Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Monday, 10 July 2017

Aikido "on the train"

"Get on the train! Be on the train!" - I'm always saying this. But what does it really mean?

To me, being on the train means that you are sensitive to the energy of the other person - be it nage or uke. You "go with the flow" rather than try oppose the other person's power. This is not only safer (you won’t be taken unexpectedly if someone suddenly tries to do a technique) but it is also more effective.

However, I have practised with some people who take a different view of being on the train. I remember one teacher who shall remain nameless (mainly because I’ve forgotten his name!) who insisted that being on the train meant that the uke should fall over when the teacher did a technique. If you ended up just standing there, he would ‘correct’ you – “Oh no, you are not on the train. If you’d been on the train my technique would have worked.”

Well, pardon me for taking issue with that. But I am not of the opinion that it is the uke’s job to make a technique work!

Anyway, here is a passage taken from Koichi Tohei’s book (‘the black book’) on Aikido:
“Not to receive anything means unlimited strength. If you try to stop with your strength a train which is coming toward you, you will be flung aside though you may have very great strength. It is better for you to ride on the train, and when it stops you take one step forward and get off. 
“Though your opponent may be strong, if you do not struggle against his strength but follow it and when it stops you go one step ahead of him, you will be able to lead him to fall down.”
And that, in my view, pretty much sums up the essence of the art of Aikido.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Aikido, No Pain, No Gain?

In the first part of these reminiscences about my early days in aikido, I got as far as explaining how – out of four martial arts that I tried – I decided that aikido was the one I’d devote much of the rest of my life to studying. In the second part, I told a bit about my progress to black belt. But let me backtrack and return to the early days...

It was the early '80s and I had enrolled in a lunchtime beginners’ class held in a basement room of the leisure centre in Camden Town High Street. There were just two or three of us who turned up week in week out to study with the teacher, Sensei David Currie. Occasionally  one of Sensei Currie’s higher grades would come along too. I remember being intimidated by an orange belt who actually knew where to put his hands and feet when doing something called shihonage. This manoeuvre seemed impossibly complicated and this was the first time I’d ever seen anyone other than Sensei Currie who knew how to do it! Then one day a brown belt student turned up. He could do even more complicated things and when Sensei Currie threw him, he seemed to fly across the mat and land (mysteriously!) without even hurting himself.

I realised that there was much more to this aikido lark than was being vouchsafed to us mere beginners. After a few weeks I came to the decision to take the next major step and go along to one of the general level classes – with students that even included (gulp!) black belts. I was really nervous about that. Would I look like a fool? Would they make fun of me? Worse still, would they hurt me?

The Pain, The Pain!

The truth is that some people did hurt me. They cranked on the nikkyos and yonkyos and kotegaeshis in a way that brought tears to my eyes. But the higher grades usually hurt me less than the lower grades. And Sensei Currie never hurt me at all. His nikkyos, yonkyos and kotegaeshis worked without pain. In fact, he specifically told us not to rely on pain to make our techniques effective. People are not always moved by pain and it is bad technique to assume that they will be. When, many years later, I finally joined the black belts, Sensei Currie told us: “The black belts should be the most dangerous people on the mat – and also the gentlest.”

I still think that is true. Good, skilful aikido, should not rely on pain. It should rely on using the force used against you. It should rely on leading an attack without engaging in a fight. It should rely on taking the person’s balance to lead them to fall, not smashing them into the mat with the maximum of brute force.

In fact, the more I practise aikido (and it’s been well over 30 years since I started) the more I believe that people who use pain to make their techniques work have fundamentally lost the plot. That’s not what aikido is about. It’s a cheat, a trick, an excuse for poor technique. Your technique must work whether or not the attacker feels pain. If they feel pain, it may be because they are using strength to resist your technique. But it should not be the aim of your technique to impose pain. Instead, think of using gravity to unbalance the attacker.

The simple fact of the matter is that some people can resist pain. Nobody can resist gravity.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Aikido in Holsworthy, Bucks Cross and Bideford

You can now study free-hand Aikido and weapons in our three North Devon Clubs. If you are really keen, that gives you the opportunity to study aikido four times a week. The two principal teachers are Huw Collingbourne (the Bucks Cross and Holsworthy clubs) and Richard Small (Bideford Aiki-jo).

Huw began Aikido in the early 1980s and has taught since the early ‘90s. He studied mainly with Sensei David Currie in the tradition of the great teacher, Koichi Tohei. Richard began his Aikido journey way back in the 1970s and has studied mainly in the Iwama tradition of Morihiro Saito.

It is very unusual for two teachers from such different traditions of Aikido to work together and we feel that, by combining our knowledge,  we are able to provide students with an unusually deep and broad overview of the arts of Aikido.

I’d once again like to emphasise that at all three clubs – Holsworthy, Bideford and Bucks Cross – students are welcome from all styles of aikido. Ki, Aikikai, Tomiki, Yoshinkan, Iwama – whatever your style, if you are happy to practise with us, we are happy to practise with you. Even if you currently practise with another club or organisation, that is no barrier. You will be very welcome to extend your experience of aikido by practising at our clubs as well. Naturally, we also welcome complete beginners and will take the time needed to explain everything from the ground up to newcomers to the art.

  • The Bucks Cross Club meets every Monday and Thursday (with the exception of the first Monday of each month) between 7:30 and 9:30.
  • The Holsworthy Club meets every Tuesday between 7:30 and 9:00.
  • Bideford Aiki-jo meets every Wednesday between 7:00 and 9:00.
For details of the Bucks Cross and Holsworthy Clubs, see the Club Info page.

More details of the Bideford club can be found on the Bideford Aiki-jo site.

(Above, one of the Iwama jo katas which are studied at all three clubs)

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Learn Aikido for Self-Defence in North Devon

We start our new club in Holsworthy in just over a week. The Holsworthy Leisure Centre is a great venue for practising aikido so I hope that lots of people in the area may be tempted to give us a try.

It’s difficult to summarise aikido for someone who’s never done aikido before. These days I like to use the expression: “The Coordination of mind and body for self defence.” That was the subtitle of Koichi Tohei’s marvellous book on Aikido, written under the supervision of the founder of aikido, Morihei Uyeshiba, in the late ‘50s/early ‘60s when Tohei was the chief instructor of aikido. To me, this is the central text of aikido. It defines what aikido is all about. Sadly, the book has been out of print for many years so I cherish my own copy which I bought about 30 years ago.

The definitive book on Aikido - sadly now out of print
 This is how Tohei describes Aikido: “All the Aikido arts are involved with the principles of non-resistance…. No matter how strong he may be, you do not oppose his strength with yours but lead him in the direction of his own strength…”

And this is what he says about self-defence: “In the arts of self-defence, you discover how important it is not to struggle against the power of your opponent: in other words, not to receive his power. Though you may have strength, if your opponent is stronger, you will have difficulty beating him. If you do not struggle against his strength and do not receive the strength that he is projecting, he may be stronger than you but that means nothing to you.”

Aikido is a beautiful, elegant, graceful, powerful and effective martial art. The fact that it relies upon using the power of an attack itself means that you do not need to be big and strong to practise aikido well. If you have never done aikido before, please come and join us to learn this wonderful art. Or if you already practise aikido, come and join us anyway. You will be very welcome no matter which aikido style or organisation you come from. There are no boundaries to our aikido. If you want to practise with us, we will be very pleased to practise with you!

From the 6th of June,  we will be practising at the Holsworthy Leisure Centre each Tuesday evening from 7:30 to 9:00. Every Monday (except the first Monday of the month) and Thursday we have a class at the Bucks Cross Village Hall, between Bideford and Hartland. And our friends at the Bideford Aiki-jo club teach Aikido weapons every Wednesday in the Methodist Church Lower Room on Bideford High Street from 7:00 to 9:00. Please note that all classes are adults only (18+).
Make this the year you learn Aikido! Come and join us!

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Back To the 80s - My Aikido History

I just came across this old article which I wrote for a lawyers' magazine called "Legal Business" way back in 1991. That's me (oh, so young!) chucking about one of my students at a club I used to run in Queen's Crescent (midway between Kentish Town and Belsize Park ) in North London. I was a 1st dan at the time - I took my first dan in 1989 and my second dan in 1992. Happy days!

Friday, 19 May 2017

Aikido Against Bamboo?

Got any over-rampant bamboo in your garden? Aikido can help! Here Kashiwaya Sensei (head of the Ki Society in North America) demonstrates the power of aikido weapons with some impressive bamboo cutting using a bokken (wooden sword). Notice that the bits of paper supporting the bamboo remain intact. This may look easy. From personal experience, I can assure you that it isn't!