The Biography of Sensei Derek Eastman – Part 2 of 2
Q-DW: With all the years of hard training and instruction going up through the kyu grades what was the final path to your first dan ?
A-SE: I was always fortunate that not only did I receive personal instruction and guidance directly from Sensei Williams and my own Sensei, and all the dan grades previously mentioned.
I also think that being assistant instructor to the beginners class from 7th to 4th kyu, I was able to form a good practicing relationship with a small select group of students who all later became the second generation of ” HUT” dan grades.
The group was made up of people like Ron James at 6ft 5ins tall and about 250 lbs seemed like a giant to me as a boy. He never took that into account and never gave me any leeway at all so it was very hard but good to train with this giant of a man.
He would not “go” for anyone so he was always a challenge for me.
Ron was a good friend and brother In law to another dan grade Andy Allen, who was assistant to Sensei Foster.
Sensei Ellis and I would often bring young ladies to the dojo visitors area. Andy who was the oldest student of us all was a very dry and dour kind of man.
I would say to him “Andy, she is nice isn’t she” and as long as I knew him I always received the same grim reply;
” Huh! They are all nice until you marry them!!”. Andy was one of my regular training partners.
Trevor Jones who was junior assistant to Sensei Williams was probably the one I trained with most and we became inseparable not only as aikidoists but also as friends and we helped each other to prepare for dan grade.
I guess that’s how I eventually got to that point of my preparation for dan grade.
I received my first dan grade just before I became 21 yrs of age. At the same time I had just completed my apprenticeship as an engineer.
It was then that Sensei Williams asked Sensei Ellis and I to travel and spread the ‘gospel’ of Aikido. We were the early ‘disciples’ as he put it.
Although aikido had started to spread a little, there were areas that had no knowledge of this new martial art.
My beloved “Isetta” bubble car, which I had pushed to it’s limits, had finally BURST !
It had to be dumped. Luckily at the same time, Sensei Ellis had just bought a one year old Mini car which was in those days the “business”.
So looking at the car and the prospects of aikido and travel and some amorous adventures I readily agreed to go along.
Q-DW: I have read and enjoyed Sensei’s stories of your travels from his perspective is there anything that you would like to add as you were also a part of that experience.
A-SE: At this point Henry and I had become good friends outside of the dojo, yet on the tatami I would still give deference, and that is how it has always been even today.
The first dojo we visited was in Nottinghamshire and run by George Cotterell, where we were employed for a short while.
Mr Cotterell bred Chihuahua dogs of which there must have been about 50 or 60 of what Henry called overgrown rats.
These dogs were all in the paved back yard. The only toilet was situated at the rear of the yard, next to the funeral parlour.
At night the gate would be locked so the only way to the toilet was through this dog filled yard.
One night we had just got back from a good night at the local pub and Henry went straight to bed whilst I stayed up for a cup of tea and a chat with Mrs Cotterell.
After about one hour, Henry came out of the bedroom wearing just his jeans with no socks or shoes, and he ran across the yard to the toilet ( that is some strong ale they drink up North).
He made it before the dogs could snap at his ankles. We heard a lot of commotion and looked out of the window to see all these dogs yapping outside the toilet door and in their excitement were doing their “business”.
Henry was now trying to open the door, and seeing all the dogs and the mess he then realised he had no shoes on.
Mrs Cotterell and me were in total hysterics at what was going on. Henry was shouting for me to bring out his shoes but with that northern ale inside of me I felt brave and ignored him and enjoyed the fun.
Watching him running across that minefield was just like a scene from a Jerry Lewis film. As he ran he was shouting threats of gross physical abuse at me.
Shortly after that we had problems with the boss over the photos we had taken with the coffins as related in the “Fighting Arts International” magazine. We lost our jobs as undertakers assistants and we were now on the road again to more adventures.
Visiting dojos and martial arts clubs, schools, and anywhere that we were allowed to just show a little of our Aikido in the hope that they would ask us for more.
In those days in the North there was not much work to be had at any time, so we would take any job that was offered to us and I mean ANY job.
These included general labourer and building labourer , also working as labourers on Britains first motorway the M1. Undertakers, Road sweepers, cesspit cleaning, steel mill worker, deckchair attendants, beach front photographers, painters. The worst job of all was the “Railway”, that was slave labour and we hated it, that only lasted a few days.
That is how we spent the days. In the evenings we would very seriously spend that time promoting Aikido including Saturday and Sunday, In what we considered were successful attempts to extend and build the ever expanding ” Abbe Schools of Budo”.
The HUT market!
A-SE: David, I would like to regress at this point if that is ok with you, It is that I would like to mention one unforgettable character, who got off to a very bad start with Sensei Ellis and later became a very close friend to the both of us – a man called George Stavro.
On the night George made his first appearance at the HUT he arrived about 30 min before Sensei Ellis.
I was on the mat busy taking preparation exercise. George being Greek and a trader, came into the dojo with two large suitcases and within minutes there were clothes on display all over the reception area.
I wasn’t taking too much notice as I thought he must have previously arranged to do this with one of the senior instructors.
It was then that Harry arrived just as George was getting into his sales pitch with two students that were waiting for permission to go on the mat. This is the only time I have heard Harry swear in the dojo.
Harry shouted ” What the #### do you think is going on in here! What do you think this is Bangladesh market day?”
He then threw the suitcases outside the dojo door in the rain, with George scrambling around getting his merchandise together and put it all back in his car.
George then walked back in the dojo with a big smile on his face as if nothing had happened and asked what was going on in this hall, I explained that we were doing Aikido classes.
He came back the following week with about 8 of his friends who all joined.
George was a very powerfully built man and also an accomplished street fighter and he became the one for me to train with.
I did not earn much money being an apprentice engineer, George was older than me and soon took me under his wing and quickly embroiled me in his nefarious activities which included a very profitable enterprise of delivering black market hooch to all the Indian restaurants in West London.
Harry was angry over my involvement until he also got involved, and he also got all the decorating contracts for the restaurants.
We worked on the door of some of the restaurants and from that day on we always had as many curries as we could eat and we never had to pay.
George became a favourite of Kazuo Chiba Sensei and is now a third dan, George was a brown belt when he left the HUT to join Sensei Ellis at the Slough dojo in 1968, and can be seen in some photos with Mr Jack Poole who was a beginner at that time. George remembers him well and was the one who actually signed him in when he joined.
We could write a book on the escapades we had together.
George was at my wedding and did the full Zorba dance with the glass of water on his head, my family still talk about it now.
Relocating and Leaving the HUT.
Sensei, You told me earlier that this was around the time you got married and moved away from the HUT and the locality. Could you expand on this time.
A: SE. Yes, After I married I moved to Basingstoke in Hampshire.
My work involved a lot of traveling as I was working on the drilling rigs, drilling for Gas in the English Channel just off the River Humber.
I would also take the opportunity to visit local Aikido clubs and train whenever possible.
I later found work nearer home in 1969, I renewed my contact and friendship with Trevor Jones who had also married and now lived in Camberley Surrey only 10 miles from my home.
He told me he had recently opened a new dojo at the Hawley Hotel. He was now working as an Airline steward and asked me to look after his dojo and teach when he was on long haul flights, I agreed.
I found that Trevor’s Aikido had definitely moved up a gear, although the training and technique was still fairly traditional, he had by far the most powerful aiki movement of any person I had ever met including the Japanese.
The dojo later moved from the Hawley Hotel to Brookwood, with two good students Mike Cashmore and Colin Relph as assistants , I also remember Wasil Kolenkisov training there as a beginner, he later joined Sensei Ken Williams as an assistant. At The beginning of 1969 I opened ” The Basingstoke Aikido Club” I would still occasionally help Trevor who had now moved to a purpose built dojo at the “Frimley Budokan”. Unfortunately, Trevor Later had some health problems and the dojo was then run by my old friend Andy Allen from the HUT With the assistance of John Harding who still practices today and who we are still in contact with. With Trevor I re-visited many dojos including Sensei K Williams who had left the HUT and was now in the Rhonnda Valley in Wales. I also visited the HUT which was now being run by Sensei Haydn Foster who always made me very welcome.
Aikido visits to Europe .
Q: DW. Sensei, could you tell me about your visits to Europe at this time ?
A: SE. Sure, these were good day’s. Trevor and I would visit Noro Sensei at the Paris Aiki-Kai. Noro Sensei was really pleased to see us, and on my first visit he surprised me by awarding me 2nd dan which was unusual as I was not a regular student, he never ever charged me for gradings or lessons.
Noro Sensei reminded me of the time I was at the HUT on one of his visits, where he recommended to Sensei Williams that I should only do backward ukemi (break falling) until his next visit in two weeks time, Sensei Williams said he would punish me with a shinai if he caught me doing forward ukemi, however Noro did not visit in two weeks but 4 months later, I had by this time adapted to some amazing breakfalls from all angles except forward.
Noro asked Sensei Williams in astonishment, “why is Mr Eastman breakfalling in this odd way”.
When informed it was as a result of his instruction, he just roared with laughter. He then said this was very similar to an experience he had with Osensei and then said the experience would do me no harm anyway.
Q: DW. Were you still in contact with Sensei Ellis at this time
A: SE. Yes, I had always kept in regular contact with Harry Ellis, visiting his Bracknell dojos whenever possible and his Slough dojo, we would also meet socially with our families.
It was at this time that Harry’s business was expanding and he could not maintain all of his dojos. He gave his London dojos to Chiba Sensei, and his Slough dojo to George Stavro who later was to give the mats to a student who had helped him, a man called Jack Poole.
My own work was now taking me back to Europe. When in Belgium I would visit Sensei Pierre Nassens dojo. I would visit Leiage often where there were 6 different Aikido clubs, and in the true spirit and harmony of Aikido they seemed to hate each other and did not communicate.
I did like one dojo though which was run by Sensei C Van Parys who had assisted the most dynamic swordsman ever to teach Aikido, Murashagi Sensei, who very sadly was later killed in a car accident.
This dojo was very traditional with strong links to Tadashi Abe Sensei who was still visiting the area.
Q: DW. Sensei, You have mentioned so many name of the aikidoists from the old days at the HUT, do you know of those that are still involved in aikido? And are you still in contact with any of these people?
A: SE. As of this date 2003, There are only a few that are still involved and teaching Aikido and I am occasionally in touch with some of them.
Sensei Ken Williams founder of the HUT Judo dojo and chief instructor, who was the first student to study Aikido in the UK, and is now the head of the Ki Aikido Federation of Great Britain.
Sensei Haydn Foster who is still at the HUT and head of the Institute of Aikido.
Sensei Henry Ellis who is head of the Ellis Schools of Traditional Aikido.
Sensei Ralph Reynolds who was a regular visitor to the HUT in the 50/60s, who is now the head of the Aikido Fellowship.
Sensei George Stavro who is associated with several dojos and still linked to Chiba Sensei.
Sensei Les White who is the head of The Traditional Aikido Ryu. Time takes it’s toll on those we knew and respected.
The British Aikido Board and The Martial Arts Commission.
Q: DW. Sensei, When did you become involved with the British Aikido Board.
A: SE. I had spoken with Jim Elkin of the large Tomiki group, who suggested that I join the Martial Arts Commission within a traditional aikido member group.
I agreed to this, but on contacting the head of this group and submitting our credentials including copies of my dan grade certificates as signed by O’Sensei himself; My first impression was that I would be warmly received and I was informed that they would pay my dojo a visit, I happily agreed to this, and said it would be a pleasure to have them visit and train with me, only to be told they would not come on the tatami (mats) , they said they would assess my standard while sitting away from the mat.
I refused the offer, I told him that I may meet him one time on a mat but not as fellow practitioners.
I thanked Mr Elkin for his help and support , and said I would not be joining the traditional group. I liked Jim Elkin and always found him and his associate Brian Eustace of the Tomiki group very helpful during our membership of the Martial Arts Commission (MAC).
He also helped us to achieve full technical coaching standard of the MAC.
On later relaying this story to Minoru Kenetsuka Sensei when I visited him at the Cardiff Aiki-Kai. He asked me for copies of my certificates with O’Sensei’s signature on them. I later found he had used what I had told him and the certificates to leave the British Aikido Board, at that time within the MAC, saying that they did not recognise O’Sensei as the founder of Aikido.
Sensei Ken Williams had also left the BAB/MAC for similar reasons.
A few years later I was approached by a BAB member of the MAC, a Mr Ted Stratton, who I fondly remember as the originator of ‘elbow power’ in Aikido which I still use.
Sensei Stratton is sadly deceased and a most respected figure of Aikido.
I then corresponded with Paula Mitchell of the MAC and using the criteria required at that time joined the MAC/BAB.
One of the criteria was that we should have our own organisation and title. I recalled that many years earlier Sensei Williams had honoured his teacher by calling the HUT dojo ” The Abbe School of Judo” .
I decided to approach Sensei Ellis and asked for his approval to use his name for the our organisation, I am pleased to say that he agreed. We then called our organisation “The Ellis Schools of Traditional Aikido”.
Sensei Ellis re-opened the Bracknell dojo and we were again one!
DW: Sensei Eastman thank you for allowing me to interview you, I know that if the readers enjoy reading this as much as I have in writing it they are in for an excellent read.