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Positive Aikido - Part Two

Positive Aikido - Part Two..

When I was teaching in America, I was asked to visit a large dojo in Texas. Everything they said was in Japanese, so I tried to look as if I understood, but to be honest I didn't have a clue, and I don't suppose a Japanese person would understand much of our Western interpretation of their language either. I am often asked what are the best books or videos to buy, and I always point to the tatami and say: "That's where it's at!".

In the beginning, Abbe Sensei would not discuss Ki (spirit, mind, energy) - he said you had to be 1st Dan before you could understand. I still agree with that. What I find a little disturbing in Aikido is that some people really believe that Ki is almost a form of magic. Abbe Sensei's method was that you first trained very hard physically to develop your spirit and your mind. He said that when the body says it is tired the strong mind will override it and carry on.

Some teachers of Ki Aikido have had previous study of traditional Aikido, and this, along with the practice of Ki, is good. But the students who have been taught only Ki style cannot fall back on to the good, solid, traditional style when in difficulty with certain techniques. My own students are aware of Ki and its meaning, but it is not a word I use very often. I teach students the flow and power of breathing as an important part of their exercise and Aikido training.

During Nakazono Sensei's last visit to the UK, he asked me to be his assistant at a demonstration at a venue in Acton, London, for Otani Sensei. Chiba Sensei was there too, but only as a spectator. Knowing how hard Nakazono was from past experience, I feared the worst and thought I was in for a hard time, but Sensei was a little older and had changed dramatically. I think he threw me only twice, and then we spent about an hour kneeling while Sensei went into some very deep philosophy which none of us could understand. Even Chiba Sensei looked puzzled, and when I think of this particular seminar, I wonder: Is this how O'Sensei changed?

When I saw Nakazono Sensei again in Santa Fe, New Mexico, he gave me two books he had written, and signed them for me. I spent about four hours at his home, and he and his wife made me most welcome, which made me think: Yes, I am a privileged student.

After 40 years in the Martial Arts, with many friends who are bouncers, boxers, fellow Martial Artists and Street fighters, it is my honest opinion that the hardest man to beat is the natural street fighter. My assistant for many years and a great personal favourite of Chiba Sensei, was 'Mad' Geoff Goodwin, who disappeared some years ago. Geoff came from Derbyshire and followed me to London, where he later became my special assistant. He was a natural-born street fighter and we had some great battles.

My son, Richard, who studied Aikido from the age of 5 and continued until he was 14 years old, is also a natural street fighter. He has now been back into Aikido for a year and is running the junior section with great success. We often practice together and I try my techniques against him, and with his natural balance and Aikido training, his reactions and responses are very fast. It makes you very aware that an opponent has more than one hand.

I teach as Abbe Sensei did, that Uke must attack on balance, remember at all times that two people are practising, Tori to throw, and Uke Atemi and Ukemi. What I don't allow is the Uke attacking with his or her back leg off the mat. I also don't like to see Uke trotting around Tori's circle on his toes like a trained poodle on a lead, waiting for the instruction to jump!

You have dojos in the United States affiliated to your school, I believe.

Yes, in Dallas, Texas and in Alamogordo, New Mexico. The teachers there, Al Montemar and David Rogers, were my students in the early 1980's when they were with the US Air Force at Greenham Common. I was fortunate enough to be able to visit both dojos during 1992 and give seminars and grading examinations for my American students.

I know that Abbe Sensei told you how he first came to Aikido - would you mind recounting that particular story?

I'd be happy to. Abbe Sensei was All Japan Judo Champion at the age of 18, prior to World War II. He told me that he was rather arrogant at that time, having achieved fame so young.

Anyway, it was during a train journey in Japan that he first met O'Sensei. Abbe didn't know who he was

and he reacted to Ueshiba Sensei looking at him, saying: "What are you staring at, old man?" Ueshiba replied: "I know who you are". to which Abbe modestly retorted: "Everyone knows me, I am Kenshiro Abbe, Champion of All Japan". O'Sensei then introduced himself as the Founder of Aikido, and was told by Abbe that he didn't look strong enough to be a Martial Arts Master. O'Sensei then offered Abbe his little finger, and said: "But young man, you look very strong indeed. Please break my finger".

Abbe at first declined, but eventually accepted the challenge, presumably to shut this old man up. Abbe Sensei told me that, as he took hold of the old man's finger and tried to break it, he found himself on the floor of the carriage and totally immobilised. Whilst on the floor, Abbe asked the Founder for permission to study under him. This is my understanding of Abbe Sensei's story.

When you were in my 'local' earlier, you told me a couple of interesting stories about one of your former teachers. Could you repeat them for this interview, please?

Certainly, but I think its better that we don't print the man's name. Well, he was a 2nd Dan in Aikido, under Ken Williams, and also held equivalent ranks in Judo and Karate. He was a strange character and used to speak in an affected, Japanese broken English, and one day he said to me: "Mr Ellis want come my house for supper?" So I said: "Yes, Sensei, I'll come for supper, thank you". I went along to his home, knocked on the door and it was opened by this guy wearing a black silk kimono (traditional Japanese gown) and geta (clogs). I was a little taken aback by this, but went in and we sat down.

After a couple of minutes, Sensei clapped his hands and his wife came trotting in from the kitchen, also in a kimono. So, the first thing he did was to slap her across the face three times. Her head rocked back and forth but she didn't say a word, or even cry. I just looked on in total amazement... it was unbelievable. He told her to prepare the meal, and she returned to the kitchen. When his wife had left us I told him that I thought he was out of order. This chap replied that Abbe Sensei had told him that it was a Japanese tradition to slap one's wife every morning to teach her humility! I pointed out to him that he was not Japanese - but to no avail, as he slapped her again when he ordered our drinks! I was never the same with him after that..... it was incredible behaviour.

You did, in fact, come to blows with this particular man later on, didn't you?

Yes, I did, Arthur. We were in this pub after training and he said to me:

"You think you can take me, don't you?" I told him that I'd never thought about it, to which he replied: "Oh yes you have, you think about it all the time". Again I denied this, it was just bloody rubbish, but he would not let go. He kept baiting me, saying: "You want to try?" and I said to him: "You know, Sensei the only person troubled by this is you. It is you who are unsure about me, not I about you". So he said: "Let's go outside", and out we went.

Outside the pub he put himself in Aikido posture, so I just stood there as relaxed as possible, and waited. As soon as he came for me, I hit him and put him on the deck. As he went down I dropped and immobilised him with my knee on his neck. At this point he said: "O.K., that's enough, let me up". I said: "Is that it? Is this incident finished?" He replied that it was. Well, I'm a very straight man, and if someone says it's finished, then for me it is finished. So as soon as I let him go, he smacked me straight in the nose and broke it - I was covered in blood and in a bit of a mess. He lost not only my respect, but that of everyone who had been present. He moved from the area soon after that, and I've never seen or heard of him since.

Finally, Henry, do you have any advice that you would like to offer to Aikido practitioners?

I would urge them to visit other clubs and look at other methods. You don't have to like everyone's Aikido, but if you can take away a little from each dojo you visit, it will help make your own Aikido complete. Also, I would say - stay clear of 'fairy' Aikido - remember it's a Martial Art and must work.

Henry, thank you for your time and patience.

My pleasure, and thanks to Pat and you for the hospitality.

About the Author

Henry Ellis Co-Author of the new book Positive Aikido. A direct student of Kenshiro Abbe Sensei from 1957.