Aikido at Ei Mei Kan
The practice of Aikido at Ei Mei Kan is traditional Aikikai-style Aikido, which traces its lineage by direct personal transmission from the Founder of the Art, through his apprenctice and personal student T.K. Chiba, 8th Dan Shihan, to the Chief Instructor of Ei Mei Kan, Chris Mooney, 6th Dan Shihan.
Aikido is a modern martial art (gendai budō) developed in the early 20th century by Morihei Ueshiba, known as Ō-Sensei (“great teacher”). The term “Aikido” consists of three Sino-Japanese characters: 合, ai, meaning “joining”, “meeting”, or “harmonising”; 氣, ki, meaning “breath”, or “energy”; and 道, dō, meaning “way” or “path”. Although the term aiki (“harmonising of energy”) was in use before the 20th century, the Art of Aikido as a martial discipline designed to control aggression and violence without inflicting destruction was the creation of Ō-Sensei himself. Therefore, the story of Aikido is in large part the story of Ō-Sensei.
Aikido is an art that uses throws, locks and pins as its principal movements. At all times, it is stressed that power does not come from raw physical strength. Instead, one makes use of the energy contained in the incoming attack, and channels it using one's centre (the abdominal region, which Eastern thought holds to be the seat of vital energy in a human being). Aikido principles hold that when the body, mind and spirit act as one, and the body is unified through a stable, energised centre (rather than the comparatively weak strength of individual limbs), it is possible to join with even the fiercest attack and redirect its power safely and effectively.
Aikido has been described as “moving Zen”. In this spirit, the ultimate aim of Aikido training is not mere effectiveness in combat: above all, training is an encounter with one's self, and the process of Aikido training is one of self-exploration, development and transformation. Traditionally, this is seen in terms of five principles:
- Taiiku (bodily achievement). The harmonious development of the body reveals us to be a microcosm of the universe while it continues to purify the body through training. Through physical mastery, we gain the power known as kokyūryoku (the power in the breath of heaven and earth). This power comes from the realisation that we are one with the universe.
- Kiiku (spiritial development). The concepts of “enemy” and “fear” are perceptions of karmic consciousness or illusion, in which the world appears separate from the self. Aikido is not an art of defeating the enemy. A state of “no fear” comes from increasing self-confidence and awareness of being at one with the universe. Our true spiritual strength can only be revealed when the barrier of self-isolation is broken down.
- Tokuiku (moral or ethical achievement). This is the development of the moral or ethical aspect of the self, placing the principle of oneness with the universe into daily life. The path of truthfulness is realised through commitment and practice.
- Chiiku (intellectual achievement). The attainment of wisdom comes from an increasing awareness of the reality of oneness with the universe.
- Jyoshiki no Kanyo (cultivation of common sense). Common sense in its most profound interpretation is the recognition of and respect for all living things. The definition of the true martial Way is therefore to be the guardian of all beings embodying the principle of reverence towards all life.
Morihei Ueshiba, Ō-Sensei, Founder of Aikido
Morihei Ueshiba was born in Tanabe in the modern-day Wakayama Prefecture of Japan on 14 December 1883. His interest in martial arts stemmed from witnessing his father being beaten by ruffians in the pay of a rival politician, an incident that affected him deeply. He overcame his small physical stature and poor health as a child to become an accomplished student of Daitō-ryū Aiki-Jūjutsu under Master Sokaku Takeda. He was also a deeply spiritual man who opposed the use of martial arts for destructive purposes. By the early 1930s, he had established his own school and style, which later came to be known as Aikido: the way of harmonising energy. On account of his great prowess as a martial artist and a teacher, he was (and still is) referred to as Ō-Sensei, which simply means “great teacher”. He is also known as Kaiso, which means “founder”.
Ō-Sensei found all warfare abhorrent, and was particularly sickened by the senseless destruction of the Second World War. Transformed by a vision that he experienced in 1942, at the height of the fighting, he set about developing Aikido as a means to heal the illnesses of the modern world by reconnecting people with the true meaning of Bushidō (the Code of the Samurai): a tireless devotion to all life, everywhere.
“The Way of the Warrior has been misunderstood as a means to kill and destroy others. Those who seek competition are making a grave mistake. To smash, injure, or destroy is the worst sin a human being can commit. The real Way of a Warrior is to prevent slaughter: it is the Art of Peace, the power of love.”
Originally, Aikido had been an art taught only to a select few, usually those who were already skilled in other martial arts, and was certainly not taught to non-Japanese persons. In the years following World War II, Ō-Sensei opened the art to all, convinced that “everyone has a spirit that can be refined, a body that can be trained in some manner, a suitable path to follow”. In due course, Ō-Sensei dispatched his apprentices (among them Chiba Sensei) to spread Aikido around the globe, telling them, “One day, this Art will be practiced by people all over the world!”
Even as his health grew frail with advanced age, Ō-Sensei continued to train and remained committed to Aikido and the vision of a better world through the practice of the Art of Peace. He passed away on 26 April 1969, and was succeeded by his son, Kisshomaru Ueshiba Sensei, who took the title Dōshu — “way master”, personal heir to the Founder as head of the Art. Kisshomaru Ueshiba Sensei passed away in 1999, and the founder's grandson, Moriteru Ueshiba Sensei, took the title of Dōshu. It is expected that he will be succeeded as Dōshu by his son, Mitsuteru Ueshiba, who is referred to as Waka Sensei — “the younger teacher.”
T. K. Chiba, 8th Dan Shihan, Technical Director of Birankai
Chiba Sensei was born in 1940 and began his Aikido training at the age of 18. He successfully petitioned to become an uchideshi or “live-in student” of Master Morihei Ueshiba. For seven years, he trained intensively under the master himself, and his son, Kisshomaru Ueshiba Dōshu.
As part of the world-wide dissemination of Aikido, Chiba Sensei was assigned to Britain in 1966 to form the country's first national Aikido organisation, the Aikikai of Great Britain (later known as the British Aikido Federation). At first, Chiba Sensei established his headquarters in Sunderland, and then in London, naming his dojo Ten Pu Kan, “the House of the Heavenly Wind”. Chiba Sensei spent ten years promoting the development of Aikido in Britain and many other countries throughout Europe. In 1970 he was promoted to 6th Dan and awarded the title of Shihan — “master instructor” or “teacher of teachers”.
Chiba Sensei returned to Japan in 1976. In 1981, on the invitation of the United States Aikido Federation (USAF), he moved to San Diego, California, to become Chief Instructor of San Diego Aikikai and Chairman of the Teaching Committee of the USAF Western Region. He was promoted to 8th Dan in 1994. In February 1995, a group of Chiba Sensei's students in the United Kingdom came together to form the British Aikikai (now the British Birankai) with Chiba Sensei as its Technical Director. In 2001, Chiba Sensei created Birankai International to bring together all his students throughout the world under one umbrella, and to ease the financial burdens on Aikido students in poorer parts of the world. In 2006, the USAF Western Region became Birankai International North America.
Chiba Sensei strives to maintain a traditional outlook in his training by adhering to the teachings of Ō-Sensei and the historical Japanese philosophical traditions of personal struggle as a way of self-improvement:
“I try to stick to the traditional ways as much as possible. The martial, warrior spirit is something I admire greatly and is something I try to preserve. The combatative arts have a profound body history in them and I don't want to lose it. But it's more than that. We follow the art, which is struggle. And through the struggle, we transcend into the path of Aikido. Eventually, it brings harmony between you and the external world.”
As of 2008, after fifty years of Aikido training, Chiba Sensei has retired from active teaching at San Diego Aikikai. However, he continues to teach at seminars and courses around the world.
Chris Mooney, 6th Dan Shihan, Chief Instructor of Ei Mei Kan
Chris Mooney Sensei began his training in 1973 under Ralph Reynolds Sensei at the Aikido Fellowship, then housed at the Birmingham Athletic Institute. In time, he became a student of William Smith Shihan and, in turn, T.K. Chiba Shihan, who now serves as Technical Director of the British Birankai (British Aikikai).
Mooney Sensei first began teaching at Aston University in 1981. He preserves his connection to British and foreign universities to this day, believing that the message of Aikido has particular relevance for young people in the modern world. In the mid-1980's, he established a dojo in Bearwood, Birmingham. By 1994, the dojo had relocated to Digbeth, Birmingham. At that time, Chiba Sensei gave Mooney Sensei's dojo the name that it bears today: Ei Mei Kan — “the House of England's Light”. In 2000, the dojo moved to Northfield, Birmingham; in 2009, Ei Mei Kan moved to its present home near Cofton Hackett, Birmingham.
Over the course of his Aikido career, Mooney Sensei has travelled widely. He has taught throughout Europe and beyond, and continues to guide his students in Greece, Israel, Switzerland and other countries.
In 2005, on the tenth anniversary of the formation of the British Aikikai, Chiba Sensei awarded Mooney Sensei the title of Shihan (“master instructor”); in the autumn of 2006, Mooney Sensei journeyed to Japan and personally received his Shihan accreditation from Moriteru Ueshiba Dōshu, the Founder's grandson and head of Art. Mooney Sensei sits on the Senior Council of the British Birankai (British Aikikai), overseeing the work of the Teaching Committee and the cultivation of the next generation of Aikido teachers. He is also a founding member of the European Birankai International Shihankai, the group of European shihan responsible for the continuation of Chiba Sensei's teachings in Europe.
“We all discover Aikido for ourselves through training. Seeking it in the here and now means fulfilling the spirit of the tradition instead of merely copying it. We honour the past by cultivating martial valour in our own hearts through our practice now, and for the future.”
Mooney Sensei continues to teach at the Ei Mei Kan and its satellite dojos, and at national and international courses through the British Birankai (British Aikikai) and Birankai International.