It Had to Be Felt #28: Robert Mustard: The Bastard from Angry White Pyjamas
Robert Mustard sensei became widely known from his depiction in Robert Twigger's book Angry White Pyjamas, published in the mid to late 1990s. Most people probably think he is like the book depicts him.
Although I'd seen him at the Aiki Expo several years earlier, I first met him in April 2006 when he visited London for his first UK seminar at David Rubens sensei's Meidokan dojo. On the Wednesday night before that weekend seminar, I arrived early at the dojo, and was warming up along with a Meidokan member and Mustard sensei walked in. He introduced himself and straight away I thought, "What a nice guy, nothing like the book makes him out to be." He introduced himself personally to each person on the mat before class, and he remembered everyone's name throughout the evening, although there were some 30 people crammed into the dojo that night.
I was lucky enough to be used as uke a lot, and his aikido blew my mind. He would ask me to strike or grab, and then "BANG," I was on the floor. I must have looked like an idiot that evening on the train on the way home, a big grin on my face, but at the same time, a complete look of bewilderment. In that brief one-and-a-half hour session, he completely destroyed what my concept of what body power was, let alone aikido. I knew from that one session I had to change my aikido. I wanted what he had.
That weekend seminar was nothing short of spectacular. There were at least 100 people on the mat, and Mustard sensei had people laughing, smiling, scratching their heads, and training hard. Among the memories from that weekend that sticks out for me is when I asked him a question on nikajyo, right at the end of a session. He listened to my question, and then asked me to grab him. He then performed the most amazing one-handed nikajyo on my forearm, and, somehow, without apparently shifting his grip or posture, threw me with kotegaeshi. I remember walking back and sitting down in the stands, one of my students asking if I was ‘OK' as I was sitting there shaking my head while looking at my wrist. I said "Yes, he just did nikajyo and then threw me with kotegaeshi, but he never touched my wrist. How did he do that?"
I have taken ukemi for him a lot since that first meeting. His focus and concentration is astonishing. I get the sense that any moment could be my last, yet he has such total control of himself and his uke that no one is ever injured. His technique feels like a wave in the ocean, and I don't mean the silly little ones you get here in the UK; it's more like the ones you see in Hawaii or Australia. Once you are caught up in the wave (the technique), you are helpless because you cannot escape the energy of it, then as the wave begins to break (the throw or pin) it crushes you from above. Paradoxically, though, it doesn't hurt; although you really don't feel anything, you do not have any choice in the matter. One thing is for certain - every time you take ukemi for him, you want to feel it again and again.
It is unfortunate that Mustard sensei is a big guy, because people naturally assume he is using his size to throw or pin people. It couldn't be further from the truth. If he were half that size, people wouldn't believe the things he could do. I remember sitting in his living room, watching a video of Shioda kancho. I asked him if he could do a certain technique, and his reply was "I don't know. I've never tried it. Let's give it a go." I proceed to grab his belt, and I was on the floor in an instant, with exactly the same technique that we had just watched. I felt powerless -- I am not using that expression as an adjective to describe someone much stronger than me; rather, he took away my ability to be able to pull, push or even to let go.
Mustard sensei has always said to me we have our training way and our fighting way. He uses an analogy that "if you want to learn to slip a jab your partner can't throw hooks." In other words, if uke changes their energy (i.e. throws a hook), then how can we learn that specific body mechanic (i.e. to slip a jab)? He is very particular about how one should train both as shite ("doer"), and uke. Every movement must have a purpose. It has been likened to how one trains in a Japanese koryu school.
In one session, Mustard sensei told us that we could resist at every stage of the technique, a style of practice that is very rare when he is teaching. I was training with a very credible and strong high-ranking aikidoka. We were resisting each other and not having a lot of success in making the technique work. Mustard sensei watched for a brief moment and then asked me to take hold of him while telling me to resist. I thought, "This was my chance. I'm not moving for him," (although I had failed on every other occasion I had tried). He executed the technique with only his index finger, and I hit the floor as hard as when he had done it previously using both hands. Once again I sat there laughing, thinking, "How does he do that!"
One of the many things that stand out for me when describing Robert Mustard and his aikido is that he is always generous with his time when people ask him questions. He is able to communicate the answer at a level the person will understand, something that is fantastic for both beginners and senior students. Some of most enlightening moments for me have occurred around his kitchen table talking about martial arts, the next moment adjourning to the living room going through some of the finer points we have been discussing. He is like that with everyone; if they have a question he will do his utmost to help them.
I recently asked him if he still thinks about aikido, considering he has been training in martial arts for over forty years, thirty-five of which in aikido. His answer was, "Yes, 25 hours a day."
If you were to ask Mustard sensei if he used to be like Twigger depicted him in Angry White Pyjamas , his answer would be in the affirmative, although he would concede that he has mellowed somewhat in the last 15 years or so. These days, some things are certain when you are on the mat with him: you will train extremely hard, you will laugh until your stomach aches, you will have a fantastic time and you will want more.
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Re: It Had to Be Felt #28: Robert Mustard: The Bastard from Angry White Pyjamas
In 2006 I was on my way on holiday flying out on the same day as Mustard Sensei's first UK weekend seminar and I wanted to drop by the seminar and train most of the day then head off to the airport, better judgment -or worse- said I should not risk missing my flight. So I didn't go.
I met Mustard Sensei the following year in which proved to be the beginning of a journey into Yoshinkan aikido as I have not experienced it before. The first time I met him, I was introduced as a new brown belt with a prompt request by the introducing instructor for me to be beaten up, Thanks! I thought!
In the three following sessions I took Uke for Mustard Sensei and experienced a level of skill I had not experienced previously and before the day was over, I too, like Neil, thought, I want what he's got! I want that immense throwing power and the ability to throw Uke through the cracks in the mats but they still get up smiling.
The first full seminar with Sensei completely changed many of my concepts of Aikido, the fact that a tall and big person of his size can apply a technique and you don't feel his timing, and you don't feel his hands and you can't tell when he is going to move until its too late was absolutely phenomenal.
The right timing is not an easy skill to acquire, on that seminar in 2007 we were doing a technique from shomen-tzuki Sensei came up to me and asked me to punch him, I was determined to get him, I Paused as if to hide my time of strike then punched as hard as I could and for a split second a wave of glorious emotion came over me just as I was thinking, Gotcha! But it didn't last long, the Initial sense of victory soon became a sense of doom I didn't get him and he wasn't in front of me! I really don't know what techniques he used but I recall being on my back staring at the ceiling thinking what happened?
As I got better at being Uke I felt some amazingly powerful techniques, like the one finger Tenchi nage, or the one finger Shihonage, but its certainly no softer on the landing just because he used one finger to throw!
Over the last 6 years I have trained with Mustard Sensei many times, worked with him on improving one aspect of my training or the other, and most importantly the each time we meet I get better at Kamae- basic posture- and think I've got it, he says now improve so and so in your Kamae, it seems like this simple stance is not so simple after all, he often tells the story of Gozo Shioda Kancho who always used to say everything you need to know in Aikido is in Kamae, I now know why.
Building the sort of Kamae that allows you to hold back 3, 4 or more people pushing straight at you as Mustard sensei does must certainly be a very complex and lengthy process indeed.
I have felt throws, pins evasions and variation techniques from him, all very impressive, but none more so than a tenchi age -heaven and earth- throw that he did from suwari -kneeling- position which given the fact he was at half his normal hight was very powerful. The ability to generate such power from such small a movement will something that I ponder for a long time.
Locks are another story all together, especially Nikkajo, not to mention the really advanced stuff which seem like he is not doing anything but still go down with a thud.
I am still training, because he says if he can do it so can anyone, well, I buy into that, and hope one day I can do it too.
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