Part 3 – The Early Years in England No.1

My arrival at Heathrow Airport in London on May 5, 1966, signaled the end of my six-week journey. However, the troubles associated with that journey were not over yet, as I quickly encountered problems concerning my immigration status. After my luggage had been thoroughly turned inside-out, I was removed to a separate room to be questioned about the purpose of my visit. Ignorant of the fact that I was only carrying a tourist visa, I told the immigration officer that I was in England to teach Aikido. I now understand the reason why I should not have given that answer, but at the time I was confident my entry had all been properly arranged as per my contract with the British Judo Council (BJC), I showed the officer a copy of the contract and all the papers I had been given by the BJC, but to no avail. Mr. Logan was then brought in to account for the purpose of my visit, and after a few hours of negotiations I was finally released. Mr. Logan was not very happy about the incident and informed me of this at length in very-paced English – of course, I could not understand a word.

From there we went straight to Kings Cross Station wherever we boarded an express train bound for Newcastle. The sun had set long ago. I vaguely remember my first view of the English countryside dimly illuminated by the lights of the speeding train. It appeared to be an endless stretch of green fields with no mountains, broken only by occasional patch of forest and small herds of gazing sheep and cows. What struck me most was the impression of an immense expanse of open sky – a stark contrast to the Japanese skies, which are cut up by boundless mountain ranges.

We arrived quite late at Mr. Logan’s residence on Beach Road in North Shields, and were warmly greeted by Mrs. Logan. Shortly after my arrival in the Northeast, Mr. Logan took me to meet some important individuals associated with the local judo dojos under the BJC. He told me then that he intended to establish my dojo in Newcastle in due course and upon the arrival of the tatami mats he had shipped on the same boat that had borne me to England.

From the first day on I struggled with the climate typical of Northeast England – cold and damp with a pervasive fog so dense that the sun is hardly ever seen. There was no clear break of day or perceptible sunrise; hence my only indicator of morning’s arrival was Mrs. Logan knock on my bedroom door, her habitual greeting, “Good morning, Chiba-san,” and the cup of tea she delivered at 8:00 am sharp every morning.

For all her kindness, it was a nightmare for me – I yearned for more sleep and detested the flavor of English tea (the taste for which took me years to acquire and enjoy). Although I was troubled by the unpleasant experience of my morning tea, Mrs. Logan was extremely kind and tender in her care of me; much like my mother whom I had lost only a few months before (she had died on February 15, 1966). Mrs. Logan’s care provided me a much-needed sense of comfort in my strange new home, and I felt very close to her, but could in no way express my personal emotions.

Every morning I struggle to rise from my bed as unrelenting exhaustion and incessant pain in my lower back deepened with each day – both of which seemingly worsened by the feeling of disorientation brought about by the lack of a bright sunrise. I did not appreciate the food served by my host family – the usual farer being meat and vegetables boiled to mash, except on Fridays when we were served fried fish with salt and vinegar. I could not stop dreaming of soy sauce.

On the occasional late Saturday afternoon, the Logans hosted a ritual-like gathering centered around the consumption of English tea, cakes, cookies and pies – an event called “high tea”. The guests sat around the table drinking tea and speaking ceaselessly to each other in low voices. The culture shock was profound for me – they never raised their voices above a low murmur and to all accounts appeared to be whispering in each other’s ears. This behavior was quite contrary to the social norms with which I had grown up and would be considered bizarre in Japanese culture. I did not eat much of anything during my first high tea, as the food offerings were much too sweet for my taste, and I had no idea that an evening meal would not be served afterward. I later realized my mistake as I waited for a dinner call that never came.

For reasons unknown to me at the time, there was a lengthy period after my arrival in England wherein I was not asked to teach or train, and I spent my days alone in the Logan’s house as they both went to work each day. Most of the time I sat in my room writing progress reports to Hombu Dojo and letters to family and friends, while at other times I would walk along the beach located about two miles from the house at the end of Beach Road. At the north end of the beach lay Whitley Bay, and at its southernmost end was the mouth of the Tyne River. A few miles upstream stood Newcastle Upon Tyne – a major center of business well-known for its shipbuilding industry and surrounded by a rich coal-mining region. I had known of the city long before my arrival in England, as it is where the Mikasa, the first battler-ship of the Japanese fleet was built in 1902. The Mikasa was the flagship of the Japanese fleet during the Russo-Japanese War. That fleet fought the battle of the Japanese Sea in 1905, wherein it destroyed the Russian Baltic fleet – the largest fleet in the world at the time.

The Mikasa in 1907
The Mikasa in 1907

 

Whitley Bay faces the North Sea, and a low tide has approximately two miles of sandy beach on which to walk. To me the water always looked cold and menacing with its dreary steel-gray color and silvery fang-like waves biting the shore. I could see among the rocks the chapel of an old castle, ruins jutting out of the thick, foggy air, and the shape of a lighthouse at the mouth of the river on the far end of the beach. As I walked through the dense fog the air moved in a visible gas-like current around me, and its damp cold made my head ache and my bones hurt. This country’s shore was an altogether different experience than to what I was accustomed in my home near the mouth of the Tama River on the south side of Tokyo Bay. But walking on the beach and looking at the water soothed me somewhat, and I comforted myself by imaging my mother country at the far end of this vast ocean.

Whitley bay
Whitley bay

 

In early June, 1966, one month after my arrival in England, I was told by Mr. Logan that I would be giving a demonstration at the Northumberland Police Headquarters in Newcastle. This was to be the first significant exposure of my Aikido in the region, and if everything went well, I would be hired by the police force as an instructor in their self-defense training program. The demonstration was held in a judo dojo situated in the basement of police headquarters, and upon entering the dojo I found a dozen young police officers in a standing line dressed in gi, with the higher-ranking officers sitting in chairs.

Two conditions were stated to me prior to the demonstration: First, no striking or kicking, and second, no blood whatsoever. I accepted these conditions based upon my knowledge of the British Police Force’s prohibition against employing any physical action that may leave marks of brutality and its reputation as the only police force in the world that does not carry handguns.

For the first half-hour or so I responded to requests for defense against various forms of attack, each time from a fresh opponent employing a different grabbing, punching or kicking form, and often ending up with groundwork much like wrestling. Aside from the usual joint-lock techniques, I found the most effective actions to be the choking techniques, as my opponents generally submitted as soon as I got my hands around their throats. All of the officers who took part were very physically fit and well-conditioned, and their ukemi was remarkably good. I believe they were all judoka. I again found that the judo training to which I had committed myself prior to taking up Aikido served me well, especially under the conditions I now found myself.

Toward the end of the now 45-minute demonstration, in which I had responded to handguns threats from the front and side, I was asked to deal with a gun threat from behind. My opponent pressed the muzzle against my back, and I raised both of my arms in surrender position, then I turned sharply and threw him in shihonage. He went straight down and hit his head on the ground while still holding the gun in his right hand. He appeared to be stunned for a few moments, but then struggled up to a kneeling position. He reached his hand around to touch the back of his head, and then the blood ran down his arm and spread across the front of his gi. He collapsed to the floor again and was quickly gathered up and taken sway by his comrades. At that moment I knew it was over, and that I had failed. I was extremely unhappy with the outcome of the demonstration, and Mr. Logan was sullen and uncommunicative during the ride home. Needless to say, I never heard another word from the police force.

Shortly after the disastrous incident at police headquarters, Mr. Logan informed me that he intended to bring to his home a Japanese interpreter, a Mr. Kimura, who spoke fluent English and who worked for a company affiliated with Common Brothers Shipping – the company at which Mr. Logan was an executive. I was pleased with the news, as owing to my inexperience with the English language there are been very little clear communication between myself and Mr. Logan. I looked forward to some clarity in regard to where I stood at the moment – I felt as though the misty and foggy environment of the Northeast was a painfully accurate reflection of the circumstances in which I had been living since my arrival in England.

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