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Cheryl Matrasko
James Loeser
Matthew O'Connor

CONTACTS

Cheryl Matrasko
James Loeser
Matthew O'Connor
Editor

 

Interview with
Roger Taylor, author
by James Loeser

Interview with Roger Taylor

Please give us a little background on your training. Under whom have you studied and for how long?

Initially under Fred Wainwright who actually trained with O Sensei, and who, with Ken Cottier did much to establish aikido around here. Then, mainly with Terry Ezra, one of Fred's and Kazuo Chiba's students. I think Terry's about a fifth dan now. He was a senior coach with the British Aikido Federation, but has now formed his own Komyokan Association.

Tell us about your style of Aikido. How does your Aikido practice differ from others in your area or frequently train with?

Traditional - non-sporting, non-competitive. Most of the aikido around here is traditional, largely due to the influence of Fred and Ken.

Who is / was your greatest influence in Aikido? Why?

Probably Terry Ezra for the reasons given in the Intro to the book.Mike Tibbs too, for his constant and open-minded testing of all my ideas. It's not possible to measure the value of that kind of help, I hope I appreciate it as fully as I should.

Tell us about any martial arts training you have had in addition to Aikido.

A little bit of Judo, millions of years ago. Not good at it, but enjoyed it - it certainly taught me how to breakfall. Interestingly, my judo instructor told me I was an aikido person before I even knew what aikido was. Also did a little goju karate, but, while it was a good class, it wasn't for me - nothing clicked.

How were you first drawn to Aikido?

See the Intro to the book. Even now I can remember sitting at the back of the hall watching bodies flying about and thinking 'Wow!' There was no question but that I would take up this strange art.

What are the most ingrained fundamentals of your Aikido?

I'm not quite sure what this question means, there is so much in aikido. Probably the most important feature for me is the ability aikido has given me to relax (physically and subsequently, mentally) while moving *and* to use this as such a powerful form of personal defence.

Why?

To relax I could do yoga etc. To make pretty movements I could do ballet and gymnastics. To defend myself (unarmed) I could learn any one of a raft of martial arts. Aikido does all these things. Intellectually, emotionally and physically, it is practical, efficient and elegant.

Can you tell us how these deep-seated principles affect your daily life?

The mental relaxation, improved awareness and presence in the moment that come with aikido probably touch everything beneficially for me.

Tell us about your most memorable Aikido experience. How has this affected you since?

Apart from watching Fred Wainwright I've no particular Damascene moments. My aikido 'career' has been more one of a long and enjoyable walk. I do have a dark(ish) memory which has influenced me - I saw a very high graded Japanese instructor knock out some guy with a ferocious irimi-nage in a public demo. The guy's wife was sitting in front of me in the balcony and she fainted immediately, banging her head on the balcony rail. I remember thinking, 'Nth dan or not, this is not the way. You're wrong.'

Do you have your own dojo?

No. Nor would I want one. I run a commercial shooting club and while it's great, it's a lot of work. I really appreciate what a gem I have in our 'little' aikido club.

Where is your home dojo?

We hire a room in a local sports centre, (West Kirby Concourse, in the Wirral, Merseyside)

How often do you instruct and at what level?

Just once a week. The 'level' of instruction is determined by the abilities of the students we have at any one time.

What essentials or fundamentals do you stress to your students?

Everything in my book.

How much ukemi do you have your students do?

As much as possible. I have never yet found an easy way of teaching ukemi but it is *very* important.

How much atemi?

Not striking training per se, but atemi awareness all the time. 'You do not *have* to do an aikido technique just because you began one. From here, for example, you could . . .' etc etc

Basic footwork / body positioning?

All the time, but integral with the techniques, not as separate exercises.

How much bokken and jo?

An increasing amount of bokken to emphasise the importance of 'cutting' and also focus. Not too much jo. With a reasonably experienced class jo work can be fun and good breakfalling practice but I'm not too sure about its 'absolute' value.

Tell us a little about the structure of your classes. How do you divide the class time?

Warm up - Mike usually does qi-gong exercises and a simple tai-chi form as a co-ordination/balance/relaxation exercise. Then 'technique de jour' - sometimes one technique against different attacks, sometimes different techniques against one attack. When the beginners have left, we continue but more vigorously. Sometimes, in this last part, we go into 'research and development' mode to work out any difficulties we are having with a technique or to share some inadvertent discovery. Mutual exchange between intelligent participants is very important.

How does instructing differ from learning?

As a learner, you just learn. As an instructor, you both teach and learn.

What is the most valuable lesson you learned as an instructor?

That you ain't as smart as you think you are, fella! And you must care for your students.

What advise would you give to beginning instructors?

Be patient, remember how stupid *you* used to be. Be clear in your mind what you are demonstrating. Never bullshit or show-off.

If you had a council of all the most instrumental Aikido instructors since passed, what would you ask them?

Crikey, what a question! In an activity that ostensibly reduces the negative effects of egoism, is it not a poor example for so many of you dash off and form your own associations and schools? Don't you think that the rigid hierarchical system inherited from Japanese culture is basically counter-productive?

How does your daily life influence your Aikido?

It doesn't. I suspect - no, I know - that the mental and physical benefits that aikido has given me affect my daily life, not vice versa. More than once, particularly in the past, I have gone on to the mat with my mind spinning with technical/business problems and left it with, not with the problems solved, obviously, but with a much quieter and balanced mind, and a decent night's sleep ahead of me. Now I'm a tad more computerate, I'd call it resetting the defaults. It's remarkable, really, and I'm grateful.

What personal characteristics do you find aid in the study of Aikido?

Curiosity, persistence, and open-mindedness, and also taking joy in just being there.

What personal characteristics hinder the study of Aikido?

I'm afraid you'll have to ask my students about that. My engineering background can make me too analytical at times.

How do you cultivate the positive qualities in your students?

I hope, by my own example.

How do you dissuade the negative qualities?

Ditto, or, if necessary, tell them to their face, as gently as the circumstances dictate.

What is your approach to disciplining students on and off the mat? Please give us an example.

In all conscience I have to say we've never had any real problems. If someone is applying applications too hard or throwing someone too hard, I just tell them not to, and why. It's rare and invariably ignorance rather than malice when it does happen. We did have one young man who was rather opinionated and, though he did not remonstrate verbally, didn't listen and just did techniques his own way. I wasn't bothered - we're all entitled to go to hell in a hardcart of our own choosing - but after I heard him grievously misleading (and bewildering) a beginner (he had less than 12 months experience himself) about the need for very low posture, and quoting this in the name of O Sensei no less, I had the class do some techniques standing on one leg. Most of them managed quite well, but he kept falling over. I experienced a modest of schadenfreude at this, but we're all touched by the dark side of the force from time to time, aren't we? It makes me smile even now. And I never said a word.

How do you discipline yourself?

I just remind myself that these people in front of me have got off their busy backsides and taken the trouble to come to the dojo to try to learn something from me (and Mike). How would I like to be treated under such circumstances?

Where do you see yourself in ten years? In what ways do you see you Aikido developing over the next ten years?

No idea. It's a peculiarity of human beings that we *always* tacitly assume that things will roughly speaking carry on as they are, despite the fact that we know that most of the directions our lives follow are

due to random incidents - out of left field, if I might risk and American expression. I will continue to try to improve my aikido, full stop. Where we end up is where we end up.

How has your Aikido changed in the last ten years? How has the direction of your Aikido changed since you began?

It's just more relaxed, more efficient. As a result of just plain old-fashioned thinking, I am also much clearer in my mind about the mechanics of most techniques. This is important to me.

What do you think about today’s Aikido? What are the strengths? What are the weaknesses? How can we improve the nature and direction of today’s Aikido?

I don't feel remotely competent to answer this. By its very nature there is no *one* aikido. Its strength is that it can offer a splendid way to cope with peculiar and complex strains of modern life. It's

weaknesses are (perhaps) that it can be over-ritualized, can drift too far away from its basic function as a practical martial art, and areas of it that do not need to be can be befuddled by unclear thinking - what

Arthur Clarke cuttingly referred to as 'New Age Nitwittery.' How to improve on this? This is definitely way beyond me, but as I said above, curiosity, open-mindedness, are important. Add to that, mutual respect and care for your neighbour - the basic Golden Rule of all the world's great beliefs.

Do you emphasize a more martial or a more artistic style of Aikido? Why? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each approach to learning and studying Aikido?

Aikido must work as a practical martial art. Most human concerns ultimately derive from a need for security and if aikido does not offer what it can at this level it is missing its most fundamental point - it is futile. Aikido's elegance and gracefulness come from its deep efficiency, like the coloration and musculature of the tiger - beautiful and dangerous. These things are not incompatible, they are mutually supportive.

Congratulations on Roger Taylor's new book titled:

Aikido, More Than a Martial Art

by Roger Taylor

The book is available ONLY by mail order or credit card sale.
Details are given on
http://www.atlanticleisure.co.uk.

 

Permission to display the picture and graphic, given to Aikido World Journal by Roger Taylor for this interview only.


Literary materials, film clips, and pictures are copyrighted by their respected authors and owners. Permission in writing must be made for any duplication, display, or reprint.

  
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Michio Hikitsuchi 10th Dan 1978
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© 1978 C. Matrasko

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1/4/2002