A New Start in London
On December 14th, 1967, I left Newcastle Station on the 11:55 train bound for London. I had made this particular trip countless times, but this time was different – I was relocating to
London for good. It had been one year and seven months since the political mess in the U.K. had landed me in Northern England; during which time I had bitterly felt as though I had been sent into exile for reasons not of my making.
Three notable individuals had appeared at the station to see me off: Mr. Logan’s secretary, Mr. R. Meyers of Sunderland who had acted as my personal assistant during my stay, and Mr. P. Butler – a dedicated Aikido student on whose behalf I had battled the Sunderland Physical Education Authority to keep as my student. As a result of that battle, I had lost my job and my only source of income at the time. His eyes were filled with tears as we shook hands goodbye, and I was touched by this display of tenderness from a man whose physical strength and hot temper had frightened many people.
A few days earlier I had thrown away all of my belongings (save my gis, weapons, a few books and a heavy sheepskin coat I had bought to protect myself from the cold winds of the North) so that I might travel lightly on this new adventure. As the train made its way toward London my heart was filled with overwhelming happiness and joyful anticipation of the future that awaited me.
It was a fine day with a bright winter sun reflecting off the patches of snow in the fields where scattered herds of sheep peacefully grazed – a typical view of the English countryside that I always enjoyed. I tried to analyze my experiences since my arrival in Northern England in an attempt to identify what had gone so terribly wrong.
Had I accomplished anything?
Perhaps there would be no right answer or satisfactory conclusion to the power struggle that had begun prior to my arrival in England other than to say that it was a tangled web of personal pride, ambition and ego, like most human problems.
Nonetheless, of one thing I am certain – that the core cause of the difficulty I personally experienced was the strained relationship between me and Mr. Logan. He apparently had quite a grand plan to establish an Aikido center in the north that would compete with the major Aikido groups (e.g., the Renown Aikido Society) and the Japanese teachers who were influential within British Aikido at the time.
I did not show any interest in his plan, especially the Political battle against the Japanese teachers – they were my seniors, and as such commanded all of my respect. It seemed to me that Mr. Logan was (mis)interpreting the will of Professor Abbe to his own advantage, but I was unable to confirm my suspicions as Abbe Sensei was seriously ill and I hesitated to burden him with such questions.
My unwillingness to support Mr. Logan’s plan for a competing Aikido center provided the initial strain in our relationship, which was then worsened by a mishap that occurred during a demonstration for the Northumberland Police Department in Newcastle shortly after my arrival in England. Mr. Logan had ambitions to introduce Aikido into the police force’s training program that could well have succeeded had I not seriously injured an officer during demonstration.
It became clear to me that Mr. Logan had abandoned his hopes for Abbe Sensei’s work when he canceled my five years contract with the British Judo Council after only three months.
If there was anything positive, I had achieved during my time in the North it would have to be the significant improvement I had made in my English language skills through personal study, and perhaps a few loyal students I had managed to bring up. As it was, that would have to be enough.
The train continued making its way to London, and after we passed York the sun began to sink below the horizon. The last few bright rays fell across the well-cultivated land creating mysterious shadowy patterns that reminded me of the striped cotton kimonos that I loved to see the Japanese women wear. “Well, this is it,” I thought, “the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new one.”
Whatever awaited me in London; I believed I would be better off and hopefully a bit wiser, and if the teachings of Dr. Ohsawa (the founder of macrobiotic systems) were correct, then the Three Strengthening Conditions of hunger, cold and loneliness had perhaps made me a bit stronger as well. As I
indulged this childish illusion it became completely dark outside my window, and it occurred to me that in only another hour or so I was to meet Mr. Iyengar and George Stavrou at the King’s Cross Station, and I looked forward with anticipation to meeting for the first time the two individuals who had been generous enough to extend their hands to rescue me from my unhappy exile in the North.
This entry concludes a series of articles I began writing for Biran in 2005 as a commemoration of the 40 years since my arrival on the shores of England in 1966. The articles cover my experiences starting with my voyage from the Port of Sasebo in March 1966 to my early life in Northumberland (May 1966 to December 1967). It was a daunting task to accurately recall all of the events of that time as my memories have faded in the last 40 years – especially when it comes to names and places – but what made recollection of my first exposure to a foreign culture and the complexities of living abroad most difficult was my own short-sightedness.
Some time ago I had stupidly decided to destroy all of the diaries I had kept for so many years; deciding that their only purpose would be to bring back bitter memories. Luckily enough, after a desperate search I was able to find one journal that covered my activities from May 29th, 1967, to February 21st, 1968, plus a handful of random notes that somewhat helped bring back memories and connect various events more or less to my satisfaction.
Soon after my arrival in London I started teaching at Busen Dojo in King’s Cross – the old judo dojo in the church basement where Kenshiro Abbe had started. There were 20 or so students waiting on the mat for me when I first began – most of whom were Greek and in one way or another associated with George Stavrou. This dojo was used as a temporary space until the new tatami ordered by Mr. Iyengar arrived, at which time the dojo was moved to a new location on Seven Sisters Road in Finchley, London.
The new space was a community hall that we rented for two nights a week until we were able to find a better and more suitable location at the Greater London Sports Club in Chiswick where we (semi) permanently laid down our tatami mats. It was in this dojo that the serious training began. We later relocated one more time into a large church hall with a much better atmosphere for a dojo and remained there until my return to Japan in 1976.
It was during this period of time that I began the first kenshusei program that incorporated Aikido, weapons, Iaido and Zazen. At this time, I was also fortunate enough to meet Professor Harada – a Shotokan Karate Shihan who offered me the use of his studio apartment when I first moved to London while he was visiting Japan for two months. From that time on we became lasting friends and still make a point of visiting with each other almost every year.
Regular sesshins began at London Aikikai in 1971 under the direction of Taisen Deshimaru Roshi, who traveled from Paris to lead our sits. This was the period of time in which I met a number of distinguished individuals from all over the world: Mick Holloway and Dee Chen from the U.K., Norberto Chiesa and Kristina Varjan from the U.S., and Daniel Brunner from Switzerland, to name a few who became loyal students as well as lifelong friends, and who are all (with the exception of the late M. Holloway) still active in Aikido as Birankai Shihan.
In the meantime, Aikikai of Great Britain (AGB) grew steadily and expanded into several major cities in the U.K., namely Birmingham, Leicester, Sunderland, Durham, Manchester, Liverpool, Cardiff and Glasgow, plus Oxford and Sussex universities. In the early 1970s I began a serious commitment to the development of Aikido in Europe through the Aikido Culture European Association (ACEA), the representative organization recognized by Hombu Dojo in Europe.
As a part of my commitment, I conducted extensive teaching trips in France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Monaco, Morocco and Switzerland.
I also managed to re-establish my relationship with Tada Sensei of Italy and joined his annual International Summer Course held at Lake Garda in Northern Italy near Verona. It was also during this period of time that Aikido was first introduced to Ireland and Greece. In the end, all of these activities
together meant that I was traveling somewhere in the U.K. or the European continent nearly every weekend of the year.
In 1975, Second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba conducted a tour of the U.K., Spain, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, Germany, Switzerland and Monaco. It was while Doshu was in Madrid that the International Aikido Federation was formed, and the First Congress of the IAF was scheduled to be held in Tokyo in May of 1976. During that interval, with a strong recommendation from the directing committee of the ACEA, I was nominated to be the first secretary of International Affairs for Hombu Dojo.
It was then that I decided to end the long separation from my homeland: I had seen the AGB grow into a major Aikido organization in the U.K., with a membership of nearly a thousand students, and I felt certain that my job in the U.K. was finished. I returned to Japan in March 1976. As I settled
into life back home I had no idea what the future held for me, but I did know that the 10 years I had spent in the U.K. had been the longest of my life.
In closing this article, I would like to extend my special thanks to Ms. Lori Stewart who has been kind enough to help make my English writing expressions readable. It seems a long time since the first “After Forty Years…” article was published in the Summer 2005 issue of Biran, and I appreciate the effort and patience she has dedicated to this project for all these years.
I dedicate my prayers to the souls of those now-departed individuals who played a significant role in my early years in the U.K.: Mr. and Mrs. R. Logan, Mr. R. Myers and Mr. P. Butler.
April 26, 2010