Aikido in the UK ~ The Beginning
By Henry Ellis
In 1951 at the age of 15 years I was just leaving school. I had already started a career at the age of 14yrs as a Time Trial racing cyclist, eventually becoming a club first team rider. At that time I could never imagine doing anything other than cycling and racing for the future.
That was until early 1956, when I visited a local Judo club in the London suburb of Hillingdon, ` The Abbe School of Budo ` the only reason I went was to encourage my then girlfriends younger brother to join. I was instantly attracted to Judo and I joined that same evening, the young boy lasted for about one month.
It was during the following year in 1957 that I saw the new Aikido class which was being taught by Ken Williams Sensei, who I later found to be the very first Aikido student in the UK of the legendary Budo master Kenshiro Abbe Sensei who was now resident in the UK and teaching at the Hut Dojo.
The class was very small and the training and discipline was extreme. I had been brought up by a very strict Victorian father so the discipline and tough regime did not deter me , in fact, it was probably the challenge that was the real attraction for me. Haydn Foster Sensei had just joined a few months before me and we are still good friends today.
The following article is based around what I personally consider the most interesting and formative years in the development of Aikido within the UK, from 1955, with the arrival of Kenshiro Abbe Sensei to the UK. Until eleven years later and my four years as assistant to Kazuo Chiba Sensei from 1967 and ending in 1971.
After this time Aikido became very fragmented with everyone wanting to start their own organisations, which resulted in masses of self-grading and silly undeserved titles. I do find the conduct of some of these self delusional and egotistical people extremely sad. These are people who would attempt to change our true and proud history and lineage to suit their own devious ends.
Which to my utter disgust would also include the full collusion of the `once` respected British Aikido Board ( BAB ). The disgraced BAB are sadly the governments officially recognised governing body for Aikido within the UK.
The BAB show no recognition or respect for the true history of Aikido within the UK. The previous chairman stated in the year 2000 “ We the British Aikido Board are not the custodians of British Aikido history, and therefore have no interest in the same !! “ Kenshiro Abbe Sensei would often say “ No matter your pretence, you are what you are and nothing more “ …….. So very true.
Kenshiro Abbe Sensei 8th dan Judo
6th dan Karate – 6th dan Aikido – 6th dan Kendo – 6th dan JuKendo
1915 – 1985
Kenshiro Abbe Sensei first arrived in Britain in 1955 in response to an invitation by the London Judo Society ( LJS ). He was 8th Dan Judo. The youngest ever 5th Dan in Japan’s Judo history, the youngest ever All Japan Judo Champion at 18 years of age, some 15 years later he would become the oldest All Japan Judo Champion at the age of 33 yrs. He was also graded in several other Martial Arts. Aikido 6th Dan – Karate 6th Dan – Kendo 6th Dan – Ju-Kendo 6th Dan – 6th Dan KyuDo. He was also accomplished with both the Yari and Naginata spears. During the second world war Abbe Sensei was an officer and responsible for the development and intstruction to the Imperial Army of ` Ju-Kendo ` the art of bayonet fighting.
Abbe Sensei introduced Aikido to Britain for the first time in 1955, first at the LJS and in the same year at the LJS Judo Championships 1955 at the Royal Albert Hall. Abbe Sensei was a direct student of O’ Sensei Morihei Ueshiba who gave him his personal permission to teach Aikido in the UK.
A Change in my Career
As I sat and watched the only Aikido class in the UK in 1957. I was most impressed by this unusual but positive Martial Art, this was the first time I had seen a teacher wearing a hakama. I decided to join the Aikido section but also continue with the Judo class.
This was now decision time and the cycle racing had to go, that was a tough decision that would later change the direction of my whole life.
I asked some of the Judoka about Aikido, they just shrugged and said they had never heard of it before.
A Life Changing Decision
After several months of both Judo and Aikido I made the fateful decision to dedicate myself to Aikido.
As I have previously stated, this was the only Aikido class in the UK at the now famous ` Hut Dojo ` as it was better known rather than its actual name of ` The Abbe School of Budo `. All he great names in Budo to visit the UK would pay a visit to the humble “ Hut Dojo “.
Names such as Kenshiro Abbe – Mutsuro Otani – Tomio Otani – Mutsuro Nakazono – Tadashi Abe – M Michigami – M Noro – H Koybayashi – M Harada. N Tamara . K Chiba.
I was privileged to study with all of these great Budo teachers who’s names are like the who’s who of Budo. I have written another article on my memories and experiences with these teachers “ The Budo Masters “.
I was now training five nights a week and Sunday mornings. I was progressing quickly , when I reached 3rd kyu ( green belt ) Williams Sensei asked me to be his personal assistant, a position I readily accepted. From now on the training became harder than ever, with 200 push ups on the backs of the hands at the start of each class. This early style of Aikido was extremely hard and one would learn good ukemi simply to survive injury, today many students have ukemi that resembles an acrobat or a gymnast and is used more to make their nage ` look spectacular `. To this day I do not take a ` favourite ` uke with me, I simply tell the class that they can either go prettily or ugly, either way they are going.
A very important part of our training was the inclusion of Karate kicking and punching, this is still an integral part of our training.
During training a student had to attack centre at all times, if he attacked off centre he would be punished, if uke ever hit tori ( very often ) it was always considered tori’s fault. Photo: K Abbe far left in suit 1959.
Kenshiro Abbe Sensei was a regular visitor to the Hut Dojo where he would teach with a shinai ( bamboo sword ) he spoke very little English and rather than attempt a difficult explanation he would whack the offending arm or leg, one soon learned the correct movement. Abbe Sensei would say “ My English is bad, my shinai speaks English good “
In the 1950’s the techniques of Aikido did not have names, Abbe Sensei would say “ Necessary this technique “ or he would change the technique with “ Necessary “. It was not until Nakazono Sensei arrived that we were able to put names to techniques. It must have been odd for strangers to hear teachers of Aikido saying necessary this and necessary that. I remember one beginner asking Derek Eastman Sensei if he was Japanese, After practice in the pub he was surprised to hear Eastman Sensei had a London accent. It seems funny now but we all spoke with this abrupt pigeon English on the tatami.
Earliest American students of Aikido ?
In the late 1950’s we started to get quite a few American servicemen from the local West Drayton AFB attending Aikido classes. There were some tough guys amongst them, they were decent genuine guys but found it hard to accept techniques on face value, there was a lot of “ what ifs “ so the Hut Pub car park became the testing ground for many techniques, Williams Sensei would say “ Ellis, necessary show Mr Smiff Aikido in a real situation “. So if anyone ever came to test Aikido at the Hut Dojo, It would be sorted in the Hut car park and then back to practice on the tatami.
In those early days there was no need for the use of lots of Japanese terminology, something that today seems very much over the top. I remember when I was assistant to Chiba Sensei and we visited a dojo in the north of England, the students were speaking a lot of terminology in Japanese, Sensei turned to me and said “ Mr Ellis I have no idea what they are saying “. The point is that many area dialects are difficult to understand in ones own country, turn that into Japanese and you have something special.
I am still amused as I recall many years later I was invited to visit a large dojo in Texas USA, as the class lined up, there was a loud chorus from all the students making a long welcome speech in Japanese of which I only made out maybe two words.
The First Eight UK Dan Grades
The first group at the Hut Dojo were totally dedicated and trained very hard, at the end of the 1950/60s there were now a total of 8 dan grades, these were now the only dan grades in the whole of the UK for Aikido and all in one dojo.
It was standard practice every Sunday morning to lock the dojo and allow only the dan grades and special students to train. This was the time of testing the techniques and each other with real fighting. There was often blood spilt, but there were never any hard feelings afterwards, when the session ended we all would go next door to the Hut Pub and have a few pints of beer and count our lumps.
In those early days of Aikido the word Ki was very rarely mentioned. I once asked Kenshiro Abbe about Ki as he had mentioned it once or twice, he said he was teaching Ki in the techniques so no need to worry ourselves, he said he would speak to us about Ki when we were ready, It is amusing now to see organisations offering `Ki` to first lesson students.
The Aikido I see being offered as Ki Aikido is pretty awful stuff that if I had seen that in those early days I would never have given my bicycle away. The Aikido I first saw was without doubt a true martial art, it saddens me to see how people have changed Aikido into something that is now quasi religious. Why have these wannbees turned Aikido into some kind of dance. I now see some do Aikido to music. Kazuo Chiba said and also repeated in an article on Aikido Journal, he saidthat OSensie had later decided to make Aikido available to `all` including the elderly and the disabled along with the weak and people who were not martial by nature, now these people are saying “ My Aikido is the true Aikido “. Well, I just hope that if any of these people are ever attacked in the street, their opponent is from their own dojo, as that is the only way their Aikido will be of any use to them. I took part in a seminar recently where a Ki teacher demonstrated Sankkyo from Ikkyo, as he brought the hand palm up from the mat he described the palm as a bowl of soup. The mind boggles.
Henry Ellis Learns a Valuable Lesson
The smallest of all the dan grades was one Eric Dollimore, as he was leaving the tatami one Sunday morning, I challenged him to ` try for real ` he replied that he had arranged to go to his girl friends home for Sunday lunch and was late. I regarded this as an excuse and had a little smile of satisfaction to myself as I turned away, I then heard a voice behind me call out “ OK Harry, its got to be quick though ! “ I thought to myself “ It will be quicker than you can imagine “.
Eric Dollimore came out from the changing room after removing his hakama, he stepped onto the tatami as the rest of the dan grades stopped to watch what was now happening. Eric and I squared up to each other as I decided to end it all very quickly for him with a fast punch to the head, as I punched he some how went under me and lifted me high and threw me into the dojo office wall which was about 2mt off the tatami, I did not just hit the wall I went straight through it, as I looked up amidst all the dust and rubble Ken Williams Sensei was sitting at his desk, he looked down at me and snarled “ Ellis! use the bloody door next time “. As if that was not humiliating enough ? the following Sunday morning when all the dan grades were practicing and later all in the pub, I was repairing the damaged Dojo office walls at my own expense.
I think the biggest `lump` anyone ever received was when we had a fit young guy join us who had lost a leg in a motorcycle accident, he had an artificial wooden leg, in those days they were actually wood and solid, someone threw him hard and high and there was a scream as he hit another student across the head with his wooden leg, we honestly thought he was dead, he was taken to hospital but was released the next day. When he came back to the dojo he asked what had actually happened to him. It was explained that he had been hit on the head with a wooden leg, he replied “ bloody hell ! It felt more like a tree “ After that the guy with the wooden leg had as much mat space as he wanted as everyone kept well clear of him.
The Real Thing
On some occasions we would split into two groups and head for the nearby forest, one group would be lead by K Williams Sensei and the other by his brother David. One group would set off and wait in ambush for the second group, they would jump out of bushes and drop down from branches and some real tough fighting took place. After all of this we would head for a nearby pub and count each others lumps over a pint of beer, It seems quite mad now but to be honest I loved it. In those days we trained so hard physically that this and Sunday mornings was a good way to let off steam.
Derek Eastman Sensei recalls his first visit with a friend to the Hut Dojo in 1958, as he walked into the dojo he was not really aware of what Judo or Aikido was, he walked in to see a guy in the centre of the mat with a blind fold on ( Henry Ellis ).
There were four other guys attacking him with shinai’s and bokkens. Derek’s friend said to him “ Stuff this I am off “ but Derek thought he would like to give it a try, that try has now lasted almost 50 years.
A Very Serious Challenge
After one such session and later over a pint of beer, David Williams Sensei said to me “ Ellis, you think you can take me don’t you ? “ I replied “ No Sensei, I never think about it “ he was continuing in this manner for some time. I eventually said “ Sensei, this subject has never ever crossed my mind, but it would appear that it bothers you more than me “ this made him angry and he challenged me to go out into the car park.
David Williams was a vicious kind of man, we were now surrounded by other students and other drinkers. He was a teacher of Aikido – Karate and Judo, I knew this would be a difficult challenge for me.
He made various postures looking for an opening, while I just stood as relaxed as I could making small moves to avoid his various attacks, I have always been a very positive person and on this occasion I made one positive attack punching him in the head knocking him to the ground, I dropped on top him and immobilised him, he was unable to move, I asked “ Sensei, is that enough ? “ he replied “yes!” and I allowed him to get up, as I released him he punched me in the nose, breaking it, there was a lot of blood as a result. He lost a great deal of respect after that and later left the Hut Dojo.
Derek Eastman Sensei
In late 1958 there was a new 16 year old student joined the Aikido section who was a natural at ukemi and Aikido. I took him after a few months to train as my own assistant. It became his job to get to the dojo early on a Sunday morning before practice and in the winter sweep the frost off the tatami, there was no heating in the Hut Dojo, it was like a large fridge, the only warmth was from three paraffin heaters in the changing rooms, the students would all leave their gi’s hanging from the ceiling beams. On a Sunday morning as Derek was sweeping a thick overnight frost from the mat I offered to light the three paraffin heaters, I did not know that you had to clean the wicks first.
Soon the dojo was filled with thick black smoke and it was thought the place was on fire. Derek quickly sorted out the heaters and when the smoke cleared all the hanging gi’s were covered in black soot. Mr Williams soon arrived and he went mad ( much worse than that ) he asked who was to blame ? I gave a nod in the direction of Derek who took all the flack as a good assistant should, he still moans about that to this day. All the dan grades were going to hammer him and worse, they were demanding new gi’s . Life is tough being an assistant (ukedeshi )
Ssshhh !! Don’t Mention Haemorrhoids
When Derek Eastman Sensei became my assistant in 1959 I allowed him take the very hard warm up and exercise routines, one of which was bunny hops around the inner edge of the tatami and touching each corner. Remember, Derek is only sixteen years of age and during one of these bunny hopping sessions a student limps over to Derek and whispers “ Derek , I can’t do these bunny hops as they are so very painful “ Derek asks out loud “ Why are they painful ? “ the student whispers in Derek’s ear “ I have bad piles ( haemorrhoids ) so Derek excused him, he then changed the exercise. The next day he is taking the exercises again and said “ Line up ready for bunny hopping, anyone with piles ( haemorrhoids ) just stand to one side “ EVERYONE got down in the bunny hop position including the student who only the day before had asked to be excused, Derek called him over and said “ Why didn’t you step back when I excused anyone with piles ? “.
The adult student looked at Derek in disbelief and said “ Derek, NO ONE IS GOING TO ADMIT THEY HAVE PILES !!!! “ he then explained to Derek what piles were all about, as Derek had never heard of them before.
Happy Christmas Harada Sensei
It was Christmas 1963 and Noro Sensei was visiting the Hut Dojo. Noro Sensei had commented on the attractive girls that I often had with me at the dojo before going out on the town. We had been discussing with Noro Sensei our arranged Christmas party. Noro Snsei said to me “ Mr Ellis you have many nice lady friends, necessary you find nice lady for Harada Sensie for the party tomorrow night “ I replied “ Sensei it is too late to organise something like that “ Noro replied “ The you must give him your lady friend “.
I quickly phoned my girl friend and asked if she could bring another friend, she explained that everyone had already made plans, I said to her that if she did not bring a friend then she had best stay at home, she was of course very upset, she phoned me later to say she had found someone. On the night of the party I walked into the hall with all the dan grades and Noro Sensie who asked immediately “ Where is lady for Harada “ I asked my girl friend who had just walked over to me “ Where is your friend for Harada ? “ she then pointed to a women sitting on the other side of the room who was hunched over with her elbows on her knees as if she had a hunch back.
It was suggested that it was non other than Quasimodo in drag. I looked down and saw that her legs were covered in more bandages than Tutankamoun . I could not believe my eyes as I looked across at Noro Sensei who looked as shocked as I was, Noro said “ Mr Ellis, If Harada sees this women he will kill you on the spot and I will join him “ . In anger I turned on my girlfriend and asked “ where did you get that from ?“ she replied that in desperation she had invited the office cleaning lady who said she would send her friend. Harada Sensei had now gathered that we were talking about him and asked what was going on, I had told Derek to go and sit with her which spoiled his Christmas. I then told Harada Sensei that Derek really liked and had a fetish for ugly women, they did not come any uglier than this one.
Tadashi Abe Sensei
I believe it was in 1959 that Tadashi Abe Sensie came over from France and taught he also attended an event with Kenshiro Abbe Sensie, he had a fearsome reputation which we soon learned was well deserved. Abe Sensei had trained during the war as a one man suicide pilot on a one man submarine. Chiba Sensei said that Tadashi Abe Sensei never got over the fact that the war ended before he had the chance to die for his country and Emperor. Tadashi Abe Sensei last visited the Aikikai in 1967 where he demanded the attention of all present, he was holding his diploma’s as he apologised to all the ladies present and stated “ This is not Aikido, this Aikido is for ladies only “ he then threw his diplomas on the tatami and walked out, he never ever returned again. Abe Sensei would carry a knife with him and he did not have to look for trouble as it always found him, when threatened he produce the knife and offer it to his opponent saying “ please for you !!“ . He would say that a man with just his fists was not a true challenge, a man with a knife was good for the spirit.
The First Ever UK Aikido Seminar
Aikido demonstrations were now being requested at many of the top Judo Events. The name of Aikido was becoming known. Judo clubs would invite us to take small classes around the country. The very first Aikido seminar was at a Judo club in the Wiltshire town of Devises under Sensei Graham Burt. Sensei Williams had at that time a big powerful Ariel Square 4 motorcycle with a passenger sidecar, I travelled in that damned coffin attached to the motorbike, I swore never again, I never did.
Devises was the first seminar and now Aikido was becoming very well known with many of the dan grades taking small seminars wherever requested. Aikido owes a great deal to its early progress from the support of the Judo Clubs and teachers who would allow us to use a section of their tatami to teach a small class. I should add that although the Judoka were great in helping with the promotion of Aikido, they could also be some of the most difficult to teach, they would test our ability at every opportunity. If we had not been so strong and positive they would not have had any time for us.
Kenshiro Abbe Sensei & The British Judo Council
Kenshiro Abbe Sensei was now very unhappy with his situation at the LJC. He felt that some of the Judoka dan grades did not respect him. On the mat one time he lined up 31 senior Judoka, he then walked down the line telling each one what technique he would use to throw each of them, he then told each one whether the technique would be a left or right handed technique, he did exactly that, and beat every single dan grade just as he had stated. He later left the LJS.
Abbe Sensei had been in regular contact with Matsutaro Otani Sensei who had his own organisation.
They joined together and created the “ British Judo Council “ ( BJC ) and the “ British Aikido Council “ ( BAC ) & “ British Kendo Council “ ( BKC ).
Kenshiro Abbe Sensie lived in the large home of the Otani family in Acton London. I would go there to either collect Sensei or take him somewhere. When I went into his room he would always have the window open winter or summer.
There would be various types of wild birds on the window sill and in the room, they were so tame, as I walked in they took no notice of me, if Abbe Sensei left the room they would immediately all fly away.
I visited Abbe Sensie one day and to my surprise and total disappointment he was watching the “ World Cricket Series “ on TV. I hate cricket, I was disappointed to see my teacher watching such a stupid game . He was very quiet so I ventured “ Sensei, you like cricket ? “
He replied sharply “ NO ! stupid game “ I was now amazed as he watched the TV intently, I took a step back and asked “ Sensei, why do you watch cricket then ?? “ He said something very profound that I had never really thought about before as he answered “They call this world series, not world, only countries that Britain have colonised play cricket, stupid game, he said “ I watch stupid game every day and I never understand stupid game, he then turned the TV off and never mentioned it again…
The BJC with its various organisations organised the National Summer Schools at Grange Farm Sports Centre in Chigwell Essex. These summer schools were a joint affair with all the various martial arts being together during the week of training, we had students attend from all over the UK. This meeting of all the teachers was very good for Aikido as people who had never heard or seen Aikido before were now getting to see and understand more about Aikido, they in turn were now inviting instructors to visit all over the UK. These summer schools gave students an opportunity to try Judo – Kendo – Karate – Aikido. Students would make friends of students of other disciplines as I did my self, friends I still have to this day.
I attended the first Summer School, there were only three students of Aikido there from the Hut Dojo, Eric Dollimore , Haydyn Foster and Henry Ellis ( me ). Aikido was virtually ignored during that first week, all the other martial arts were given priority over the mat space. The only Aikido instructor there was Abbe Sensei and he was very busy with the Judo which was the largest group. Fortunately the weather was very good so the three of us just went into the adjacent field and practiced Aikido for a week. The word of Aikido was spreading quiet fast and the following summer schools were very different with Aikido being one of the biggest groups.
The summer schools changed with the invitation of M Nakazono Sensei. We had been told by Abbe Sensei to be strong, not to give or go for any technique unless it was fully applied, to do otherwise would be seen disrespectful by Nakazono Sensei. Sensei had a real hard time teaching us and had to use his power to take us, which he did but with the inevitable injuries that had to follow. Sensei did not understand why we were being so strong and resistant when after all he was here to help us, later Abbe Sensei explained why we were as we were and Sensei then understood, he then explained the true study of Aikido and we learned so much from him on that course. Nakazono Sensei had all the dan grades on the tatami for 10 hrs a day. In those days the pubs in England closed at 10-30pm and Sensei had us on the tatami until 10pm. Ken Williams who was the National Coach said to me during one of these exhausting evenings “ Ellis, as my assistant it is for you to ask Nakazono Sensei for permission to leave the tatami at 9-30pm so that we can get a last couple of pints of beer, I reluctantly approached Sensei who himself a non drinker.
I asked if we could finish a little earlier to go to the pub, he was so angry with me, he said “ I travel many miles to teach you true Aikido and all you want to do is go to the pub “ ……I felt as if I had been smashed with a bokken between the eyes, I took the answer as an absolute NO !!………………………………
It was at about this time that we heard of a new Aikido group in London.
Tomiki Aikido was first introduced to the UK by Senta Yamada Sensei in the early 1960s. Yamada Sensei 6th dan Judo was a highly respected Judoka, he was also friendly with Kenshiro Abbe Sensei. We heard that this new Aikido school had opened in North London. It was decided that K Williams and his eight dan grades would pay them a visit.
Our visit was unannounced and we were not favourably received. Williams Sensei politely asked if we could train with them, the instructor said emphatically ` NO `, Williams Sensei asked “ WHY NOT ? “ , the Tomiki instructor said that we could not train as we wore hakama’s and they did not, Williams Sensei replied that we had no problem training without our hakama’s. We were then informed that we were a different organisation, I replied that organisations were only on paper and Aikido was Aikido. There was no way this instructor was going to have us in his class. If we had stormed the mat Abbe Sensei would have been very upset about that. We watched the class for a few minutes and we could see why they did not want us to join them. We went to a pub just down the road, we were surprised some time later to see the Tomiki group come in the bar, the students came over and spoke to us and they seemed quite genuine and friendly. One big guy who introduced himself as a 1st kyu apologised for the fact that we were not allowed to go on the mat, we spoke about techniques and our differences, he asked about a technique that we called Nikkyo, he tried to apply the technique on me, nothing !,( Gyaku Hanmi Katate Tori ) I did it on him and he screamed as he went down, I did not intend to hurt him as I thought he was stronger than that, he said that my technique was amazing and took me over to his teacher who was in a conversation with Williams Sensei. The first kyu asked his ( insisted ) that his teacher try Nykkyo on me, his teacher tried to apply the technique, nothing!, the teacher said to his student that I was making the arm of stone and if he were to apply the mind of stone he would break my arm. I asked him to break my arm, he tried and his mind of stone was no different to whatever his previous mindset was. as he was attempting to break my arm one of my friends put a pint of beer on the bar next to me, I picked up the pint and drank it in one go, something I had never done before or since. You can say that was a display of arrogance and I guess you would be correct, that was just how it was in those early days.
The Attack of the Floppy Rubber Knife
The following year I did a display somewhere and was surprised to see another demonstration of Aikido by the same Tomiki group, I have no idea why we were both there. I did real knife and when the other group did their display they used a floppy rubber knife.
As his uke attacked him with the floppy rubber knife I started to count the times he had been stabbed with the floppy rubber knife, eventually Tori disarmed his uke and took the floppy rubber knife from him. he then declared himself as the winner. When Tori came off the mat I asked “ what was that all about ? “
He said that the object was to disarm his attacker which he had, I said “ You cannot disarm a man that has just stabbed you 8 times because you are dead “ ..
Have Hakama will Travel
Ken Williams Sensei then suggested that Henry Ellis and Derek Eastman take one year out from work and travel the UK to spread the word of Aikido to a wider audience. I asked Williams Sensei “ Where shall we go ? “ he looked at me as if I was stupid and replied “ Where there is no Aikido of course “… This was quite a challenge and after much discussion it was agreed to do this. In 1963 I had a small Austin Mini car and we set off without a plan or a sense of real direction. We had in our joint pockets the grand sum of £20. Times were real hard back then. We headed north and went in a large circle of Britain lasting for 12 months. We knew of some Judo Dojos to call in to, other clubs we just stopped and introduced ourselves. Some made us welcome and some were not really interested. No one was able to pay us for teaching.
If we were lucky we would get a bed and a meal with a teacher or student. We soon ran out of money and we would work for a few days to earn a little money to get by. As we arrived in a town or city we would try to chat up the local girls where ever we could, they would often take us back to their homes for food, and if we were very lucky a night sleeping on the sofa, we would also chat up the girls mothers who like the daughters loved to hear the London accent, we became very good at this and it became an asset, these were desperate times and we often slept in the car which was a most unpleasant experience in the cold of Northern England. We took so many different jobs from ` building labourers – Painters – Photographers on a sea front – Assistants to a funeral director, where we would collect bodies from the morgue and take them to the chapel of rest. I was later caught in the Chapel of Rest with the directors daughter who I was laying to rest, although she was full of life, and the undertaker had caught us placing a coffin with an old lady in on the roof rack of the mini to pose for a photo.
His daughter in the Chapel of Rest and the old lady in the coffin was just too much for the boss, that was the end of that job, we were now on the road again. We worked in the northern steel works – Road sweepers and wearing the British bowler hats which added to the fun. There were so many others too. We also worked on an old railway, it was a really horrible job, we called it the ` The Railway Death ` we did not stay there for long.
In one area we were introduced to the head of a college who allowed us to demonstrate our Aikido and from there Aikido was now accepted into the Further Education system in the UK. This was an incredible breakthrough for the promotion and future of Aikido.
In one area there was one student who’s father had been working on the M1 motorway development ( Britain’s first motorway ) his father and crew had found several large urns of Roman Coins and he gave me a handful of these misshapen bronze coins which I would show just the one to the girls we met , I would tell them the coin had been in the family for hundreds of years and I would like for them to have it, that would often secure a bed and food for a few nights.
Masahilo Matsutaro Nakazono Sensei
In the early 1960’s Kenshiro Abbe Sensei invited Matsutaro Nakazono Sensei to visit the UK. Sensei arrived at the now famous Hut Dojo with Pierre Chassang Sensei. Nakazono Sensei made many visits to the UK and to this day he is the one teacher that is remembered fondly and with great respect by all the old dan grades from that era. I was on stage with Nakazono Sensei at the BJC National Championships 1963. This event was at the Royal Albert Hall in London. This event I have always believed did more to promote and showcase Martial Arts in the UK than anything before or since. With so many big names such as the following sensei’s – Kenshiro Abbe – Matsutaro Otani – Matsutaro Nakazono – M Michigami – M Harada – M Noro . The thrill and excitement of being a part of this event and in the great arena at the Royal Albert Hall is with me to this very day.
A visit by the Aikikai rep H Koybayashi Sensei 1965/6
M Nakazono Sensei came to visit the Hut Dojo with an unexpected visitor in 1965/6 (?) a fearsome looking H Koybayashi Sensei, who had been sent by the Doshu K Ueshiba to visit and report back to the Aikikai on the standard and progress of Aikido in Europe . He sat on the tatami and never spoke or smiled, he gave each one of the dan grades a piercing stare before moving along the line. Nakazono Sensie sat back as if observing this from a distance. As I have already written, we only knew one way to attack an opponent and that was hard and always to centre, Kobayashi Sensei stood up and glowered at the dan grades and then suddenly pointed at one in particular and handed him a bokken and then indicated to attack him to the head ` shomen `….. The student did exactly that and cut to centre and to our shock and horror went straight to Kobayashi Sensei’s head, he blinked where as any other man would have collapsed, I immediately looked across at Nakazono Sensie and to my surprise he was not as shocked as we were, I am sure there was a hint of a slight smile as he was proud of his British students, I have often wondered if he had ever warned Kobayashi Sensei of our positive approach to Aikido. I would add that Kobayashi Sensei did not make any more mistakes after that.
On Nakazono Sensei’s first visit to the Hut Dojo we were suddenly informed that all the dan grades who had been graded by Kenshiro Abbe Sensei were now to be re-graded to make sure that they met the modern day standards of the Aikikai.
We faced a very hard re-grading, where one student was de-graded to shoden and to add to his humiliation, Nakazono said “ Necessary sell your gi while prices are high “.
Nakazono Sensei told all eight dan grades that their standard was very good and they could all practice on equal terms with the students at the Aikikai.
The Hut Dojo was the nucleus of all Aikido in the UK. There were no other dan grades outside of the Hut. Aikido was now spreading all around the UK, the dan grades were away most weekends teaching up and down the country with courses – seminars and demonstrations. There was no doubt that there was a shortage of dan grades, but dan grades of the standard of the Hut took men of a certain calibre and a long time.
Ken Williams Sensei decided that it would be a good idea to create honory dan grades around the UK. I did not like this idea at all, people were attracted to the strong Aikido of the original Hut dan grades, what would they think if they saw people who were not of that standard ` acting ` as dan grades. I was always very loyal to Williams Sensei but I just could not accept this. I complained bitterly, my complaints were ignored, I was assured that these ` new ` dan grades would send in to the Hut monthly reports on their progress, sure enough the first report came in at the end of the month, Sensei Williams thrust the report in my face and said “ there !! what did I tell you “ I looked at the report and sure enough it contained some details of this persons progress, and signed Billy Bloggs Shodan, I handed Williams Sensei the report and asked him “ where is the honory signature on this document “, that did not go down well at all.
I believe that this was the start of the break down of that great camaraderie at that had existed Hut for the past several years.
Kazuo Chiba Sensei arrives in the UK 1966.
Kenshiro Abbe had gone back to Japan for the Olympics, whilst there he made a visit to see OSensei, he had not discussed this planned visit with Sensei Williams or anyone else, so one can imagine it was a shock when Chiba Sensei arrived at the Hut Dojo. This was now a severe test of loyalties as not only the Hut dan grades had to make some serious decisions. Some months later I decided to join Chiba Sensie. Haydn Foster Sensei decided to stay at the hut and when Williams Sensie later moved to Wales he took over the old Hut dojo, some dan grades were so disillusioned that they totally gave up Aikido.
Derek Eastman Sensei went away for a year to work on the North Sea Oil rigs, when he came home he started his own dojos, he later asked me if he could start the Ellis Schools of Traditional Aikido to which I agreed, I joined Derek and we have been teaching and training together ever since.
I became assistant to Chiba Sensie from 1967 until 1971 during that time we were to appear on TV and BBC world radio, seminars and demonstrations.
I decided in 1971 due to pressure of work and family to step back from the hectic schedule of being with Chiba Sensei. I am still in contact with Kazuo Chiba Shihan who personally invited me to his 40th year in the UK Celebrations in London in October 2006.
Henry Ellis 5th dan
Co-author of Positive Aikido
Ellis Schools of Traditional Aikido
Henry Ellis a direct student of the legendary Budo master Kenshiro Abbe Sensie from 1957. Ellis first started Judo in 1956 at the now famous ` Hut Dojo ` where he became one of the very first students of Aikido in the UK and is now a leading pioneer of British Aikido. Ellis is an avid writer on the true history of Aikido in the UK and a constant thorn in the sides of those that would attempt to corrupt that proud history, lineage and legacy left in our care by the early teachers of the Martial Arts.