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Home > Columns > Peter Goldsbury > September, 2005 - An Aikido Journey: Part 2

An Aikido Journey: Part 2 by Peter Goldsbury

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More Beginnings

After our Japanese instructor left Sussex University to return home and resume his job with the Japanese railway system, we were faced with a severe problem. Continuing aikido training was never in question, but how could we maintain, even approach, the high standards he had shown us?

At this point in my life I was a fitness fanatic. The area around Sussex University was a wonderful environment for running and I regularly did my 25 miles three times weekly, in addition to aikido training, which became progressively severe. I know this because a Japanese student, who, like my first instructor, is still a close friend of mine, took up training. I met him and his girlfriend at a language school where I taught part time. There were a number of Japanese students and I waxed enthusiastic about aikido. Curious, he began to practice. His encounter did not last long because, as he told me later, he was actually in great fear of serious injury. I was very strong and believed that throwing people as hard as possible was the right thing to do.

I am not concerned here with the pure unadulterated use of physical strength. Our Japanese instructor was also young and strong, but was able to execute the techniques with a minimum of physical effort. It was more the feeling that each technique, each throw, could well be one's last and had to be done with maximum intensity. Perhaps this is something similar to what is occasionally referred to as beginner's mind. I do not know. Our instructor was a minimalist when it came to discussing the art we were practicing: there were waza, practiced by uke and tori successively. Some of these waza were executed by movements known as irimi, others by movements known as tenkan. In any waza, uke was thrown or pinned by tori, not the other way round. In other words, each technique had to work. These waza were supplemented by standing exercises involving deep breathing and also by the 'rowing' exercise known as tori-fune or funa-kogi. We did this very often and in a specific way.

There was a sizeable overseas community at Sussex and other foreign students came to practice, including a group of Iranians. These students were a very interesting group and I later learned that they were regarded as terrorists in their own country. They had no problem with the intensity or severity of training and became very good. After our Sunday running and training sessions, the custom gradually arose of going back to their living quarters and eating lunch Iranian style. This was in the days of the Shah and during these lunches I was progressively made aware of resistance groups within the student population and also of a spy network, maintained by the Shah's government. In this situation if you were an Iranian student, you never knew who you could talk to and so the group I taught was very close and tightly knit. Later, I was rather shocked to hear that the de facto leader of this group, a gentle older student around 50 years old, who made up with enthusiasm what he lacked in physical prowess, returned to Iran. He was arrested by the secret police and tortured to death on a huge broiler.

Technical advancement was a problem and so I used to travel up to London to train at a dojo recommended by my Japanese instructor. The dojo was situated in Fulham and involved a lengthy journey on London's underground. When changing stations, I would pass an advertisement for aikido at another dojo, much further out in the suburbs, run by a Japanese instructor named Kazuo Chiba. I was tempted to visit this dojo and occasionally uttered the temptation out loud after training at the Fulham dojo. The general reaction was that Mr Chiba was a butcher, a maniac, if not worse, and that the training was unbelievably severe-which was actually just what I thought I needed.

So I went along to the dojo to have a look. Situated in the western suburb of Chiswick, the dojo was in a building with a bar and a long bowling alley. When I arrived, there was practice with which I was familiar: deep breathing while sitting in seiza, to a rhythm led by the instructor with wooden blocks. I watched a class and then introduced myself. The instructor Mr Chiba said he knew my Japanese instructor and allowed me to train. I did so and became a member of the dojo.

The taut atmosphere at Chiswick was quite different to what I had become used to. Unlike our little dojo at Sussex, there was a clear and sharp hierarchy here, with Sensei (Mr Chiba) firmly at the top and supported by a large number of senior yudansha students. The politeness to each other had an edge of raw discipline. At no point could one lower one's guard, so to speak, and relax. Chiba Sensei's waza were fast, sharp and extraordinarily precise and I had to relearn the basics all over again from the very beginning, mainly at the hands of his senior students. I did not mind doing this, for these was no shadow of doubt that the waza really worked and exactly fitted my conception of what aikido should be.

After the practice one would retire to the bar when Chiba Sensei usually drank Guinness. There was not much conversation (I think people were too exhausted to talk much) and in any case I could never stay long after practice, since I had to return to Brighton by the last train. Since it took so long to get there and back, my trips to Chiba Sensei's dojo were not so frequent. Luckily, one of Chiba Sensei's yudansha students named Dave happened to enroll as a student at Sussex and he took charge of the club, so I was able to relearn the waza in both places-from the source itself and at once removed.

It was very good to have Dave train, for the way he trained suited my idea of aikido. We did lots of pre-waza exercises, as I was used to, and also tended to practice waza by numbers, say, 50 1-kyou, or 100 kokyunage. So I trained happily like this until 1973, when I obtained a scholarship to study at Harvard University.

To be continued.

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