By Liese Klein, New Haven Aikikai
Lots of old friends and many new ones made my recent visit to England after more than a decade quite memorable. The British Birankai Autumn Course in Birmingham was my reason for the trip, a special celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Chiba Sensei’s arrival in the U.K. that brought Mrs. Chiba together with many Birankai veterans.
At a special dinner on Oct. 8, Mrs. Chiba offered heartfelt thanks to the many British Aikido students who helped her and Chiba Sensei make a life in London – and continued to keep the flame of his Aikido alive after their return to Japan in 1976. It was an emotional reunion with British Birankai stalwarts like Dee Chen, Steve Beecham, Tony Cassells, Joe Curran, Chris Mooney and Eric Beake.
Many of these veterans also told me lots of great stories as part of my research into Chiba Sensei’s time in England for the biography project. I traveled across the island in my quest to find out more about Chiba Sensei’s challenges as young man trying to bring the art of Aikido to often unappreciative audiences. I was struck time and again by the strong impression he made on so many and of the intense loyalty of his British students extending into the present day.
My most joyful discoveries came on the mat, as I got reacquainted with the dynamic, clean and powerful Aikido of our British brethren. (See more videos of some of the instructors at the BiranOnline channel on Youtube.)
Along with vibrant veterans, it was amazing to see future leaders like Davinder Bath and Ian Grubb come into their own on and off the mat. It was also great to see the enthusiastic and diverse new crop of students who are keeping up the very high standards of British Birankai Aikido. I was impressed and humbled.
Also inspiring was the strong training of Birankai Europe teachers who taught at the seminar: Amnon Tzechovoy of the Dojo in Tel Aviv University Sports Centre, Israel; Alexander Broll of Aikido Dojo Gen Ei Kan in Landau, Germany; and Miguel Moreno, formerly of San Diego Aikikai, now of Venice, Italy. (No, Miguel doesn’t take a gondola to his new dojo!)
Somewhat disappointing was the absence of some familiar faces due to a split within the British ranks a few years back – a warning to us in Birankai North America. Egos and personality conflicts have always been with us, but sincere, strong training will prevail, no matter the setting.
One constant at all the dojos I visited in England was sliding mats – most dojos can’t afford a full-time space due to high rents and put mats down before class with no anchoring. At the seminar, the mats on the edges of the temporary dojo would slide apart with every few rolls.
But every time the gaps between mats threatened to swallow up toes or fingers, a few hearty souls would pause and push them back together. After a while I stopped even noticing and got into the spirit of things – slide apart, push together.
There’s a lesson in there somewhere.