The following interview of David Eayrs Sensei (8th Dan) was conducted in 2018 by honbu dojo instructor Josh O’Leary

HS (honbu staff member): Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions today.

ES (David Eayrs Sensei): Not at all. I’m happy to help anyway I can.

HS: Thank you. It is much appreciated.

I think many Aikido Renshinkai members are aware that you are largely responsible for the spread of Gozo Shioda Sensei’s aikido in Russia. However, I think fewer members are aware of some of the other experiences that have contributed to your path in aikido. Would you kindly tell the story of how you got started in aikido.

ES: Of course.

In 1962 while serving in the British Army I was posted with my family to Malaysia on the small island called Penang. At this time I was practicing karate, so upon arrival and for some time afterward I searched the island to find a dojo where I could practice. However, I could not seem to find any karate dojo.

One day a friend told me that on the mainland he had seen a group of people practicing what looked like karate. Almost immediately, I hopped on my motorcycle, crossed on the ferry, and went to the place that he had described. The dojo was in a small Malaysian village with mud floors and a rattan roof. Inside the building I saw 15 or so people doing some sort of strange movements that were definitely not karate.

There I stood, dogi in hand staring at their movements when an Indian looking man approached me and asked if he could help me. I replied that I was a practitioner of karate, and would like to know what martial art they were doing. When he answered that they were doing Yoshinkan Aikido, I can’t say I was impressed. At that point aikido was not nearly as well known as it is now and I had never heard of aikido, never mind, the Yoshinkan.

They invited me to join them, and I stepped onto their old worn out tatami among the shabbily dressed members. In my gleaming white dogi and still crisp blackbelt, I was young and cocky and thereby completely unprepared for the day that would follow.

They were doing shomen tsuki kotegaeshi and I tried attacking my partner, but I soon found myself slammed to the mats. After a few more attempts, I couldn’t help but wonder how my considerable smaller partner could do this to me. I kept attacking again and again, yet with the same result. The angrier and more frustrated I became, the harder I attacked and of course the easier it was for my partner.

This all seems quite comical now, but after about an hour and a half of this, I was feeling quite battered and more than a little demoralized.

HS: Wow. It sounds like it was a pretty hard introduction to aikido.

ES: Oh, it didn’t end there. After the initial hour and a half, the head sensei sat us in a circle in seiza in threes. I had one guys on each side of me holding me in yonkajo. The teacher began to count and the students applying yonkajo began to cut down to the count. Without any idea how to take uke at the time, my face hit the tatami with a huge thunk and with most of the force of their downward cuts. My partners continued to do this to the instructors count, perhaps fifteen or so times. I seriously wondered if I was going to die. It was my first time experiencing that level of pain.

HS: It sounds like they were not very kind to you at all. It is a wonder you decided to continue aikido.

ES: You have to understand, things were a lot different then. People in all martial arts trained very seriously. Maybe they didn’t hold much back when a young, cocky foreigner came swaggering into their dojo, but afterward they were not without kindness.

Afterward, we sat together and drank tea. Then a young man named Manium, who would later become my close friend offered to show me where I could wash. I knew this to be quite kind, since in a small village like that in Malaysia at the time, water was not as available as it is today. However, even this did not turn out like I expected.

HS: What do you mean?

Manium led me out behind the dojo to where there was an open area with corrugated iron fencing from knee to chest high. He showed me a concrete tank filled with water and said that I could wash there. I stripped off my sweaty dogi and got into the tank. Finally I began feeling a little relief… until about five minutes later when an old lady came by and started screaming at me almost uncontrollably.

When a few of the dojo members came running around the back to see what was going on, they stared at the lady and me with mouths agape. Finally, they explained to me that I was sitting in the entire village’s fresh water supply. I was supposed to have used the empty can sitting nearby to pour water over my body. Instead I had polluted the fresh water supply for their small village… and so ended my first day in aikido.

HS: What a story. They must have been good people if they let you train with them after that.

ES: Yes, many of them became quite good friends.

HS: So how did you make it all the way from a small hut in Malaysia, to the top teacher of aikido in Russia.

ES: Well, I studied for two months in this dojo then an instructor called Karunakaran Sensei introduced me to Francis Samy Sensei and I began training under his guidance. We had no dojo so we trained in my garden on the baked hard grass. We later gave a demonstration in the old Penang Judo Club in front of 8th dan Nishimura Shihan from the Kodokan, which ended with me breaking my right shoulder bone after some poor ukemi on a hijiatte kokyunage after 20 minutes of constant uke. Still, we went on to eventually open up a dojo in the local military barracks in an old rattan shed with straw filled mattresses.

HS: That doesn’t seem like the ideal environment for training.

ES: Yes. It was difficult to train in those conditions, but we managed to progress a little. However what I remember most about that time is the way Francis Sensei talked about Gozo Shioda Kancho, and how it filled me with inspiration to learn more. This stuck with me, even as I was eventually shipped off to Berlin, and then England before my eventual discharge from the army in 1967.

In 1968 on recommendation from my Francis Sensei and upon my submitting a film, I was graded to Shodan by Gozo Shioda Kancho. Shortly after this I opened my first dojo with no tatami and about 40 men in Portsmouth in Hampshire.

HS: It could not have been easy running your own dojo as a shodan, with little external support.

ES: Aikido was still quite new to England and eventually, we received 2 instructors from the Yoshinkan in Japan, which including Yu Sensei, who was a young dynamic 4th dan whom everyone loved. Yu Sensei was eventually able to bring Gozo Shioda Kancho to the UK for a seminar where I finally was able to meet him for the first time. Sitting next to Kancho who was wearing a suit and looking like a typical business man after class one day, I was overwhelmed by the thought: is this the giant of a man I saw on the tatami earlier? Compared to his earlier self he looked so frail and ordinary. Kancho’s aikido was everything Francis Sensei promised. Inspired again, I continued to study even harder, redoubling my efforts.

Sadly politics caused many disputes so I left the Yoshinkan for a while and became independent forming a group called the Kenshinkai which still operates and is held in high regard today. It is now headed by one of my students and good friend Garry Masters. He was awarded 7h dan in 2012 by the late great Terada Hanshi. Garry took over this organization for me when I moved to Russia.

HS: So what led to your move to Russia?

ES: In 1993 I received a phone call from a friend of mine asking me if I would like to come to Russia as his assistant manager in a new security company that he had started. My job would be to train Russian security operatives to Western standards. All of the men that I were to train would already be skilled fighters being ex-military or police. However, we wanted to train them beyond the Russian security guard standard of those days which mainly meant dressing a guy in a para military uniform, giving him a rubber baton and allowing him to freely use it on anyone who infringed the rules. The challenge of teaching trained individuals who might instead prefer a more violent approach intrigued me and I accepted the offer.

My first group consisted of 50 men all versed in various fighting techniques.. and there I was, a foreigner, speaking no Russian at the time, charged with changing their way of thinking. Fortunately, they eventually came around to my way of thinking after experiencing the effects of Aikido techniques.

HS: What happened next

ES: I then moved to Coca-Cola as their chief security officer in Moscow and began to teach in their main office. This attracted attention and over time I began to be courted by several rich and famous people who became my private students. This also resulted in a few TV interviews and the exposure that came with it.

However, one of the biggest sources of exposure came from a demonstration I gave at the World Championship of Fighting without Rules. I had recently been to St. Peterburg to give my first seminar in Russia. It was well received and after this and the demonstration I was invited to give seminars all over Russia.

HS: Is this how things began in Kamchatka and Vladivostock as well?

ES: Actually, my connection with the Russain Far-East came about at a seminar in Moscow which was conducted by the late Seiseki Abe Hanshi a 10th Dan aikikai instructor who as a young man taught calligraphy to Morihei Ueshiba for the last 10 years of the aikido founders life. He also was both the aikido and calligraphy teacher of Steven Seagal.

I was honoured by Abe Hanshi and Matsuoka Sensei (Steven Seagal’s top deshi who was also demonstrating) to be asked to teach as well. After the seminar I was approached by two men from Kamchatka who asked me to go to there and conduct a seminar. They then requested to join my organization, the Misogikan.

This led to many seminars in Kamchatka, and a renewed connection with several prominent Japanese Aikidoka through the IYAF. Eventually in 1999 I was invited to Japan to attend the Kamakura Festival by Kenji Nakazawa Sensei. While in Japan I stayed in Nakazawa Sensei’s home in the great company of Amos Parker Shihan. It was quite enjoyable.

HS: So even though you were in Japan spending time with the direct students of Gozo Shioda Kancho, you were still independent at that time.

ES: That’s correct. However, I wouldn’t be for long! Following the festival there was a meeting of the the IYAF attended by many aikido instructors from around the world. After this meeting I was asked by Chida Soke to a separate special meeting where I was invited to rejoin the Yoshinkan. I accepted his invitation and have continued to follow him to this day.

HS: That is more than 18 years following Chida Soke, including decisively supporting him when he founded Aikido Renshinkai. You and your students have also brought him to Russia a number of times. What explains your strong and continuous support of him?

ES: I think anyone who trains with him, probably already knows the answer and it’s not just the lessons he teaches on the mats but the lessons he demonstrates through who he is as a human being.

Even now, I continue to learn from Chida Soke. At the last seminar here in Russia I did not feel very well. As you know I had recently lost my dear wife Oksana to cancer. Although, I showed up and even went on the tatami, my heart could just not get into it. I was just experiencing so much grief. Suddenly Chida Soke said to me “David Sensei now you will teach.” Although I might have felt quite poor at the time, I could hardly refuse my teacher, and so I taught. The strange thing was that despite my expectations, for a while anyway, I was able to put my troubles aside.

Afterward he said to me, “David, I saw in you a dead man, but when you began to teach I saw you become alive again. Aikido is your Life. You must begin to teach again.” I was struck by that. It really made me think about aikido and my life.

A little while later, I was then struck again as we sat together talking at the Sayanora party. I had been pleading him to take the title of “Kancho,” for his role as the guiding force in all of our Aikido, and as the founder of Aikido Renshinkai. He said to me, “David, there can only be one Kancho in my life, and that Kancho is my teacher Gozo Shioda.” His words made me so happy to be his student. Even with his great reputation and technique, and those around him hoping to lift him up, he chooses humility and total love and devotion to his teacher.

HS: Your own devotion to your teacher is inspiring. I also understand that you have had good relationships with both Takeno Sensei and Inoue Sensei as well.

ES: My relationship with Takeno Sensei is less extensive than with Inoue Hanshi. In 2006 I took 15 of my students to a Kenshu class style seminar given by Takeno Shihan. For the first few days he was quite cold to us, but at the sayonara party I was honoured to be asked to sit with him. He told me that my students and I had shown the true spirit of Yoshinkan Aikido and that we were welcome at his dojo at any time. We were quite honoured.

I have been fortunate to be able to get to know Inoue Hanshi a little better than this. We have had him in Russia a few times and he has also be kind enough to correspond with me by letter. My late wife was quite fond of him. He always addressed her in his correspondence to me, and sent his condolences when she passed away.

HS: You have encountered many high ranking teachers along your aikido path. Are there any other experiences that stand out through your interactions with them.

ES: One of the experiences that affected me the most occurred with Inoue Hanshi in Kaula Lampur in 2005 at an event hosted by Sonny Loke Sensei. As you know, I have been doing aikido a long time. However, I have to confess, I have never enjoyed demonstrating nearly as much as teaching or training, and I didn’t think I was that great at it. Now, this was a big demonstration with many hundreds of people attending, but I was asked to demonstrate so I went up on the stage. Inoue Hanshi was sitting right in the front. I thought to myself, “what the hell.. here goes.”

I let go of the outcome the best I was able and proceeded through my demonstration, showing some aikido principals and explaining them. When it was Inoue Hanshi’s turn to demonstrate, I was increasingly surprised as he continued to make references to what I had shown, saying stuff like “Just like David Sensei said…” When he was finished. I knew I had cracked it [David Eayrs Sensei says this laughing].

I realized in that moment, something that I have carried with me since. I am fine demonstrating. In fact, that day wasn’t about me at all. The audience, the aikido students, the teachers, they all came for aikido. I simply had to get out of the way and show the techniques and principles that I have learned.

HS: It is understanding that anyone might be a little nervous demonstrating considering some of the huge venues and famous people that you have had to demonstrate for. Is it true that you gave a demonstration for Prince Andrew (son of Queen Elizabeth II) once?

ES: Yes. He was an officer in the Royal Navy at that time and he had come to the town of Portsmouth for the opening of a prestigious new sports complex. After the demonstrations I got to meet him and I presented the Royal Prince with an engraved boken.

HS: You truly have led an interesting life. I’ve heard several more stories that I wish we had time to talk about here. With the little remaining space we have could give a bit of advice for other on their own aikido journeys.

ES: Well, most of all you have to be honest with yourself, and if your teaching you need to be honest with your students. Don’t try to impress.

Don’t try to imitate the magic of the great masters. Their seemingly magical techniques are just the natural result of years of earnest training. Study the kihon dosa, most of the answers that you are seeking are there.

HS: Osu. Thank you very much for your time and all that you have shared today.

ES: My pleasure.