The Rise of the Plastic Samurai
By Henry Ellis Shihan
Co-author of the book .Positive Aikido
People say there is no kicking or punching in Aikido ! well, all I can say is, they have never trained with Kenshiro Abbe or Henry Ellis.
Why is Aikido a one punch martial art ? It is rare to see an Aikidoist attack with follow-up punches or kicks.
It is also rare to see an Aikidoist follow through with a punch directly to the opponents face - if tori does not move there is no danger, the punch will usually miss by as much as 6in, so really there is no point in Tori moving, most punches in Aikido do tend to stop about an inch from the nose or any other intended target - uke will come running with a fully extended arm to punch - pointless, only people in Aikido attack this way - no one else.
Kenshiro Abbe always taught, if one ever got hit, it was their fault for still being there.
I recall when one of my first kyus attended a seminar where the sensei asked him to punch him, and indicated his nose - my student hit from the hip and made full contact with Sensei's bugle - there was a lot of trumpeting followed by snot and blood. Sensei actually said ( with difficulty ) " I thought you would punch to the side ?" my student replied " what and get a reprimand from Sensei Ellis ".
The Hut Dojo
The Hut dojo was the first dojo in the UK where Kenshiro Abbe Sensei taught Aikido to the British in 1955.
1956 - 2012
This is where I began and ended my association with the Hut Dojo.
I began Judo here in 1956 and Aikido in 1957 - This dojo was often referred to as a magical place for many reasons - I loved this dojo as if it was my home - The last three survivors from that era were Henry Ellis - Haydn Foster - Derek Eastman - Sadly in the year 2011 Haydn Foster Sensei died.
2012 -Derek Eastman and I would meet TK Chiba Sensei at the Hut Dojo to be promoted to AikiKai Shihan - we realised then that this would be our last ever visit to the old Hut Dojo - I feel that when Haydn Foster Sensei died, the old spirit of Hut Dojo also died - On my last visit to the Hut dojo to meet Chiba Sensei, I felt that I now had ended my association with my old dojo. The character that once made the Hut Dojo the original " Hell Dojo", a dojo that was once a humble scouts hall and would become one of the most famous dojos in the world - a dojo where many great Budoka came to visit. Kenshiro Abbe - Matsutaro Otani - Tomio Otani - Mitsusuki Harada - Masahilo Nakazono - H Kobyashi - Tadashi Abe - Masamichi Noro - TK Chiba.
Although I will never visit the Hut dojo again, I will always treasure the memories of those early days.
So many questions.
Perhaps his Aikido was not a Martial art ? perhaps he trained to make himself a better person spiritually and from a vertical and horizontal position?
Did this teacher turn the other cheek? - or did he get knocked out with a punch to the other cheek ?
Did Sensei ask the kid to fall down ? and the poor kid did not understand that he was supposed to fall down ?
Did this Sensei try his no touch throws ? - and in return did the kid try a full contact hit ? - who knows?
Did Sensei tell the kid that Aikido was all about love - maybe, just maybe, that was why the kid levelled Sensei in the first place.
All I know is that this Sensei ``failed to adapt miserably``.
I don't know if this Sensei had his wife and children with him? imagine your husband /father is a 6th dan, you should feel safe and protected? apparently not so.
There are other Aikido claims such as " as aikidoists - we must control our attacker / aggressor without injury or hurting them ".
I beg the question - have these tree huggers ever been in a true fight, not just an exchange of a few abusive words, I mean against true nasty aggression ?
I go to all the Rik's Ellis fights. I also totally support my 18 yr old grandson Jay Dods Ellis who for a young fighter has an incredible record of 9 wins - 1 loss.
I just wish that MMA had been about in the 1950s as I know I would like to have been a part of that scene.
Many in Aikido are unhappy that Rik uses the name of Aikido in the same sentence as MMA. Rik uses Aikido when there is a natural opening created from his many years of Aikido training. Rik will turn his opponent in to or off the cage wall with tenkan movement, it may not look like classic Aikido - but it is there.
Rik has been asked many times to offer seminars showing Aikido movement and wrist control as people become interested in what he is doing in MMA.
I get no satisfaction from criticising Aikido - I felt Aikido was for me the first day I saw Kenshiro Abbe teaching
With my background I feel that I have something to offer to this subject. My son Rik Ellis is a student of Aikido - MMA and BJJ. We still check each others technique out - interesting. Right: Rik Ellis Aikido - MMA Cage fighter.
The Aikido I first saw being demonstrated by Kenshiro Abbe Sensei in 1956 was without doubt a positive martial art.
Although I had never heard of Aikido - I was immediately impressed by its power and positive techniques, in those days my fellow Judoka and I were in no doubt that we were witnessing a devastating new form of self-defence - demonstrated by Kenshiro Abbe Sensei with his first UK student Ken Williams Sensei.
Abbe Sensei had begun his martial arts career at the age of five, his father was a Kendo Master who had drowned in a flood whilst training in the mountains when Abbe Sensei was just five years old.
Abbe became a legend in his own lifetime. At eighteen he was the youngest ever all Japan Judo champion, he was also the youngest ever Japanese Judoka 5th dan.
Kenshiro Abbe was one of only 5 judoka to ever beat the great Masahiko Kimura who described Abbe Sensei as being as elusive as catching the wind.
He later became the oldest ever all Japan Judo champion at the age of thirty three.
When Abbe Sensei arrived in the UK in 1955, he was 8th Dan Judo, 6th Dan Karate, 6th Dan Kendo, 6th Dan Kyudo, 6th Dan Aikido, the question must be asked; would this Budo master have studied Aikido if he did not believe it to be a martial art?
This was the martial art of Aikido he first taught in the UK from 1955
It is my honest opinion that Abbe Sensei would not have studied Aikido as it is often seen today, and neither would I.
In those early days, Abbe Sensei never mentioned Ki in Aikido, except for one odd occasion during the execution of a technique - I asked Sensei " What is Ki ??? " - Sensei replied " No need speak of Ki, it is in every technique I teach, it is teaching correct breathing and application, do not speak of Ki, use it !!"
Right: Abbe Sensei in his suit, he would often come to the dojo, kick off his shoes and step on the mat and teach. Henry Ellis centre.
Abbe was a Budo legend in his own life time.
What would he think of Ki Aikido with ribbons ? - Ki breathing through their toes - Teachers throwing from a distance with a telepathic nod of the head, - Don't forget those dopey No touch throws . And the teacher who on contact with several students " freezes them to the spot " and like the idiots they are, the students stand in various poses like the statues of Pompeii.
As a direct student of Abbe Sensei, whilst we were travelling with Bill Woods Sensei from London to Berkshire - I asked "Sensei, how did you first become a student of O'Sensei and Aikido"? He gave a hint of a smile as he reminisced for a few moments; then told me the following story:
Abbe said he was a young man at the time, he was the 5th dan Judo champion of all Japan. He was travelling on a crowded train across Japan to yet another of many Judo competitions.
Sitting opposite him in the same carriage was an old man who was trying to make some conversation with him ( remember - to a teenager - a man in his 50s is an old man ).
Abbe had his eyes closed as he tried to sleep hoping this would keep the man quiet, undeterred the old man said to him " I know who you are !" Abbe Sensei replied rather modestly " everyone knows who I am, I am Kenshiro Abbe champion of all Japan", with that said, out of politeness he asked the old man who he was ? the old man replied "I am Morihei Ueshiba founder of Aikido" Abbe Sensei nodded casually and politely and suggested that they now try to get some sleep, the old man suddenly stuck his hand forward and offered the smallest digit to this powerfully built young man, Abbe was stunned as the old man said " please - break my finger ! "
Abbe laughingly thought I will break his neck if he doesn't go to sleep, he was now becoming irritated by this old man, in response, he grasped the old mans finger in an attempt to shut him up, he freely admitted that in his frustration it was his intention to break the offending digit like a twig.
To his total amazement he was suddenly slammed onto the carriage floor. As he lay prostrate and unable to move, he knew there and then he had to study with this master. Abbe asked O'Sensei if he could study with him, O'Sensei agreed.
Abbe Sensei studied with OSensei for some ten years whilst also continuing his Judo.
OSensei had spent many years studying various martial arts, I believe that the art of Daito-ryu and Ju-jitsu had more influence on the development of Aikido than anything else he had studied, we know he went to Mongolia to fight, this would be the perfect opportunity to test his many skills in a real life situation, so we can be in no doubt that this incredible man was a true warrior and modern Samurai.
Photo: Mongolia 1924 - Morihei Ueshiba right in shackels ready to face the Chinese firing squad, the execution was overturned and OSensei eventually returned to Japan. Morihei was a small but powerful man, I am sure of one thing, he did not go to Mongolia to teach Ki Ribbon Dancing.
A Knife for my Enemy
It was this early positive style of Aikido that Abbe Sensei brought to the UK in 1955, at this time there was also the first Japanese Aikido master to Europe, this was Tadashi Abe Sensei 6th Dan who was based in France, he was a small man even by Japanese standards, but to my mind he was the hardest man I have ever met.
He was very similar to Kazuo Chiba Sensei who I had been assistant to from 1967 to 1972.
When Abe Sensei travelled he always carried a knife with him, this was not for his own protection, but to hand to his shocked opponent, he would say "please, this is for you".
He said that an opponent with his bare fists was no challenge, but a man with a knife was "very interesting".
Chiba Sensei told me recently that Tadashi Abe was his hero when he was a young man. Abe Sensei was a suicide pilot of ` Kaiten ` the one man submarine - Abe was ready and waiting to be called to take his final mission - the war ended - Chiba Sensei said Abe Sensei would never forgive to the day he died, the fate that had denied him his right to die for the Emperor.
I think we can safely assume that as these teachers were so hard and positive, this must have been the style of Aikido that was being taught at the Hombu dojo in Japan? this was the Aikido of O'Sensei as a young man, the Aikido being taught today is that of O'Sensei as an old man, there is no doubt that as people get older they lose the spirit of their youth and become more philosophical in their approach to life.
My father who was once regarded as the toughest man in town, later in life found his peace taking his dog for long walks. I believe that we now have two aikido's, traditional aikido which if truly traditional (this word is much abused) is the martial side of Aikido, the soft fantasy and dancing style of Aikido should simply be categorised as an "Art".
Those who are true traditional Aikidoists will take no offence at this article, yet the dancers will probably be offended and I care little for their feelings, I honestly believe that this soft Aikido has no more right to call itself a martial art than has synchronised swimming has a right to be in the Olympics.
In my original article, I attempted to establish the hard style of Aikido that was first introduced to the West in the 1950's. I would like to emphasise the fact that I get no satisfaction from publicly criticising Aikido and I get a great deal less satisfaction when I see Aikido being brought into ridicule.
Hard trainingBelow is a modern energetic workout without the need for any physical effort. Nice and easy does it every time.
The training and exercises in those early days were very hard and physical, with karate style kicking and punching a very integral part of our warm up, this was followed by 200 push-ups on the backs of the wrists, varied - with fingers pointing both inwards and outwards, very often while you were in the raised position Abbe Sensei would instruct another student to sit on your back, as we were the only group of five Dan grades in the UK and all in the same dojo, this was the training in all the Aikido dojos in the UK in those very early days - today we the " Ellis Schools of Traditional Aikido"are the only organisation in Aikido still doing these traditional push-ups that I am aware of..
The purists say these push-ups are bad for you - what they really mean is they can't do them, this is all part of the watering down of traditional Aikido.
Few Aikidoka do any form of physical exercise
Ellis AIkido push-up from the 1950s to now.
The Rise of the Plastic Samurai
For many years the one thing that has always puzzled me the most, why are there so many yoga tree hugging types attracted to the art of Aikido ? These people attempt to change Aikido from a martial art to some hippy form of lifestyle., some are more into a quasi form of religion - Why Aikido ? rather than any other martial art, could it be the chance to wear a skirt in public?
I often look at some of the overly tender and almost affectionate choreographed Aikido and I see a close link to that scary synchronised swimming.
Aikidoists are often accused of practising " Choreographed Aikido" and to be honest I must admit that these claims are very often justified, with Uke (attacker) preparing to break-fall long before he makes his attack, and most of them attack off balance , therefore making any multiples of techniques possible with the minimum of effort, of course this makes Tori (defender) look "fantastic".
What is really sad is that these people believe that this is good Aikido. Kenshiro Abbe Sensei would always say to us that "two" students are training at the same time, one is Uke who is learning and improving his attacking techniques and his opponent Tori is also learning and improving his defencive techniques, whilst we were training with Abbe Sensei if Uke's foot or heel came off the mat as he attacked Abbe Sensei would give the offending leg a good whack with a shinai (bamboo sword) he would then say ...
" My English is very bad but my shinai speaks fluently!".
If Uke attacks on balance then it is obvious that Tori's technique must be good and strong to throw him, and as Abbe Sensei said so many times " two students are training". Mark Eastman a strong young Dan grade with me went on a seminar recently where there was a 6th Dan. The 6th Dan refused to use him as Uke stating " I can not use you as you do not harmonise with me", he was not being awkward or difficult just attacking on balance.
Today all of these traditional exercises and training methods have now changed to a simple warm up routine with jumping up and down on the spot and lots of deep spiritual discussion. Hard exercise is now considered to be aggressive and not in harmony with the true spirit of Aikido.
Abbe Sensei said that hard training developed the spirit, he also referred to Ki during those early days as he demonstrated the power of his technique, when asked to explain the meaning of Ki, he said not to worry about Ki as that would be a part of our training and development.
He then said "Only when you reach first Dan will you be able to understand the true concept of Ki as a further extension of your Aikido." I still believe that line of thought, and the instructors in our dojo's very rarely speak of Ki although it is taught as a important and integral part of our training and study.
Although Ki is generally recognised as the spirit and breathing during the application of technique, every teacher and student will offer a very wide and varied and sometimes bizarre interpretation of the meaning of this much abused word. The main problems arise and are created by the teachers themselves, who very often mislead their students to the extent that they almost believe that Ki is a form of magic. The following is one prime example from a very an old but prominent Aikido magazines letters section. The guy is a second Kyu - one can only wonder what kind of bile he was being taught by his teacher to come out with so much crap.
The Spirit of Protection
I am a carpenter, I am 2nd kyu in Aikido. I was working in a large new home doing repair work, I had finished my job and was heading for a long staircase when I noticed the owners two year old son was heading for the same stairs from the opposite direction. As he approached the top of the stair he was watching me and not where he was going. I was too far away to grab him, so I shot to him (irimi) and stuck my arm straight out to him, my "Ki" went through the little boys' face and out the back of his head, he fell backwards and started crying. His mother heard the crying and rushed up the stairs, when I told her what had happened, she thanked me.
I replied "Don't thank me, Thank Aikido".
That poor child may well still suffering from the runs and possibly he is now as disturbed as the writer.
Harry Potter Ryu
There are many such misguided examples which I will refer to in future articles, it is this kind of nonsense that brings Aikido credibility into doubt I am fully aware that every martial art has its own version of " Harry Potter" in their ranks, what I fail to understand is that there are more of them in Aikido than all the other martial arts combined.
The reason that I am so critical and vociferous about Aikido is that every day I see these people watering down this great martial art that I have spent most of my life studying, teaching and promoting for the past 55 years. I am often asked "Sensei, which do you think is the best and worst martial art".
I always make the same reply " All the martial arts are good, if there is a problem with any martial art, then it can only be the people who represent that particular art who misrepresent their art .
Many years ago there was a martial arts demonstration near my home, I went along - a guy came on claiming to be a ``master of Ki Aikido`` after a few crass techniques - he then apologised to the crowd, stating " I am sorry but I usually do 40 foot long throws - but this mat is too small " - I kindly offered to make a path through the audience chairs and I would be his uke on a 40ft journey across the hall. He declined and the demonstration only lasted a few more minutes - they are out there - and they are breeding.
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.
Bad breath and Feet !
I have referred to the many changes in Aikido over the past 55 years - from its history, to training and choreography and Ki Aikido, 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 at a dojo in Guildford Surrey, because her teacher stated that the next class he was now going to teach the students "To breath through their toes". She never went back. Many Aikido teachers try to imply that there is some mystique to their teaching of Ki in Aikido - round objects.
In my 55 years of study with some of the legends of Budo - I have never seen any ``mystique ` - on the other hand, I have witnessed some great effective Aikido - I have no time for bullshit, but to be honest when visiting some dojos you may just need to take a shovel with you to get in or out of the dojo.
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, sometimes by breathing and projecting their "Ki". I have also had the misfortune to see very high grades with several "*attackers*" :-) making a break falling attack at them, amusing? not really, as most of them really believe that the projectile uki is a serious attack. 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 harmonising".
Aikido for real
The British Aikido Tree from its inception in 1955.
Top: `OSensei Ueshiba` - `Kenshiro Abbe` - `Ken Williams` - - `Eric Dollimore ~ Dave Williams` -- `Henry Ellis ~ Haydn Foster` -- `Lennie Ballard ~ Dave ? ~ Derek Eastman ~ Trevor Jones ~ Ralph Reynolds` -- ` Masahilo Nakazono ~Tadashi Abe ~ Masamichi Noro ~ TK Chiba `
I have read various accounts of the first Americans to practise Aikido in the early 60's. There were Americans practising 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 real Aikido. Afterwards everyone would be in good spirits and have a few beers.
I always looked forward to the Sunday morning private class, this was always the best practise sessions for me 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".The Grading Lottery.
Les White Sensei told me of a rather embarrassing incident at a seminar when Mr Jack Poole stood in front of a collection of high and low grades and asked " Erghh umpghhh what do you all think if I grade myself to 7th dan " - there was a noise of high pitched silence as students just looked from one to another - Jack was now 7th dan Aikido. I offer no disrespect to Mr Poole as he is so much like many of his ilk in the British Aikido Board.
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 Aikido. Another favourite 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.
A Dan Grade is not Just for Christmas
In those early days, as I have stated elsewhere, all grades had to be earned and fully recognised.
We now have small organisations or groups that are empire building - they will invite others to to join their organisation with the offer of the proverbial carrot, resulting in an instant promotion from say first dan to second. Or much higher as the case may be.
I recall some years ago, a new Aikido dojo opened not too far from my own. One evening, one of my students came to me and told me the following story of his meeting in the town a few days previous.
He had met a student ( we will call him blogitt ) It transpires that blogitt a 5th kyu, had left our dojo to join the new dojo - he was delighted to inform my student that he had been instantly promoted from 4th kyu to 3rd kyu on his first night - blogitt then asked my student to encourage other students to join him, they too would receive instant promotions.
I asked my student if he was tempted by such a generous offer ? He replied " no Sensei, I just asked him if he would now be visiting the ESTA dojo to practise with the hard training 3rd kyu's ??? "
Blogitt said he would never do that.
So in reality, the guy was still really a modest 5th kyu - muppet.
Mitsusuke Harada Sensei "5th Dan"
In 1963 Kenshiro Abbe Sensei invited Harada Sensei to the UK - he began his first class at the `Hut Dojo` in Hillingdon London. I was also teaching there, Harada had no students to begin with, Derek Eastman and I trained with him and helped to build his first class from nothing. In turn we would teach him Positive Aikido, he really enjoyed this effective style and would later change his Shotokan style to his own Shotokai style which has distinctive traits of Aikido.
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 pointless".
Henry Ellis Aikido - Life and Times - Click here > Ellis Aikido
BRITISH AIKIDO ORIGINS
British Aikido Origins from 1955 - Narration & Movie Slide-Show by Henry Ellis ~ Arrival of Kenshiro Abbe Sensei in 1955 to the UK ~ Development of British Budo.
EARLY AIKIDO & JUDO VIDEOS
Visit My Aikido & Judo Video Site ~ Click -> Henry Ellis Aikido & Judo Videos A growing collection of early and modern Aikido and Judo videos..H Ellis - D Eastman - H Foster - K Chiba - M Nakazono - K Abbe - T Abe.
The `BAB` is the Governing Body for Aikido in the UK.
The British Aikido Board Controversy Slide Show.
Documented evidence of the conduct of the UK Governing Body for Aikido.
Detailing the BAB's attempted collusion with one Mr Jack Poole to change forever the true proud history and lineage of British Aikido, from its inception to the UK in 1955 by Kenshiro Abbe Sensei.
Henry Ellis was actually Mr Poole's first teacher as one can clearly see from the large collection of photos and statements, this did not deter the BAB from proudly parading Mr Poole along-side his teacher as a `Pioneer of British Aikido` .
Imagine you are a direct student of Kenshiro Abbe Sensei and recognised by the Doshu and TK Chiba as a true pioneer of British Aikido - The UK Aikido governing body invite you to receive an award in recognition of this - As you wait to meet the Lord Mayor of Birmingham - you hear a shuffling sound - you look behind - standing there unannounced is one of your old students in line to receive the same award as a pioneer - unbelievable. You could not make this up - The BAB did.