But before I get onto that, let me describe the Diorama in more detail since (unless you are one of my old aikido chums) I think it is pretty unlikely that you have ever done aikido in a Diorama.
Opened in 1823 the Diorama was a building of circular construction, rather like a roofed Colosseum with various extensions branching off from around the edges. Within the central area a paying audience could watch huge pictures of thrilling spectacles such as the eruption of Mount Aetna. It was, I suppose, the IMAX of its day. Moggs’ Guide describes it thus: “This is a very extraordinary and beautiful exhibition; it consists of two pictures that are alternately brought into view by a very ingenious mechanical contrivance; the interior resembling a theatre, consisting of one tier of boxes and a pit, being made to revolve upon a centre with the spectators, thus gradually withdraws one picture and introduces the other to the view. A judicious introduction of the light, and other contrivances, give increased effect to pictures beautifully painted, which, by a concentration of talent, completes an illusion that with perfect justice may be pronounced ‘the acme of art’.”
|Plan of the London Diorama|
On Thursday afternoons I would go to a middle-sized room just off the Diorama’s central area for a private lesson with my teacher, Sensei Currie. These lasted one hour but they usually seemed much longer. Sensei Currie would put me through some very tough tests of my skill – I remember doing several weeks practising defences against knives. These days many aikido clubs never use live blades – this is due to insurance restrictions and issues of health and safely. Back in the early ‘80s we had no such concerns. Then Sensei Currie decided that knives were too simple so he asked my attackers to think of other weapons to bring. They accepted his challenge with glee. For a few weeks thereafter I was attacked with weapons ranging from bottles to baseball bats. The most terrifying weapon of all was a pump-action ‘corkscrew’. This may not sound all that scary. But think about it. In effect, this was a device like a hypodermic syringe filled with air – not only was it very sharp, but it was also very easy to conceal. Strange as it may seem, I was glad when we went back to mere knives!
On Monday evenings the black belt class was held in the same room of The Diorama. The black belt classes were, to say the least, vigorous and during the summer months the walls of the room ran with condensation while pools of sweat ran the length and breadth of the mats.
By the time I was first dan I was practising four times a week: the general class in the Finsbury Leisure Centre, the black-belt class and my private lesson in The Diorama, and Sensei Mark Greenley’s class in Muswell Hill. In addition, I had also opened my own club in Queen’s Crescent, close to Kentish Town in North London. So, including that night, I was doing aikido five times a week. Little did I know at the time how fortunate I was to have so many opportunities to practise aikido at quite a high level.
|Here I am (ah, so young!) brutally throwing a harmless yellow-belt student in my London club in Queen's Crescent.|