View Full Version : John Cornish retires after 52 years of aikido

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03-03-2010, 11:29 AM
Posted 2010-03-03 11:28:58 by James Wyatt

John Cornish has decided to retire and his last lesson will be at the Budokwai on Friday 19th March.

As ever all are welcome to come and practice. We would particularly like to invite everyone whom knows Cornish Sensei and has received his wisdom and humour over the years.

Some of his more memorable comments:
If a train is coming what do you do...get out of the way
Fingers are for gripping...
If you have two legs move two legs and if you have three move three
You can never be low enough

John Cornish originally started with boxing and judo around 1950 and became a student of Trevor Leggett and went to the Kodokan and Hombu dojo in early 1958 (at the same time as Chiba Sensei). He took daily practice with Osawa Sensei as well as lessons from Tohei Sensei, Waka Sensei and O'Sensei whom graded him. In Judo he is renowned for his technical knowledge with particular emphasis on judo kata with him being one of the few westerners to hold the licence to teach and examine in all the katas.


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03-03-2010, 12:05 PM
I remember meeting Mr Cornish in the late 60's/early 70's at both Airedale Avenue and Philbeach Gardens dojos.

(he wouldn't remember me I was just a spotty youth)

A nice man with powerful technique !

Let me wish him a long and happy retirement

03-03-2010, 12:22 PM
Please give Cornish Sensei my best wishes I hope his retirement is long and enjoyable. Have a good night on Friday the 19th ......

03-04-2010, 09:39 AM
Dear Mr Cornish,
I hope you have a long, healthy retirement.I am sure I speak for the Martial Arts community when I say you are a pioneer of Aikido /Judo in the U.K. We commend you for your work over the last 50plus years.You have earned the respect of the British Aikido community.
May I also state that we have a common link?I am fortunate to be an old friend of Mr Bob Thomas 7th Dan Judo.He speaks highly of you.I am not sure if we have met in the past , however it would be a privilege and a pleasure if we did meet sometime in the future.
Very warmest regards, Joe Curran.

James Wyatt
03-30-2010, 02:35 PM
Thank you for your very kind comments which were duly passed on and we had a very enjoyable and memorable lesson.

It is interesting to note one of his older students (35-40 years of study) recently said to me John Cornish's style had changed over the years. This senior student had said John Cornish's technique originally was identical to Osawa Sensei's (this student had also had the privilege of seeing Osawa in full flow), which was renowned as smooth, circular and soft. This is understandable as Cornish Sensei was Osawa's Sensei's uke and his other major influence was Tohei Sensei.

Having seen Chiba Sensei on a couple of occasions his style seems to be strong and hard, yet both Chiba Sensei and Cornish Sensei studied at the Hombu at the same time under the same masters. Chiba Sensei was an uchi deshi whilst Cornish Sensei was a soto deshi (spending all the rest of his time at the Kodokan).
They also emphasize the same points, but they each have their own individual style.

According to this senior student over the years Cornish Sensei's technique became much 'harder'. I can bear witness to this as I was drilled into the mat numerous times (I am over 200lbs and soon realized resistance is futile). He also demonstrated 'soft technique kokyu nage' and once when I was foolish I resisted only to have a very sharp atemi to a locked arm (it took two weeks for my arm to feel better). He later explained what was considered to be 'soft' was actually very strong, but should only be used when the attack is a good attack and resistance often gives opportunities to atemi. This was one of the reasons I studied under him for over 15 years was his emphasis on good strong attacks (it is after all 50% of aikido practice).

My regards and best wishes to all


Utku T.
04-05-2010, 08:15 AM
I also had a chance to train briefly with Cornish Sensei at the Budokwai and cherished the lucid and powerful technique as well as the good mood he was bringing to the mat. I always had a feeling that Cornish Sensei was one of the best kept secrets of London. Come to think of it: a martial artist of his standing teaching Aikido at marginal times in a club that is world famous for judo! Although I couldn't attend his classes as regularly as I wish I had done, I remember quite fondly the positive atmosphere and the overall camaraderie of the ones I had a chance to attend.
I would agree with James' point that resistance to Cornish sensei would bring about long-lasting consequences, yet it must be said that he was always very kind and considerate towards me. Most often, I was given the benefit of doubt as a beginner, so I was able to get away with things that would have triggered a sharp atemi in James' case!

I would be overstepping my own authority if I dared compare Sensei's technique with others', so let me use this opportunity to add a few more of his spontaneous comments to what James has already posted:

Cornish: Move your left foot forward.
Student (usually me!) -- moves the right one forward
Cornish: No, the other left foot!


After demonstrating an advanced technique, musing to himself: How can it possibly go wrong?


His advice on jo-kata practice at home: Be careful with the lamps, don't take them down or there'll be trouble! We've all done it before, so you won't have to...


He breaks down the shiho nage to focus on practising on what one of the hands is doing. The student asks where to put the other hand while practising this bit. Cornish Sensei doesn't say anything, but instead demonstrates the technique joyfully again with the free hand scratching his head, adjusting his hakama, waving to people, and making all sorts of funny gestures...


Also, during weapons practise, he tends to urge the students to count the moves loudly -- in whichever language they feel appropriate -- yet shortly after doing that rushes to shut the windows of the dojo commenting sarcastically that we shouldn't disturb our millionaire neighbours (the dojo is located at the heart of Chelsea!).


A few descriptions of attacks:
- Hold on to his arm with both hands as if you are in the Tube and are holding the rails trying not to fall!
- Are you a drinking man? Good! Then, grab his wrist as if you are grabbing a pint of lager! [...] I said lager, not wine!


Finally, I'd also like to add my voice to those wishing Cornish Sensei a long and pleasant retirement. It was a pleasure to get to know him and I feel fortunate to have benefitted from his wisdom. He will be sorely missed at the Budokwai.


George Szaszvari
02-17-2012, 10:57 PM
Just found out about John Cornish's retirement, and since he was my first aikido teacher in 1974 at the Budokwai, I feel duty bound to acknowledge his importance in getting my MA studies started on a sound basis. I also started judo sessions under Syd Hoare for a while since John was a top judoist and made frequent allusions to judo in aikido class, even treating some judo arts as useful to learn for aikido students, including counters to some judo arts, but especially the Goshin jutsu kata (and still have John's BJA publication on that kata.) Even though I broadened my training base to the Aikikai of GB under Chiba and Kanetsuka, I still attended John Cornish's classes. John accompanied me to the 1976 Aikikai summer school with Seigo Yamaguchi, and he was a mine of fascinating details in evening conversations about both aikido and judo. At the opening introductions to the summer school Chiba invited John Cornish to join him out front with Yamaguchi and asked Aikikai members to gain the benefit of training with John, a flamboyant gesture to show everyone how concerned he was to bring various aikido organizations together. John's affability made it impossible not to like him, and even after I defected to Koichi Tohei's Ki Society under the tutelage of Ken Williams' Ki Federation of GB in the early 80s, I still visited John's classes at the Budokwai, even though he and his students were not practicing the "ki way" of doing things... it was very interesting for me to adapt and realize how much some essential technical points diverged between the so-called "Traditional" and "Ki" schools. Even though I am now firmly in the Ki camp, more recently Kirk Fowler at the Arizona Ki Society didn't mind my more classical shihonage that I still prefer to today's Ki Society style execution: the hugely experienced Sensei Fowler realized that someone as long in the tooth as me will always have his preferences about some things ;0) Nowadays I'm busy integrating my aikido experience with xingyiquan (if you're ever in Phoenix AZ look me up and I'll show you what I mean.) My last visit to John's class was in the late 90s before moving stateside and I have only the fondest memories of John Cornish and those many sessions throughout the years at the Budokwai... there are zillions of stories to reminisce about, but for now, just: God bless John Cornish and may he have a happy retirement.