Working with the bokken (sword) and jo (staff) teaches you balance, correct distance, dynamic movement, whole-body movement and it helps to build in many other important qualities such as being centred, fluidity, blending and much more.


Saito Sensei shows an 'Iwama-style' jo kata

Of all the 'schools' of aikido, it is perhaps the Iwama style, based on the teachings of Saito Sensei, that is best known for its strong emphasis on weapons training. Iwama aikido has a very large weapons training syllabus with katas, jo-taking, jo-throwing, paired bokken exercises and much more.


Tohei Sensei shows a 'Ki-style' jo kata

Ki Aikido, based on the teachings of Tohei Sensei, also has katas and other exercises though in my experience, Ki aikido practitioners usually devote much less study to weapons than Iwama students. Even so, the Ki style has much to offer. Its katas tend to be more dynamic and 'flowing' than those of the Iwama tradition. In fact, however, the two style overlap considerably - hardly surprising since both Tohei and Saito were long-term, high-grade students of The Founder.

Remarkably few students of aikido have experience of both the Tohei and Saito style of weapons practice. Which is a great pity. If you study both you will soon appreciate how well they complement one another and how much you can learn from both traditions.

Well, here in North Devon, you have the rather unusual opportunity to study both styles. The Sensei of the Hartland Club, Huw Collingbourne, has studied in the Ki tradition since 1983. For the last six years he has also studied Iwama weapons with Sensei Richard Small of Bideford Aiki-jo. And recently Sensei Small has been studying the Tohei-style katas to add to his extensive knowledge of Iwama weapons practice (which he has studied and taught since the 1970s).

Both Sensei Richard and Sensei Huw welcome practitioners of all styles of aikido. If you have studied Iwama style, Ki style or a style with its own weapons syllabus or no weapons syllabus at all, we hope you may find something of interest in the sorts of aiki weapons that we both teach.

Please, come and join us!

Friday, 8 June 2018

Aikido and the Decline of the Martial Arts


It is increasingly difficult to attract new students to the study of aikido. Out here in the wilds of North Devon we face the additional problem of a relatively small local population spread out over a large area.  But even dojos located in big towns often struggle. The Aikido Journal conducted a global survey among aikido teacher a few months ago and found that, on average there is a ratio of student to teacher of 1.5-to-1 – yes, really. That means that there are almost as many teachers as there are students! ( See: ‘Aikido: Confronting A Crisis’)

Why is this? When I began aikido, in the early ‘80s, it was a fast-growing martial art. How has it entered such a sharp decline over such a short period?

George Ledyard Sensei (7th dan) argues that “MMA, or mixed martial arts, dominates the martial arts scene. Brazilian jiu-jitsu is its tamer and healthier cousin. Young men these days do not seem interested in the more traditional martial arts. They want to fight. And, of course, it is impossible for any of us to compete with the fact that MMA is shown on prime-time cable seven days a week.” (See: ‘Aikido: An Aging Art and its Future’).

But it’s not just aikido. I’ve heard from teachers of other ‘traditional’ martial arts that they too are seeing a sharp decline in interest from potential new students. This Chinese Martial Arts site says:
“Traditional Chinese kung fu is a gutted hulk of its former self. While masters struggle to market their increasingly diluted styles, prospective students are being lured away by mixed martial arts (MMA), a combat sport that is exploding in popularity across the world. As a result, few fighters think of kung fu as a legitimate martial art.”
Another Chinese Martial Art site  used Google Trends to try to determine public interest in various arts over the last decade or so.
“Judo saw massive declines in popularity in the 1980s, and apparently that trend continues into the present decade.  Aikido showed perhaps the most dramatic declines in searches,” and “there has been a marked decline in the number of people searching for information about Tae Kwon Do on the internet over the last decade. 
“It should come as no surprise to anyone that the biggest winner over the last decade is the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) as promoted through the Ultimate Fighting Champions (UFC).  The rising popularity of this sport, both as a form of entertainment and as a distinct style of actual combat training, has been a shock to the American martial arts community.  There is absolutely no doubt that many of the young adults that in a prior generation would have been the backbone of a Judo club or a Karate Dojo are now lifting weights and working the heavy bag at their local MMA gym.”
My feeling is that the rise in public exposure to MMA is particularly bad for Aikido. MMA is competitive. Aikido has no competitions. MMA fighters use strength and aggression. In Aikido we deliberately avoid using strength and emphasise calmness at all times. MMA goes on the attack. Aikido is defensive only. In MMA winning is the end goal. In Aikido, the quality and elegance of technique are valued above the ‘mere’ defeating of an opponent.  It is not easy to explain this to someone whose only exposure to martials arts comes from MMA!

Before people choose a martial art, they must have some idea of what a martial art is.  Back in the 1970s, the Kung Fu TV series emphasised that the true master followed a philosophy of life. He didn’t simply fight. This is a typical example:



In the 1980s film, The Karate Kid, the philosophy of the martial art also played an important part…


Occasionally, even today, the idea of the philosophy at the heart of the martial arts still makes it into popular TV shows.  Google Searches for “Aikido” blipped upward when aikido featured in The Walking Dead TV series.  And Amazon’s science fiction series, The Man In The High Castle, also features some aikido and this account of its core philosophy…


But, sadly, these modern examples are few and far between.  So for most people, most of the time, the idea of a martial artist is a man fighting another man in a cage. That is so far away from aikido that anyone who is looking for MMA would very likely have a big problem even understanding what aikido is about. No competitions, no aggression, no strength…

Can aikido (and other traditional martial arts) recover from this decline? In the short term, I think probably not. In the long term, yes, I believe absolutely they can and will. Why? Because they have a power, logic, elegance and philosophy which has not only stood the test of time but which continues to fascinate and intrigue generation after generation of people.

But, for the time being, we simply have to acknowledge that aikido is unfashionable. We can only hope that something will arise to help explain to the general public, the philosophical underpinnings of the traditional arts. Not everyone wants to fight competitively. The problem with the popularity of MMA is two-fold for aikido. 1) Those people who want to fight don’t appreciate aikido as a non-competitive, non-violent art, and 2) Those people who don’t want to fight think that aikido, being a ‘martial art’ must be aggressive and violent.

Once upon a time, the seeming paradox of a martial art that is peaceful was the thing that most attracted students. It can still attract students. We just have to work harder at getting the message across to them. How we do that, however, is a problem to which I don’t have an answer.

Friday, 11 May 2018

The Physics of a Punch!

Or why you should try not to be the recipient of an attacker's momentum! Professor Louis Bloomfield here describes the physics of punching. I recently studied Professor Bloomfield's excellent (and free!) course How Things Work: An Introduction to Physics on the Coursera site. As martial artists we should have at least a grounding in basic physics so even if you aren't a scientist by training, I strongly recommend that course to you. If only Professor Bloomfield taught a series on the physics of Aikido my happiness would be complete. Anyway, here he is explaining why a punch hurts - and why some punches hurt more than others...

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Class Updates

There are no longer classes in Holsworthy. The Bucks Cross classes on Thursday continue as normal. We'll also announce some new classes soon.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Too old for aikido? You must be kidding!

Here's an inspirational video from a man who is still practising and teaching judo at the age of 94 (he also does karate and aikido). Come on now, what is this silly excuse people give me - "Oh, but I'm too old to do aikido!" --- nonsense!