Interview with Henry Ellis and Derek Eastman
by Keith Morgan
Reprinted with the approval of the magazine from the April 2006 issue of Martial Arts Illustrated and the magazine's Aikido correspondent Keith Morgan Sensei. Sorry this is not a dedication to Lennon / McCartney, but continuing the theme of early pioneers of the martial arts in the UK. It gives me great pleasure this month to talk to Henry Ellis, pioneer of Aikido, International teacher and author.
A True Aikido Story: The Long and Winding Road
Keith Morgan: Hello, Henry, thank you for this opportunity, without being rude, how old are you?
Henry Ellis and Derek Eastman
Henry Ellis: I was born May 3rd 1936, so I will be 70 this year. [ Looking at Henry Ellis, believe me this was hard to believe].
So what got you interested in Aikido?
Henry Ellis: Well, I never really was at first. Although I was quite athletic, cycling was my passion. I wasn’t really into club cycling, but competitive racing. I entered my first race in 1951. I have always been competitive, I guess you had to be in those days. Being brought up in the war years and post war years, you had to fight for everything. Nothing was ever given to you, and that still holds with me today. Coupled with that was my actual upbringing. My father was a Yorkshire coalminer and I was brought up with an iron fist. That made me hard.
So how did you get involved in Aikido?
Henry Ellis: A friend of mine invited me to a Judo club, this was in 1957, at the Hut. Now I really wasn’t too bothered about it. It didn’t do too much for me. I was cycling 50 miles a day then. But I went with him anyway.
Who was teaching the Judo?
Henry Ellis: A man called Derek Tubb, I did actually enjoy it. I then started to watch the Aikido, and one guy there called Hadyn Foster. Hadyn had just started Aikido just a few months earlier. Hadyn still teaches at the Hut today. Isn’t that amazing!
When did Aikido first start in the UK?
Henry Ellis: This is very important to get correct, as this is history, our heritage, that unfortunately is being corrupted to either promote others' alleged history. Aikido was officially introduced to the UK by Kenshiro Abbe in 1955. He was originally brought over by the London Judo Society ( LJS ) He was a great Budo man, skilled in Judo, Kendo, JuKendo ( bayonet ), Iai, Karate, and of course Aikido, having been a personal student of Ueshiba for 10 years. Kenshiro Abbe Sensie gave Aikido demonstrations at the London Judo Society dojo and at the Royal Albert Hall in 1955. This is a documented fact! Anyhow, when I saw it at the Hut, I didn’t even know what it was, but I loved it. Of course in those days, they were not looking for numbers in terms of membership.
And Abbe’s connection with the Hut?
Henry Ellis: The Hut became the Abbe School of Budo, and believe me it was tough. Abbe Sensei would visit quite regularly, and he always wore his old brown pin-stripe suit. We used to call it his “de-mob suit”, because that’s what it looked like. In fact it may even have been one, picked up second hand from somewhere. Anyhow he would just kick off his shoes and come on the mat dressed just like that, teach a technique or two, and then leave!
How very eccentric!
Henry Ellis: Absolutely. He also used a shinai ( split bamboo sword ) His English was atrocious and he struggled with the language. He would stand on the mat and in pigeon English, would say, “ My English is very poor, My Shinai speaks perfect English! “ And you know , he’d whack us with it all night long to correct us. We used to go home with welts on our legs, our arms and lumps and bumps on our heads. But I loved it. To me it was just as hard as my childhood. I was used to beatings. I didn’t take exception to being shouted or hollered at. The training was rigorous too, with bunny hops around the dojo, press ups on the wrists to strengthen them up. Yes, it was tough. But there was a different breed of people training in Aikido in those days, and that is probably true of the other arts. You know, we had market traders from London, tough labourers and a few, let's say, dubious characters. These were naturally tough men who had grown up in tough areas in tough times.
People today cannot even hope to comprehend this. How often were you training?
Henry Ellis: Five nights a week and Sunday mornings. I was hooked! We all trained so hard, and not just for grades either. Today, people seem to chase grades and get them far too early.
I totally agree with that sentiment.
Henry Ellis: You know, the hardest grade then and still is in our schools , is third kyu, or green belt. Green belt is without a doubt the hardest grade and the most important. It's at this point that a student is beginning to learn what the art is all about. You are bringing together the principles you have learnt as a novice. Back then, as a green belt, you would be taken on by a Dan grade as his uke, or assistant. I became assistant to Ken Williams Sensei who was running the Aikido then at the Hut. In about 1959, Ken Williams and I did one of the first public displays of Aikido in the UK at the invite of Graham Burt. Graham went on in later years to introduce Aikido to Canada in 1965.
That’s something. Aikido was spreading worldwide, not only from Japan, but from the UK as well.
Henry Ellis: Yes, I suppose that is right. These early displays or visits were to Judo clubs initially. Abbe used to hold a summer camp every year for just one week. It was mainly Judo, with the Aikido being relegated to a small room somewhere, and the Karate usually outside. On the last day, we were usually allowed onto the mats to give a display. Consequently, we would make our contacts with the Judo boys and then visit them at their dojos. These boys were tough too, and we had to prove the effectivness, in no uncertain terms, of Aikido to them to educate them ( laughs ).
Henry Ellis: Yes, Sunday mornings, the Aikido Black Belts would turn up at the Hut, and we’d lock the door and get stuck in. We soon found out what worked and what didn’t . I remember once, Ken Williams caught me with a good blow to the chest and I went down to the floor, screaming “Aaarrgh. “ Well everyone knew me, I never screamed, or murmured from a punch or throw, Ellis never did, and they all stopped. Ken came over and bent over me to check me and I went whack and grazed him! But that is what it was like, he never did that again, and in fact from that point on he called me “The Fox. “
Well, a little deceit does no harm!
Henry Ellis: Yes, but there was no animosity, we were working-out together. But it did get out of hand once. I remember, David Williams, Ken’s brother. Well let's just say he was a dangerous man. I was having one in the pub with David one night and it basically ended up in the pub car park. Well I got David down and the point was proven. As I helped him up he smashed me in the face and broke my nose,. There was no need for it. He couldn’t say “good technique.“ Just hit me with a sucker punch, He did lose the respect of a lot of the boys after that. Another time, I wanted to train with Eric Dollimore, one of the original Dan grades. You’ve got to remember, I was quite an arrogant sod in those days. “Sorry, can’t oblige today, I’ve got lunch at my girlfriend's at 12 ,” he said. I said to him “ Yeah, I thought you would say that,“ and turned away smiling to myself. A little later, Eric appeared at the changing room door, less his hakama, and said, “You ready then?” “It’s a quarter to twelve” I said “ Haven’t you got to go?” “ It won’t take that long “ he answered. I thought to myself, "It won’t mate!"
So we set to against each other, and he caught me with a beautiful technique, got right underneath me and sent me flying across the mat, right off it in fact, and crash, right through the wall of Ken Williams office, who happened to be working in there at the time! I just lay there, plaster and dust and bits and pieces falling all over me. Ken didn’t even blink, he just looked over his desk and said “Ellis, there’s a bloody door there, use it! “
Henry Ellis: Yes, and it gets better, When Derek Eastman first came to the Hut with a friend, the first lesson he saw was me blindfolded, being attacked with shinai, and having to defend myself just using my senses. Derek was so taken with all of this he joined, whereas his mate, who was the one who really wanted to come along, buggered off! Well Derek, even as a beginner showed great potential, and his ukemi (breakfalls) were superb. In those days, as mentioned earlier, you had to be a green belt before you could become a Dan grade’s assistant, but I wanted Derek. Despite the protests, I basically stamped my feet and stood my ground, and I got Derek as my uke, We’ve been together ever since, over forty years. You know he is still so loyal, that even on seminars today he goes to carry my bag, I have to tell him off, that I can carry my own bag, and we are just like two grumpy old men arguing.
You very rarely see that sort of loyalty today. Sorry for switching, but I have just noticed your Dan grade certificate on the wall, and it is numbered. When did you take it?
Henry Ellis: Gosh, around 1959, although I can’t be that certain now,. The certificate is numbered 394, and signed and sealed by Morihei Ueshiba. So I guess I must have been the 394th Dan grade.
That is a fabulous piece of history there.
Henry Ellis: In those days, and still, everybody who graded, a bona fida grade, that is, at Dan grade level in Aikido, was registered with the AikiKai Hombu in Japan. But there are so many groups now that are not associated with the Hombu. So many things change and not always for the better.
I agree with that.
Henry Ellis: Take even preparatory exercises. My own dojo have always done press-ups on the backs of the wrists at different angles. You now get people who say these are bad for you. In all the years I have taught, and all the students I have had, I have never had anybody complain of wrist injuries. These people basically haven’t got the courage, the discipline, determination, and resolve to achieve this level of training.
Unfortunately, that’s true of many of the arts today. Students don’t seem to want to put the work in, and of course you get the associations or clubs that are all too willing to dish out the grades simply for money and numbers. It’s frightening, but you can still become a black belt and still be a couch potato. People don’t want to train hard, and in some instances hide behind “Best Practice“ policies. Even in the B.A.B., instructors argue over the teaching of locks to children. Just because you teach them doesn’t mean you have to apply them. Just teach the shapes.
Henry Ellis: Absolutely, People are too soft and too scared today.
So how did The Hut and Aikido progress at that point in time?
Henry Ellis: Well, Abbe Sensei was obviously still our main teacher, and his style was very direct, very linear. Then in 1963, we had another Sensei visit us, Noro. Now he was very different. White hakama, white dogi. He had a lot of movement in his techniques, lots of circling and swirling. We used to call him the White Tornado! He was fast, dynamic, but he would tell us off for not moving, so we would change. But another teacher who was also with us at the time, Nakazono, would then come over to us and tell us off for having too much movement! It was very confusing. We went through a few different phases in these early years. Even to wearing black gis, that we had to dye ourselves, because you just couldn’t get black in those days. We then changed back to white within a few months, very frustrating, too.
But the great thing that Noro brought with him from Japan were the “Forms “ These were the basic nine forms that simplified teaching. A great way to teach. Unfortunately these have been abandoned now by many schools, but we still use them to this day. To us then, It was a revelation, and wherever we went, we taught these forms.
So how did Aikido become national?
Henry Ellis: It was Ken Williams' idea really. We had been attending Abbe’s summer schools, and getting invites to visit other dojos, and it progressed from there to the point that, at Ken's request, Derek and I took a year off from work, got into my car and just drove off. We literally travelled for 12 months around the UK, introducing Aikido wherever we could. We didn’t get paid for this, but we got well treated. Ralph Reynolds, at this time too, was travelling down every Sunday from Birmingham to train at the Hut, and don’t forget, there were no motorways then.
[ At this point we are joined by Derek Eastman who also contributes to the interview. ]
Derek Eastman: Part of my job in those days was to get to the dojo ( The Hut ) early on Sunday mornings, open up and sweep the mats down. I also had to light the paraffin heaters to take the chill off the place. Ralph and a couple of his early students would always be there waiting for me. Not many people know that Ralph would travel for over five hours to get just three hours training, and glean that little bit of information, then go back again. That’s dedication.
Absollutely, I know where you are coming from there. I still travel every week to see Billy Doak, my teacher, and that’s over seven hours driving return trip just for two-three hours training. But it’s worth it.
Henry Ellis: That’s what it takes, Ralph would then work hard in the Midlands to establish Aikido. Anyhow, Ken now thought it was right to spread further. “ So where do we go? “ I asked, “ Wherever there is no Aikido, “ he answered. And that was it. We literally set off with only about £20 to £30 between us.
How did you survive?
Henry Ellis: We literally had to con our way everywhere. Not with the students of course. Take for instance, we’d chat up a pretty girl to get a meal, or just to kip on her sofa for the night. We’d get jobs in every town we went to, road sweeper’s, labourers, on the railways, anything. In fact in one town we got jobs as undertakers . We nearly got the sack from that one, when, as a prank, we put a coffin on the roof of our mini, complete with body. We only wanted a photograph of it! Unfortunately, the undertaker came back, didn’t quite see it our way. We did eventually get the sack when he caught me with his daughter in the Chapel of Rest. So we had to move from there quickly. We worked everywhere. Even as photographers on the coast. We knew absolutely nothing about photography, but we just bluffed it.
Derek Eastman: Yes, great days, basically, we had made contacts through the summer camps, and we would introduce Aikido to the various Judo clubs. If they liked what we were doing, somebody in the club would probably know somebody who could get us a job or cheap board/ lodgings. We would then stay there a few weeks and introduce Aikido on a bigger scale, teaching perhaps 7 nights a week.
Henry Ellis: This is why it is so important to get this early history right, I mean, we would sometimes sleep in the car if we couldn’t find lodgings. People either don’t know this or, worse, refuse to acknowledge it, or even change it.
Didn’t this close proximity, 24 hours a day, cause any friction between you?
Henry Ellis: Well, Derek and I have know each other now for nearly 50 years, and we have never had a bad word between us bar once. It was during this period of being on the road and we were up North and needed petrol. I asked Derek if he had any money, I was skint, Yes, 2 shillings, 1 shilling for petrol, and 1 shilling for fags. “ You what?” I said. “A shilling for fags! Are you going to push this car puffing a fag? Give me that money now before I punch your lights out!” And there we were, arguing on this petrol forecourt. Some total stranger who had been listening, came over, gave Derek a packet of fags with 3 cigarettes in and walked off!
Derek Eastman Yeah, So I got my fags and we got our petrol.
Henry Ellis: Even funnier though. The next day, we chatted up two girls at the factory and asked them out to the best night club in town. Now Derek and I had worked this routine before. We would argue in front of the girls as to whose treat it was going to be, both of us offering to pay. We would then arrive at the club that night with the girls, but neither of us having our wallets, “believing “ it was the other one who had agreed to pay! This would then spark off another argument in front of the girls, who at this point were keen to get in, and would offer to pay to get in. So we would have a meal, al our drinks paid for, by the girls that we had asked out. That is how we survived. We did this for 12 months, scamming our way around. We were still reporting back to Ken Williams too on our progress. Oh, and I must tell you this one. We were at a working man's club one night, and it was dead, real boring. Well this place had a chicken coup out the back, full of these small bantam chickens. So I got Derek to open all the windows in this club, on the premise that the smoke from peoples' cigarettes was upsetting my asthma. I went outside and we shoved all these chickens through the windows. It caused mayhem, but it livened up a really dull night. Of course when I went back inside, the landlord went ballistic, so we had to get out quick, but not before I had helped myself to one of these chickens. I caught one in the toilets, wrung its neck and got to the car. The chicken though, wasn’t dead, and driving back to our digs the bloody thing revived and went ballistic in the car. Imagine, two big blokes, in a mini, and a chicken going nutty! Well I grabbed it again and gave it another tug, Quiet. Thank God! We got back to the lodgings, and gave the bird to our landlady to prepare for supper. No sooner had we put the thing on the kitchen table but it revived again, running around the kitchen. Well after surviving all of that, I decided the chicken deserved to live so we took it back. Derek was astounded and said it was the first kind thing he had ever seen me do. They were great days.
One can understand the importance of appreciating the history of the arts, particularly in the early years of its acceptance and development within the UK, and obviously having to prove itself against other arts. Even more amazing is that you had no funding, no grants, just your own wits. How do you feel about the general state of Aikido in the U.K. today?
Henry Ellis: It's changed, and I can’t say always for the better. I have been accused of staying locked into the 60’s, but what is wrong with that? I see so much rubbish today. Nakazono was the first high grade teacher to be invited over here and he was brilliant. Today, you see so many 6th and 7th Dans and above around, yet they are not a patch on these early teachers. You know, you get so much rubbish spouted these days too. I once heard one particular women teacher say, “ I felt this burst of energy within my stomach and rise up through my head and explode. The energy filtered back down me and it felt like a flower opening in my stomach.” What on earth is that all about? I’ve even seen an instructor on a seminar, bring out a load of red card arrow markers, and place them on the mat around his uke, to demonstrate the various angles etc, within the technique. It was only while he was trying to apply the technique that his uke pointed out that the arrows were pointing the wrong way. And people wonder why Aikido isn’t taken seriously.
I appreciate what you are saying, but I don’t think it is limited to Aikido. You see it in all the arts now, where self-proclaimed masters ( I hate that term ) with very little experience or depth, are trying to re-invent the wheel.
Henry Ellis: Well, yes, but one of the difficulties with Aikido is that Ueshiba, the founder, went through changes, and the instructors who were around him at these different times reflect this, possibly in a more exaggerated way. You see, you have pre-war Ueshiba where his style is more Ju Jutsu in form, a lot more violent and practical. Then there is post-war Ueshiba, where he is more spiritual. The teachers of this era try to emulate this, but fail. There is too much hocus pocus.
So you don’t take on board easily then the concept of Ki as being a mystical, universal energy, and you down an opponent with just your stare?
Henry Ellis: Listen, you know and I know this is just bull. I asked Abbe about Ki. He said everything is Ki: when you move, that is Ki, when you think that is KI. Nothing strange. But I have seen some odd things. Abbe lived in Acton and I used to visit him quite often. Now Abbe used to have his windows open, and his room would fill with birds. I don’t mean one or two, I mean dozens of them. There would be sparrows, starlings, pigeons, blackbirds, all sorts. They would come to his window sill, then fly into the room and perch there, all of them together. Really weird. They were never afraid of him.
So how did you come to found your own schools, the Ellis Schools of Aikido?
Derek Eastman Well, I’d like to answer that one. Henry had a school in Bracknell and one in Slough. Whenever I was home from the rigs I would pop in and train. In fact I first met Chiba at the Slough dojo. I then opened my own school in Basingstoke, I also helped Trevor Jones in two of his schools. We were then asked to be part of the newly formed Martial Arts Commission. But because we were just a small community of clubs rather than an association, we decided to join a larger group. which was run by Kanetsuka. Kanetsuka, unfortunately, left the organisation early on, for several reasons, but one was that various parties within the British Aikido Board did not recognise my grades. Kanetsuka borrowed a copy of my certificate and asked if anybody at the table could read Japanese. He then pointed out that the signature on my certificate was that of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido. How then, could the B.A.B. not recognise such a grade? He then got up and walked out.
You are saying that the B.A.B. didn’t recognise grades given by the very founder of Aikido?
Derek Eastman That’s what I’m saying, So we were left out in the cold again. It was Jim Elkin, Brian Eustace and Eddie Stratton who suggested we join in our own right, but we needed a name. So I thought it would be a good idea to call our group The Ellis Schools of Aikido, for exactly the same reasons that Ken Williams called the Hut The Abbe School of Judo. So I contacted Henry for permission to use his name. We had a meeting, he agreed, and he joined us. In effect, he joined his own association.
Well, I hope he keeps his dues up to date!
Derek Eastman: Yeah. ( laughs ) Absolutely, It’s a sad fact that the B.A.B. who have gone on record as stating that they have no interest in the history of Aikido in Britain, have criticised Henry for using his own name for his schools, when in fact, in truth, it was me. It is a very sad state of affairs when a governing body, that is there for the promotion of its art, has no interest its own history, but can make statements concerning others.
That is very sad. Yet, if they looked at the history of Ryu in Japan, many were named after their founders, and branch schools were named after their founders too. So its not that arrogant really.
Henry Ellis: That’s very true, but we have consistency. Our organisation has been going now since the inception of the M.A.C. without any splintering or break-away groups. How many organisations can claim that today? On a political level, Aikido is probably the most disharmonious of all the arts.
Well that is, unfortunately, probably true.
Henry Ellis: The same applies in Japan though. Even as far back as 1967, Tadashi Abe (no relation to Kenshiro Abbe), a powerful man within the Aikido world, returned to the AikiKai Hombu, and was appalled at what he saw as being passed off as Aikido. He shook his head at the changes. He left leaving his certificates on the tatami.
Before we get too embroiled in the politics, have you any other stories of the early years?
Henry Ellis: Hell yes. In fact, thanks to me and Derek, Aikido was never taken on by the Girl Guides Association, and a host of other Youth associations in Great Britain. That would have been a great boost to the early development. We were asked by Abbe Sensei to do a demonstration at Lime Grove Baths, near the B.B.C. Now this was going to be a very important night with many dignitaries attending, amongst them were Lady Baden Powell, the Japanese Ambassador, Abbe Sensei, of , course and loads of publicity people. Derek and I never rehearsed our demos, we always just did them, enjoying the spontaneity of technique which made it that more real and convincing, We also used live weapons. Well, there was supposed to be a Judo display on before us, but unfortunately the Judo instructor and I had a run-in back stage, he deserved a bit of a slap, so I gave it to him. This prevented him from going on and we were called up early. Abbe was telling us how important this event was, but I was still riled up from earlier. I’ve always had a bit of a short fuse. So Derek and me set to, and clatter clatter, a packet of cigarettes and a lighter fall out of Derek’s gi top in the middle of the mat on this stage, half way through our demo, I went berserk and slammed poor Derek all over the place, one throw in particular, and this is true.
Derek Eastman: Oh Christ, yes!
Henry Ellis: One throw in particular took Derek clean off the stage, over the heads of the front row of the audience and back again. But of course, Derek was now getting angry with me and the attacks were getting more ferocious. He picked up a knife, real remember, and launched a full attack at me. He came at me so fast he actually caught my gi, cutting it and grazing my stomach, nothing serious. In fact, that gi now is in a framed case in one of our dojos in the United States. Well, after the show, Lady Baden Powell came up to us and stated, “That is the most disgusting display of gratuitous violence I have ever witnessed.” But the Japanese Ambassador pushed through and congratulated us on one of the best displays he had ever seen! Unfortunately, we had ruined it, and we have to apologise to the whole Aikido world.
So where is Aikido going today do you think?
Henry Ellis: I don’t know, and that’s a shame. Years ago students never asked about grades and when the next one was. In fact, in my schools, they daren’t. But today, well, Abbe Sensei used to say: “No matter your pretence, you are what you are and nothing more.” I believe that. If you’re a 3rd dan and make yourself a 5th. Well, you’re still a 3rd dan really, and probably a poor one at that. You are what you are
Derek Eastman: Back at the Hut, there were only 14 dan grades. Now it didn’t matter if you were a 1st Dan, 2nd Dan, 3rd Dan or what. You were only referred to as a Dan grade. But today, people are only too eager to tell you what grade they are, or allegedly are.
So tell the readers a little about the Kenshiro Abbe celebrations last year.
Henry Ellis: Last year 2005, was the 50th Anniversary of Aikido being officially introduced to the UK. This was a milestone that needed to be recognised. We arranged an Aikido and Budo seminar at Crystal Palace on the 14th of May. We had Aikido, Kendo, Iaido, and Kyudo.
We had speeches of support from Dr, Hamada of the Dai Nippon Butokukai, Kyoto. We had a letter from the Aikikai Hombu in Japan. The Japanese Embassy sent an official attaché, Mr Motai, who read a speech based on material from their own library. We had some of the U.K.’s most senior Aikido instructors, including the last surviving four from the original Dan grades from the Hut. All were giving demos and teaching. People came from all over the world, yet the chairman of the B.A.B. who we invited, couldn’t even be bothered to be there. There were members of the B.A.B. attending, but none in an official capacity. Now that is a crime. Ralph Reynolds was there teaching. It was great having all these people there together again in one place to celebrate. It was a piece of history. I even commented to Ralph Reynolds that this would probably be the last time that we would be all together again. None of us were getting younger. [see footnote ]
Derek even gave a demonstration of techniques in the manner and style of the original four Japanese teachers that we had. He is probably the only man I know who can do this. It just gave an insight to the younger generations, the difference in style and their influences.
That would have been interesting. Do you have a favourite technique at all?
Derek Eastman: No, not really, Just as it comes, although others have commented on my use of Kaitennage, and that I perform it differently than most would expect it. I suppose it is my attitude that I try to get across rather than just the technique, and this is the influence that Ken Williams had on me. He would always apply a technique as if a sword was involved. Kaitennage lends itself well to this application, but very few people actually complete Kaitennage as it should be done. They sort of half do it. And, of course, there is the self defence application. It is quite brutal, but I haven’t seen that done for quite a while.
And yours, Henry? Have you a favourite?
Henry Ellis: Ah well, I suppose Nikkyo, from any of its forms really, Yes, I quite like Nikkyo, I’m sure a lot of other people would tell you that too.
How does the training develop in your own dojo? Is it art or more practical?
Henry Ellis: Very practical to start off with. Still learning basics, obviously, but very practical and applicable. Later on it becomes more art. In fact, we have often been criticised that what we do is too near Daito-Ryu.Too hard and too vicious.
Derek Eastman Yes, that’s right, But I, well none of us, have ever studied Daito-Ryu. In fact, I’ve never been on the mat with a Daito-Ryu instructor.
Perhaps that is a sign of the decline of the arts. They are becoming too `airy-fairy ,` too commercial, too easy, and basically put their students in a false sense of security.
What advice would you give to prospective beginners to the arts.
Henry Ellis: Simple. Look around, visit as many clubs and styles as you can. Don’t just settle for the club nearest your home. Look at their students, how are they? How do they perform? Does it strike you that it’s a martial arts club or a social club? How well do the lower grades do? A lot of questions, but it is difficult to find a good teacher. What I do find terrible are these places that have six-year old Black Belts.
Absolutely! That is disgusting!
Henry Ellis: How on earth can a 6 year old be a Black Belt? It demeans the meaning of a Black Belt, It demeans the art, and to me it insults the intelligence of the public.
Couldn’t agree more. In fact, I would not even consider a club that had children as Dan grades. It can’t be much of an art if you can become a Black Belt at 6 years of age, or even at 10. Putting it bluntly, Its absolute b******s.
Henry Ellis: Well, its just commercialism. It makes a good story for the local press and TV. But you know, It's really child abuse to me. You make a child a Dan grade, publicise it, giving the kid false confidence and hope, and with very little ability really, and you make them a target for all the school bullies or hard boys. What better credibility for a school hard nose than to beat up a Black Belt! That is sad for the child and they are putting that child in danger.
Derek Eastman: Well, we still practice the Mon system for children. And even if they reach brown belt as a junior, when they reach working age they go back down to green belt for when they come onto the senior class. You have to for their safety and welfare.
That’s good practise. You are no longer part of the B.A.B. although you were one of the founding members, and definitely a pioneer of Aikido in Britain, Why?
Henry Ellis: Very simple again. My own principles and truth. The B.A.B., although not interested in its own history or the history of Aikido in Britain, decided in 2000, to give awards to members for long service in Aikido. They awarded those whose history was basically fictitious, and could be proven so, The B.A.B. despite my protests, and this misrepresentation of the truth, which slurs the memory and hard work of the original Dan grades from the Hut, continued to support this lie. I had no option but to resign. But it got to the point, because the B.A.B. were trying to shut me up, that a meeting was arranged with the U.K. Sports Council. The B.A.B. had to give me a full written, public apology. I don’t want to bore the readers with all this political nonsense and the maliciousness that certain B.A.B. executive members sank to, but information can be seen on http://www.geocities.com/BritishAikido . I will never rejoin them, but it is important to get history recorded and recorded correctly.
Without a doubt. I must admit as a columnist for M.A.I., that the B.A.B. insisted on vetting my articles before submitting them to Bob Sykes when I was their publicity offer. Bob has given me nothing but full support, and consequently I resigned my post from the B.A.B. rather that be subjected to what amounts to censorship. It is too easy to forget and not to consider the effort it took to establish any of the arts in the U.K. and the thanks and gratitude that thousands of people owe pioneers such as yourself. We can just walk into any sports centre, or community hall today, and be met with an astounding array of various martial arts, and just take it for granted that they are there, with no thought of how they arrived. Crikey, I even get prospective students complain that I don’t teach on a certain night in a particular area! What sort of commitment are they now showing.
Henry Ellis: Yes, it's now too easy, but history has to be known, A lot more of the history can be seen on the above website and the other various links. Also, in my book Positive Aikido, there is a lot more, particularly concerning some of the early Japanese instructors.
Well, Henry, Derek, this has been a very full and fascinating day and I am sure the readers of M.A.I. will enjoy this look at the early days of British Aikido. Thank you both for such a laugh too.
Henry Ellis/Derek Eastman: No, thank you for the opportunity.
The title "The Long and Winding Road" was to reflect the long and arduous route of the development of Aikido in the U.K. and those who were responsible and the sacrifices they made. As stated, it is all too easy to take for granted what we have today. This interview itself took on a life of its own, and believe me, there are many stories that I could not simply fit into this article. I suggest you read Positive Aikido. History, roots are important, in fact, vital. It's not enough to know that your prospective teacher is an XYZ Dan, but where have they come from? What’s their history? What are their roots? Can they be verified? The history of the arts are a long and winding road.
Ironically, while preparing the draft of this article, the sad news of the death of Ralph Reynolds was relayed on to me. Prophetic words indeed between Ralph and Henry at the Abbe Celebration last year. A more poignant point to the importance of getting the history recorded for posterity could not have been made. It is with Henry’s permission that I dedicate this month’s column to the memory of Ralph Reynolds, a pioneer of martial arts himself. For him, his road has now come to an end, but hopefully through the students he has inspired, the journey will continue.
For more information on the Ellis Schools of Traditional Aikido, visit http://www.EllisAikido.org.
For the history of British Aikido visit. http://www.geocities.com/BritishAikido