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.
For those inclined to post, please re-read the introductory column before doing so. The rules for contributors, in short:
Neil started training at the Renzu Kwai aikido club under Andy Stiggear (6th Dan BAA) and Pam Hornsby (4th Dan BAA) as well as several other high grades of the Renzu Kwai. He holds the rank of 4th Dan in Tomiki aikido through the British aikido Association. Neil has authored two books on aikido called Aikido - The Tomiki Way and Tomiki Aikido as well as a DVD called Tomiki Aikido -Koryu Dai San. He was fortunate to meet and train with David Rubens (6th Dan Yoshinkan aikido), and continues to train with him whenever possible. Rubens sensei has had a profound effect on his aikido. Through David, Neil met Robert Mustard (7th Dan Yoshinkan aikido) and he has been able to train with Mustard sensei on numerous occasions including several trips to his dojo in Vancouver. In 2010, Neil was awarded the rank of 4th Dan in Yoshinkan aikido after many years of training and is one of the few people in the world to hold high ranks in both the Tomiki and Yoshinkan systems of aikido.
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