This was written by me
(Simon Thackeray of White Oak Aikido and
Reading University Aikido Clubs) without
any intention to make any claims as to
accuracy or it being any version of a
'complete and true' UK Aikido history. It
is based on my own memories of events,
written information that I have and my
memory of what I have been told. Lots of
Aikido people and lots of Aikido events
have been omitted because this is only
about people and events that interacted
with my own development in Aikido and that
of the White Oak and Reading University
Aikido Clubs, so it is all very much
written from my own perspective and only
includes what I want to and what I
remember right now as I write it. However,
if you think anything is seriously
inaccurate as opposed to being omitted,
then please let me know! So, now read on, or find out more about martial arts in Berkshire at White Oak Aikido.
Haydn Foster Sensei started training in Aikido
in 1957 at The Hut dojo, near Heathrow. He
recounted how he took his son to the dojo
to watch an Aikido practice and became
intrigued by what he saw and convinced
there was much more to what he saw than
was obvious. His first teacher was
Kenshiro Abbe Sensei. Abbe Sensei was
probably the first person to teach Aikido
in the UK and also taught Judo, Karate and
Mr. Foster was awarded 1st
dan in 1960 by Abbe Sensei, 2nd dan by
Mutsuharu Nakazono Sensei in 1962, one of
the oldest Hombu grading certificates in
the UK and signed by the founder of
Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba (O Sensei). He was
awarded 3rd dan by Masamichi Noro Sensei
in Paris in 1969. Abbe Sensei, Nakazono
Sensei and Noro Sensei were all direct
students of O Sensei, the founder of
Mr. Foster was one of the
great pioneers of Aikido in the UK. He
also played a major part in the
prestigious Budo Festival, which was held
at the Royal Albert Hall in November 1963.
Mr. Foster constantly
evolved and developed his Aikido. For
example in 1981, following Hamish
McFarlane's first visit to the Iwama
dojo in Japan, he totally changed the
emphasis of his teaching, culminating in
the visit of Saito Sensei
to the UK in 1985.
Over the years, both
directly and through instructors he
taught, Haydn Foster Sensei introduced many
hundreds of people to Aikido. Many of his
students have gone on to found their own
Aikido dojo or organisation. Mr. Foster
continued to teach Aikido at The Hut, at
various courses around the UK and at the
annual Aikido Summer School until his
death in February 2011. He also made
teaching tours of New Zealand. His
contribution to Aikido in the UK was
recognised by the award by T.K. Chiba
Shihan, a senior representative of the
Aikido headquarters in Japan, of 6th dan
in August 2009 and then a posthumous 7th
There are many in the
martial arts who promote themselves, who
boast, who make money or who seek power
over others - Mr. Foster was not one of
these. On the rare occasions that he could
be persuaded to talk about himself, he
stressed that he could talk only of what
Aikido had done for him, not what he had
done for Aikido; about what nice, genuine
people he had met through practising this
martial art; and about the responsibility
that he had to pass on whatever he could
to his students. Not highly educated, an
airport baggage handler through much of
his life, he taught and spoke with
humility. His dedication was such that
before his retirement, he gave up most of
his holiday time over many years to teach
Aikido. He did not promote himself and he
cared little for organisational
structures. He thought deeply on and
studied Aikido, yet probably failed to
recognise his own importance and genius.
I had the great good
fortune and honour to serve as uke to Mr.
Foster from 1985-1992, when he was
teaching at The Hut, at Aikido courses
around the UK and at the annual two week
Aikido Summer School in Treforest. In
1991, I was appointed as Personal
Assistant to Mr. Foster and in 1997, I was
appointed Technical Assistant by Mr.
Mr. Foster said:
There was a strong link
with mainland Europe in the early days of
Aikido in the UK and some of the Japanese
teachers knew French better than English.
When teachingAikido, Mr. Foster would
therefore use phrases such as: "Necessary
to..." and "Not necessary to...". He would
frequently ask "Do you understand?" and
finish demonstrating most techniques with
"OK?". This is also probably the reason
for the use of the phrase "make technique
rather than 'do technique'.
Mr. Foster once described
how he had read that Aikido was about
becoming one with nature. Therefore, he
had spent many hours sitting under a tree
trying to 'become one with nature'. Then
one day he realised that what it meant for
him was becoming natural in what he was
Talking to Mr. Foster after
teaching a weekend Aikido course or at the
end of Summer School, he would often
express concern over whether he had given
the students enough.
After over 50 years of
practising Aikido, standing in the kitchen
waiting for the kettle to boil on a
Saturday night after teaching a course in
Reading, Mr. Foster said of Tai no henko:
"You know, I think I've just about started
to get the hang of it".
enthusiastic younger people practising
vigorous Aikido and said with a smiling,
resigned shake of the head: "They'll find
When teaching Aikido:
"Whatever you do, don't...". Also,
"Whatever you do, don't take too soon" and
"Whatever you do, don't move too soon".
Describing moving from the
centre: "It comes from what they call down
"Just to remind you" -
accompanied by a sharp atemi in the ribs.
"Give 'im a bit of a
tickle" - there's that atemi again!
"Just to even you up" -
whilst doing one techniques on the other
side of the body after some time of just
demonstrating on one side (Mr. Foster
tended to favour one side as he had had
part of his lung removed on one side just
before he started Aikido).
Me: "Sensei, is it like
this?" Mr. Foster: "Well you could do it
that way Simon" (unspoken but obvious in
the intonation: until you find out how to
do it properly) or sometimes with the
addition of "but really it's more this".
"You're fortunate to still
have that" - looking at me intensely after
hitting me in the eye with a jo whilst
teaching Ken Tai Jo at an Aikido course in
the Glasgow area.
Watching me do 2nd form
Yonkyo: "Who taught you to do it that way,
Simon?" Me: "You Sensei". Mr. Foster: "Oh,
well it must be good then".
After many sessions of
taking Nikkyo as uke at Summer School:
"What's the matter with your wrist,
Simon?" ST: "It's a bit injured Sensei".
Mr. Foster: "Who did that to you?" ST:
"Er, you, Sensei".
In later years, Mr. Foster
was invited to teach Aikido overseas and I
accompanied him on these trips. In an
airport in the USA, Trish, his grandson
Paul and I went through airport security
without an issue. When Mr. Foster went
through the security arch, it started
beeping. He was asked to empty his pockets
- now most people do that before going
through the security arch but he must have
thought he didn't have anything worth
putting through the X ray machine. But he
did - metal comb, pen, a watch, he may
even have had two watches for some reason,
and there was much more. It was much the
same as watching a magician taking
handkerchiefs out of his suit and, of
course, the more stuff he produced, the
more unhappy the security men became. Then
they put him through the security arch
again; it beeped again. They asked him to
take off his braces, or suspenders as they
called them; he refused because then his
trousers would fall down. The expressions
of the security men became even more
unhappy. Mr. Foster was now surrounded by
security men patting him down and moving
their hand-held scanner across his body,
getting more unhappy. In the end, of
course, they permitted him go through.
On these travels, I spent a
lot of time pursuing him across airports.
He seemed to have a strong aversion to
airports, having worked in one for so many
years. He would grab his bag and head for
the exit, while we were still trying to
get our bags together and get the weapons
bags from the outsize baggage area. Then
once outside, if we weren't quick enough
at the hotel coach, he would not just be
putting his own bag on the coach but
everyone else's too!
At a restaurant during the
Aikido Summer School in Porthcawl, there
was a group of about 15 of us with Mr.
Foster at the head of the table. As ever,
we were all speaking to him and referring
to him as 'Sensei'. We asked the young
waitress to serve Sensei first. She knew
nothing of martial arts and seeing this
man in his mid sixties, she was obviously
confused. So she asked one of us: "Why do
you all keep calling him 'Sexy'?
Whether it was in the
house, in the hotel, in the Summer School
accommodation, the breakfast queue or in
the car before the practice, you knew it
was going to be a good day on the mat,
when Mr. Foster broke into random snatches
of song. Then there was his laugh and his
disapproving noise, which is impossible to
put into letters.
You knew it was going to be
a tough evening as uke when there were
visitors come to watch the training at The
This is a video of Foster
Sensei teaching Juji Garami at The Hut
dojo circa 1988:
The Aikido dojo at the
Polytechnic of South Wales, Treforest.
The original Aikido
Summer Schools were at Grange Farm in
Essex. The Aikido Summer School then
became part of the Glamorgan Summer
School run by the Mid Glamorgan County
Council, which included a variety of
courses and ran for two weeks. Initially
this was held at Barry, then at
Treforest and finally at Porthcawl in an
old secondary school, where there was no
residential accommodation. After a
two year gap, I started organising a
one-week Summer School at the College of
St Hild and St Bede in 1992. In 2002, I
moved the Summer School to Brecon for
one year, before finally moving to it
Bucknell in Shropshire, where I
continued to run it until 2014.
To find out more about
getting involved in the martial art of
Aikido in Reading:
Sensei shows atemi whilst demonstrating an
Aikido technique at the Aikido Summer
School in Porthcawl in around 1989.
Sensei celebrates his 40 years in Aikido
Sensei being presented with his 6th dan
certificate by the Doshu.
Sensei with Chiba Sensei at The Hut dojo
and 6th dan presentation.
Sensei with Saito Sensei of the Iwama dojo
at Brunel University in 1985.
Sensei with Obata Sensei after an Aikido
course in Lowestoft.
Sensei teaching Aiki-jo at the Aikido
Summer School in Porthcawl
in around 1989.
Sensei teaches Aikido techniques from
Shomenuchi attacks at the Aikido Summer
School in Porthcawl in around 1989.
Sensei demonstrates Kotegaeshi at the
White Oak Aikido course at Reading YMCA in
2006: Uke Andrew Stoute of the Reading
University Aikido Club.
Sensei at the Aikido Summer School in Bucknell
Sensei looking out to sea in the USA,
having made it through customs at the
Sensei at the Aikido Summer School dinner
in 2005 with the Reading group.
Sensei presents Trish Matthews with her
4th dan at the White Oak Aikido course at
Reading YMCA in December 2010.
original Hut dojo membership book with the
London Aikikai title.
Renown Aikido Society badge which Mr.
Foster continued to give to Hut members,
usually on reaching 1st dan. Right: Aikido
badge - the blue and black would be
reversed depending on whether one was a
Foster would leave notes like this at The
Hut asking me to teach the
Aikido session when he was
unable to attend himself.
Weapons training at the Aikido Summer
School in Treforest.
Mr. Foster memorial seat in use at the
Aikido Summer School 2012.