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Personal journey through the aikido styles

After and partly during my Judo/Jiu-Jitsu time in Berlin from 1958 until today I have trained different styles of Aikido and gained experiences of different intensity and duration. I give here my subjective impressions and do not intend to judge the different styles.

All styles have their inner logic and are neither wrong nor right. By getting to know different styles, the most individually suitable form can be worked out.

The years indicate the approximate period and the name indicates the trainer.

Ki Aikido - TU Berlin (1969, Kristkeitz)

My Judo/Jiu-Jitsu training in Berlin took place at the SSC in Steglitz. The trainer, Jürgen Mohn, worked at the TU Berlin as an assistant at the Institute of Mechanics, and I studied electrical engineering, also at the TU. We trained once or twice a week in the mornings at the university gymnasium. There I came into contact with the Ki Aikido group there under Werner Kristkeitz and took part in the classes for a while (I still have my Ki Aikido membership card).

Ki Aikido - and thus my first impression of Aikido - was unusual for a sporty Judoka, and a new Budo world opened up. Unfortunately, the training method and the personal charisma of the trainer did not correspond to my Budo ideas. In addition, the Jiu-Jitsu training brought us closer to self-defense than was usual in this Aikido group.

Aikikai - Berlin (1970, Gerhard Walter)

Curious about Ki Aikido, I looked around for other Aikido groups in Berlin - at that time there were only a few. G. Walter's dojo at that time was on Mehringdamm in a back building. The training floor was based upon old car tires and was therefore extremely elastic. Wardrobes were - new to me - mixed, and the Dojo chief, Gerhard Walter, lived above the dojo and, so to speak, floated in for training from above by stairs.

The training was much more interesting than with the Ki people, and I was there quite often. I still remember the emphasis on 'flow', flowing harmonious movements. Occasionally, access to the dojo was made difficult by demonstrations - even at that time oriented against the establishment and American aggression - that took place more often in the area. If I remember correctly, I even led the training once - there was probably no other trainer available.

DAB Aikido - Munich (1979-80, Brandt/Altenbrand)

The Aikido Dojo in Großhadern was affiliated to the German Aikido Federation when I joined. It was strictly organized according to German rules, Japanese influences were rejected. My Judo falling exercises were of limited value; they were very functional but not quite as elegant and did not always conform to Aikido principles.

As the advanced students there also continued their education with non-DAB, i.e. Japanese-led, courses, there was increasing tension between them and the DAB instructors of the time (see also next section). This disagreement led to the Grosshadern group splitting off from the DAB soon after I joined and to a roughly equal split into Tendoryu Aikido and Kobayashi Aikido followers (the latter then founded their own club elsewhere).

In 1981 Shimizu Sensei visited Munich for the first time and was greeted enthusiastically (we already knew him from several courses in other places). The large, fluid and natural Tendoryu Aikido movements from 'Japanese hands' fascinated us and completely outshined the DAB style.

My own highlight was the graduation to 1st Dan (I only had 5th Kyu/Yellow Belt DAB), which was awarded to me after a visit with Shimizu Sensei to Andechs Monastery - the monastery visit and the accompanying black beer consumption had of course nothing to do with the graduation.

At the end of my time in Munich, I taught for a while at the Budokan sports school, because the trainer at that time, Hiromichi Nagano (now head of Yoshinkan Aikido in Germany), accompanied Shimizu Sensei to Tokyo as an Uchi-Deshi (private student).

Different styles/seminars - Munich /(1979 - 83)

As already reported, the students from Grosshadern at that time and I increasingly oriented ourselves at seminars with Aikido teachers of other styles such as:

Couhepe (Aikikai)

Couhepe Sensei came from France and was probably a Noro (Ki no Michi) follower.

Tissier (Aikikai)

Tissier Sensei is the leader of French (Aikikai) Aikido, which at that time and probably still today has the largest Aikido group in Europe. The techniques were similar to the Tendoryu techniques, and Tissier Sensei was also very likeable as a person. The students who accompanied him at that time had a tendency to arrogance, perhaps due to the French culture, or more, in general, accountable to the lack of competition in Aikido

Kobayashi Yasuo (Kobayashi Aikido, Osaka)

Kobayashi Sensei was the head of the Aikikai Osaka and in Munich, and became the successor of the DAB teachers for some of the Grosshadern students. His techniques were smaller, very amazing and stunning. One saw, looked for a free place, started to train - and could not perform the technique shown. For most newcomers to Aikido, the clear, large Tendoryu movements were easier to grasp.

A highlight was my meeting with Kobayashi Sensei on the flight to Japan (his return flight) at the then customary stopover in Anchorage, Alaska, where I was able to shine with my knowledge of Japanese - or at least I thought I did.

Yoshigasaki (Ki Aikido)

Yoshigasaki Sensei was a student of Tohei Sensei and the representative of Ki Aikido in Germany (he died in 2021 without a successor).

I took part in one of his seminars in Erlangen in 1980. Although it was the typical Ki Akido movements I already knew from before, Yoshigasaki Sensei impressed with his liveliness and friendliness. But that was not enough for a 'conversion'.

Shioda (Aikikai)

Gozo Shioda died in 1994. His seminar around 1980 in Munich was well attended; Shioda Sensei was one of O-Sensei's old students. His classes were entertaining, and he had a habit of teaching in a 'joking' way.

Yamaguchi (Aikikai)

Saigo Yamaguchi Sensei died in 1996. During his classes I noticed that every 30 minutes or so he would disappear from the mat and leave the gym. The second time I observed him more closely, I saw him in the dressing room lighting a cigarette. He probably couldn't teach without a constant supply of nicotine. So he lost a lot in my eyes as a strong-willed Aikidoka.

Aikikai - Budapest (1995-96)

The job transfer to Budapest in 1995 meant that the Berlin Aikido group had to continue to work independently, which I was able to support by frequent visits from Budapest to Berlin.

There were only a few Aikido groups in Hungary at that time - most of them mainly Aikikai oriented - and we decided to go to the sports group at the University of Budapest. Another group we visited did not make the short list because of the trainer - a square-build Hungarian former lifeguard who eyed us suspiciously because of our comparatively high graduation.

The large university gymnasium was occupied by a much more popular karate class during aikido training hours, and we Aikidoka gathered in an adjoining room. The participants were all between 20 and 25 years old and mostly male. I can only remember two women, one of whom (Tünde, I never got used to that name) was the girlfriend of the trainer - also a student. The training - twice a week - was very dynamic and a mixture of different styles. They invited every Japanese trainer they could get their hands on, which resulted in a mishmash of styles. Officially, it was an Aikikai club, which also regularly organized hour-long Kyu and Dan exams.

Because of the low ceiling, and perhaps for reasons of cost, Jo and Bokken were not included in the weapons on offer; instead, training was done with tightly rolled newspaper. A cheap and yet quite effective alternative - paper can be quite hard! - although the durability of the 'weapons' was admittedly short.

Besides that, we had two other Aikido activities. In training we met two students who ran their own groups at the same time, one in Castejy at Lake Balaton, the other in Pest (the socially weaker part of Budapest on the other side of the Danube).

Unfortunately, we found that the group in Pest was infiltrated by sects, and as we were not prepared to distribute religious pamphlets or to attract members through the Aikido way, we ended the cooperation after a few weeks.

We supported the group in Castejy by visiting the small Dojo on the private property of the trainer. The highlight of our activities there was an Aikido demonstration during a kick boxing competition nearby. During the break in the competition, six of us climbed through the ropes into the boxing ring (!) and - spurred on by the fired-up audience - slammed ourselves onto the wooden boards that meant the boxing world. It must have been a great success, which unfortunately did not result in increasing membership numbers of the local group. The trainer moved to Berlin shortly afterwards and founded the Reichenbach Aikido group in the north of Berlin (at the Kutschi).

The time in Budapest was foreseeably too short to found an own Tendoryu Aikido group. And who can speak Hungarian ... nem ertem.

Aikikai - Singapore, 1996-1998

The job-related move to Singapore came as quite a surprise. Until then, Singapore was only an exotic name in Asia. Working conditions, culture and political conditions are a chapter of their own, not described in detail here.

As an Aikidoka in a new environment - if one's own style does not yet exist - it is a good idea to march through the various aikido offerings. As expected, the aikido scene is dominated by the Aikikai, and a smaller Ki Aikido Dojo completed the picture. Locally, my first training attempt was at this Ki Aikido Dojo. After work, I set off at the designated training time, found the dojo and introduced myself. When the trainer asked me if I wanted to join right away, I replied that I didn't have any training gear with me. Surprisingly, this was not an obstacle and I joined the training in plain clothes (my office clothes had to go to the cleaners). In spite of this unexpected and very sympathetic flexibility, and in addition to the friendliness I had come to expect from a Ki Aikido Dojo, I later decided to join the Aikikai variants because of the technical proximity.

There were two Akikai Dojo at different ends of town, one run by Henry, a 5th Dan, and the other by Phillip, a 4th Dan. The Henry Dojo was small but also offered Sunday training. The Phillip Dojo was located near the airport on the highway and was much larger. As the number of participants in the Henry Dojo was smaller, Henry Sensei took part in the training more often. Unfortunately, he was not remarkable technically, humanly and conditionally, which led to a certain tension and insecurity on his side.

Philip Sensei was younger and more dynamic, and the training was much more interesting, although I had the impression that he was avoiding me. His standard Uke - my nickname for him 'the wimp' - flew through the air in keeping with his nickname, he was after all only half the size and weight of Philip, which meant that the techniques were not always that convincing. After an incident, a student of this Dojo resisted at the Nikkyu training in the row twice despite my warning. The third time I did not release him when he tried to withdraw his hand. That was the end of the training for him. For me too, however, because I was told that my presence in the Aikikai Dojo was no longer granted.

With the help of three renegade Aikiai Dane I founded my own Tendoryu Aikido group.

Takemusu - Nuremberg, 2000

After returning to Germany, Siemens stationed me at their headquarters in Erlangen. Living in a hostel for foreigners was a new experience and did not last long, as I soon pulled the ripcord and returned to Berlin with a golden glove.

The next training opportunity there was in a Takamusu Dojo in Nuremberg, easy to reach by train from Erlangen. Because of the different style, I trained anonymously with white belt and without Hakama. As I had told about 'previous knowledge' in Aikido and I adapted well to their movements - Aikido is Aikido - there was no major amazement or misunderstanding. I just wanted to train easily and not to convert somebody. The techniques were large, and often training was performed in groups of 4-5 students, usually one Dan holder with 3-4 non-Dan holders.

A few times I taught in another, very small Tendoryu Dojo, also in Nuremberg, but I can't remember the details. It was probably not that overwhelming.

After about 3 months I moved to Berlin, and a new aikido story began ... more to come here soon.