When did you start Aikido and why?
I started Aikido at the age of 22 after a fateful trip to the small island of Jersey, which ended up changing the course of my life. Richard Diegan, the brother of a friend I’d come to Jersey to visit, was teaching Iwama Aikido classes with Bob Leigh at the Jersey Aikido Club and I was invited up to the dojo for a ‘free’ lesson one night. Growing up I’d always admired those Martial Artists on the big screen, not only for their effortless skill, but for their seemingly unwavering focus when it came to life’s challenges. My own life at the time was seriously lacking focus and direction, but by the time the first class had finished,
I was struck by a new sense of aliveness. The class was a total blur, but I do remember some claps at the beginning and crumpling to the mat each time I attempted a forward roll. Needless to say, I went back again, and again, and again, to the point where Aikido became one of the reasons I decided to settle in Jersey.
What are some of your main memories in Aikido?
It’s difficult to say as I have many fond memories in Aikido, especially during those early days of training.
Not long after I joined, our club moved to a different location. The new dojo, became like a second home for the next 10 plus years, and we all put in a lot of hard work to get it to where it was. We held some great seminars at the club and made some lifelong friends.
Every year before he passed, Sensei Tim Buswell (5th Dan) would visit the island to host our annual Aikido seminar. It was always something to look forward to and each of us would come away full of inspiration and with loads to work on. His approach to Aikido was one of simplicity and its definitely had a lasting impact on my own training. I can still hear him now saying “I’m just a carpenter, if I can do it anyone can”.
It was also during those early classes that I discovered a love for the bokken and jo… a relationship that’s grown with me, even throughout times of hardship.
What are your personal goals in Aikido?
At this present moment my main goal is to bring Iwama Aikido back to Jersey again. My objective is to build up a brand new club that provides a ‘holistic’ approach to training, whilst continuing to learn and adhere to the principles of O’sensei’s Aikido as passed down to us by Morihiro Saito Sensei.
I’m a firm believer that training doesn’t stop the moment we walk out of the dojo, and in order to reap the ‘true’ benefits of Aikido, it’s important to have a clear understanding of how to maintain a ‘healthy’ body and mind, especially in the age we live in.
This is more than a life’s work but if Aikido is going to survive in this fast pace world, we must make sure we use it not only as a means of protection, but to overcome the pressures of daily life.
Why do you think Iwama Aikido is so unique?
One of things I love about ‘Iwama Aikido’ when compared with other styles, is its emphasis on performing ‘correct’ techniques from a solid grip or attack. To do this we’re encouraged to focus on getting the ‘basics’ right first, before moving onto more advanced levels of training, which in my view is a very humbling experience.
Another unique aspect of Iwama Aikido is it’s practical use of the bokken and Jo, which we’re taught right from the very beginning. I’ve always loved training with the weapons, especially as a solo practice and the more you learn the deeper you understand the “mind body connection” between weapons and empty handed techniques.
What can Aikido offer people, in your opinion?
Aikido has lots of things to offer people, from an overall improved level of fitness and confidence to a more relaxed, healthy state of mind. But If I could pick one benefit of Aikido I would say that it can offer you a better quality of life.
How long have you been training?
I trained with the Jersey Aikido club, unbroken for around 13 years before leaving due to personal reasons. As a club we’d gone through a lot of changes together but it eventually ended up closing its doors.
Aside from practicing my suburi’s, I spent a number of years away from Aikido and instead, spent time on other interests such as Holistic Nutrition, Natural Movement and even Cold Water Immersion (CWI)! I also took up another self-defence martial art and attended some local seminars. This all gave me time to reflect on my own journey and although there are some huge benefits in these other practices, to me, Aikido is the ‘glue’ that holds them altogether.
Where have you travelled?
I’ve been lucky enough to attended some amazing seminars both in the UK and abroad.
My first Uchi Deshi experience was at Tony Sargeant Sensei’s Kefalonia dojo back in 2007. The whole trip was an experience I’ll never forget, from the intense training on the beach in the hot morning sun, to the amazing students that I broke bread with. I even managed to upset Sensei on my first day by asking him where to hang the towels, instead of asking the Head Deshi (oops), but it was all part of the experience.
In 2013, my beautiful wife Yolimar encouraged me to follow my dreams, and that meant going on a bit of a pilgrimage to the birth place of Aikido, to train as an Uchi Deshi. We arrived in the pouring rain and Iwama seemed right out of a Studio Ghibli movie. Me and my good friend Martin, spent the next couple of weeks immersed in training, cleaning, cooking and sleeping! One day, when we weren’t on ‘Toban’ duty, we cycled to the Aiki Falls and as I sat in front of the steps leading up to the small shrine, I felt privalidged to be one of the many people who had walked this path before me, including Saito Sensei and of course O’sensei himself.
If you’ve never done an Uchi Deshi program, or travelled to another dojo, then I highly recommend you do so. This kind of training allows you to really ‘immerse’ yourself in Aikido and it will excel your training to the next level, in every single way.