Saturday 20 December 2014

Christmas and New Year Aikido

Our last class this year will be this Monday (22nd December). We are back again in 2015 starting on Monday the 5th of January. Come along and work off all the Christmas Pudding and New Year hangovers!

Monday 17 November 2014

Aikido Jo Dori Class

Last week's jo dori class at the Hartland Club was hugely enjoyable and very instructive. It was taught by Sensei Richard Small, our chief weapons instructor, who also teaches Iwama-style weapons at his own class each Wednesday in Bideford.

These are a couple of  the techniques that we practised...

And here is a group photo.

If you want to learn more about Aikido weapons (and freehand techniques), you will be very welcome to join us at the Hartland Club or in Sensei Small's Bideford Club. What are you waiting for..?

Sunday 16 November 2014

Shoji Nishio Sensei - if you don't know him, you should!

Aikido Journal has a wonderful, in-depth course taught by Nishio Sensei. If you are interested in extending your Aikido knowledge, this course is worth every penny. Nishio Sensei was a marvellously skilful teacher who specialised in blending weapons practice with open-handed technique. You can read more about Nishio Sensei HERE and you can subscribe to the Aikido Journal course HERE. Meantime, here is a short taster.

Monday 10 November 2014

How to tie a belt for Aikido (or other martial arts)

New students (and some not so new students too) often have problems figuring out how to tie their belts. I just discovered this useful tutorial which should help to clarify the technique needed....

Sunday 9 November 2014

Aikido Weapons class next Tuesday

Just a reminder that there is no Aikido class on Monday (10th of November). However, Sensei Richard Small will be with us on Tuesday the 11th to teach a weapons class - start time, as usual, is 7:30. If you have a jo and boken, please bring them. If not, we also have a few spares available.

Sunday 2 November 2014

Aikido – change and decay…

(…or maybe not?)

What is the ‘true’ path of Aikido? Did O-Sensei define all of Aikido from A to Z for all time? If that is the case, are we wrong to practise techniques in ways that were not precisely defined by O-Sensei?

I know that many people feel that only by performing each technique in a precisely defined manner are we being ‘true’ to Aikido. But there is an alternative point of view which sees the practice of Aikido as a process of constant discovery: since no person and no attack can ever be quite the same as any other person or any other attack, each defence may change subtly in response to (or ‘in harmony with’) each attack. While both arguments have merit I must admit that personally I feel more inclined towards the latter point of view. But am I right? After all, by allowing techniques to change don’t we risk straying away from the heart of Aikido and just ‘making it up as we go along’?

“I must not inject my own opinion or in any way distort the direct transmission of O-Sensei’s Way.” --- Michio Hikitsuchi (Aikido Journal Interview)
Some Aikido masters have indeed voiced concern about the potentially damaging effect of making changes to Aikido. This concern was powerfully expressed by Michio Hikitsuchi Sensei (10th dan)  who said in an interview with Aikido Journal: “I must simply convey to the world exactly what I learned from O-Sensei. That is my responsibility. So, I must say only what O-Sensei said and teach only what O-Sensei taught. Nothing else. I must not inject my own opinion or in any way distort the direct transmission of O-Sensei’s Way.”

Morihiro Saito Sensei was equally concerned with maintaining the true transmission of the techniques taught to him by O-Sensei. This is how Saito explained himself in an interview with Gaku Homma: “I feel it is my obligation to teach the Founder’s Aikido to as many students as possible. When I die, a direct link to his technique will disappear. I have been given the gift of 23 years of experience with the Founder…What I have learned, I have learned from him, and what I have learned, I feel compelled to teach. “

Should we not then accept the views of these two great masters?  They considered it important to transmit faithfully the unmodified practice of Aikido just as they were taught it by the Founder. So are we to regard it as fundamentally wrong, decadent even, to introduce any changes to that purest form of our art?

“I think it is insufficient – unforgivable, in fact – for us to simply maintain the status quo.” --- Shoji Nishio (‘Aikido Yurusu Budo’)
But let’s consider an alternative viewpoint. In his book ‘Aikido Yurusu Budo’ (available from, the great master Shoji Nishio argues that we should not be afraid of the idea of Aikido changing and evolving over time. On the contrary, he says that “Budo techniques are not permanent and unchanging; if other things change, then naturally budo change in response. What does not change, of course, is the spirit of Aikido as it was taught by the Founder.”

This reminded me of a story Koichi Tohei Sensei tells in his book “Ki In Daily Life”. One of his students, a man who had only recently been graded to 1st dan, had moved to the island of Guam. At that time there was no Aikido club on Guam and he asked Tohei Sensei how he would be able to continue his training. Tohei told him that if there was no teacher on Guam, the 1st dan must become the teacher. The man felt he was too inexperienced to do so but Tohei persuaded him that even though he only held the rank of 1st dan, he understood the guiding principles of Aikido and that was sufficient. In other words, Tohei was saying that the principles are more important than the precisely defined form.

Nishio Sensei says this in his book: “Before the Founder passed away thirty-four years ago he told us, ‘This old man has brought [Aikido] this far; all of you must take it from here.’ In light of these words, I think it is insufficient – unforgivable, in fact – for us to simply maintain the status quo.’”

“Like language, [Aikido] has room for an infinite variety of creative uses of its elements and great elasticity of structure.” --- Mitsugi Saotome (‘Principles Of Aikido’)
Mitsugi Saotome Sensei in his book, ‘Principles Of Aikido expresses a similar idea; “I worry about the conflicts that I see arise between different styles and schools of Aikido,” he says, “People fight about which school is right, which one really represents O Sensei’s teaching. Some of these schools try to be claiming Aikido as if it were a brand name. This seems so unnecessary to me. No one can be an exact replica of O Sensei. Likewise, later generations of Aikido students cannot be identical copies of their teachers.”

Saotome argues that technical details do not mark out true Aikido. “If the principle and purpose are present,” he says, “any technique can be Aikido. If they are absent, so is Aikido.” He expands upon this idea in the book’s introduction: “No style – no particular set of forms – is, in and of itself, Aikido. You might think of Aikido as a language. As such it has its grammar and its rules, but that grammar is very broad and accommodating. Like language, it has room for an infinite variety of creative uses of its elements and great elasticity of structure.”

So what are we to make of this? Who is right: those who attempt to practise the techniques as closely as possible to the way they were taught by the Founder? Or those accept the principles but allow themselves great freedom in changing and developing the techniques?

In my view, this apparent conflict of ideas is false. It is simply the case that some people find it more satisfactory – more personally fulfilling – to practise and perfect what they might regard as the ‘canonical form’ of Aikido while others find equal fulfilment in experimentation, adaptation and evolution. And as Aikido is, for each practitioner, a personal journey, what is right for one person may by no means by right for all others.

I’ll give the final words to Saito Sensei (once again from his interview with Gaku Homma): “I would never say that Iwama-style Aikido is the only valid form of Aikido. Each instructor has his or her own individual character that is built on his or her cultural background and environment. It is only natural that different styles and different organizations have developed. Traveling all over the world has helped me to understand this, as I have come in contact with many different people, places, and cultures. I think it is good for students to learn from many different instructors and to practice at many different dojos.”

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Beginners Aikido Class this Thursday

If you travel between Bideford and Hartland you may have seen our banner at the side of the road (the A39) just opposite the Bucks Cross Post Office...

This Thursday (October 9th) we have a special class aimed at complete beginners. If you have never done a martial art, or if you've done a bit of Aikido (or another martial art) and want a gentle way back into it, please come along! We are a small, friendly class and we aim to introduce you gradually and easily to this wonderful, non-competitive art. I hope to see you there!

For information on how to find us, please see the Club Info page.

Sunday 21 September 2014

Free Aikido Beginners Class, October 9th

If you want to learn Aikido and you live in North Devon or Cornwall, this is your perfect opportunity. The Hartland Aikido Club will have a special free class for beginners on Thursday October the 9th from 7:30 to 9:30. The class will take place in the Bucks Cross Village Hall. If you want to learn the basics of Aikido, please come along and join us. You don't need any special clothing at first (something loose-fitting such as a track suit or a tee-shirt and casual trousers will be fine). There will be more experienced students to help out but this class is mainly aimed at helping complete newcomers to understand the basics.
By the way, if you live in the area and you can display a small poster (or you know of somewhere that will display a poster), I'd be very grateful if you could download and print a PDF version of our poster HERE.

Friday 29 August 2014

Aikido Mondays

From now on, the Hartland Aikido Club will meet every Monday and Thursday, week in, week out. In the past we have swapped the first Monday of each month for a Tuesday due to the Bucks Cross hall being used for other events. No longer. From Monday 1st of September we shall practise every Monday without fail. This has the advantage of simplicity - you know that we'll be there every week on exactly the same days. Sadly it also means that Sensei Small's monthly weapons classes have to be cancelled for the time being as he cannot make it on a Monday. We'll try to arrange some more 'special' classes with Sensei Small soon. In the meantime, bear in mind that Sensei Small runs his own weapons-based classes every Wednesday in Bideford. So if you want to master Aikido weapons, that is the place to go!

Friday 8 August 2014

Charity Aikido Event, North Devon, September 2014

If you are interested in Aikido and you can make it to Bideford, North Devon, this September (Saturday, the 20th), please come along and support the Aiki Peace Week Workshop in support of Macmillian Cancer Care. There will be four teachers (maybe more) and the topics taught will cover everything from ken and jo to knife defences and the application of yin and yang in Aikido and Daily Life. Everyone is welcome, no matter what style or school of Aikido you follow. The poster is shown below. For up to date information, be sure to visit Sensei Small's Bideford Aiki-jo site which carries all the latest details of this event.

Sunday 3 August 2014

Aikido, Aiki-Jo and Aiki-Peace

A reminder that there is no class this Monday (as it's the first Monday of the month), but once again we have a special Aiki-weapons workshop with Sensei Small at 7:30 on Tuesday (everyone welcome - please bring bokken and jo).

Also, Sensei Small's Bideford Aiki-jo web site now has some advance information on the special Aiki-Peace-Week event which takes place on the 20th of September. To keep up to date with this (and other) forthcoming events, be sure to visit Sensei Small's Events page.

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Is it Magic, or is it Aikido?

Derren Brown is a man who meddles with people's minds. In one of his TV shows he apparently made a young woman 'unliftable'. Well, so it seems. In Ki Aikido we have a number of training exercises in which we too become seemingly unliftable.

In the 19th Century a certain lady who went by the name of Annie May Abbott, but was more popularly known as the “Georgia Magnet” performed a series of amazing stunts in music halls which included, among other things, her 'supernatural' ability to increase her weight at will so that strong men could not lift her. Now whether the Georgia Magnet was using the same method as Derren Brown and whether either of them used the same method as we use in Aikido I cannot say. All I can say for sure is that, by mastering a few arts of relaxation and body control, almost anyone could create the same effect.

In fact, I wrote an article about The Georgian Magnet and the Aikido 'unraisable body' method for the benefit of some magician friends some years back. If you are interested, you can read it here:

Meanwhile, this is the Derren Brown version...

Friday 4 July 2014

Aiki weapons workshop next Tuesday

Just a reminder that there is no aikido class on Monday (7th July) but Sensei Small will be teaching an aiki-weapons class on Tuesday (8th July) at 7:30.

Friday 27 June 2014

Memories of Koichi Tohei, David Currie and Aikido in Italy

I just came across a batch of old photos that I hadn't seen in years. These are of the visit our Aikido Club made in 1987 to Florence, Italy (see here) to study at a seminar with Koichi Tohei Sensei. Great memories...  if anyone who was there happens to see this blog post, please get in touch. And if you have more photos, well, I'd love to see them!

Me posing as a white belt (I think I was brown belt at the time?)

Dermot (still to be found at the Hartland Club). He had only recently started aikido but decided to come along anyway - a wise choice as this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

My teacher, David Currie (foreground left, smiling at camera) and his wife Sue alongside. Various other old aikido chums (Maurice at centre back, Dennis, looking at camera on right). Happy days!

Friday 20 June 2014

Hartland Aikido Club T-shirt!

The Hartland Aikido Club now has a T-shirt! If you'd like to order one, talk to Sensei Huw when you come along to class....

Friday 30 May 2014

Kumi-jo Aikido Workshop in Bucks Cross

Sensei Small (4th dan Iwama) will be teaching a kumi-jo workshop at the Hartland Aikido Club in Bucks Cross Village Hall (between Bideford and Bude) on Tuesday June 3rd. There will be no class on Monday June 2nd. Everyone is welcome to attend Sensei Small's workshop. If you practise with some other Aikido club, you will be very welcome - so please come along and join us for the evening. The class starts at 7:30.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Thoughts on the Nature of Aikido

I happened to notice these two short videos in which Saganuma Sensei discusses elements of aikido and its practice. They are, I think, worth watching. I hope you find them of interest.

The Basics are The Ultimate Secrets...

Attitude in Training...

Monday 19 May 2014

Sankyo in Aikido

Sankyo is one of those core Aikido techniques that can give newcomers (or even people who've been practising for a few years) real problems. The main problem is not the sankyo grip itself but how to retain control throughout the technique. Often people 'take off' the sankyo as they pull down the arm, thereby making the technique ineffective. I encourage my students to practise the sankyo control as two separate movements: 1) rotate the arm around the pivot point established by the sankyo grip close to the wrist. Only then 2) point the arm towards the ground to move the uke.

Experienced practitioners take the uke down in a single movement - that is, they both rotate around the pivot-point and simultaneously take the arm down towards the floor. But in my experience beginners find this too complicated  to master as a single movement, which is why I encourage them to learn sankyo in the two steps outlined above.

Today I came across an alternative way of explaining the sankyo control. In this video (one of an excellent series made by the New York Aikikai), the instructor comments on the similarity between the sankyo 'cut' and a sword cut. "I don't want to point the fingers down and cut with the butt of the sword," he says, "I want to try to cut out with the tip and the elbow of the sword."

If you are having problems with sankyo, this video is worth watching...

Tuesday 29 April 2014

Principles of Aikido explained in a short video

Don't fight it, break the balance, move the centre, use your partner's motion.... how may times have we heard (or said) this? The basic principles of Aikido. Easy to say, not always so easy to do. But well demonstrated here by Okamoto Yoko Sensei. Worth a watch!

Saturday 19 April 2014

Aikido in Bucks Cross, Monday 21st (as normal)

We don't let a little think like a Bank Holiday stop us. We'll be doing Aikido, as usual, this coming Monday at 7:30 in Bucks Cross, North Devon. So why not come and join us? Naturally we'll have our regular class on Thursday too. And if that isn't enough to keep you going, remember that Sensei Richard Small, who is our club's senior weapons instructor, also has his own weapons-oriented class in Bideford every Wednesday at 7:00. See his site for more information.

Saturday 12 April 2014

Street-fighting Aikido for self-defence!

Yes, yes, I know that Aikido is the art of peace and that we strive to find harmony and gentleness in our technique. But that is only part of the story. Aikido is also a practical method of self-defence. In fact, my favourite Aikido book, written in the early '60s by Koichi Tohei under the supervision of the Founder, Morihei Ueshiba, is called "Aikido, The Co-ordination of Mind and Body for Self-defense". In my view, you can only fully understand Aikido if you study both the mental and the physical aspects, the soft and the hard. I came across this video made by a Czech Aikido club this week, emphasising the self-defence aspect of Aikido. What do you think...?

Sunday 6 April 2014

Aikido Class Schedule, April 2014

There are a few changes to our schedule this month. There are no classes on Monday 7th April or on Thursday 17th April. There is, however, a special jo workshop (the third of three devoted to the 31 Count Kata) given by Sensei Small this Tuesday (8th of April). Apart from that, all our classes are as usual each Monday and Thursday. All classes start at 7:30.

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Our Three Aikido Instructors - get to know the Hartland Aikido Club!

We may be a tiny club in a remote area of North Devon, but even so the Hartland Aikido Club can offer students a much broader range of Aikido teaching than many big city-based clubs. How come? Well, it turns out that we have no less than three black-belt instructors who have been practising Aikido since the '70s and '80s. What's more, the instructors have experience of a very varied range of Aikido 'styles'. Huw Collingbourne has been taught principally in the 'Ki Aikido' style which incorporates numerous 'Ki exercises' to cultivate calmness under pressure (both in and out of the dojo). Pete Blayney has practised with many different clubs and teachers and he brings to the Hartland Club a vast knowledge of practical self-defence techniques and skills. Finally, Richard Small is an expert in weapons (jo and bokken) as taught by the 'Iwama' school of Aikido. For more information see the Instructors Page.

Whether you are new to Aikido or an old hand you may find that the unusually wide range of skills available from the three instructors at the Hartland Club will help you either to discover Aikido for the first time or else to broaden your existing skills.

Everyone who has an interest in Aikido is welcomed at the Hartland Club. Have no fear that you will be told that yours is the 'wrong' style of Aikido or that we won't practise with students from your organisation! On the contrary, it is our aim to work together and explore all aspects of this wonderful martial art. So if you are in the area, please come and join us!

Monday 24 March 2014

Aikido, Japanese Martial Art, from North Devon to Hollywood!

OK, OK, so let's be honest, your chances of becoming the next Steven Seagal are probably pretty remote. Having said that, James O'Donnell the chief instructor with the British Ki Aikido Association (to which the Hartland Aikido Club is affiliated) is a professional movie stunt man. See him in action here:

And then, of course, there is Seagal...

Nope, I can't promise that if you learn Aikido with us, here in North Devon, you'll end up in Hollywood. But stranger things have happened. So why not come and join us? Who knows where it might take you....!

Thursday 6 March 2014

Aikido Is Bullshit

No, I didn't say that! This is the opinion of Master Ken. And who am I to disagree? master Ken is, after all, the highest ranked (11th dan) martial artist on this or any other planet. Sadly there are no Ameri-do-te classes here in North Devon. So I guess I'll just have to stick with Aikido! ;-)

Friday 28 February 2014

31 Count jo kata workshop (part 2) next week

Just a reminder that there is no class next Monday (3rd March) but we have an extra class - the second in a series of workshops on the 31-count jo kata, taught by Sensei Richard Small - on Tuesday the 4th, at 7:30. If you want to learn this kata or deepen your understanding of it, this is a fantastic opportunity. Members of other aikido clubs (or organisations) are most welcome to join us.

Our new Aikido yellow belt

Congratulations to Nic Croll who took, and passed, his yellow belt grading last night. Nic has made fantastic progress in the few months he's been practising with us. Now onward to that orange belt!

Thursday 30 January 2014

31 Count Kata Workshop next Tuesday

There is no Aikido next Monday (3rd February). But on Tuesday evening (4th February, at 7:30) we have a special workshop on the 31-count jo kata. You may have seen this kata, maybe you've even practised it - but probably very few people who do Aikido have had the opportunity to study it in depth. This kata is at the heart of the Iwama Aikido syllabus, but there are not many Aikido clubs that have access to an expert Iwama Aikido teacher. We are very fortunate, therefore, to have the opportunity of being taught this kata in real depth by Sensei Richard Small, a 4th dan Iwama Aikido teacher, who specialises in the bokken and jo. This is the first of a series of jo workshops which Sensei Small will teach at our club. The cost is £5 for two hours or £3 for retired/unwaged. Please bring a bokken and jo (if you have them - if not the club will provide them) and proof of insurance.

These workshops are open to anyone who is interested in studying the jo in more depth. You do not need to be a member of the Hartland Aikido Club or its parent association (The BKAA), nor do you need to have any prior experience of the 31 count jo kata. Please note that the Hartland Aikido Club welcomes all interested parties and if you currently practise with some other Aikido organisation (of any Aikido style) you will be very welcome to join us. This is a great opportunity to learn this important kata, so please come along!

Sunday 12 January 2014

You're never too old...

Not all of us in the Hartland Aikido Club (myself included!) are in the 'springtime of our youth'. But that doesn't stop us setting a pace that challenges the younger members.

Some people, as they grow older, slow down, do less exercise, tell themselves they should 'take it easy' at their time of life. I tend to go to the other extreme: the older I get, the less time I have to do all the stuff I want to do, so I accelerate the pace rather than slow it down.

I was interested to read this piece in The Washington Post recently, about a 70 year-old athlete and coach who seems to share my views. Joel Friel cycles for about two hours a day and also does weightlifting and plays golf. His activities are significantly different from mine. My exercise principally takes the form of aikido a few times a week and long walks with my dogs a few times a day. But the principle is the same: don't give give up, don't slow down. You may need to change your activities if your body can no longer cope or if you have specific health problems, but stopping them is simply not an option.

This is what Friel says about staying active in his 70s...
"I’m highly motivated. I always enjoy going for ride, but sometimes younger athletes, although they want to, they can’t. They have so many things in their lives that interfere [such as] trying to start a career and raise a family. I’ve been through that. Now I can do things as I want to do them. That’s one of the beauties of getting older: You have much more freedom in your life. I’m taking advantage of that in every way that I can."
Good advice, I think!

Friday 10 January 2014

Tohei Sensei Aikido video, 1957

Someone recently posted this video of Tohei Sensei showing a mix of exercises and techniques back in 1957. I thought some of you might find it interesting.