I have read comments from other Aikidoka that Aikido used to be rougher and more physical. Do you agree to this, and if so why?

Sensei Riley:

Yes. Aikido was more physical 30/40 years ago. The reasons being, we didn’t have the tuition we have today or the experience. We relied on our physical strength if we couldn’t get a technique to work. A lot of the early students at the White Rose had experience in other arts and wouldn’t go down just for the sake of it, so practice did tend to be more on the physical side rather then on the theory.

The ladies who practiced were especially tough and practiced very hard. Now we have a lot more depth to our Aikido and understand the theory a lot more, so our Aikido can be physical but not brutal. I think most people prefer this who practice with us now. Not as many people come from other arts like before, so we can spend more time on the basic principles rather then proving Aikido is effective all the time.

What changes in Aikido itself have you seen over the past 40 years?

Sensei Riley:

One of the biggest changes is the level of tuition on offer now. I remember a 3rd Dan coming to teach one Sunday evening, it was amazing as a shodan was something special 40 years ago. Now we have 3rd Dan’s and above teaching in all the White Rose dojo’s.

Another big change is the advent of DVDs, Youtube and Facebook. These have helped with the promotion of Aikido, we even have two DVDs ourselves, along with Youtube clips and a Facebook presence. Perhaps on the negative side, students don’t tend to “get into” Aikido like we did in the early days. We would be training in the dojo 3 to 4 times a week and then going over things at friend’s houses, when not on the mat. We were always doing or thinking of Aikido. Now a student who does more then 1 class a week is classed as keen! How things have changed.

Do you feel that without Aikido, you may have matured into a different person altogether?

Sensei Riley:

I am sure I would. I don’t know in what way as I don’t have a crystal ball, but Aikido has given me many things like, friends around the world, very good and loyal friends within the White Rose Aikikai, and my wife who I met practicing Aikido and it calmed me, well a little.

I did used to be a little bit firery in my younger days, but with age and the principles, we try to work with Aikido. I am getting there. I don’t think Sensei Maloney believes me when I tell him this “laugh”. But on a serious note, Aikido has changed me. Now I am the head of the association and the responsibility for it has grown with me. I started at the beginning just like everyone.

How do you feel about Aikido now, compared to when you were Shodan?

Sensei Riley:

I feel much more comfortable in my Aikido now compared to when I was a Shodan. Obviously one of the things I miss are the vigorous practices Sensei Hemmings and I used to have. Age and teaching duties have curbed these, but I still like to get on the mat and do a bit.

Another thing is I never envisaged the club I started would progress to where we are today, with so many students enjoying my Aikido. Students tend to see you as a senior grade or Sensei, but I have travelled the path and it hasn’t always been plain sailing from novice to 7th Dan. I have had to work hard to get what we have today.

What do you enjoy most about Aikido?

Sensei Riley:

Drinking! “laugh” Sorry!

I enjoy teaching and watching my students progress from having two left feet, to them grasping the enjoyment of Aikido. But going back to the drinking, the social side to Aikido is very laid back wherever you go, even if you don’t drink. I also very much enjoy the travel that goes with Aikido. I have practiced and taught in several countries and all over the UK.

If you had an evening with Morehei Ueshiba, what would you like to do?

Sensei Riley:

“GOSH” this is a difficult one.

I think I would have him teach for us all in Durham and then get Sensei Heseltine to arrange a pub crawl around Durham ( not forgetting the taxi’s back ).

I believe O’Sensei enjoyed a social side to his Aikido as well, so Sensei Cottier tells me, so I think O’Sensei and I would enjoy that, and we could ask all the usual questions as the evening whiled away.

Is it difficult to keep yourself interested in Aikido?

Sensei Riley:

In a word No!

I know this might sound like a bit of a cliché, but I do enjoy my time on the mat. Plus the behind the scenes bits like visiting Sensei Cottier, chatting now and then to  Mr Bayliss Shihan, in-depth chats with Sensei Derrick and the travel which goes with my Aikido these days.

These are my little niceties that are part of “my” Aikido. Aikido is not my life but it has a great part in it! Never get too focused on one thing, always find a balance, that is what Aikido is all about.

What are the main changes you have seen over your time in Aikido ( Good and Bad )?

Sensei Riley:

Good Things:

Overall the standard of Aikido has immensely improved. More courses by high grade instructors. More Aikido dojo’s around the country. Books, DVDs, Videos and the Internet.

Bad Things:

Aikido taught as a pseudo religion and not being taught as martial. Uke’s who throw themselves to make Sensei’s look good and litigation worries.

Do you think that some people find Aikido easier than others?

Sensei Riley:

Yes. Like anything in life, certain people have a certain flair for things. Someone can be a concert pianist while someone else can only play “chopsticks”. It is the same in Aikido. We are all striving for perfection, but none of us will get there, so we can all help eachother to improve ourselves to the best of our abilities.

There is no competition in Aikido, only the competition in ourselves to improve. Even if it is only a little fraction at a time. There are 6th Dan’s and 7th Dan’s at hombu dojo who have never taught, but have still reached a high standard by consistent practice.

Have you ever encountered anyone with a natural ability to learn Aikido?

Sensei Riley:

Yes. Several students over the years have been naturals, ( Sorry Simon you are not one of them ). The only trouble is, these people tend not to last, as they find it easy and the challenge is not there for them. Some do stay and realise there is more to Aikido then just body mechanics.

The one’s who tend to last are the one’s who work away every class and realise why techniques work, other then just body mechanics. It is not just mat time that develops you, it is the study time of books, DVD’s and things that add the depth to you Aikido. Also chatting to guest instructors and your seniors also helps you insight into Aikido.

I would like to thank Sensei Riley for taking the time to answer all your questions and giving us some inside knowledge of his journey through Aikido.


(Updated February 2014, Shane Riley)