This interview is with the
distinguished Hayden Foster, 6th Dan, given by Frank Burlingham, of the Broadland Aikido
Hayden Foster is the one of the
founders of Aikido in England and began his study in 1958.
At long last the interview we have all been waiting for, Sensei Foster (S.F.)
uncut, well almost. The interview took place last summer school in Durham. Im very
sorry for the long delay in getting this out, I hope you enjoy it, it is a great honor to
be the first person ever to interview Sensei formally, and it was a great pleasure, Thank
Frank Burlingham (F.B.)
F.B. Thank you very much for doing this, I know its not
something you like doing, its an honor. Would you tell us about your life before
Aikido, your childhood, and illness etc?
S.F. The sad part of my life is that my mother died when I
was about four, We were a Welch immigrant family actually, and who came to where we live
now, somewhere in the early 1930s. I would say it would be. Unfortunately, my mother
died at quite a young age, there were four of us, I am the youngest.
F.B. How many brothers and sisters?
S.F. A brother and two sisters, and of course we moved to
Uxbridge Middlesex, we lived there for some considerable time, then moved onto were the
old Hut is now, the Dojo and there is where we settled until I got married.
F.B. When did you start practicing Aikido?
S.F. What happened was, Martial Arts were very few and far
between in those days, end of 56 beginning of 57. I would say 57 its 40 years, could
be a little either way
F.B. So youd be about 28-29, which was quite late
really to start a martial art.
S.F. How it came about is that my son came home, I would say
he was 8 maybe 9, he said dad theres a club opened up the road. He told me where it
was, he said it was a Judo club. He said Id like to go, I said if you want to go
well go, Ill take you along. We went along, I walked in and I saw a group of
people, not very large, they were practicing, but basically at that time a Judo club.
F.B. This was at the Hut
S.F. At the Hut. Still the old club Im at now from all
those years ago. I watched for a while, my son was watching taking it all in. As I
remember there were 2 groups practicing, Judo and this other thing, which I inquired
about. When I asked could you tell me what your doing there, Im rather intrigued.
Self defense was a thing you that you knew about and you were quite capable of looking
after yourself and you new some of the dirty tricks in the book. It was natural, The war
was bad times. Anyway they said they were doing what is called Aikido. The name came to me
I dont know why thought, well if thats the name its got there must be a
lot more to it then Im seeing, so it became, really a finding out, I had to find out
plus the fact of my illness a few years before left me a little bit, say negative. Very
careful of what I did.
F.B. [You had] Tuberculosis
S.F. Yes tuberculosis, I thought I had to be careful. What I
was concerned with was being fit and able to bring my family up. As long as I was well
enough to go to work to look after my family, pay my way, thats all I was really
concerned with. But I thought theres got to be more something there for me to make
me think differently again. So really I was searching for something. So I made a few
inquiries. Ive got to mention this. The 1st two people I met where Ken
Williams Sensei and his brother David Williams Sensei, so I asked a few questions.
F.B. Were they teaching the class?
F.B. Where they Dan grades then?
S.F. No, no they werent. So they were teaching and I
made a few inquiries from them. The first thing they said (they had a childrens
class running) Thered really just started. I said well my son wants to join
Ive made an agreement with him that if he starts, Im paying out good cash, he
stays here until he gets his black belt. What little we knew about black belts was very
mystic if you like, but I said he stays until he gets it. He did but pretty soon after he
gave up. It was Judo he went for. I got talking to, Ill say the William brothers,
Im not being rude, Ill say the William brother because there was something
about them I liked. They seemed very genuine about what they were trying to do. So I said
I have a bit of a problem, I would just like to try. Well immediately, they invited me on,
not this particular night but later. So I tried it and it really got to me, it really got
to me. We had the good fortune of being taught by Abbe sensei then when I decided to join,
take up membership. At that time David Williams sensei had the distinction of holding a 1st
kyu in Aikido.
F.B. Awarded by Abbe sensei
S.F. Yes, Ken Williams sensei had also been awarded his 1st
kyu in Judo
F.B. Also 1st kyu in Aikido
S.F. No, only in Judo. David was basically the man who was
teaching Aikido and Ken was teaching Judo. Anyway they used to go to town to Mr
Abbes dojo in Sandwich Street. I went there many times,they started to run the club
and invited Mr Abbe down and I started to train. I had the good fortune to meet Mr Abbe, I
would say that Abbe sensei was the best, I would go so far as to say this, the kindest and
the nicest Japanese teacher I ever met.
F.B. Would you say he was the most influential of all the
senseis you have met and practiced with, would you say he was the finest exponent
you ever saw?
S.F. No, no, I wouldnt say that. He was a man of many
arts, he knew so much; he was what we would call today a budo master. He knew so much
about everything. There were no names given to techniques then.
F.B. Just numbered form.
S.F. No, not even numbered. He just showed you a technique
and you remembered it and practiced it.
F.B. Could he speak good English?
S.F. Very good. Well, he was an exceptional man, really. He
was one of the youngest Judo champions in Japan. He was brought here if I remember
properly by the London Judo Society. They were an organization in the city, which belonged
if I remember to the British Judo Association. A funny thing, at the time there was a
family of South Africans living in south London. The names evade me. The father was a very
high grade in Judo, and his two sons also. I cant think of their names. Anyway there
was a film made, I cant remember if Ive still got it. There was a film made of
Abbe sensei contesting and of the brothers. They did a lot of film work later, a wonderful
bout, what little I knew about Judo, but they decided actually that it was a draw. What I
was told by the Judo exponents is that Abbe sensei really won it. Abbe sensei I would say
as a man of 12 stones if that, the other guy was like a monster, it was incredible to
watch, but I only saw it on film. The old 8mm.
F.B. You hadnt practiced any other martial art before,
S.F. Not really, Id done a little bit of boxing, took a
few thumpings and thought Id go and find some other playmates. That didnt go
down to well, I used to get into a few scraps.
F.B. That was not through playing, that was through boxing?
S.F. Oh well, that was being a bit cheeky sometimes.
F.B. Your 1st sensei would be Abbe sensei and the
S.F. Well what happened, Abbe sensei trained us and I had the
good fortune then to meet Pierre Chassang. He came over for a very short time. I just met
him I never trained under him. The other lads did but I didnt have the time, work
commitments, but he came over here, Abbe sensei brought him over to do a display in Red
Lion Square I think it was, in town somewhere. He came over and then taught a few days the
following week. He went back to France. Abbe sensei having left the Judo association had
decided to start his own association, he taught Karate, the sword, Aikido and of course
his main stream Judo. He was a man of many great talents. Quite a formidable character
F.B. Of the present day principle coaches as the B.A.B. like
to call them, youve mentioned Williams sensei, who else, who still about in
organization from that time?
S.F. In the original group, there was also Harry Ellis
sensei, there were others who came after, but werent in the original group. I
remember my very meeting with Harry Ellis, we were going to Grange Farm, the summer
school, my 1st summer school.
F.B. How long had you been practicing before your first
S.F. I was at the distinction of being an orange belt holder.
F.B. So that was quite early in your career?
S.F. Somewhere around 1960, maybe before that. On our way, we
took a party of children. They were going for Judo. There were three of us, David
Williams, Harry Ellis and myself. We were the only three actual Aikidoka there who where
going for pure Aikido. Abbe sensei had so much going on, he left us to our own devices, He
came took part with us in practice and gave instruction when he could manage. We
didnt have as many hours as the rest but he had quite a few, We went morning,
afternoon and night at that time. We made progress you know.
F.B. So in this group there was yourself, Harry Ellis and Ken
Williams who are left now?
S.F. Then of course you had other people like Derek Eastman,
who came and Ralph Reynolds.
F.B. All under the umbrella of Abbe sensei?
F.B. Over the years in your opinion are the changes that have
happened with Aikido good? Do you think we should train as you did in old days, is
todays training method better? What are your opinions on todays training
S.F. What created the changes within us is that we had now
met Noro sensei, Im missing bits out here. Id gone to the first summer school
with Harry Ellis, by then I was progressing pretty well. I got my green belt a week after
we came back. I think it was the following summer school I went for my 1st Dan
at Grange Farm. Now Mr Abbe presented 1st Dan. David Williams had decided to
move, so Ken now, I should say sensei really, took over the whole thing. His 1st
grade in Aikido presented by Abbe sensei was 1st Dan. That was his 1st
grading. I was still down in the kyu grades when he was awarded 1st Dan but
very soon after summer school up I went for my 1st Dan and got it. Now Ken
Williams brother had gone and I took over the mantel of one of the senior member of
the club. When we went to summer school the next time Abbe sensei called us both into the
office, he awarded Mr Williams 3rd Dan and me 2nd Dan, he also
awarded him the national coach for Aikido for the branch of the British Judo Council.
F.B. So, he was basically making Williams sensei overall in
charge of Aikido at that time?
S.F. Yes it was growing, growing very quickly and he
[Williams] made me assistant national coach. I questioned it. I said I felt it should be
[his] brother, but he said Abbe sensei insisted it must be [me]
so thats how
that came about. Now, the following year at summer school was a time that Abbe sensei,
[who] had already brought Noro sensei over at various times, decided to bring over
Nakazono sensei, [who] brought with him Pierre Chassang.
F.B. He still comes to this country I believe.
S.F. Oh yes! He held the distinction of being a 3rd
Dan. Now I remember Nakazono sensei, he put it straight down the line. He said,
"Ive come to teach you and we have no time, by the time I go away you must know
the form system from 1 to 8, 9 techniques to each form, 8 different forms so thats
72." We had to have them running in sequence by the time he left. He said, "I
will then take you through your gradings again after the end of the weekend and Ill
reassess you, if I consider you worth what Abbe sensei has awarded you I will then have
them validated in the Hombu Dojo."
F.B. This was Nakazono sensei
S.F. Yes, so we went through the week and were in for a few
surprises, as you can imagine. Pierre Chassang was there. I found him to be a very nice
man, especially later. I had met him before, he came to the old Hut once
He graded Mr
Williams to 3rd Dan and me to 2nd Dan.
F.B. So you would be about 32.
S.F. Yeah, must be. Maybe a little younger.
F.B. Do you think the changes from how you were taught, the
techniques you learned and the style you learned them in, to what we do today in this
country and the world, come to that? How do you see the changes, for the good and natural
S.F. Oh, yes. I feel Ive often said as the years have
gone by, and Ive various people back from the old days, and because weve grown
up, with the advancement obviously, but I feel the idea of knowing. The printed matter you
can say "I can follow that" but in those days there was nothing, It was more
bound in the Aikijitsu, that was more in keeping with it.
F.B. In keeping with its origins?
F.B. Ive known you quite a number of years, you never
met O sensei?
S.F. No, no.
F.B. Is that a regret that you never saw them?
S.F. Yes, I suppose it would have been nice to see the old
master. Fortunate enough Ive seen him on tape.
F.B. If you could pick one name, who would you say influenced
you the most?
S.F. Mr. Abbe was the one. I mean, Mr. Abbe taught us the
system; when Mr. Noro started to come, I think he came with the attitude Ill just go
along with what theyre doing. So, he normally based the weekend course on
self-defense and when Mr. Nakazono came to summer school with the form system, he and Mr.
Noro decided this would only work as I understand as they did in France. It was already
working in France when they arrived by the previous masters there, Abbe sensei and other
Japanese. The influence to learn more was Mr Nakazono and Mr Noros approach changed
because he realised we where looking.
F.B. So Mr. Abbe got you hooked, Mr. Noro developed and
nurtured that, and gave you the whole picture.
S.F. I would give it equal to Mr. Noro and Mr. Nakazono. We
used to bring them both over, consecutively to teach us or we would go there to France.
F.B. I run my own club and fortunately I can go see you, I
see other people, W. Smith and T. Moss just to mention a couple. You have been the head of
the Institute for a great number of years, where and how do you get inspiration to
S.F. Well I dont know, I think its during the
time of Mr. Williams. I would say this, he had the influence backed up by Mr. Abbe. Ken
had all the drive, the influence, the need to want more, he affected us all. Theres
no doubt about it, he affected us all. I made a statement I think I told you recently when
I was talking to Harry Ellis and Derek Eastman, I said, "Lets be fair about it. It
was his influence, that what kept us going on and on and searching."
F.B. This week we have had a great summer school, you come up
with magical stuff, you seem to always be giving out and be endless, a bottomless pit you
have to give us. You must get inspiration from somewhere
S.F. I never prepare a lesson, I never prepare a summer
F.B. You never get bored?
S.F. Well, I sometimes think.
F.B. What gets you over that hurdle?
S.F. Well I think I should be there if you like, to further
something that is very, very important. You know many, many times Ive heard people,
particularly English people. The first thing they say is what theyve done for
Aikido. They never say what Aikido has done for them. If you listen you hear this a lot
especially the people should I say who misbehaved, by the break up of a marriage and
theyve give up this and theyve given up that, they have to continue. They
still continue with Aikido, its not their Aikido that broke up their marriage, they
have. So, why do they say what theyve done for Aikido. Let me tell you what Aikido
has done for me. You know my age, Im sitting hear talking to you now and I still
teach, move about, practice, so why? Ive already said I had a killing illness. It
was common for people to die. Ive come over this, mind you, the benefit of doing
Aikido no doubt has pushed me on, I believe in this inner spirit as well you see.
F.B. Do you believe the more you give to Aikido the more it
S.F. Yes, Im sure.
F.B. And thats where you get your inspiration?
S.F. And other things, its nice to sit on a pinnacle
but its nice to have a bit of humility. I think of some of the experience Ive
had with other people. They sit on a chair and think theyre Jesus. Im not
being disrespectful, we all appreciate and acknowledge the Japanese masters.
F.B. Thats an integral part of Aikido, the discipline,
the respect is always there.
S.F. Its not Jesus sitting up there- its a guy,
hes real hes the same as you.
(Continued - next page)