Nigel Vaughan, 5 Dan Aikido, will be one of the guest instructors at the summer school in august, Constanța, Romania. Nigel is the Chairman of The International Aikido Association "Kai Shin Kai" from the UK. "Kai Shin Kai" is a traditional school of Aikido registered with the British Aikido Board and has Hombu affiliation membership.
The organization has twenty five member and associate member clubs in the UK, two more in Aosta, Northern Italy, two in the United States in Tampa, Florida, and one in Las Vegas, Nevada.
KSK practices traditional Aikido in the manner of Hombu Dojo (Tokyo), where senior Shihan all have distinctive styles but nevertheless all follow the path of starting as a triangle, moving as a circle and finishing as a square (posture, movement and stability). That is, the KSK recognizes that there are many ways of expressing both basic and advanced Aikido, none being incorrect as long as the tenets of Aikido as taught by O-Sensei are followed.
How long have you been a member of the European Confederation of Aikido?
Nigel Vaughan: Since when we first came to Brasov, 2000 I believe. I was introduced to the Romanian Aikido Association and CEA by Stefan Kristiaan, who was then my sensiei. Our initial contact was made by Ollie Buga, who had been in Bucharest on attachment to the Romanian military.
When did you begin to study Aikido? Is it the only martial art you’ve been studying?
Nigel Vaughan: I started in November 1979 with Fred Mills in Reading. We had straw tatami so my ukemis became quite good very quickly! In 1982 my wife and I moved back to London for work and I joined a local club there, eventually gaining my first Kyu. In 1989 we returned to Reading, and I returned to Fred who had moved his dojo, to a much bigger room, with heating! I have never seriously studied another martial art, although I did attend classes in Tai Chi (Yang style) for a year.
Can you tell us something about the principle of non-resistance?
Nigel Vaughan: Non-resistance must not be confused with surrendering. It is very similar to parenting a teenager; you must lead without them realizing, making them believe it is their chosen direction, and apparently without any interest in either of you winning!
What made you become an Aikidoka?
Nigel Vaughan: My brother in law nagged me to try Aikido, and so just to keep him quiet I did. I have never stopped loving it.
It is said that Aikido is quite different from other martial arts. Is it true for you?
Nigel Vaughan: I have never seriously practiced any other martial art, although I was the class uke at my children’s Judo club! For ten years, I attended a week long training course where we practiced, Judo, Karate, Ju-jitsu, Iaido, Tai-chi, Kendo and Aikido. I noticed many differences, but far more similarities; the attitude of the students remains the same, your ego must be left at the door, you try to help the lower grades and learn from the seniors, etiquette is very important for its own sake and safety. Many martial arts have lost their philosophical side to the increasing involvement of competition, but Aikido has kept it at the forefront; I believe it is their loss and something we must be wary of.
The general public regards Aikido as something mystical like ninjutsu, since O Sensei, felled huge opponents with lightning speed and lifted objects weighing several hundred pounds. What do you think about it?
Nigel Vaughan: The general public is too quick to believe in magic. O Sensiei, was a very strong man who was able to use and isolate all his muscles to solve problems, and so he could lift heavy weights. He was also a very skillful fighter who had learned not to use only his muscles to overcome others, but to use his extensive knowledge and sensitivity to detect and capitalize on the inherent weakness of an animal with only two legs.
I’ve seen you teach many times. When you pin a person with one finger, do you push on a vital point?
Nigel Vaughan: When using only one finger it must not only be very accurately placed, but the partner must have been accurately placed on the floor first! Unfortunately the pressure points move from one body to another; so they must never be the primary method, this is often demonstrated in Yonkyo!
How many techniques are there in Aikido?
Nigel Vaughan: There is no limit except your imagination, but there are approximately 15 core techniques. Each can be applied in many different ways such as; irimi, tencan, ura, omote,positive, negative, reverse handed, or compound, which gives a massive number.
Which is your favorite technique?
Nigel Vaughan: Whichever one that works best! Every person reacts, moves and anticipates differently, so to have a favorite is perhaps a weakness of your imagination. Although when I asked my students they chimed either “nikkyo or kotegaeshi”!
What is a good age for starting Aikido training?
Nigel Vaughan: After 20 when your bones are firm and you are no longer a teenager; and before you become too old to learn. My oldest student started Aikido at 50. It is your attitude and ability that limits you, and not how many years you have lived. I read a story about a man who started gardening when he was 20, took up horse riding when he was 30, then Judo at 40! He said that two things about Judo stood out. First was that even if you drove up to the dojo in a giraffe skinned Porsche leaving it in front of the door whilst your practiced; the only thing the judoka would remember about you was your wicked tai-toshi! The second was that one night at training when the sensei finished demonstrating a technique and called hijime as the 40 year old rose to begin, a well-known international judoka was standing in front of him ready to train! He thought he was going to die, but instead although the other judoka threw him quickly and with ease, the landing was always softer than with others. The other judoka had maintained full control of him, and ever afterwards he trained with the most senior judoka he could find.
Do your children practice Aikido also? Do you teach them?
Nigel Vaughan: Both my children did Judo, my son until he went to senior school, my daughter until 14. Andrea practised Aikido until she went to university when she took up rugby. But in those years she came to Romania and France for summer school and to compete in the Jo kata competition. It is more difficult to teach your own children, so I did not teach her very often.
What do you teach first as the fundamentals of Aikido? In Judo one learns ukemi . . .
Nigel Vaughan: I also always start with ukemi for the first thirty minutes of every class until they are proficient and safe. I teach the six fundamental techniques in three pairs. Ikkyo with nikkyo, because we first show nikkyo as an application from ikkyo entrance, Iriminage with sokumen, and kotogaeshi with shihonage; each of these pairs are opposites of each other, and I believe that these six techniques are the foundation of Aikido.
Aikido contains many spiritual elements. How long would it take to acquire a basic understanding of Aikido starting from the very beginning?
Nigel Vaughan: However long it takes until the first time you understand how much it takes for someone to selflessly give their body over to another as uke for practice. This often comes after you realize how much you are holding back when you are the uke. To give some idea of time, it tends to take between six months and two years.
Is Aikido a way to achieve world peace? Does it help?
Nigel Vaughan: The simple answer is no. World peace is no more achievable than is perfection, but conflict suppression is a route to peacefulness just as limiting mistakes are a way towards perfection. Whether for love, social advancement or global justice, Aikido is a good guide. A better explanation can be seen in “Everyone Can Win” by Helena Cornelius and Shoshana Faire, (ISBN 0 7318-0111 3) which explains how most conflicts can be avoided if only we bother to listen to both sides of a situation with an open heart and an imaginative brain.
In F.R.A. there is competition although the founder specified that this should be avoided. Do you agree with competition?
Nigel Vaughan: I see both the advantages and problems of competition, not only in Aikido but in daily life. Although I believe it is vital to encourage a deep understanding of the art as a whole, we can only study for a few hours per day. Perhaps to concentrate on one aspect for a while is good, but I do not believe competition should become a major part of Aikido. To win a competition requires a winner and a loser, which I consider at odds with my understanding of the philosophy of Aikido.
However, Tomiki Aikido does exist as a form of “sport Aikido” in which training includes competitions comprising of bouts in which a defender scores points by throwing an attacker, usually armed with a knife. It is said that O Sensei disapproved of Kenji Tomiki for developing this method, and he became a persona non grata at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, and estranged from the Founder from that day forth because of it.
Is it Aikido a good reason to travel? How many countries have you visited practicing Aikido?
Nigel Vaughan: Visiting friends is always a good reason to travel, and in Aikido we are all friends, even if we have never met before! I have taught and trained in; Wales, Spain, Scotland, Italy, Germany, and many times in Romania and France.
Have you visited Japan? If yes, do you think there is a similar way of thinking in Japan and in the U.K. both countries being situated on islands?
Nigel Vaughan: I have never been to Japan, due to cost and time constraints. I believe that all the island nations have a similarity; perhaps because the weather is so unpredictable and changeable!
Is the fact that you did not receive a typical Japanese education an advantage or an inconvenience for practicing Aikido?
Nigel Vaughan: I cannot answer that question because I have no knowledge of Japanese education.
How different is Aikido practiced in the U.K. from the one you’ve seen in Romania? How about France?
Nigel Vaughan: The way that Aikido is practiced has changed greatly over the years. We no longer practice many techniques in the way we did when I started over 37 years ago. O Sensie also changed his techniques throughout his life to make them more smooth, powerful but less destructive; but still remembering the destructive part! The increased incursion of rules and safety have impacted on all martial arts, sports and other past-times, forcing some changes. Perhaps because of the very soft comfortable life that many people now have, we must now spend more time developing confidence about ukemis! There are national differences; invariably the French are very fluid especially with bokken, the Romanians are very keen and almost fearless, the English are a little shy and reserved (aren’t they always?).
Do you enjoy visiting Romania?
Nigel Vaughan: I first visited Romania in July 1979 and I enjoyed it then, and have done every time since. The economy, range of goods and prices have changed enormously over the years, but the people have always been very friendly to me. I always feel relaxed here, although this perhaps because so many things are different to the other nations that I have visited. I hope Romania retains its individuality despite the onslaught from the EEC, and tourism. I am always fascinated by the architecture wherever I go, not just the dramatic but also the more mundane and everyday.
What is your relationship with Shihan Dan Ionescu? Did he influence you in aikido?
Nigel Vaughan: Shihan Ionescu and I have always had a warm relationship, he has encouraged me and supported my efforts to improve. Perhaps because we have come through such a different route through Aikido from each other, we see techniques from a different angle, which has on occasions been very amusing. Every person that you train with influences you, and none more so that an instructor, Shihan Ionescu has consistently shown a lightness of touch that I still struggle to reach, but constantly strive to achieve.