I understand you have been to over a hundred courses over the years. Could you tell me how many and which ones were special.
At the last count, 193 since joining the White Rose (plus a few that I haven’t recorded). This sounds like I’m collecting ‘trophies’, but I only started recording these courses because I started taking photographs and began to loose track of which one took place where and when. A lot of them were special, particularly the early ones under instructors such as Sensei Tamura and Yamada. They were also good social events, as they often took place over two days and quite a lot of people usually used to make an effort to travel in those days.
Is it true you used to chauffer Sensei Riley and accompanied him on many courses as his uke? Have you any funny stories of your travels?
It is true that we’ve been to most of the courses mentioned above together, and although I’ve obviously taken ukemi for Sensei Riley over the years I didn’t particularly travel as his uke. The truth is that I used to smoke until a year ago and no one else would let me into their car, so I had to drive myself. Sensei Riley was kind enough to ignore my weaknesses and travel with me. We’ve only stopped doing this recently since I’ve decided that I can’t keep up with Sensei Heseltine’s partying until 4a.m. There are plenty of funny stories, but Sensei Riley can tell them much better than I can: particularly in a pub. We travelled to a course under Sensei Cottier in Aberystwyth a couple of years ago and took five hours to get there. Ask Sensei Riley about driving through dark, empty, wooded hills; when the last car you saw had passed you half an hour ago, and you both start humming the tune ‘Duelling Banjos’ from the film Deliverance. You can also ask Sensei Heseltine how amused he was when my car was stopped by the police when they saw Sensei Riley’s shaved head and tattoos, explaining that they were looking for ‘dodgy characters’.
Have you many books and videos on Aikido? Which are your favourites?
Until a couple of years ago I think that I had bought just about all the books and videos on Aikido that had been produced. Nowadays there are so many being produced by so many different organisations that I’m having difficulty keeping up (although I’m having a good try). My favourites are still the original set of books by Morihiro Saito Sensei, which I still refer to; and one of my favourite videos is by Christian Tissier Sensei, for his very precise and dynamic technique. (Apparently there’s also a very good DVD out by the White Rose!).
You always stress the importance of extension when training, can you suggest exercises outside of the dojo which will help students improve this extension and connection to their center.
The trouble with using terms such as ‘extension’ is that some students don’t fully understand what you’re talking about; but put very simply, without extension it’s difficult to move uke, and without moving them and taking their balance it’s much harder to do technique. Exercises? Yes – raise and cut with a bokken – a few thousand times a day should do it. Push out when you raise (extension) and throw the end of the bokken away from you when you cut. Your shoulders should be relaxed, your hands can’t help but stay in your centre, and you cut by sinking your centre rather than just by using your arms. It’s all there, just in one simple exercise.
As a senior examinations officer for the association, how do you compare our standards with others from different associations?
We’ve been on many courses with different organisations over the years, and I don’t think that any of our students have ever felt lacking in comparison to others; but don’t use this as an excuse for getting smug, you have to keep on making an effort if you want to improve and make progress.
Given your experience in Aikido I was wondering what changes you have witnessed in Aikido over the years, and what changes you expect or would like to see (in Aikido in general and within our association) over the next 20 years or so.
I think that Aikido is more open now than it used to be (which is a good thing) with different organisations training together. I think the Aikido of the White Rose is more refined now than it used to be (in the past there was always sweat, and often blood and tears. If you didn’t get all three it had obviously been a poor training session!). Our understanding has obviously improved, and this shows great credit to Sensei Riley whose Aikido has continued to develop strongly and to a deeper level without him having a regular Sensei to learn from – and he’s managed to drag a lot of us along with him. As Aikido spreads it becomes more difficult to control by any one group, which is a good thing in many ways but also means that there will probably be more ‘movement/dance/relationship’ Aikido in the future. I don’t mind people dancing, but if there’s no martial arts core to it I don’t think that they should call it Aikido. For example, I believe that there is a club in America that has removed punches from its curriculum because they are considered to be too aggressive. This I don’t understand! Within the White Rose I would like us to get a permanent central dojo sometime in the next few years. This would provide a focus as the number of clubs grows and become more geographically separate.
Do you feel Aikido is getting anymore difficult through age?
As I get older and my understanding of Aikido gets better some aspects of it are easier now than they used to be, but I presume you mean is it harder to train as I become a decrepit ‘wrinkly’. Yes! The body does get less flexible until it finally stops moving all together! But that’s no excuse to give in to it. I still get a lot of pleasure training even if I’m no longer thrown around like a 20 year old. Saying Aikido is a lifetime study is no lie.
What do you miss most about your early stages in Aikido?
There are a few things, but any pleasures that disappear are just replaced by different ones. It still surprises me how Aikido can continue to hold someone’s interest for many, many years: and because you realise there is still so much to learn it can remain fresh and keep you involved.
How did you get to know Sensei Riley and how do you feel about your relationship with him now compared to when you first met?
After hunting around for an Aikido club for a couple of years I just discovered the White Rose at Huddersfield Sports Centre and went along to train. In those early days when Sensei Riley was trying to set standards on the mat he made a point of shouting at one person at least during every class; me included. That’s changed a bit, and after 23 years I like to think that we are friends, but he’s still also Sensei. I wouldn’t have trained under him for nearly a quarter of a century if I didn’t think that I could learn something!
It is said that you only start to learn Aikido when you have achieved black belt status. Is this true and if so why?
Yes it is true. I believe that Aikido is one of the most subtle and complex of the martial arts, and if some people only take three or four years to reach Shodan then all they’ve learnt is the basics: what Ikkyo is, and what the Irimi nage technique looks like, and they’ve shown that they are prepared to make a commitment to learning. It’s over the next 50 years that they begin to learn about blending, movement, extension etc., the things that make their technique really effective. I’ve heard 8th Dans say that they think they are now beginning to get the hang of a particular technique, and I used to laugh thinking that they shouldn’t be so modest, but now I understand that they really mean it! It’s an interesting journey which is not always easy, but well worth travelling.
I would like to thank Sensei Derrick for taking the time to answer all your questions and giving us some inside knowledge of his journey through Aikido.
THANK YOU SENSEI.