The End of the First Year
I went to see the man in charge of Sunderland Physical Education (SPE) whom I had met once before through Mr. Logan. Although he was no longer active, I had been told that he was an Aikidoist who had led an SPE-sponsored group of practitioners that was loosely associated with the Renown Aikido Society. I inquired of him as to whether there might be a space available for me to teach Aikido within their program.
At the time he must have been in his late 50s – a typical English gentleman: tall, slender, well-educated, and speaking English on a slow, clear, and dignified manner. He also appeared to be well-informed of my status and seemed very sympathetic toward me as he advised me to come back a few days later.
Upon my second visit to his office, he told me that there were two evening classes par week available for me to teach at a local school in town. The classes had been meeting for some time already and were being taught by one of his senior ranking members (a brown belt, or third kyu-first kyu) who was willing to turn the classes over to me. At the same time, he told me that he had arranged a room for me in the home of another member, free of charge. I was deeply moved by his kindness and felt I had been touched by the hands of the Buddha. In early October of 1966, Mitsuko and I moved to the house owned by the dojo member and his wife – they were a childless couple in their early 30s. The wife was a clerk at the SPE office, and the husband worked at the town shipyard. The room given to us was basically a living room with a bathroom attached and two more rooms downstairs comprised our hosts’ living quarters. We were delighted to be received so open-heartedly by them. From time to time we would dine together or go out for a week-end picnic in the vast countryside of Northumberland. It was our first experience of the real English way of life.
The classes held at the local secondary school numbered around 20 students maximum and were made up of a mixture of both men and women of varying ages – all of whom appeared to be beginners regardless of their rank. There were a number of people who came from the Aikido section of a dojo in town called Sunderland Martial Arts Academy, which offered classes in Aikido, Judo and Karatedo.
Sometimes after I began teaching at the secondary school, the Sunderland Academy invited me to teach at their dojo three times a week on a regular basis. It was a small group of about 10, and again everyone appeared to be beginners. Fortunately for me there was a small number of young students around 18 to 20 years old who were physically fit and eager to learn. Eventually this dojo became the center of my teaching activity in Northeast England until I left for London in 1968.
During this time also, the SPE gave me a daytime class once a week at the Monkwearmouth Technical College, so after a period of inactivity I was once again fully engage in teaching Aikido six days a week. Although I had experiences rapid and dramatic changes since my arrival in England in early May 1966, I now felt content and happy in having taken a real step forward in establishing myself in this new and strange environment. I was finally able to send a positive report back to Hombu Dojo about my progress and status after what had been a long silence.
Everything seemed to be moving in the right direction for a while; however, my contentment did not last long, as once again I had to suffer the consequences of a series of unlucky incidents. In mid-October 1966, a demonstration sponsored by the local television station was held in the gymnasium of the secondary school where I had been conducting evening classes. For my part, I used for uke the senior member who had been leading the classes before my arrival. Unfortunately, during the demonstration he landed badly and hit his head on the floor so hard as to cause a severe concussion. He was taken to the hospital and successfully treated for intracranial bleeding; however, he did lose some measure of sight in one of his eyes.
Another demonstration was arranged a few weeks later by the school principal who was a member of the evening classes. The exhibition took place at a garden house near the beach, and the audience was entirely comprised of elderly British ladies. I was taken aback by the sight of this large number of well-dressed ladies sitting in a circle drinking tea and eating sweet cakes, and rather dismayed when I realized that the demonstration was to take place on the circle of green lawn in the center of their gathering. I hesitated momentarily, as in my mind it was out of question to give a martial arts exhibition as entertainment for a tea party of elderly ladies, but then I said to myself, “Well, this is England, not Japan.” and began the demonstration against my better judgement. Toward the end of the show I decided to do some Jodori weapon take-away techniques. As I took my uke in kotegaeshi, he lost control of his jo, and the weapon flew through the air and smashed the teacup of a lady as she was raising it to her lips to drink. This was closely followed by loud shrieks, and the woman whose cup was smashed fainted dead away. The episode at the tea party drew a huge public outcry and sharp criticism of the uncivilized behavior of this foreigner who offended the delicate way of English society.
The final event in my string of bad luck occurred around the disposition of a promising student. The student was a member of the Sunderland Martial Arts Academy who had started attending my evening classes. He was in his early 40s, had been training in Aikido for a number of years and at the time held the rank of brown belt. For reasons unknown to me at the time, the head of the SPE and his senior mand decide d to refuse the student the opportunity to participate in my evening classes. When I inquired as to their reason for rejecting this student, they simply told me that he was a “bad man”.
To all accounts he appeared to me to be an eager student who attended all of my classes and not show any sign of misbehaving. I asked them to reconsider their decision and requested another meeting to discuss the issue. We met again a few days later, and they maintained their earlier stance on the subject. In anticipation of their response, I had spent the previous few days preparing an answer to them. I said that I would bring the student in question to classes with me as personal teaching assistant, and stated furthermore that since the classes were open to the public and funded by local tax payers, then we were obliged to keep the door open to everyone without personal discrimination. They responded by saying. “Very well”, giving this naïve soul the idea that the issue has been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Shortly thereafter, I was informed that I had been fired from teaching the classes sponsored by the SPE.
I was not entirely surprised, as I had been sensing an uneasiness that had begun with the first incident of injuring the ex-chief instructor at a demonstration; which had then grown substantially with the public outcry following the tea party and now with this third unfortunate event, which finally culminated in the complete breakdown of a good an happy relationship between SPE and myself.
A few days after being fired from the SPE classes, I received notice that we must vacate the house that the SPE had arranged for us. The eviction was somewhat of a blessing in disguise, as the quarters we were privileged to have free of charge were not suitable for us and doubtless had cause great inconvenience to our hosts. The room in which we stayed was cold and damp, and the only way to heat it was to constantly burn coal in the fireplace, the backdraft from which filled the room with smoke. This circumstance in combination with the cold and damp caused me to develop a serious lung infection with exacerbation of my asthma. Furthermore, in order to treat my illness, I needed to regularly soak in a tub full of hot water to warm my body and ease my breathing with the steam. Unfortunately, the hot water reserve was very limited in the house, so poor Mitsuko had to run up and down the stairs to bring hot water in a pan from the stove in the kitchen. I suspect we used a great deal of electricity in this endeavor on top of what must have been an entire winter’s worth of coal within a few weeks.
A few days before Christmas of 1966, I visited the patron of the YMCA hostel to see if there might be a room available for me and Mitsuko. The patron was very understanding of our predicament and gave special permission for Mitsuko to stay there with me despite their policy of only allowing male residents. Upon our departure from the house in which we had lived for three months, I thanked the couple for their generosity, expressed my most sincere apologies for any inconvenience we may have caused during our stay, and presented them with a camera I had purchased in Japan. They looked sad and sorry for us, and I reckoned them among the good and generous common people I had been fortunate to meet wherever I went.
The room at the YMCA hostel was like heaven to me, as there was central heating and unlimited hot water for bathing. Meals were served every day in the morning and the evening except for Sundays and holidays. My asthma soon disappeared completely. There was hardly ever anyone at the hostel during the day since most of the residents were college students from Asia, Africa and the Middle East. I felt more comfortable socializing with these young people – not only because the English they spoke was easier for me to understand, but also because of my curiosity about their motivation to study in the West. They reminded me so strongly of the many Japanese students who had venture into the West to broaden their academic experience around the turn of the century, and I was fascinated by their desire to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors. They appeared to be from well-to-do families and expressed ambitions of participating in the future development of their respective home countries. I spent time with them as much as I could, having tea in the lounge or playing ping pong, all the while steadily improving my English conversation skills.
On December 30, 1966, I went to teach the last class of the year on the Monkwearmouth College. The bus ride to the college was about 20 minutes long, but I decided to walk in order to save money so that I could buy some bread and a bottle of Guinness for our first New Year’s Eve in England.
All was quiet, and we could see the snow begin to fall outside our windows. We ate bread and sipped Guinness slowly like a religious ceremony while we reminisced about the richness of New Year’s festivities in Japan.