Aikido: The Derek Eastman Sensei Biography - Part Two.
Author: Derek Eastman Co - Author of the new book Positive Aikido.
A meeting with Sensei Tatsuo Suzuki.
Q -DW: You said there were two occasions?
A -SE: We did a really big display at Crystal Palace in a Budo and Judo Championships, we always started with a display but with Sensei having a short fuse we always ended up having a battle of some sort, this one was no different.
The great Karate teacher Tatsuo Suzuki who had just been on was now watching us, as we finished he walked over to us and he looked very stern, I was glad Sensei was in front of me..
As Sensei was about to step off the mat Suzuki Sensei walked up to him and said,.
"Thank you, That is the best display of Aikido I have ever seen", he then bowed and walked away.
Impressions of the early HUT teachers.
Q -DW: You said you were an assistant to Sensei Ellis and the only junior at that time and that you were also the general dojo assistant so you would have been in close contact with many if not all of the old teachers, what were your impressions of the ones you came into contact with ?.
A -SE: I will mention them from the highest grade down.
Kenshiro Abbe Sensei.
I would see Abbe Sensei occasionally on the aikido mat, he would step onto the mat to make a point or teach.
He didn't often bother to change into his gi, he would come on the mat in this old brown de-mob suit; (after the war soldiers were given a brown suit when leaving the army, and it was called a de-mob suit, I am sure that this was one).
Sensei Williams would sometimes ask me to take Abbe Sensei home to Acton in my three wheeled "Isetta" bubble car, Sensei Williams told me if I had an accident with Sensei in the car I would have to leave the country and never be seen again, I believed him.
Abbe Sensei sat in the Bubble car for the first time. He looked around the little car, then at me, he gave me a very puzzled look and asked " How many wheels" I replied " 3 Sensei ".
He replied " Necessary, where are wheels?"
I said "2 in the front and one at the back Sensei". He thought for a moment and then he said " Ahhhh! Strong triangle".
He did not speak another word during the journey, which was normal for Abbe Sensei.
Unlike some of his so called "FRIENDS" who claim to have had long and meaningful philosophical /psychological conversations with him, his English was poor and he did not waste it.
Ken Williams Sensei.
Sensei K Williams the head of the dojo did not use me as much as the others.
He was in total control of the dojo and all who were in it.
He was not only aikido but 3rd dan judo and a very good one at that. He would officiate as a referee at the American Air Base at Ruislip, once he was a referee at the USAF international Judo Championships.
We would get a lot of American students come to train at the Hut in our beginners classes.
David Williams Sensei.
David was in charge of the Karate section before the arrival of Harada Sensei, I enjoyed my regular practice with Ken Griffiths, and later Ken Waite who was to become the first European assistant to Harada Sensei.
However, David Williams in my opinion had a very cruel streak to his character. Williams and Ellis and others would teach as Abbe Sensei did with a shinai. It was used a gentle form of intimidation to help motivate you with a little whack on the backside to get your attention. This would be done with a smile and humour and no one ever objected to this light hearted form of discipline.
Now with David Williams, he meant it!, and appeared to enjoy it.
I will leave it at that as I don't want to expand on this subject. Closed!.
Eric Dollimore Sensei.
Eric was only 5ft 5in tall and the most dynamic exponent of aikido in the Hut dojo.
What I remember most of Eric was one Sunday morning when I was practicing at the bottom of the dojo with some of the high kyu grades.
There was quite a bit of action taking place at the top end of the mat with the dan grades, Eric did a very hard technique on Ellis slamming him deep into the mat. He then excused himself saying " Sorry! I have to go, I have to be at my girlfriends for lunch at 12-00 noon".
Ellis got up from the mat and I could see he was not happy, Eric had now left the mat.
Ellis called out to him "Eric you want to fight for real?"
Eric replied "Sorry Harry, I really don't have time".
Ellis walked back to the other dan grades, probably satisfied with Eric's excuse. It was then that I saw Eric come back out of the changing room minus his hakama and called out
"OK Harry!! But we have got to be quick".
They both immediately squared up to each other in posture, after a few seconds Ellis made what looked like a fearful blow at Eric's head, Eric turned under Ellis with the best Koshi waza technique I have ever seen launching Ellis into and through the plaster board office partition.
Sensei Williams was sitting in the office when Ellis joined him as he went straight through the wall.
As Ellis sat there covered in plaster board dust, Eric call out " See ya, Ive got to go I am late for dinner".
I have always said it was like something out of the movies.
Haydn Foster Sensei.
He was a little older than the rest of us and was regarded with respect and affection. His favourite technique was Irimi nage as he put you down hard he always gave that well know throaty laugh of his after leaving you stunned.
Henry (Harry)Ellis Sensei.
Henry Ellis was my teacher and is continually referred to in this interview.
There is one story that I have never seen in print that I will tell you of.
In the sixties we heard of another group who were doing Aikido in North London with a well known Japanese Judo teacher called Senta Yamada. He was teaching a style we had never heard of called "Tomiki Aikido" so we decided to go and check them out.
All the dan grades gathered at the HUT one evening and we set off to this Tomiki dojo. We just did not know what to expect. When we arrived we respectfully entered their dojo. Sensei Williams spoke to the instructor in charge and asked if we could practice. The instructor said "NO!, I am sorry but you wear hakama's and we don't allow them"
Sensei Williams replied "That's ok we will practice without our hakama's"
The instructor thought for a moment and replied " I still can't allow you to practice as you are a different organisation to us"
It was then that Sensei Ellis pushed forward and said "Organisations are names on paper, Aikido is Aikido",
The instructor was having none of it and politely asked us to leave.
We were not happy at this, so we then went into a nearby pub, after about one hour who should come in the pub; you guessed it Dave, all the students and the instructor.
We got chatting to the students and they were really nice lads. A big guy who was a 1st kyu made the mistake of asking Sensei Ellis what our nikyo was like.
He said it was his favourite technique, when he tried it on Sensei Ellis, nothing happened. He made another mistake, he asked Sensei to show him our style, Sensei nearly put him into the pub cellar.
The brown belt guy couldn't believe this and asked his teacher who was now talking with Sensei Williams. He told him what had just taken place and insisted that his instructor try to do this technique on Sensei Ellis.
Sensei Ellis offered his arm and the instructor agreed to try. The instructor could do nothing, then stated
"I can not move you because you are making the ARM of STONE, if I also make the ARM of Stone I will break your arm like a twig"
Sensei Ellis insisted he make his arm of stone, so the guy tried and to be honest it was no different to the first attempt.
Then! as he was making the arm of stone, Sensei Ellis picked up a full pint of beer and drunk it in one go while the guy was trying to break his arm!
The guy looked gutted.
Lennie Ballard Sensei and Peter Dowden Sensei.
They appeared inseparable and were really great friends, they would do most of the knife and club displays. I would deputise for them in their ladies classes. They left the HUT shortly after Eric Dollimore.
John Caldwell Sensei.
John was an electrician who worked with Sensei Williams.
He was not only a first dan in aikido but also a semi professional sparring partner and boxer. He sparred with some notable boxers such as ex world champs Terry Downs and Terry Spinks who were both world champions at their own weight.
John once took me to the 'Thomas A Becket' , a famous training gym for boxers above a London pub. That was a special treat for a young lad like me as many world famous UK and USA boxers had trained there.
I also remember that once when John was out doing some running training he was attacked by a large alsatian dog which chased after him. John turned as the dog launched itself at him. He kicked hard at the dog, kicking it straight in the throat and it died instantly.
A little different to Abbe Sensei's experience with an Alsatian but non the less unavoidable.
Hamish McFarlane Sensei.
Was older and senior to me he was also a good judoka. He was a 1st kyu (brown belt) in Aikido when I started yet we ended up taking our dan grade test together some four years later.
When I received my first dan, Sensei Ellis as tradition demanded presented me with my first black belt and hakama which was of a very good quality.
No one ever knew where Hamish got his hakama from. Ellis spread the rumour that the hakama was an ex war dept army blanket as it was a thick material with no traditional pleats. That joke never left Hamish, and I even laughed with Sensei Foster about it recently (July 2003).
There was one thing about Hamish that very few knew. When he first asked if he could join the Aikido class he told Sensei Williams that the Doctor had told him he would within 12 months be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life because of a serious condition with his spine. He started Aikido, and practiced until his death in his 60's. He also went to Japan and trained at the Aiki-Kai. I have recently heard the sad news that Hamish died a little while ago.
Early dan gradings.
Q-DW: How do you compare the grading system ofthe early days at the HUT with some that you have seen in later years ?.
A-SE: Grading procedures were not so technically ritualised as they are today.
Where as at the HUT, the grading would be very physical with constant 100% attack, no one ever got through a grading without a few lumps.
I think that most of the old dan grades would agree that 3rd kyu (green belt) was always the hardest; considered by both Abbe Sensei and Williams Sensei to be the transition grade between beginner and high grade and your first step as a assistant teacher.
It was also the first grading where we had to take attack from a real knife. When it was my first time Sensei Williams asked me "Are you prepared to accept real knife " I said "YES" but I really meant NO.
Eric Dollimore stood before me holding a large knife in his LEFT hand, I just froze.
Sensei Williams said " Derek you forgot Eric is left handed" then he told Eric to attack with his right and then his left.
When I took my first dan, what stands out most in my mind was how tired I was when it was my turn. I had been uke for all the other grades and to be honest I don't know how I got through it all. I just wanted to get it all over with.
I took Hamish with a positive tenchi nage and really hammered him into the mat. Nakazono Sensei said he was very pleased with that final technique and awarded me first dan.
Continued in Part Three:
About the Author
Derek Eastman began his Aikido career in 1958 as a sixteen year old special student at th e famous Hut Dojo London UK. He was a direct student of the legendary master Kenshiro Abbe Sensei ...
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