Aikido club members to jet off to learn from a Grand Master

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Members of a Milton Keynes-based martial arts club are to make an 12,000 mile round trip to Japan to learn first-hand from one of their Grand Masters.

Ten members of Seibukan UK which practices Aikido, a non-aggressive martial art that stems from the roots of Jiu Jitsu, will be meeting up in Tokyo before travelling a further 350 miles to Kobe for a week-long training programme with Nakao Sensei, a 7th Dan Shihan (Master) who has strong links with the Milton Keynes club.

Headed by Emerson Valley-based software engineer Bryan Bateman, the Seibukan club has around 50 members aged between nine and 56. They meet for two-hour evening training sessions at the Tattenhoe Pavillion on Mondays and Wednesdays, the Open University on Tuesdays and Kents Hill Community Centre on Thursdays.

Formed in Olney around 1980, the club moved to Milton Keynes two years later, since which time its numbers have increased five-fold, with a strong junior section.

Says Bryan, 49, a 3rd Dan after almost 22 years in the sport: “While I go to Japan every year to visit my teacher, and he comes to Milton Keynes to coach our members, this is the first time a group of us will travel to where the sport originated. It’s all very exciting and we hope to return with new skills which we can pass on to our students.”

Travelling to Japan in April will be Bryan, wife Akiko, a nurse and son Shin, 13, a pupil at the Shenley Brook End school. They will meet up in Tokyo with Tony Epps, a fitness manager, Hayley Nicholls, an administrator with Nissan, Billy Knowles who’s in IT support and Danielle Saunders, an actress, all of whom live in Stantonbury; Joe Szmutko, a security consultant who lives in Leighton Buzzard, dentist Mark Langdon-Jones from Woolstone and nanny Mila Bouzidi who lives in New Bradwell.

Adds Bryan: “Aikido is an unusual martial art in that it does not have competition in practice or road to don’t have to “fight” anyone or enter competitions to progress through the grades. Whilst we do practice with partners taking turn to be the aggressor, the principle of Aikido is to use the attackers own force and momentum against them.

“The discipline requires an acceptance of the need to lose the desire to do something hurtful to your opponent. The main competition in Aikido is within yourself and the whole purpose is to overcome this and dispel your own ego and desire to be the winner.”

Bryan says the mental challenge of the sport is as demanding as the physical skills honed over years of training, adding: “It all helps make a person better able to meet the challenges of modern day life.”

Without competition, students of the martial art are judged by their senior colleagues, with improved grades having to be endorsed before higher standards are approved. Six “white belt” grades have to be achieved before a student becomes a “black belt”, with a further eight Dan grades before Master status is achieved.

But whilst the Aikido club is stronger in numbers and operates to a high standard, it still has to achieve its main objective – finding a home to call its own.

A non-profit making organisation to which members pay £25 a month for lessons and hired facilities, the club has been looking for years to find suitable premises at an affordable price.

“Even if we were lucky enough to find a location, planning permission, change of use and administration costs would be high without any guarantees we would get the go-ahead. It is not easy for small clubs to find premises; the only real opportunity is to use local community centres as we currently do, storing mats in cupboards and setting up the equipment each time we practice. But if there’s anyone out there who feels they can help, we would be pleased to hear from them.”