AIKIDO – make the most of your leaders

October 2, 2010

A very nice piece by George Ledyard.

I just heard the news that Sugano Sensei had passed away. Another direct student of the Aikido Founder whose lifetime of experience is no longer available to us. Here in the United States we have lost A. Tohei, Toyoda, Kanai, and now Sugano Sensei. That leaves Yamada, Chiba, Saotome, and Imaizumi Senseis from that generation of post war uchi deshi who trained directly under the Founder.

The depth of experience these teachers possess is truly irreplaceable, they are an “endangered species”. As these giants pass away, one bu one, I can’t help but raise the question once again of who takes over when these men are gone?

I don’t mean who runs the various organizations presides over testing, etc. That’s just administration. I mean who takes on the responsibility for the “transmission” to the next generation? Who is even capable of taking on this mantle? Did any one of these teachers manage to pass on what he knew? Can you look at the succession and say that any of these teachers created any students who were as good as they were / are? And if not, why not?

In my opinion, many of us senior students, direct students of these giants who trained with the Founder and then pioneered Aikido’s growth overseas, have failed our teachers and failed our art. We squandered the time we had with these people, always acting as if there would be another class, another seminar, another chance to master what they knew. And now, increasingly there will be no more chances. And who amongst us has measured up?

There has been a lot of discussion about the failure both the Founder and many of his most talented students to develop a systematic teaching methodology for transmitting the art. I agree that this was the case. But once realizing this, whose responsibility was it to fix the issue? Once I realized that my own teacher was doing Aikido on a level that he could not break down and explain, whose job was it to figure it out?

If we can honestly and dispassionately look at what our generation to teachers has achieved in 35 to 45 years of practice and find that we are forced to admit that none of us is as good as our teacher, then I think we have to really look at the hard fact that we failed to do our jobs. We can blame our teachers for not doing a better job, we can content ourselves with excuses based on some “special” capacity or experience on the part of our teachers, which we could never measure up to…

We got in the habit of ceding control over our own Aikido destinies to the senior teachers. We waited for them to create training events, do seminars, tell us what they wanted us to know… If they looked satisfied, then we ere satisfied. Just as long as Sensei was happy. But did any of us feel like we had really mastered what our teachers were doing? If we actually did feel that way, did we move on and find the next teacher who could take us to the next level? Did we simply content ourselves with knowing more of what our teachers were doing than the general membership within our organization and give up on trying to be as good or better than our teachers?

I think that the passing of our teachers, one by one, is a wake up call for the community of senior teachers. As tragic as it is to have our teachers passing on, retiring, etc. the one positive is that its our turn now. We can’t blame any failngs on anyone else. If Aikido fails to measure up, it’s our fault. We can’t blame our teachers, blame Hombu, blame Kisshomaru, or O-Sensei. It is our art now and our responsibility. If we don’t feel like we have measured up to our own teachers, well, what is stopping us? The sources for taking our Aikido to the next level are out there. There are very high level teachers who are in the process of entirely retooling their Aikido, even after 40 plus years of training.

It is time for us to start acting like the leaders we will need to be to assure the transmission. I do not think we should any longer be waiting for our Shihan to create events, teach seminars, determine the direction of our training. I think we should be doing so. I think we should basically dispense with all this “style” or organizational nonsense and begin to support each other as senior American teachers. Collectively we have a vast experience which, if we shared, would benefit each other. We have connections to teachers from outside the art who offer some of the “missing pieces” that could take us all up to or even past our teachers. If we network with each other and share these connections, rather than horde them as giving us some advantage over the others, we could get our own training on the right track and model a far superior modus operandi for the next generation.

I look at Ikeda Sensei traveling all over setting up cross style and organizational “Bridge” Seminars and I ask myself, “why do we need to wait for someone like him to do this?” We should be doing this! We simply do not need to wait for someone senior to initiate positive change. It is our job to do so, starting right away.

When one of the giants like Sugano Sensei passes away, if people have to cast about ion their minds for who could fill those shoes, then we have not done our jobs. I do not mean whether the general membership has accepted someone as a future leader… I mean do we as those future leaders feel we ourselves could train another student to fill those shoes? If we do not feel we could do so, then the transmission is broken.

Most of us are getting to be around sixty now. We have perhaps 20 years, if we are lucky, to pass on what we know. If, in our questioning of ourselves we decide that we are not what we could or should have been, then we have only that twenty years to both take ourselves up to that level AND pass it on to another generation. We need to step up to the plate and become the leaders we have been trained to be. If we start now, perhaps we will actually be ready when there are no more uchi deshi left to fall back on and it is entirely up to us.

Every time we lose another treasure like Sugano Sensei, a greater burden of responsibility falls on us. We need to make sure we measure up and we need to make sure we are in position to pass it on. If we are not, then we need to do something about it, right now, not later. Later is too late.

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British Aikido – full circle…

December 18, 2009

An Article by Henry Ellis sensei, who along with Ken & David Williams, Haydn W Foster and Eric Dollimore, was one of the original group of students in the UK first taught Aikido at The Hut dojo by Kenshiro Abbe back in the late 1950’s.

I spent the first 15-20 years of my Aikido career studying at the infamous “Hut Dojo” in London, for a long time acting as assistant to Sensei H W Foster 7th (affectionalty referred to by many as “The Guv’nor” or “The Boss”!) so this piece was of particular interest to me. I’ve met and trained with Ellis sensei, and he is a real character.

British Aikido ~ Full Circle
By Henry Ellis 6th Dan International Birankai

Aikido Legacy

The history of British Aikido offers a rich and proud legacy for the genuine students of both today and of the future. A well documented history from its inception in 1955 by the legendary Budo Master Kenshiro Abbe Sensei. This documented factual Aikido history and lineage is now supported and acknowledged by the highly respected Japanese Budo Master – T K Chiba Shihan – a teacher who became the first official resident Aikikai Hombu representative to Britain in 1966, at the invitation of K Abbe Sensei, following discussions earlier with O’Sensei Morihei Ueshiba in 1964.

Chiba Shihan has stated that the early endeavours of the British Aikido pioneers is unappreciated, Sensei now intends to write a document on the history of British Aikido with the help and personal insight of Sensei’s H Foster – H Ellis – D Eastman.

Kenshiro Abbe Sensei 1915 ~ 1985

Kenshiro Abbe Sensei arrived in the UK in 1955, principally to teach Judo, there followed various demonstrations of Budo where he would demonstrate his skills in other Budo Arts, several that had never been seen in Britain before, such as the then unknown art of Aikido, which he had personally learned directly from O’Sensei Morihei Ueshiba himself in the 1940s. It was this early powerful style of Traditional Aikido that he introduced to the UK during a National Judo Championships at the Royal Albert Hall in 1955. Kenshiro Abbe Sensei then chose a willing Judoka student named Ken Williams Sensei as his first student of Aikido. Williams Sensei began teaching Aikido at what is the now famous dojo, “The Abbe School of Budo”. Internationally affectionately known, simply as the “Hut Dojo “.

The UK First Generation Aikidoka

In those early days, Sensei Williams first created what was a solid group of hardcore students, they would be the birth of UK Aikido starting at the Hut Dojo. Which soon became better known as the “Hell Dojo “. The first five UK Aikido Dan grades were as follows, K Williams ~ D Williams ~ E Dollimore ~ H Foster ~ H Ellis. They are often referred to as the “first generation “. Later the five became eight, today there are only four survivors from those golden days of UK Budo from the 1950s with Abbe Sensei, – K Williams ~ H Foster ~ H Ellis ~ D Eastman ( second generation 1958 ).- they are now referred to by Chiba Shihan and others as the “ British Aikido pioneers “.

All Dan grades Re-Graded

All of the afore-mentioned Dan grades were initially graded by Kenshiro Abbe Sensei. The first teacher Abbe Sensei invited to the UK was M Nakazono Sensei, at the end of his first class and to their surprise, they were advised that on the instructions of Abbe Sensei, they were all to be re-graded by Masahilo Nakazono Sensei, this was Nakazono Sensei’s first visit to the UK in the very early 1960s. Their Dan grade diplomas are very rare and special. They were approved by both Abbe Sensei ~ Nakazono Sensei ~ approved in Japan by the Aikikai, signed by O’Sensei Morihei Ueshiba the founder of Aikido. These were the first ever Aikikai Dan grades in the UK. It just does not get any better than that!

TK Chiba Shihan ~ Invitation

In 2008, TK Chiba Shihan, technical director of the International Birankai, requested a meeting with Sensei’s ~ Haydn Foster ~ Henry Ellis ~ Derek Eastman, for a re-union at the “Hut Dojo“. A meeting with the ` old pioneers `. Chiba Shihan cordially invited them all to join as associate members of the ` British Birankai`.

We were honoured by this request, which we readily accepted; there would be several more re-unions to follow with Chiba Shihan at the Hut Dojo, which is situated at the rear of an old pub “The Hut “Hillingdon London. The Hut pub in the 1950s was austere with outside tin shack toilets, today the Hut is a very popular up-market pub with an excellent restaurant. In those early days the only food available was a packet of crisps.

Over the next year and several more pub lunches with Chiba Shihan, the ` old pioneers ` shared their collective memories of those ` golden years `. It was most gratifying to hear Chiba Shihan thank us for what we had achieved in the promotion of Aikido in the UK in those very difficult early days. Earlier that year, at the start of Chiba Shihan’s speech at the British Birankai Bangor Summer School celebration dinner, Sensei indicated towards the three original pioneers and stated , These gentlemen are the true pioneers of British Aikido “!!.

This was the first time we had been able to sit and talk freely with Chiba Sensei, which helped not only Sensei, but us also, to enable us to clear up some of the early misunderstandings that had taken place when he first arrived in 1966. It became clear that Chiba Sensei had not been advised or prepared for the “political“ situation of Aikido in the UK before leaving Japan. In a reverse situation, we in Britain had never been informed by K Abbe Sensei of the proposed invitation and eventual arrival of a resident Aikikai representative. Chiba Sensei appeared pleased to ask and clear up some points that he still had a question mark to them, we in turn learned so much from these meetings. It was also very important to the three of us that Chiba Shihan had personally initiated this re-union in celebration of our proud Aikido history and lineage. This now justifies the long struggle to protect our Aikido heritage from some very unsavoury British Aikidoka.

Jei Nakazono Sensei, second son of Masahilo Nakazono, wrote to me to say that his father considered the early British Aikido Dan grades as the “True Budo men of Europe! “. He added I was just a schoolboy then, I could not wait for my father to return home to Paris after his visits to Britain, to tell me wonderful stories of the brave British Budo men, they were the hardest students he had ever met .

I recall Masahilo Nakazono Sensei saying to all the Dan grades at the end of his first visits to the Hut Dojo “ You could all train at the Hombu dojo on equal terms with all that study there ! “, that was quite a compliment to us then, and still is today.

At our last meeting at the Hut Dojo in August 2009, we were all very pleased and honoured to receive our 6th Dan `International Birankai` diplomas from TK Chiba Shihan. We all agreed there is no other Aikido master that we would want to receive such an honour from than TK Chiba Shihan.

Here we were again in the old “ Hut Dojo “, a place with a heart of its very own, a place where so many of the early Budo masters had left their indelible footprints on the tatami, a place where we had all started our Aikido careers in the 1950s. A place where we had forged so many lifelong friendships, sadly, where we had lost some of the early Dan grades such as Andy Allen Sensei ~ Hamish MacFarlane Sensei and others. Sad that so many have passed on, yet, the Hut Dojo is still vibrant, alive and full of memories, Britain’s first Aikido dojo with the first Aikido students. This is where we had been graded by Kenshiro Abbe Sensei and Masahilo Nakazono Sensei, M Noro Sensei; our treasured diploma’s received from the Aikikai signed by O’Sensei Morihei Ueshiba.

Now more than 50 years later, here we are, back at ` The Hut ` where it all started so many years ago, now , proudly receiving our 6th Dan diploma’s from TK Chiba Shihan, a direct student of O’Sensei. The first official resident representative of the Aikikai Hombu for the UK.