We pride ourselves on being something a bit unusual in martial arts: a family-centred club. That means we encourage parents and children to train with us together in family groups, because we’ve found that learning aikido as a family is one of the best ways of ensuring steady progress. Mum, dad and the kids encourage each other along the way AND they take aikido home with them!
Of course, we also welcome individuals of all ages and levels of fitness to come and explore this fascinating art with us.
What do we get from training together? Well, first of all everyone becomes a bit more physically active, and the direct benefit from that is the increased self-confidence and self-esteem we see in all our students. Then there are the mental wellbeing benefits, which have been particularly important for us all during 2020. We see the club as one big extended family, where each person is encouraged to develop as a person in a completely supportive environment. Shy youngsters (and adults) soon realise that our dojo is a safe space where they can grow without fear of criticism, bullying or mockery. We don’t tolerate egos or arrogance, and “show-offs” have no place here.
We’re very conscious that Milton Keynes Aikido Club is part of a much bigger worldwide family of aikido practitioners (aikidokas), and we travel to seminars and gradings run by the British Aikido Association. For example, a whole bunch of us went to the Winchester Spring Aikido School recently – our crew are pictured here in amongst aikidokas from Winchester, Ellesmere Port, Newbury, Bristol, Leeds and Eastleigh. As it happens, our youngsters Seamus and Alfie are seated in the front row on the left next to Bob Jones (8th Dan) who is the CEO of the British Aikido Association. Clearly Bob didn’t realise he was in such exalted company!
And we reckon that aikido is the perfect martial art for women and girls, since it doesn’t rely for its impact on size, weight, strength or aggression. Instead, it absorbs and deflects an assailant’s own energy to neutralise an attack. A slightly-built but skilled aikido practitioner can render an opponent harmless by applying a lock or throw without the need for significant muscle power. Indeed, we often observe that the best aikido is demonstrated by women, since they have had to learn the subtler skills of aikido rather than (as their male training partners often do in the early stages of their aikido journey) just falling back on strength and size. This short one-minute clip from the US TV series The Man in the High Castle is a good example – and listen to what the Sensei (Instructor) says about aikido at the end:
We do a lot of laughing while we train, because it’s probably the best wellbeing medicine and good friends can always laugh (and sometimes cry) together. It’s a cliché, but we really are here for each other, and being together for aikido training is a great way to help you work through whatever issues you might be facing.
The aikido journey takes a lifetime, which is why it appeals to those who want to gain a deep understanding of this complex martial art. Progress isn’t measured by a collection of coloured belts (though we always love it when our students pass their next grading), but in the way we see a student’s character and demeanour grow.
We always offer a FREE session to anyone who would like to give aikido a try. Apart from the training session itself, it gives you the chance to meet our students and to ask them what drew them to aikido – and why they keep on training!
James McCafferty and Lee Risbridger are our Club Coaches/Instructors. Both have been involved in martial arts for many years, both hold British Aikido Association (BAA) Club Coach Awards and both have full DBS Enhanced Certificates for work with young people.
James started off learning judo as a teenager and then tried karate for a while, before he discovered aikido in the formidable form of Bob Forrest-Webb at the Winchester Aikido Dojo. He trained there for several years, took a break for a while and then came back to aikido in 2014 as a BAA Coach, training with Gowa Ryu Aikido before setting up Milton Keynes Aikido Club with fellow instructor Lee Risbridger.
Lee began training in kickboxing at the age of 14, and after a couple of years floated around various martial arts clubs, mixing and learning different styles until he came across aikido, under the tutelage of Jonathan Pieterse of Gowa Ryu Aikido. He is a black sash instructor at Cobra Wing Chun Kung Fu and the co-founder of Milton Keynes Aikido Club with chief instructor James.
A Typical Training Session
We usually begin each training session with some warm-up stretching exercises, and then we run through footwork drills (unsoku and tandoku-undo), breakfalling (ukemi) practice and the basic kata techniques in pairs.
Every few weeks we also dust off our work with the bokken (the Japanese wooden training sword), since so much of aikido – in its earliest forms – developed from sword techniques. It’s important to say at this point that we never ask our students to attempt any techniques, throws or breakfalls before they feel ready and confident to do so. For example, it usually takes many months of practice before a new student feels confident enough to attempt a forward rolling breakfall (mae ukemi) from a standing start, so we always start everything at mat level and work our way up slowly.
After basic drill and kata revision, we then move on to the “new bit” in each lesson, which might be a new kata technique or a variation, or sometimes (as you’ll see in the photos) a piece of “street aikido”.
We always like to include freeplay in each training session, since it gives our students the chance to try out their techniques at a faster pace and against more rapid and varied “attacks” by their training partners. This sometimes includes defending against an attack with a rubber training knife (tanto), and sometimes – just to keep everyone on their toes – we throw in freeplay against two opponents (ninindori). Freeplay involves lots of movement and avoidance and – for those taking the part of the “attacker” (uke) – lots of breakfalls! It’s a great way to tire everyone out at the end, and it’s a lot of fun!
Our sessions usually end with a minute or two of reflection in a circle in the Japanese seiza style of sitting (or cross-legged if that’s uncomfortable). It’s called mokusó, which means something like “meditation”, and it’s a good way of “coming down” at the end of a training session or a busy week at work. We then finish the session with a collective kneeling bow (za rei) to each other as a sign of mutual respect.