Aikido History - Haydn Foster Sensei

Some stories of those that went before - Training with Mr. Foster

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.

Below is a section on Haydn Foster Sensei - you can use the following links to go to Hamish McFarlane, Andy Allan, Ron Russell, Fiona Bain and some information on the history of Aikido at Reading University. Saito Sensei and Iwama Aikido were strong influences on me and my Aikido, particularly in the 1980s, so you can also see more about that here.

Haydn Foster Sensei

Usually just known as Sensei or Mr. Foster

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 Kendo.

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 Aikido.

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 dan.

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. Foster.

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 doing.

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".

Watching highly enthusiastic younger people practising vigorous Aikido and said with a smiling, resigned shake of the head: "They'll find out".

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 here...".

To me:

"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 Hut.

This is an Aikido video of Foster Sensei teaching Juji Garami at The Hut dojo circa 1988:


For many more Aikido videos featuring Haydn Foster Sensei
For Foster Sensei books/magazines
For Foster Sensei talking about learning Aikido in the old days and some more photos

Aikido dojo at
                                Treforest Summer School
The Aikido dojo at the Polytechnic of South Wales, Treforest.

Aikido Summer Schools

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.

Glamorgan Aikido Summer School
                                  1984 certificate and 1986 leaflet

To find out more about getting involved in the martial art of Aikido in Reading:

Home page of White Oak Aikido in Reading, Berkshire, UK
Info for Beginners at White Oak Aikido Club and at Reading University - some more details about the Aikido clubs and what to expect if you come along.
Aikido Training Times and venues for the Aikido clubs at Reading YMCA, Caversham Heights Methodist Church Hall and at Reading University.
Joining White Oak Aikido or Reading University Aikido Club.
or please Contact us if you have any questions about Aikido or the club.

Chi Gung (Qi Gong) classes in Basingstoke and Caversham, Reading.


Haydn
                                    Foster Sensei

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Foster Sensei at the Institute of
                                Aikido Summer School demonstrates atemi
                                during an Aikido technique.
Haydn Foster Sensei shows atemi whilst demonstrating an Aikido technique at the Aikido Summer School in Porthcawl in around 1989.

Foster Sensei of the Institute of
                                Aikido at his 40th anniversary of
                                practising Aikido
Haydn Foster Sensei celebrates his 40 years in Aikido in 1997.

Foster Sensei with the Doshu and
                                his 6th dan certificate
Haydn Foster Sensei being presented with his 6th dan certificate by the Doshu.

Foster Sensei with Chiba Sensei and
                                6th dan presentation
Haydn Foster Sensei with Chiba Sensei at The Hut dojo and 6th dan presentation.

Foster Sensei of the Institute of
                                Aikido standing beside Saito Sensei of
                                the Iwama dojo
Haydn Foster Sensei with Saito Sensei of the Iwama dojo at Brunel University in 1985.

Foster Sensei standing beside Obata
                                Sensei
Haydn Foster Sensei with Obata Sensei after an Aikido course in Lowestoft.

Foster Sensei teaching Aiki-jo at
                                the Institute of Aikido Summer School
Haydn Foster Sensei teaching Aiki-jo at the Aikido Summer School in Porthcawl in around 1989.

Foster Sensei teaches Aikido
                                techniques from Shomenuchi
Haydn Foster Sensei teaches Aikido techniques from Shomenuchi attacks at the Aikido Summer School in Porthcawl in around 1989.

Foster Sensei demonstrates
                                Kotegaeshi at the White Oak Aikido
                                course in 2006
Haydn Foster Sensei demonstrates Kotegaeshi at the White Oak Aikido course at Reading YMCA in 2006: Uke Andrew Stoute of the Reading University Aikido Club.

Foster Sensei standing in front of
                                Aikido kanji
Foster Sensei at the Aikido Summer School in Bucknell in 2005.

Foster Sensei looking out to sea in
                                the USA.
Foster Sensei looking out to sea in the USA, having made it through customs at the airport!

Foster Sensei with Reading Aikido
                                students
Foster Sensei at the Aikido Summer School dinner in 2005 with the Reading group.

Foster Sensei presents a grading
                                certificate
Foster Sensei presents Trish Matthews with her 4th dan at the White Oak Aikido course at Reading YMCA in December 2010.

The Hut membership book
The original Hut dojo membership book with the London Aikikai title.

Aikido lapel badges
Left: 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 dan grade.

Note to me from Mr. Foster
Mr. 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
Weapons training at the Aikido Summer School in Treforest.

Mr
                                Foster memorial seat in use at the
                                Institute of Aikido Summer School 2012
The Mr. Foster memorial seat in use at the Aikido Summer School 2012.

Aikido SMr Foster in the dojo at
                                the Institute of ummer Sdchool near
                                Bucknell standing pointing