A Lifetime of Aikido
Digging deep into the long martial arts journey of Bob Jones 7th Dan Sport Aikido, 4th Dan Traditional Aikido, 1st Dan Judo.
Question: You have spoken often about a modern approach to learning and the balance between Eastern and Western influences. In your opinion, what makes a good aikido coach?
Learning involves far more than just thinking or trying to remember facts, it involves the senses, emotions, intuition, values, beliefs and the conscious and unconscious will.
Learning may be structured or unstructured, accidental or planned, informal or formal but what is universal is that learning equates to change, no matter how small, the impact of learning, once recognised enables us to reflect whether the learning has been worthwhile and successful.
Learning is often related to the acquisition of skills, knowledge and understanding but can also be linked to a change in values and attitudes. It may develop slowly, or a light bulb moment of enlightenment, when there are great transformations in understanding.
Over the years it has become apparent that effective learning has some key characteristics, many of these supported by academic evidence. These approaches helped me develop both as an Aikidoka and Coach, to me these best practice guidelines include:
- Learning is a two-way process, practitioners feeling free to ask questions and coaches developing their curiosity, imagination and reflective thinking. This aids engagement in the learning process and makes the learning journey co-operative and inclusive.
- Ideas and learning come from divergent sources, so practitioners make up their own minds from the information presented. This guards against indoctrination and single-mindedness, when only a single source is consulted.
- The learning environment is of utmost importance and has to be fit for purpose and conducive to learning, for example a cold dojo in winter may toughen young participants but it may also impede learning.
- Learning has to be personalised, especially as participants gain more knowledge and understanding. Learning is unique to the individual and although large classes of participants can learn, sessions should cater for individual needs so differentiation in class structure and delivery is the key to enhancing personal development.
- Feedback is essential for learning to take place and must always be framed in the positive and not openly critical. Participants should, as soon as possible, be introduced to self-reflection to enable them to be responsible for their own progression and learning.
- A variety of coaching methodologies should be used. No single approach suits all and highly effective approaches cater for differing learning styles.
Understanding the whole, relates to participants having an understanding of how things fit together. For example the relationship between different techniques and how they can be adapted to different situations. Learning is most effective, where participants understand the context, have goals and are personally aware of the learning journey.
Assessments, such as grading examinations must be fair, transparent and consistent and give a true reflection of ability and progress.
The coach should practise high quality performance and behaviour. Do as I do, not do as I say, provides participants with a visual and philosophical model of best practice.
Constant opportunities to practise are available, remembering that practice makes permanent not perfect. It must be remembered that repetition of bad practice is often difficult to adjust, the participant having to unlearn and then re-learn in order to progress.
A positive ethos within the dojo is essential, support from both peers and coach is essential. The personality, knowledge and background of the coach determine the character of the dojo and classes.
Learning is a lifelong process, the pace of which may vary, but progression should be continuous and will depend on the individual their prior experiences, physical and mental abilities along with their motivation and drive.
Question: What were your earliest influences?
My personal Martial Arts journey stated in 1966 with Judo and developed with Aikido in 1972 and was influenced throughout by a number of excellent coaches including Frank Ryder, Barry Vigrass, Mike Smith, Mike Tracey, Brian Eustace and Bill Root.
These coaches had a number of things in common which they imparted to or embedded in me over the years. They all had high regard for others especially their Ukes. They were dedicated to helping and supporting others, having patience and giving their time freely. They instilled honour and integrity in tandem with high levels of skill and enthusiasm. Their influence gave me an excellent grounding in martial skills, embedded high levels of confidence and a drive to succeed.
I developed a personal philosophy that was based on their teachings and the discipline involved in martial arts combined with childhood influences such as Robin Hood and King Arthur to the Seven Samurai and Bruce Lee. The west meets east approach to martial arts!
Uyeshiba developed Aikido for daily life and had a vision of non violent (injury free) control of aggression. He developed a skill set focussed on using the opponent’s momentum and strength against them. He emphasised Inner calm, control of mind and body of both self and aggressors. Subsequent masters of Aikido including Saito, Tomiki, Tohei and Shioda all developed the same principles but added a unique dimension to the practice. So Tomiki explored the possibility of Aikido as a competitive sport, building on additional concepts such as randori, developed by Jigoro Kano, the founder of modern Judo. Gozo Shioda explored a more self- defence, practical approach used by Japanese Police force. This evolution of Aikido has not stalled, with many styles and approaches continually being developed
Of course my development was initially judo, later traditional Aikido experiencing the approach founded by Morihei Uyeshiba. The approach was very traditional focussing on the development of technical skills alongside a strong martial philosophy. This provided me with an overriding belief that physical skills were a route to psychological and moral development. How you are as a human being is more important than being able to inflict pain.
As each generation of martial artists develop they inevitably adapt and personalise technique. By learning Judo and Aikido from many different teachers including many Japanese such as Itsuo Haba (above), Fumiaki Shishida and Tetsu Nariyama, my appreciation of Aikido is taken from a broad base from open-minded teachers.
There are correct and incorrect techniques but there are many variations of ‘correct’ technique. What is key is the context within which the techniques are used. The main question to be asked is whether the technique is appropriate for use. In Aikido it is important to understand why a technique is performed, its history and purpose. Early influences are very important and have lasting impact.
Question: I have heard you talk about competition in Aikido, how did this influence your practice?
My middle years of training were dominated by competition, with several trips to Europe and Japan to test my skills against others. Competition provides stimulus for training, providing purpose, direction and focus. It extends the opportunities for learning, not only technically but also culturally and provides for training and learning on an international scale. The true spirit of Aikido can be supported by competition (or alternatively it brings out the very worst in people!). A good sportsperson should reflect all the positives of true Aikido philosophy. They should exemplify courage, dignity and honour. I believe competition can enhance the appreciation of the “true meaning of Aikido”.
Following success at home, I first travelled to Japan to compete in 1989. The first World Aikido Championships were held in 1989, when I was already nearly 35 years old, an age at which most high level competitors are about to retire. However, becoming Manager of the emerging British National Team gave me the opportunity to use my experiences to create a world beating team. During my ten-year tenure Britain won a total of 6 Gold, 7 Silver 8 Bronze but the real success was establishing an ongoing system of continued excellence with the national team becoming outright World Champions 1995, 2003, 2007,2011 and 2015. The team also produced Individual World Champions in Chandra Kaur, Laura Beardsmore, Natulley Smalle, David Fielding, Christian Kirkham and Jermaine Liburd. In 1997 I retired from that job to become Chairman and the CEO of the British Aikido Association to help and support Aikido development in the UK. This phase was extremely hectic and demanding but taught me a lot about Aikido, and people.
I believe that competition is a phase that all Aikiodoka and Judoka should experience before they can truly understand the full value of the arts. It is part of each individual’s learning journey.
Question: Now your older, how do you see the future?
Martial Arts are a lifetime of development that does not stop when you get too old for competition. My next adventure is to open a full time Dojo, in Leeds to coach both Aikido and Judo and to try and pass on to the next generation the technical and philosophical benefits of practising and learning these two great Japanese martial arts.
I believe that you can learn as much from teaching martial arts as from attending lessons. It makes you reflect and analyse what you are about to teach. It provides a different approach to your own learning and makes you question what you have taken for granted. It makes you re- assess techniques and emphasises a greater focus on research and development
Ultimately, in martial arts, it is up to individual to maximise the learning opportunities and get the best from their chosen martial art.
Question: What would you like to see for the future of Aikido in the UK?
I hope that we can return to more traditional values, and generally in martial arts not promote violence and aggression. We need to improve the coaching levels of many teachers and look at best practice especially in physical exercise and improve technical knowledge and understanding. We need to stop the “dumbing down” of the content especially for young people. Coaches should focus on teaching high quality skills within an enjoyable approach and not forget that technical development is only half the story.
Thank you Bob for a thoughtful insight and reflection on your career as a martial artist.
Bob Jones is a writer for the world of both Aikido and Judo; he has made significant contribution to the teaching and development of Aikido in the UK and was instrumental in forming the first Worldwide Sports Aikido Federation for the promotion of Sport Aikido.
He is the Chief Executive Officer of the British Aikido Association and has been practising martial arts since 1966 achieving the rank of 7th Dan Sport Aikido, 4th Dan Traditional Aikido and 1st Dan Judo. He competed for over 20 years gaining several honours both nationally and Internationally. He was to be appointed National Team Manager in 1987, a role he held until 1997.
Bob has trained in Japan and taught Aikido in several countries including the USA, Russia, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Japan and Romania. He was a Senior Education Advisor working for 34 years supporting young people and schools to improve the quality of their learning.
Bob has an Education honours degree and a Masters in Enterprise and Entreprenureship from the University of Aarhus in Denmark.
He is currently the Senior Aikido and Judo Coach at the Ichiban Dojo, Leeds.