I first met Sensei Cottier at Arthur Lockyear’s Dojo in Durham in the very early 1980s on a weekend course. I was fortunate enough to uke for him a lot that first meeting, and we hit if off straight away, (plus he liked an icy-cold beer or two after class).
His aikido suited me right down to the ground; it was practical, hard and to the point. No frills, but lots of grace, style, and above all, very powerful.
During all the years I trained under Sensei I was called upon to uke for him many times which made me appreciate his Aikido even more.
I remember Sensei Cottier, Arthur Lockyear and myself assessing some students for Shodan grading up in Durham. Tony Heseltine was one of the students. I must emphasise it was an assessment and as far as I know Sensei Cottier never gave a grade in the UK.
Sensei wanted to make a point on a front kick defence; I was called out to attack. I was still practising karate at the time which Sensei was aware of. He asked me for a strong attack; he side-stepped, grabbed the back of my hakama and within the movement of the attack lifted me off my feet – a defence I have never seen since. I have tried myself to do it, but never with the results that Sensei had on me.
Over the 25 years since we first met I had the privilege to visit Sensei Cottier at his home when he was back from his travels and spent many happy hours discussing Aikido and everything that came to mind.
Even though Aikido was a huge part of his life it did not consume him. He painted, was well travelled, and had many views on life and living.
He also spent many happy times at my home, on occasions for several days. On these visits he just chilled, with little mat Aikido, but lots of front-room Aikido. He took a great interest in my children growing up; on his last visit he was amazed at the height on my “little lad”, all 6ft 6in of him, who Ken had not seen for a year or so.
Sensei Cottier taught at the White Rose whenever he was back in the UK, and I travelled all over the country to practise with him. I visited him in Hong Kong in 1996 with nine of my students, and always intended to return on several occasions, but fate beat me to it.
That visit has many memories, but the ad-hoc demonstration Sensei did on me at the police HQ BBQ on a concrete floor was one to savour – if you were there, you know what I mean.
More recent times saw me in Holland for a long weekend with Sensei Cottier. Tony Heseltine, Big Richard and Rugged Chris accompanied me and we met up with an old friend of mine, Frank Burlingham from Lowestroft, who thankfully acted as our pathfinder, as the four of us were not trusted to find the way back to our digs. After a heavy training session (the local students were far too friendly), the famous five came down for breakfast, a little ‘jet-lagged’. A joint decision was made to skive off the first lesson and visit the local town market. I had mentioned to Sensei Cottier over a beer that we may do this.
We only missed an hour’s training as it turned out, but with me being the Senior grade, I wrote a sick note for the five of us, and handed it to Sensei Cottier – it was accepted with a raised eyebrow, and then a wry grin.
Sensei had a great sense of humour, but that didn’t stop me from getting a rather nice projection nikkyo for my efforts later that day.
I could go on recollecting stories, but I’m sure hundreds of students have stories of their own and don’t need to read mine.
I will finish by saying that I am better person for knowing Ken and not just for Aikido either. He was a true gentleman, the like we will never see again.
I am sure many will mourn him, but I will truly miss him. His humour, his conversations, his advice, his company, and of course, ‘his’ Aikido.
Ken was a true friend, mentor and Sensei to me.
Thank you Ken for being you.