A self indulgent look back by Andrew Baird
40 years ago this September (2013) I started Aikido at the Reading University Club under Ron Russell Sensei who was from "The Hut". "The Hut" being exactly that and was one of the beings of Aikido in the UK more about that later.
The Reading club appears to have been a member of the Renown Society founded in 1966 by Ken Williams Sensei, after Abbe Sensei returned to Japan, and was based at the Hut in West Drayton. The Reknown Society had broken up after a couple of years, prior to me starting. However, is still showed on the membership card for the club.
A new association, The Institute of Aikido was formed by Hayden Foster Sensei who was based at "The Hut" in 1973. Ron was one of his teachers.
But this background was lost on a person who had not done much physical activity before, Someonewho had spent time trying to avoid school sports!
I was intrigued by Aikido because my brain could see and understood the simple moves but would my body obey the brain - no. The syllabus was simple 6th Kyu - all aihanmi moves - known as 1st form, gyaku - 2nd Form for 5th Kyu; then 4th Kyu was katadori etc.
The belt system was the traditional coloured belt system. It was a club tradition at that time to keep the same belt and to dye the new colour. Immense satisfaction if one did it right so the new colour stayed on the belt and didn't come off onto the suit.
In 1974 I went to the Hut every Sunday for their morning practise - this is just what it says a large wooden building at the back of the pub that was "The Hut" (http://www.thehutdojo.co.uk/). (I only have a photo of the pub!?)
I travelled up from Reading to West Drayton - courtesy of Janice who had a car but had not passed her test and myself who had no car but a full driving license. I met and was taught by leading characters of Aikido – Andy Allan and Hamish MacFarlane and Hayden Foster.
I became secretary of the Reading club - until 1976 when I emerged from the white ivory tower of education to get my first job in Stockport and carrying the grade of 3rd Kyu.
Finding Aikido in those days was not an easy matter as there was no internet or central register. So it was papers, word of mouth and mainly visits to local libraries to try and locate clubs.
I found the Lancashire Aikikai and Bob Spence in a class in Moss Side I think it was a Tuesday and the Manchester & District Aikikai (MADA) had classes on a Thursday at Bagley, Manchester and on a Saturday afternoon in Blackley.
As far as I was concerned it was Aikido and grabbed as many classes as I could. The difference to the Institute of Aikido style was not a million miles apart and I enjoyed the practise. Although a little more positive in application. MADA (Manchester and District Aikikai) Don and Mary Pybus I found out were former students of the Mr Mucha at Lancashire Aikikai whose paths had separated. So practising had its problems with feet in two different camps.
The Lancashire Aikikai had been part of the Aikikai of Great Britain(AGB) upto 1975/6 but there was a parting of the ways tied in with Chiba Sensei leaving the UK. So I joined the Lancashire Aikikai as they were finding their own feet but really wasn't aware of this as Mr Mucha provided a strong lead both in Aikido and expectations.
In 1977 I briefly flirted with karate for 6 months to broaden my experience
In 1978 I set up a class on a Friday in Hazel Grove Leisure Centre for Mr Mucha with his strong encouragement - a cunning plan on my part to have a further training session and also on my doorstep.
See photo below, our opening night, Mr Mucha throwing me
This was the parting of the ways between both Associations for me and Lancashire Aikikai became my concentration – as MADA was not impressed.
A year or so later Mr Spence moved his class from Moss Side to the College of Building in the middle of Manchester. As it was a new class for the college - no mats where there initially but you learnt good ukemi - because having no mats didn't bother the class teacher Mr Spence.
The Hazel Grove club became popular and Keith Downs started with us and he facilitated a move to the Mirrless Judo Club building that, was to me, very much "Hut" like. The club grew and by 1984 had 3 training sessions - Sue Baird, Peter Philippson, Mary Gibbs and Christine Shepherd started here. Graham Harrison visited us on many of the Sunday classes.
This was a dojo with double doors that could be opened once you had warmed the mat up and melted the ice from the canvas!
This dojo was where Tony Davies one of our newest Dan Grades started Aikido many years ago as a keen youngster still at school.
Aikikai courses then ran four in the year rather like at present but there was a difference - a Saturday afternoon for high grades and teachers – the so called Teachers courses. These, in my experience, tended to be more technical aikido than coaching - at least initially.
Although coaching was raised in profile when coaching theory was expounded as well from Mr Spence the following day (a Sunday) saw the general course. Both days taking place at the Chorley Community Centre where Mr Mucha was based.
A treat was to be taught Shiatsu from time to time. Equally there were whole day specials run from time to time on Zen meditation.
Mr Mucha depth of knowledge and experience was vast but wasn't always plain sailing being taught. Equally the Dan Grades were demanding of kyu grades proving that you couldn't do a technique. (The now so called Sensei effect)
I also remember constantly being told off when Mr Harrison and myself practised at Chorley that we were accused of fighting. I think this is a reference to our exploration of a technique.
Also practising with one's wife did not impress Mr Mucha either.
Mr Spence became the Chief Instructor of the Aikikai in 1979 and the first courses in Mirrlees started running in 1983.
I was graded 1st Dan in 1981.
My progress and interest in Aikido continued unabated but gradually began picking up Aikido paperwork. In the early eighties I began editing the Aikikai newsletters - see the Resource section on the Aikikai website and then assuming duties as Secretary of the Association that I continue to be to this day and whilst others took on the newsletter - that has gone full circle and again is being edited by me.
In mid 1980's I practiced Kendo, on and off for two years, with Wilf Swindells Sensei who ran a class in Cheadle.
The Aikikai decided to join the British Aikido Board (BAB) in 1987 and I drove Mr Mucha to these meetings. Interesting because the meeting was a part of the day - after the talking all Board members got on the mat to practise. It was interesting practising with Heads of Association and other Dan Grades. A great way of breaking down barriers
1989 saw me leaving Stockport Club in Keith Downs's hands as I moved to a house in Trafford to be nearer my new job. This was an opportunity to start a new club in Altrincham - which continues to this day running at one time about 10 years ago 4 sessions in a week we currently offer 3.
Trafford Aikido grew because of the efforts of many on and off the mat. A real sense of family, partly because whole families were practising - the Wallaces, Shepherds, Wilsons and my own family.
In 1990, I became for ten years, the BAB's Coaching Liaison Officer, steering the Board through setting up a national coaching scheme from scratch. At the same time Mr Spence became the BAB's lead Coach Tutor that created the coaching award scheme for the BAB following the demise of the Martial Arts Commission.
This work brought me into contact with many teachers in the Aikido community.
I've continued with my secretarial duties for the Aikikai and took the Aikikai in the internet age from the early days when dial up modems were used to now our multi paged website.
It gives me pleasure to see my time with people who have attended my classes in the past and the progress they have made including opening their own clubs through the years.
At the risk offending by omission or inclusion with my failing memory they are - Sue Baird, Christine Shepherd, Chris Wallace, Wendy Wallace, Kevin Wallace, Hywel Nicholas, Lawrence Robinson, Hephzi Yohannon, Marco Ford, Dave Barber, Mark Britten, Peter Philippson, Mary Gibbs, Brian Morris, Petra Savage, Keith Downs, John Scanlan, Tony Davies, Steve Whittle, Neil Wright, Nick Alderson, Charlie Pendlebury
1990 Dan Grades
Reflecting back for Aikidoka - what have I learnt? The importance or significance of the foundations and putting hours and hours into perfecting technical movements.
To then practice further hours in flowing and blending to accustom the body to feel. I have a theory that our ki development comes from inherently learning blending and doing but one needs to be diligent.
5th Dan; Level 3 Senior Coach BAB