Is Aikido a Martial Art?
Sensei Henry Ellis - 2005.
Author of the new book Positive Aikido.
Henry Ellis ([email protected])
a direct student of the legendary master Kenshiro Abbe sensei from 1957.
In articles parts one and two I have
covered the introduction of Aikido to the West, and the impact on other
Martial Artists, Aikido progressed and developed in the UK by visiting
existing dojos of all the various Martial Arts and offering to demonstrate
and teach for free in the hope of starting a small class in the more
receptive dojos, as one can imagine this was no easy task as more often
than not our efforts were not an open invitation to most dojos.
In the end the positive style of the early Aikido won through, and this is
a very important point to make in the early development of Western Aikido
was that most of the new students of Aikido were from other Martial Arts.
I do not believe that we could have converted other Martial Artists to
Aikido had it not been so strong and effective.
Kenshiro Abbe Sensei - 8th Dan Judo, 6th Dan Karate, 6th Dan Kendo, 6th
I have referred to the many changes in
Aikido over the past 46 years from its history to training and
choreography and Ki Aikido and also the many Harry Potters of the Aikido
world, as a direct result of these articles I was contacted by a Aikido
student in the UK to tell me that she had now stopped training in Aikido
because her teacher stated that he was now going to teach the students "To
breath through their toes".
The most important of all the changes that
have taken place in the past 46 years have to be the changes in technique
and its application, the early style of Aikido was very compact and
powerful. From the day of its introduction to the UK, Aikido was always
taught as a circular moving Martial Art with Tori at the centre of all
As Uke (the attacker) made his attack, Tori would turn within his own
circle making it possible to carry out the technique in a very small area
of maybe four square feet. Today the fantasy aikidoist need a football
I have seen some so called "masters" twirling Uke around on the end of one
finger and pirouetting several times before being thrown the full length
of the mat.
Kenshiro Abbe Sensei always taught that Uke
would only "go" if the technique was effective. I often hear and have seen
some of these people who say they can throw an opponent without touching
them and sometimes by breathing and projecting their "Ki".
You cannot do that if someone is attacking on balance, I have never seen
anyone do that to a student of mine. Of course if you do attack on balance
you will then be accused of "Not harmonizing".
Aikido for real
I have read various accounts of the first
Americans to practice Aikido in the early 60's. There were Americans
practicing Aikido in the UK in the late 1950's at "The Hut" The Abbe
School of Budo.
The Americans were members of the USAF stationed in the UK. they were
always questioning " How would that work in the street?" and we would
often finish up in the car park of The Hut after class and engage in some
Afterwards everyone would be in good spirits and have a few beers.
Sunday mornings were always the best
practice sessions with the dojo doors being locked to all but the Dan
grades. It was then that the Dan grades would fight each other for real.
This was the only way to truly evaluate your technique.
On one occasion I was fighting with Sensei Ken Williams (The British
National Coach) he hit me hard and I went down clutching my chest and
moaning loudly in agony.
It was known that I didn't go down and I never made a fuss, so now
everyone was concerned for me and as Sensei Williams leaned over me asking
"Harry, are you OK" I lashed out with my fist at his head, just making a
glancing contact, he then stepped back and kicked me in the head putting
an end to my cunning.
The smallest of all the Dan grades was Eric
Dollimore, he was only about 5ft-6in in height and around 130 lbs.
I always felt that Eric was avoiding me on these Sunday morning sessions,
as he was about to leave the mat I said to him "Eric, would you like to
try against me" he just turned and said "Sorry Harry, I have to be at my
girlfriends home for lunch". As he left the mat I smiled to myself and
thought "That's what I expected" the smugness did not last long as I heard
a voice behind me say
"OK then Harry, can we make it quick as I must get away".
It was Eric; for a moment I was surprised then I thought to myself if you
want it quick I will accommodate you.
I moved in to take him out with the one punch and the next thing I knew I
had gone through the dojo office partition wall and I was still lying
stunned the office floor when I heard Eric's voice call out
"See you Monday Harry, gotta go".
That was a very important lesson to me, I have never underestimated anyone
since the little guy taught me a lesson.
The Grading Lottery
If in the 1950's and 60's you saw a 5th or
6th Dan you would be in awe of him. I now see so many multi grades and to
be honest they would not be graded first Dan in the old days. They make
these claims knowing that if they are ever challenged and prove their
mettle they know they can claim that this is against the principals of
Another favorite of these people is to juggle around with their grades
and come up with multiples of matching grades, for a prime example of this
abuse check out the article "British Aikido-The Controversy" on the
Mitsusuke Harada Sensei "5th Dan"
Harada Sensei was my Karate teacher in the 1960's, he was then and still
is a 5th Dan at the Shotokan dojo in Tokyo. he was graded by the founder
of modern day Karate Gichin Funakoshi Sensei.
He taught Karate to the USAF at the Kodokan dojo after the second world
war. He was graded 5th Dan by Funakoshi Sensei in 1957 and is still 5th
Dan after 45 years, stating that "Any grade above 5th Dan is totally
This is exactly the feeling of Sensei Derek Eastman and myself, although
we are two of the only remaining four of the original group left of
Kenshiro Abbe Sensei's group from the 1950's, we both agreed that there
were too many "Harry Potter" grades around, we then decided that like
Harada Sensei we would make 5th Dan the highest level in our organization.