by Richard Mann

University was coming to an end and before I started full-time employment (and become a wage slave) I had a month with nothing to do. After spending three years watching Anime online and developing an overpowering love of everything Japanese, I decided that I would go to Japan for a month to explore it. I wanted to cycle around the country, see the countryside, meet the people and get immersed in the culture.

Fortunately, it was in a time when banks were throwing loans at people for no reason at all and so it was trivial for an unemployed ex-student to get a loan for five thousand pounds. 

Unfortunately, before this point, I had treated physical activity of all kinds as some kind of illness. I considered myself to be allergic to it, as all sports brought me out in sweats and aching muscles. Further to this, competition was always a source of ridicule for me at school and so none of these things made me want to take up any form of sport. But now, I had to get into shape if I wanted to make my way around another country on a bicycle.

This being so, I went to the Gym.

For six months I did cardio to get myself prepared. It was, not surprisingly, very hard work, but with the goal of Japan to motivate me, I managed it, went to Japan and then took the train all over Japan, stopping in each place for a few days to cycle around its areas and see the culture.

This is not a post about my time in Japan though and so that’s all the detail I’ll share on that for now. It suffices to say that after a month in Japan, while I had never before been ‘athletic’, it just felt wasteful to not keep it now I had it. The problem was, the gym is boooooooriiiiing!

I no longer had a grand goal to motivate me and I was staring at the prospect of just ‘not bothering anymore’. This was when one Kevin Ostapenko inspired me. This man (may his soul rest in peace should that be a thing it can do) could not fail to enthral me with his passion for martial arts. It was he that inspired me to try Aikido. I decided that if I was going to keep fit, I might as well do so by learning something challenging along the way.

In my typical fashion, I didn’t know which one to try… Which one? Yes. There were two clubs in my area, one claimed it was ‘traditional’ Aikido and the other was a Tomiki club (a sports form of Aikido for them that don’t know). I knew nothing of Aikido and so I decided that objectively speaking, the only way to know which was best for me, was to try both and decide later. Obviously.

So I took up both Tomiki and joined the Kai Shin Kai at the same time, training 2-3 times a week (unless there was a seminar or additional class) for about 12 months.

After this time, I came to the conclusion (as a green belt in both) that sports were still not for me. It was no longer about the allergy, but just the fact it was a sport meant it had rules. Like, no strikes below the belt… I like the stuff below my belt and felt the need to defend them equally in a fight and I was not clear exactly how to get muggers to play by these rules. As such, not being one for the kind of acclaim-winning sporting competitions could offer, I stopped doing Tomiki (without ever having competed) and focused entirely on Aikido as a Martial Art (alongside Shinkendo… but that’s another story)…

How I got from there to Iwama Aikido though, is yet another story.