Perpetual Student

Perpetual Student

When people find out I do a martial art, they often ask why I picked Aikido. I usually say it is because it isn’t competitive, and the uniform looks cool. Jokes aside, the first reason is important to me because I grew up in an environment that was too competitive, centred on success and nothing else. I thought competitive martial arts had the risk of creating similar conditions, so Aikido was particularly attractive to me. I didn’t spend much time trying other martial arts, but I was lucky to find that Aikido provided a space to learn without the pressure of competing in tournaments or having to demonstrate to others that I want to be the best.

Despite feeling that I had found ‘my martial art’, my journey through Aikido has not been uninterrupted. I trained for the first time when I was nineteen, but only for six months because I couldn’t afford it with my student budget. Then, four years later, I had the opportunity to train consistently in a large dojo with an experienced teacher. I was a regular student, and I remember the sensei saying, ‘sometimes, what a dojo needs are not super powerful or athletic people, but good students’. When I heard that, I realised that what drove me to stay in Aikido wasn’t only the non-competition. I was hooked because I could be a student all the time. Every class was an opportunity to learn something new about how my body moves and how I could get other bodies to move in ways that don’t feel forced or acted.

When I decided to move to London, I started looking for dojos; I tried to find information by watching videos on YouTube, asking in Facebook groups and talking to people who had trained in different countries. I was afraid that the few things I had managed to learn in nearly three years of training were not going to help me wherever I started training. And I was partially right. Adjusting to a new city and a new university, making new friends and figuring out how day-to-day things worked took me longer than expected. The new dojo, while exciting, became intimidating every time I thought of all the variables that were changing in my life. So, I decided to prioritise other things and pause my practice for a while.

My break from Aikido lasted much longer than I expected due to some important life changes and, of course, the pandemic. When I decided to begin training again, I was afraid to have become too stiff or forgotten how to move. So I started stretching and working out at home, trying to be in decent condition. Then, I went back, pretending that I didn’t know anything, thinking it would help me adjust to a style that was so different from what I had learned. I tried to be as consistent as possible, but I couldn’t connect with the practice in a way that made me feel like there was a reason for me to be there. And when I had just started to enjoy training and share a bit more with the people in the dojo, I got injured.

I was so sad and angry that I thought that maybe I shouldn’t have returned. After so many interruptions, I felt it didn’t make sense to go back again. However, despite my frustration, I focused on being able to return to the tatami as soon as possible. Different people in the dojo checked in on me often, which helped me concentrate on healing my injury and preparing my body for training. I was lucky to find a good physiotherapist too. Every session, he listened carefully to my explanations about movement in Aikido and adjusted the exercises so I could feel safe in the tatami.

During this involuntary break, I realised that my idea of going back to Aikido pretending to be a tabula rasa was not a good strategy. Moreover, the dojo I had already known for four years still felt like ‘the new dojo’. I realised that my disconnection from the practice wasn’t because of the many hiatuses but rather because I was trying to erase what I already knew so I could replace it with something else. I wasn’t really taking the time to observe and take in what my sensei and other students were showing me.

I went back to the dojo as soon as I was able to start training again. Although I was a little wary of getting injured again, and some techniques still felt a bit scary, I knew I had to be patient and let my body find its place in each technique and trust myself more. This newfound attitude made it easier to open up to training. I still get frustrated when I can’t get a technique to work or when I am too tired or stiff to follow nage’s movements, but I’ve learned to take it as part of the process of being a student.

As a student, there will always be things you won’t understand. Suppose you want to learn something, anything. Whatever it is, you will never be able to control how difficult it is or how long it takes you to feel comfortable doing it. What you can do, though, is to decide what kind of student you want to be. Going back to the dojo was a perfect opportunity for me to work on this. What I have managed to make sense of so far is that being a good student means being open to possibilities. It means using what you already know to adjust to unknown scenarios and being patient enough to understand that sometimes you won’t be able to handle every new thing that comes up. In Aikido, you are lucky that you can repeat and repeat until you don’t get hit.

by Francisca Torres Cortés


Aikido all the time

Aikido all the time

I think it may have been the summer intensive that was the catalyst for change this year. During my summer break from teaching music, a group of 5 Aikido of London members had the opportunity to participate in a week-long Aikido intensive, much needed after a year or so of various lockdowns and restrictions! 

It was 4 hours of training per day- some of these hours included weapons and Iaido, but most of it was body arts. It was a tough week, no doubt! There were lots of little battles along the way; the migraine on day one, hitting the expected wall of fatigue and aches on the morning of day three, the raw suwari waza knees. There were mini victories too; working out that ukemi I could never get on my left side, stamina starting to go up, managing to grip on to Sensei’s wrist for just that little bit longer and feeling what it did to the interaction.

Between the 5 of us participating, there was a great variety of levels of experience- ranging from me with my measly 2 and a half years at the time, up to 25 or so years of experience. Despite the disparity in experience between participating members, the energy and quality of teaching was so high that I believe everybody got something out of it and it was an immensely enjoyable week. With it came the unavoidable truth that you learn and figure out so much more, if you train more and with the right kind of focus.  

It was such a good summer of training in general, and right at the end when I was due to get back to full-time work, I had this epiphany one night. It was something like “I just want to do Aikido all the time”. I already think about it all the time! I felt so strongly to the point where I felt quite emotional, and I knew then that I had to do something about it.

I thought about what was realistic to make this closer to reality. I would still need an income so I couldn’t train full-time, as well as being unsure my body would cope with that at this point in life- being in my early 30s and aware that I’m by no means over the hill, but not a spring chicken either. I stayed active and healthy enough throughout my youth and 20s that I can cope with lengthy training sessions, but my body begs for recovery time in between. I decided to request a Zoom meeting with my teacher to discuss the possibility of adding hours on to the regular training schedule. Luckily Sensei was very accommodating and there were other members of the dojo who were willing and able to participate, so we worked out a training plan. A full training week for me could now potentially be 2 hours of training on Monday and Wednesday nights, 4 hours on Thursdays, 3.5 hours on Fridays and 2 hours on Saturdays. I really didn’t know whether it would be possible to organise, but it turned out it was.

Now the next hurdle was my work. With the intensive starting at 4.30pm on Thursdays and Fridays I could in theory go straight from work to the dojo, but I didn’t think that it would be conducive to the kind of productive and focused training I was chasing. In hindsight that was definitely the right decision to make. I was going to have to make lifestyle changes and financial sacrifices, as well as saying goodbye to some students and colleagues I had built great relationships with. I put in the request to my work to reduce my hours from 5 days down to 3. Again, I wasn’t sure it was going to be a possibility and I felt a little bad as I knew it could be difficult to arrange, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get and I thought I would just be sincere with my reasons for the request (which were not Aikido alone). Fortunately, my managers were extremely understanding, and granted the request. Apparently if you really want something, even if it seems unusual or difficult, it might just be easier to make happen than one might think. So, all was in place to kick off at the end of October.

The new training programme began and I was nervous and excited and with good reason- I knew what I was getting myself into. I don’t have a lot to compare to, but I have been to some great dojos and amazing seminars- but none with a higher work rate than a regular class at Aikido of London, and it is not called an intensive for nothing. The lessons are hard and Pocari Sweat and tangerines have become staples of my diet. Erdj, my friend and senpai assured me that it would get easier after about three weeks when the body starts to get used to it. So I was looking forward to the point where I could sleep without feeling every muscle in my body throughout the night and not wake up feeling like I’d been hit by a bus. Three weeks has come and gone now and I’m not still not there yet, so perhaps it may take me a little longer than that!

Having said that, I head to the dojo wondering how on earth I will manage to move today and somehow, although tired, my body picks itself up and manages to work things out. The most extreme example was probably the two weeks leading up to our Christmas seminar, where I felt pretty dreadful most days; I was too buzzed to sleep and I had also by that point been battling a stubborn cough for about 7 weeks (not Covid I hasten to add), but for some reason I would feel okay once I started training, almost as if Aikido was the only thing my body was able to do.

As well as being physically demanding, the great thing about these sessions is the level of detail and depth into which you can delve. It is so valuable to be able to identify something that needs work and simply having more time to work it out. Didn’t get it just now? I can try again in the next session or the one after that and keep trying until I start to get it. One lesson we had recently was all based on tai no henko and establishing quality contact- it was such a difficult lesson but incredibly rich.

It is the end of the year and we’ve come to the end of the first chunk of intensives and I’ve hit my own little landmark of 3 years of training. 3 years of adventures and challenges, new friends, fun, frustration and growth. Above all, the most important thing I can say is that I’m loving it. Despite all the potential setbacks in these uncertain times, things are moving onwards and upwards. The dojo is growing, new enthusiastic people of all ages are joining. I’m immensely grateful to everyone who has helped me on my journey so far; my fellow practitioners for their friendship, for jumping on board the intensive programme and constantly pushing one another in various ways, my work for being so accommodating, and Ismail Hasan sensei who as well as being a formidable martial artist, is also an extremely generous teacher. It’s safe to say we are all very lucky to be under his tutelage.

And now we have a couple of weeks of rest and recuperation before (subject to government mandated closures) we do it all over again in January! I’d better start stockpiling Pocari Sweat and tangerines.

by Cathy Humphris



My travels as a beginner and a woman in Aikido

My teacher Ismail Hasan Sensei once said “One sign of a good dojo is when there is a healthy balance of men and women in it”. When I reminded him of that, he said “Did I say that? I can’t remember but it sounds good.”

Which is certainly true of Aikido of London where I first started training about a year and a half ago. At first, I wasn’t particularly conscious of the healthy number of talented and dedicated female aikidoka in the dojo. Having been around a bit now, I realise it is quite unique.

Despite being hafu (half-Japanese), I had no former knowledge of aikido, other than “It’s a Japanese martial art”. When asked what grabbed me, it wasn’t instantaneous in the way that it seems to have been for others. When I fully signed up as a member at the start of 2019 I figured I’d maybe go along once a week. Turns out, Aikido is hard. I walked out of most lessons happy and knackered, head buzzing and full of questions. On reflection, that hasn’t changed! Anyhow, I soon realised I had to attend more than once a week to make real progress. I think something in the dojo etiquette and in the art itself really spoke to something deep inside me, and before I knew it, it had latched on and hasn’t let go since.

Within my first year or so alone I’ve had the privilege of seeing many great teachers outside of Aikido of London, in seminars and dojos both in the UK and internationally. There was Yahe Solomon Sensei, Donovan Waite Sensei and Jenny Flower Sensei to name just a few. Half a year in, I went to Tokyo, donned a hakama and spent a couple of weeks training on the 3rd floor at Hombu! I was nervous as hell and sometimes I’m surprised I had the balls to do it, but I’m only happy I did.

A brilliant thing about travelling for aikido are all the different bodies you get to train with, each offering different pieces of information. When people are super light and floppy- how do you create some tension? When they are heavy or stiff and don’t move the way you want them to- how do you make it happen? Some of the most informative and fun training I’ve had has been with partners who, without knowing you, quickly get a sense for how far they can push you, rather than handling you like a sheet of glass. At this point in my training, these are the people I am trying to grab.

Of course, like with with most things, there is a flip side. Venturing out of the dojo has also come with frustrating experiences.

One of the more subtle examples; at one seminar I was told by an unfamiliar male partner to not tire myself out, during tai no henko. At a subsequent seminar, a guy literally told me to “chill out”. The first couple of times, my response was mostly confusion. After all, I wasn’t particularly tired, and I was only doing what I know; attack, fall, get up, repeat. It’s just what we do at the dojo. It also appeared to be the attitude at Hombu in Tokyo. So as far as I was concerned, I didn’t know any different.

Being junior, I suck it up. “Maybe it’s to do with me being a beginner” I tell myself. But after some time, over different seminars, when this happens repeatedly, these small comments, these micro- aggressions, they add up and start to piss me off. The question ringing in my head is- “Would you say the same thing to a man?”
Interestingly, women I pair with never say such things to me. Nor do the men at Aikido of London.

At an after-party of a seminar of Donovan Waite Shihan, I and someone else were chatting to him when the conversation turned to my own training. I ended up recounting these comments to him, something similar of which had been said to me by a partner that very day, so it was on my mind. I guess what I was asking indirectly was – should I chill out? To my comfort, Donovan Sensei starts shaking his head. “No, you know what you do? You give them a little smile,” (he flashes a cheeky smile) “and then carry on exactly the same,” he said. “Ok, I will,” I responded.

I can imagine anyone with negative preconceptions of people based on gender (or anything else for that matter) have them both on and off the tatami, and are far more to do with themselves than they are to do with aikido. What I have concluded from my own limited experience is that the truly great teachers and aikidoka are not shrouded by their own egos and preconceptions, or at least have learnt not to be.

I would encourage any fellow beginners who haven’t already, to get out to seminars, train with different people and experience different teachers. You can start to feel out what it is you like, as well what doesn’t speak to you. Hopefully you may find, like me, that both of these things only confirm what you already thought- that your home dojo is the right one for you.

For me, Aikido of London is an excellent base to return home to after aikido adventures elsewhere. I am in a place where we’re are all treated and pushed equally to our individual limits, regardless of size, colour, background, or gender. I believe this to be something that trickles down from Ismail Sensei to his members. For the most part, the people I train with, both male and female, are fun, supportive and constructive in their feedback- verbal or physical. I owe much of my own progress so far down to the unyielding encouragement from my seniors and fellow juniors, with whom I have also made great friends.

The classes there are all mixed and there is no women’s only class (unless purely by chance). If it were suggested, I’m sure I wouldn’t particularly be in favour, for reasons that someone could fill another article with, probably far more eloquently than I could. However, this is no criticism of anyone who would want one and people have their own reasons after all.

Personally, I would love to see more women teaching Aikido. At Aikido of London, we are lucky to be able to attend Olya Kolchina’s classes, an inspiring aikido teacher and woman.

Unfortunately for me, Okamoto Sensei’s dojo was closed for Obon whilst we were in Kyoto. I would have loved to have seen her teach, partially as I noticed there are no female teachers at Hombu dojo yet. I’ve trained briefly in weapons with Janet Clift Sensei, and I am very keen to see her teach as well. Two things I hope to rectify after the lockdown has been lifted!

Interestingly my perception of my own teacher Ismail Sensei, is that he is undoubtedly strong and martial, and yet it doesn’t feel like machismo- which I would probably find hard to relate to. I think it is something else but I don’t know what yet. A few months into my training, I was having a conversation with him and he said something that struck me. He said “When there is something in the air, you have to grab hold of it or you can miss it.”

It’s hard to “chill out” when you’re trying to catch it.

by Cathy Humphris


Inspired By London

Inspired By London

In Budo, it is commonly understood that sincerity, Kokoro or Spirit is the highest human virtue for practice. Beyond skill beyond smarts even beyond mastery, sincerity stands on its own as the pinnacle of human virtues within the martial arts path. The word Shoshin means beginners mind but here again, the Shin part of the word means spirit and not mind in its western sense. The term Shoshin is commonly used in relation to correct training path and life path for that matter and is to my senses pretty much the same as sincerity. I believe it was during the question and answer period I was having with the students at the Aikido of London summer school recently that something began to open up inside of me in relation to all of this.

Probably this was due in some large part to the fact that all the London students had an extremely high level of Shoshin themselves. Normally when one says everyone it is a generalization to either accommodate or express an overall sense of a situation, not in this case though. During the course of the practice all weekend, I never once heard bad dead or dull sounds out of peoples weapons. Also, I had the extreme pleasure of being able to literally use anyone I glanced at all weekend long for Ukemi. No matter what their appearance or skill level they were all totally present awake and connected. This is the basics of Budo, this is Shoshin.

Of course, I can’t help but feel that a lot of this is due to the level of Quality and particular blend of elements that is consistently put out by Ismail Hasan Sensei. My observation of his methods were that he 1. Cares a lot about his students and 2. Yanks them out of their comfort zone consistently enough for them to expect the unexpected and remain open to whatever the moment brings. This made my job very easy, in fact, it made it into not a job but rather into an extremely pleasurable experience.

What really made me stop and take a closer look was when one of the students asked me about my sense of Aikido practice and it’s relationship to daily life. In other words how much of one blends and infuses into the other. It’s a pertinent question possibly the pertinent question in relation to our practice.  Aikido is a spiritual or life path much is all of the Japanese path or “Do” paths that are born of the Buddhist spiritual influence in the Asian and Japanese culture. I’ll be honest as well. I lived in Japan for several years and have seen firsthand how basically all endeavours are stretched into this arena as well. Even a company job is basically seen as a spiritual path,a fact that is so commonly understood that it’s never even particularly spelt out. Again the flavour is different from our connotation of spiritual, but that is only because the culture is different as well.

This being the case my first answer was and still is I don’t really know how we are to do this, it’s something we all have to sort out on our own. We have no unified idea and culture like the Japanese.   Yet let’s take a further look at this as best we can. A “Do” path denotes walking forward on a course. When seen linearly the implication is that today you are here at this lower spot and tomorrow or several days or weeks later you have gained something and progressed or moved forward and maybe even achieved something which is fine.  Achievements are good we all need them. Yet I don’t feel we can really look at the sense of Path through these type of eyes is all I am saying.   The basic notion of Zen Buddhism is that the first step equals the last step. This is the last step the final step and only this one step exists, only now as all else is a dream an illusion. Then I began to think about all the times I sort of let myself off the hook on encountering a situation or making a good decision that could be painful nonetheless. All the times I slip off my Shoshin and stop paying attention to the little details and actions that envelop the absolute beautiful radiance of what life naturally is. When I think of this I feel extremely encouraged as there is always there is always the next moment, and this moment-this one-moment is-always has been, and always will be everything.

By Yahe Solomon
Originally written in Sept 17 2015.

Burton 2018

Burton 2018

In the 30 years I have been practicing Aikido, I have attended approximately 8 seminars a year.  When I started everything was shiny and new, every teacher more wonderful than the last, every lesson full of new things to try and workout. At that time Aikido was so enjoyable there was  an adrenalin rush in every technique so it is hard to tell when things change. You always have your favourite teachers , favourite people to train with and you tend to have a fixed idea of how things should be done and anything out with this  is unacceptable . As time goes on two things can happen. You can become jaded and narrow minded. Closed to other ideas or receptive to the fact that there are many ways to do things, those that work for you and those that do not.

This brings me to the subject of the Aikido of London seminar held in burton this Easter. The Dojo in Tatenhill is a wonderful venue (always a good start) with a great Aikido pedigree thanks to its founder Mick Holloway Sensei   whose work is being carried on by the current Instructor Richard Edmunds Sensei another fine Teacher.

When I was invited to attend this seminar it was not a difficult decision to say yes. On arrival there was a wonderful welcome for myself and my students from all of the attendees, some from the northeast of England some from Burton and London obviously but also Marta from Spain ,who surely must be one of the most committed Aikidoka out there .  One of the things that made this such an enjoyable and informative seminar was the open-mindedness not only of the students but also of the instructors looking for the positives in everything rather than emphasising the negatives. Very refreshing as in recent times I have seen an increasing move to where the teachers are in competition with one another rather than focusing on the needs of the students.

Everyone was working hard both on and off the mat. It could have been a totally different seminar without the tireless work of Michelle and Mariusz  who with some help from us incompetent in the culinary arts kept the wonderful food coming. This also was an integral part of the seminar, not just the co-operation on the mat but the teamwork and camaraderie off the mat .

The training as ever was tough not just physically but mentally also. The tempo was set by the students although the focus was on solid basics with the teachers able to assess and adapt classes to suit the situation  from basic striking and some boxing drills right through to Kiri-otoshi. There was something for everybody in this seminar if you knew where to look, and the most amazing thing was you didn’t have to look too hard to find it as it was everywhere . Every student brings something different to training. The exception here was that everybody brought something positive and I am sure left feeling as invigorated and rejuvenated as I did. This was a wonderful seminar in a great venue with fantastic students. All the ingredients for a perfect storm !

I started this , what for me is an epic  statement, by mentioning how I felt at the beginning of my Aikido journey and that this seminar took me back to those wonderful early days. Thank you so much to all who made this possible especially Ismail Hasan  Sensei who made this happen .

Thank you

Stephen Boyle

Boyle Sensei is the head coach at Wishaw Aikikai and is a senior instructor of the British Birankai, and is a former member of the British Birankai Technical Committee, responsible for the technical direction of the art within the British Birankai.
A beginners thoughts on starting Aikido

A beginners thoughts on starting Aikido

I found Aikido when I thought it would be good for me to start learning some form of self-defence. I know a few girls at school who learn various different martial arts and they all speak very highly of it and so I thought it would be a good thing to look into further. As someone who is intrigued by Japanese culture I thought Aikido would be an interesting place to start. But I didn’t really know much else about it and so when I went to my first session I really didn’t know what to expect. I think it’s safe to say that from the beginning I was hooked. It was better than I could have hoped, and I knew that it was something that I would want to continue with long into the future.

One of the many things that made me stick with it, is the fact that I can get away and take a break from some of the stressful things going on. While I’m there I don’t have to worry about my mountain of school work and passing my exams. I can’t think about all that as I need to focus on getting my technique and my movement’s right. It’s a way for me to take a step back and focus on something else.

Something I didn’t expect was how quickly I would progress. It’s only been a few months, but I’ve already learnt so much, and I know there’s more to come. I can still remember learning how to do a forward ukemi (falling) and how nerve wracking it was doing something that went completely against my instincts. But now not only can I do them, I can also use them confidently when being thrown. And while I know they’re not perfect and I can still improve, it’s amazing to see how far I’ve come in so little time.

Starting something new has always been difficult for me, I’m a very self-conscious person and I hate drawing attention to myself. Aikido has helped me to push and overcome those boundaries and has helped me become more confident in myself. This was helped by the amazing people I train with. I was nervous when I first started group classes and I was worried that I was going to be far behind. But that quickly vanished. The people there were so welcoming and always happy to help me if I made a mistake. It’s partly due to that, that I really look forward to my sessions which have honestly become the best part of my week.

by Beth Harris