Friday, 30 October 2015

Aikido Class Changes for November

There will be no Aikido class at Bucks Cross on Monday or Tuesday next week (2nd/3rd November). The Thursday class (5th November) will take place as usual. On Monday the 9th of November, there will be a special weapons workshop led by Sensei Richard Small who will be concentrating on aspects of the Iwama weapons syllabus. All other classes take place as usual on each Monday and Thursday throughout November.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Why Did I Choose Aikido?

Of all the martial arts in all the world why did I pick this one?

It’s a long story. It began back in the early 1980s. I was a youngish freelance journalist working in London. I spent most of my time either interviewing pop stars or writing articles for computer magazines. It was a sedentary life and I was starting to feel distinctly unfit.

I interviewed pop stars (like Captain Sensible) by day and did martial arts by night!
So I joined a gym. For about 10 months I did push-ups and sit-ups, I lifted weights and I got very, very bored. Some people enjoy the challenge of lifting weights. I didn’t. I decided to look for some other form of physical activity. Someone mentioned martial arts. I’d never even thought of taking up a martial art. All I knew about martial arts was what I’d seen in Bruce Lee films and the Kung Fu TV series. I began looking for a Kung Fu class. I found a Wing Chun teacher and signed up for a beginner’s course. After the first lesson my arms were black and blue with bruises, but that didn’t deter me. I was, however, less happy about the other people who had signed up for the beginner’s class. Many of them (now how can I put this politely?) – well, let’s just say they seemed to have purely practical reasons for wanting to know how to punch and kick someone senseless. I’m sure the teacher was a decent chap but I didn’t feel entirely at ease with his students.

So I signed up for a Taekwondo class. This was more like it! Lots of high kicks and energetic exercise. Exercise, after all, was my main reason for taking up a martial art. After an hour of Taekwondo the perspiration was pouring off me. This, I thought, might be exactly what I was looking for. But one of the other students, who was obviously even more unfit than I was, couldn’t take the pace. He fell out of line and sank in an exhausted heap against the wall. The instructor went over to him. I thought he would ask politely if the poor bloke was ok. Not at all. He shouted at him, bellowed at him, a bit like the stereotypical portrayal of a British army sergeant-major, “You horrible little worm, you! What d’you think you are doing, you pathetic creep? Get back in line! NOW!!!

One style of martial arts teacher!

Well, to be honest, I don’t know if he actually used the words “you horrible little worm” but, if not, I’m pretty sure that’s what he was thinking. So, in spite of enjoying the exercise and the kicking and in spite of finding my fellow students much more friendly than those from the Wing Chun class I somehow didn’t think I’d be able to form a warm and friendly relationship with the instructor.

So I joined a karate class. The students were friendly – and so was the instructor! This, I felt, was finally exactly what I was looking for. And I may well have spent the rest of my life devoted to the study of karate – but for one little scrap of paper.

The scrap of paper was stuck on the notice board of the leisure centre where I was studying karate. “Aikido – Japanese Martial Art,” it said, “Lessons start next Monday at 1:30.” I didn’t have the slightest idea what Aikido was but, well, I’d tried out three martial arts already, I might as well try one more.

So the next Monday, just after lunch, I walked into the leisure centre. In the changing rooms I got talking to a quietly-spoken chap with a mild Scottish accent. “You here to do the aikido?” I asked. He assured me he was. “Me too,” I said, “Do you know anything about it?” “Och,” he said, “Just a wee bit.”

I didn’t know at the time that he was the teacher. He didn’t look or sound or behave like any of the other martial arts teachers I’d met. He was so laid-back, calm and well, un-martial, that I began to doubt if he was really a martial arts teacher at all. Maybe he was just someone who’d walked in off the street and claimed he did aikido. That first lesson with him baffled me even more. Everything he did was soft, gentle and calm. No kicking, no punching, no shouting. And yet he seemed to have some special quality that intrigued me. That was my first meeting with David Currie, the man who would eventually become my teacher and take me all the way from white belt to 2nd dan.

I’ll carry on this story in another blog post soon…

My teacher, David Currie (centre left, smiling at camera)

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The Man In The High Castle - the Aikido Connection

I read Philip K Dick's 'alternative history' science fiction novel, The Man In The High Castle, many years ago. I don't recall any aikido in the novel. However, that sad omission has now been corrected in the new TV series created by Amazon and produced by Ridley Scott. You can see a few seconds of aikido in the trailer...

In fact, it seems that one of the principal characters is an aikido teacher (sadly Ridley Scott didn't offer me a role!) and aikido will feature frequently in the series. Here's a slightly longer clip in which the aikido teacher gives a reasonably cogent explanation of the fundamental principles of aikido.

It's refreshing to see aikido featured so prominently in a major production such as this. I can only hope that it inspires a few more people to take up our wonderful art.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Seigo Yamaguchi - the forgotten aikido master

Well, no, not "forgotten" exactly. But certainly not as well known as he deserves to be. Yamaguchi Sensei (9th dan aikikai) was, at one time, one of the most important and influential aikido teachers at the Hombu Dojo and his students include such significant figures as Seishiro Endo and Christianm Tissier. Even so, if you were to ask most students of aikido to name some of the aikido 'greats' I suspect Yamaguchi would not feature on their lists. Well, that's their loss. Yamaguchi was not only a master of free-hand aikido but also of weapons. If I were to characterise his aikidoi style I think I would say that he was a master of unbalancing an attacker. If you watch videos of Yamaguchi Sensei on YouTube you will note that his attacker is often unbalanced at the very point of contact. This is truly one of the great skills of aikido but one which few people ever come close to mastering. Here, to inspire you, is a short clip of the great man himself...

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Self Defence With Style

Amazing the things you can find on YouTube. I love this short video from 1933 in which an elegant young woman gives her male attacker a very rough time! The techniques here are taken from jiu-jitsu but they, or techniques very like them, also exist in aikido. And she still has time to adjust her makeup!

Monday, 5 October 2015

Self-Defence For Women!

(....not to mention votes)

There really is nothing new about women learning martial arts for practical self-defence. The BBC has just published an interesting article about the Sufragettes who, in the early part of the 20th Century, studied jiu-jitsu in order to deal with aggressive attacks (even by policemen!)

Aikido is based upon aiki-jui-jitsu and some of the best practitioners I've ever seen are women. The main quality of jiu-jitsu which attracted the suffragettes was (according to the BBC feature) that fact that it "emphasised using the attacker's force against them, channelling their momentum," which made it effective even when used by a small women against a large man. The same is true of aikido. In fact, aikido goes even further than jiu-jitsu in emphasising the importance of using the force of the attack in order to defeat the attacker.

Read the full article HERE.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Aikido Weapons Workshop, Tuesday 6th October

As usual, there is no class on the first Monday of the month (5th October). However, Sensei Richard Small will be initiating us into the mysteries of the Iwama weapons syllabus on Tuesday the 6th of October. Everyone is welcome. Please bring a bokken and jo!