By Sensei Henry Ellis
In articles parts one and two I have covered the introduction of Aikido to the West, and the impact on other Martial Artists, Aikido progressed and developed in the UK by visiting existing dojos of all the various Martial Arts and offering to demonstrate and teach for free in the hope of starting a small class in the more receptive dojos, as one can imagine this was no easy task as more often than not our efforts were not an open invitation to most dojos.
In the end the positive style of the early Aikido won through, and this is a very important point to make in the early development of Western Aikido was that most of the new students of Aikido were from other Martial Arts. I do not believe that we could have converted other Martial Artists to Aikido had it not been so strong and effective.
I have referred to the many changes in Aikido over the past 46 years from its history to training and choreography and Ki Aikido and also the many Harry Potters of the Aikido world, as a direct result of these articles I was contacted by a Aikido student in the UK to tell me that she had now stopped training in Aikido because her teacher stated that he was now going to teach the students "To breath through their toes".
The most important of all the changes that have taken place in the past 46 years have to be the changes in technique and its application, the early style of Aikido was very compact and powerful. From the day of its introduction to the UK, Aikido was always taught as a circular moving Martial Art with Tori at the centre of all movement.
As Uke (the attacker) made his attack, Tori would turn within his own circle making it possible to carry out the technique in a very small area of maybe four square feet. Today the fantasy aikidoist need a football pitch.
I have seen some so called "masters" twirling Uke around on the end of one finger and pirouetting several times before being thrown the full length of the mat.
Kenshiro Abbe Sensei always taught that Uke would only "go" if the technique was effective. I often hear and have seen some of these people who say they can throw an opponent without touching them, sometimes by breathing and projecting their "Ki". I have also had the misfortune to see very high grades with several "*attackers*" :-) making a breakfalling attack at them, amusing? not really, as most of them really believe that the projectile uki is a serious attack.
You cannot do that if someone is attacking on balance, I have never seen anyone do that to a student of mine. Of course if you do attack on balance you will then be accused of "Not harmonising".
Aikido for real
I have read various accounts of the first Americans to practice Aikido in the early 60's. There were Americans practicing Aikido in the UK in the late 1950's at "The Hut" The Abbe School of Budo.
The Americans were members of the USAF stationed in the UK. they were always questioning " How would that work in the street?" and we would often finish up in the car park of The Hut after class and engage in some real Aikido.
Afterwards everyone would be in good spirits and have a few beers.
Sunday mornings were always the best practice sessions with the dojo doors being locked to all but the Dan grades. It was then that the Dan grades would fight each other for real. This was the only way to truly evaluate your technique.
On one occasion I was fighting with Sensei Ken Williams (The British National Coach) he hit me hard and I went down clutching my chest and moaning loudly in agony.
It was known that I didn't go down and I never made a fuss, so now everyone was concerned for me and as Sensei Williams leaned over me asking "Harry, are you OK" I lashed out with my fist at his head, just making a glancing contact, he then stepped back and kicked me in the head putting an end to my cunning.
The smallest of all the Dan grades was Eric Dollimore, he was only about 5ft-6in in height and around 130 lbs.
I always felt that Eric was avoiding me on these Sunday morning sessions, as he was about to leave the mat I said to him "Eric, would you like to try against me" he just turned and said "Sorry Harry, I have to be at my girlfriends home for lunch". As he left the mat I smiled to myself and thought "That's what I expected" the smugness did not last long as I heard a voice behind me say
"OK then Harry, can we make it quick as I must get away".
It was Eric; for a moment I was surprised then I thought to myself if you want it quick I will accommodate you.
I moved in to take him out with the one punch and the next thing I knew I had gone through the dojo office partition wall and I was still lying stunned the office floor when I heard Eric's voice call out "See you Monday Harry, gotta go".
That was a very important lesson to me, I have never underestimated anyone since the little guy taught me a lesson.
The Grading Lottery
If in the 1950's and 60's you saw a 5th or 6th Dan you would be in awe of him. I now see so many multi grades and to be honest they would not be graded first Dan in the old days. They make these claims knowing that if they are ever challenged and prove their mettle they know they can claim that this is against the principals of Aikido.
Another favourite of these people is to juggle around with their grades and come up with multiples of matching grades.
Mitsusuke Harada Sensei "5th Dan"
Harada Sensei was my Karate teacher in the 1960's, he was then and still is a 5th Dan at the Shotokan dojo in Tokyo. he was graded by the founder of modern day Karate Gichin Funakoshi Sensei.
He taught Karate to the USAF at the Kodokan dojo after the second world war. He was graded 5th Dan by Funakoshi Sensei in 1957 and is still 5th Dan after 45 years, stating that "Any grade above 5th Dan is totally pointless".
This is exactly the feeling of Sensei Derek Eastman and myself, although we are two of the only remaining four of the original group left of Kenshiro Abbe Sensei's group from the 1950's, we both agreed that there were too many "Harry Potter" grades around, we then decided that like Harada Sensei we would make 5th Dan the highest level in our organisation.
I will take a break now that these articles are complete and do some serious "Toe breathing".
This will be my last article for CyberKwoon for a while, I would like to thank Master Fabien Sena for allowing me to air my views on a subject most would try to avoid.
I do not know what direction the Martial Arts will take when all the "Old Timers " are gone.
As one of the comments (to the Cyberkwoon site forum) said "We can still make a difference".
To the one who asked after my father, he was not a martial artist, just a hard man who started working at the age of 13 years two miles underground in the South Yorkshire coal mines.
Sensei Ellis (5th dan Traditional Aikido) is one of the most experienced Aikido instructors in the United Kingdom and is Principal Instructor of the Ellis Schools of Traditional Aikido. http://www.EllisAikido.org