" If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything " - Mark Twain
The Life and Times of Henry Ellis Shihan
From a Childhood of Victorian Values and Discipline to a Life of Aikido Discipline
Co-author of the book ` Positive Aikido `
A true story of Traditional `Positive Aikido`.
Left: My teacher Kenshiro Abbe Sensei 1915 - 1985.
Abbe Sensei introduced Aikido to the UK in 1955, Abbe Sensei taught Traditional Aikido = Positive Aikido = Effective Aikido.
This is a True story: - It was late evening as Abbe Sensei left the Sandwich Street, Kings Cross dojo, alone, he was just ahead of us ( his students ) Kings Cross was a rough area of London, suddenly several young thugs approached Sensei, the leader demanded " hand over your wallet ! " - without a word, Sensei removed his wallet from his inner coat pocket, he then deliberately casually dropped the wallet between his feet, the thug shouted " Oi, kick it over here " - Abbe Sensei didn't move, as he calmly surveyed the thugs and quietly said " I am prepared to die for my wallet, are you ! ? " - the thugs looked at each other as if in a mutual understanding, this wasn't just any old guy, just as thugs and cowards do, they retreated, stepping back and calling out some defiant abusive profanities as they went away empty handed.
How different to much of what modern Aikido has become: [" Aikido is love, You want my wallet ? give me a cuddle and you can have it ". ] -- Admin: Henry Ellis Akikai Shihan
Above: The Royal Albert Hall London Henry Ellis Shihan 6th dan AikiKai Hombu.
Right: The Presentation Tanto awarded to Henry Ellis for fifty years of dedication to Aikido - at the `Masahilo Nakazono Memorial Event` in 2007. ( now 60 years )
During the past 60 years, there has been so many proud moments in my life of Aikido, of both sacrifice and achievements, One, being centre stage at the ` Royal Albert Hall ` with Kenshiro Abbe Sensei - Masahilo Nakazono Sensei - Masamichi Noro Sensei at the BJC National Championships November 1963, this was a truly memorable event.
1994 I was teaching Aikido at the ` Holloman AFB at White Sands New Mexico USA. I had the privilege of a tour of the then secret ` F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter ` and to my surprise I was allowed to sit in the cockpit , unforgettable.
Over the years I have had the pleasure of attending invitations by the Japanese Ambassador to events at the UK Japanese Embassy, Mayfair Piccadilly London. I still receive invitations to this day.
I was personal assistant - 1957 to 1967 to Ken Williams Sensei the UK National Coach of the British Aikido Council [ BAC]. I left the Hut Dojo to become assistant to TK Chiba Shihan in 1967
The items below are not in any particular order, but, firstly I will place having my Shodan and Nidan signed by Osensei Ueshiba himself and my Shihan promotion signed and presented by the second Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba.
Demonstrating Aikido with Derek Eastman 1964 at ` BBC Lyme Grove Studios ` meeting the UK Japanese Ambassador and Lady Baden Powell
2005 Organizing the ` Kenshiro Abbe 50th Memorial Event ` at Crystal Palace London.
2007 Organizing the ` Masahilo Nakazono Memorial Event ` Neath Wales.
1994 Appearing in the stage adaptation of ` The Book of Five Rings ` at the `New Mexico State Theater, also taking part in an interview on NM state radio.
" If you tell the truth, you do not have to remember anything " - Mark Twain
Aikido - 1955 - 2015 - For those that studied with Sensei's Kenshiro Abbe - Tadashi Abe -Masahilo Nakazono - TK Chiba Sensei in those early days will remember their Aikido being true Budo, something that very few will ever see or feel again - Read " Aikido Then and Now - 1955 - 2015.
Henry Ellis ~ Pioneer of British Aikido from the 1950s.
Diplomas signed by Osensei Ueshiba (2) - Kenshiro Abbe Sensei - Masahilo Nakazono Sensei - TK Chiba Sensei - The Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba,
I believe that ones life and character are defined and shaped from birth - Living, or maybe I should say surviving through the second world war teaches one all they need to know about wanting, needing, giving, sharing - providing for others when you have nothing, and working for what little you have, this is what gives you the values of achievement that are so rare today, these are the qualities of character that stay with a person for life.
I was one of six children - two boys - four girls - my sister Margaret died at the age of ten in 1940
I did not appreciate the severe strict discipline that my school teachers and my Victorian father imposed on me as a child, as I grew older my disciplined childhood would serve me well for the rest of my life with a sense of strong self discipline and character.
The second world war - 1939 - 1945.
Life during the second world war was hard for everyone - It was little different in post war life in UK in the 1950s.
It was very difficult indeed in so many ways, everything you needed, food or clothing was only available on ration book stamps, from January 1940 until July 1954 creating untold misery and hardships for working class families. It was one of the principal strategies of the Germans to attack shipping bound for Britain, restricting British industry and potentially starving the nation into submission.
After the war this was still a very difficult time. The second world war was still brutally fresh and painful in the minds and the eyes of the British people. There were still many bomb sites with huge monuments of rubble acting as long lasting reminders of the horrors - the human waste and devastation of war.
There were many ex - soldiers and citizens who were still suffering from the effects of the war, there were also many ex prisoners of both the Germans and the Japanese conflicts, most had suffered terrible hardship, starvation and life crippling brutality in death camps, some of the injuries were plainly obvious at first sight, others were mentally scarred for life.
In theses circumstances one can only imagine, this was a time when anything and everything associated with the Japanese was bitterly hated.
In the 1950s I began Judo and later Aikido . I had several serious confrontational problems at my place of work with older men who had been prisoners of war - men who could not understand why I would be involved in anything associated with the Japanese, even the martial arts.
I had one ex Japanese prisoner of war show me the horrible injuries to parts of his body that he had suffered in Burma.
I decided there and then to hide my youthful exuberance for Judo and Aikido.
Derek Eastman and other dan grades from the Hut Dojo shared similar unpleasant confrontations.
50 years later Henry would have to fight what he believed was right once again, just as he had all his life, now there was a much greater battle against difficult odds - protecting and preserving the true history and lineage of British Aikido from the crass UK governing body for Aikido - ` The British Aikido Board `. This is another story that is told in full on the website ` The British Aikido Board Exposed `
My Long Path to Aikido
For those that are interested ?, I would like to tell a little of the background that would eventually lead me through pre-war to post war events to a life of Aikido.
If you are not interested - why are you here ?
Henry Ellis born in 1936, the son of Robert Henry Ellis a strict disciplined Victorian father in a tough Midland mining town.
School days were also hard and difficult, all the kids that were considered a `problem` - just playing truant could make a child a problem and thrown out of the main school and dumped in an old abandoned corrugated metal Chapel as in the photo.
This temporary school / detention centre / taught little other than brutal discipline with a liberal use of the cane and fist. some teachers were ex-military and we were fodder for their brutality. It is a sobering thought, knowing that all these teachers would be in prison today for their brutality.
This was a time when you were lucky to have a chicken for Christmas, I would make sure that my dear old mum had a chicken anytime I could get my hands around the neck of one, chicken and duck eggs were another luxury, just finding a ``lost`` chicken, or stealing eggs could get you moved to the old chapel ` approved ` school.
The chapel school was situated about a half a mile away from the main school.
During the second world war we kids would see the German bombers flying in formation overhead almost daily, we would foolishly try as kids to point the bombers in the direction of our school and beg them to drop some bombs on it.
It was said that Adolf Hitler refused to bomb the old chapel school as he thought no one would believe it had been bombed, I think that was a fair assessment
There were air raid shelters at all the other schools, yet there were no air raid shelters for the protection of the kids at this school, so, maybe the head-master and teachers had other plans for these kids?
In the winter it was colder inside the school than out, there was just the one old cowboy style heating pipe stove in the whole building, we kids could not see or feel the warmth of the stove - In fact, most of the time we could not see the stove, the teachers were always stood around it warming their fat arrises..
Compared to these kids Oliver Twist had it made, at least he had a bowl of hot gruel each day, which was more than we had the whole day.
Henry's mother could never understand how they could treat a nice little boy like Henry so badly ?..
In those days if a parent complained, nothing was done, it just made life much more difficult for the child.
Physical child abuse approved by the government.
The liberal use of the cane was a daily ritual, many teachers were brutal ex military and the kids were the new enemy fodder. six strokes of the cane on each hand was the norm for the slightest infringement of the school or teachers own rules.
I hated the teachers and their brutality with a lasting passion to this day, but, I do think that the pc brigade have gone too far in banning any form of discipline with children.
Henry Rides Shotgun.
Circa 1948 - Aged around 12 yrs I was pleased to get a job helping the local ` Tingles Ice Cream ` man. and still do my paper boy deliveries.
I thought I was John Wayne as I proudly took the reins of the horse and cart. sadly this would be my first and last day, the man left me alone and in charge whilst he went to the nearest pub,.
I could not adjust the ice cream sandwich maker which made 2p - 4p and 6p ices - it was jammed in the six penny position, so I sold all the six penny ices for two pence, I was soon sold out...When the man staggered back from the pub and realized what I had done, he sacked me on the spot, didn't pay me, he made me walk all the way home behind the horse and cart, he would constantly look back - shouting " you little runt !!" he was so drunk he could not say runt properly.
The above photo is the actual horse and cart that I worked on.
During the war it was a great organised treat to visit the coast by bus ( coach ) for one day only each year, we were grateful for that one day, no one would ever complain or expect another day . The buses same as the one shown would line up and set off in convoy for a great day out. I would often tell my children that Oliver Twist had it made compared to me. I am pleased to say they grew up to a better life than the one I experienced, both Julie and Richard (Rik) went to private schools, and traveled the world either as a family or with friends.
Prisoners of War
In the fruit and veg business.
1940s ~ War torn Britain, food, clothes and everything else was on ration from 1940- to 1957..As the kids made their way home from school - which we called a concentration camp -, they would pass Italian or German prisoners of war working in the fields of local farms. There were over 400,000 POWs in the UK, they were released by 1948.
The kids would throw what ever they could lay their hands on, or stuck on the end of a stick at the prisoners, who, in anticipated anger and retaliation, would throw back whatever they were digging up, carrots cabbages - potatoes - turnips and whatever else was in season. As the kids were gratefully bombarded they filled their sacks or bags, the plan never failed.
I am sure the Germans were trying to kill us as they threw the turnips overhand as if they were grenades. The kids would take as much veg as possible home to a dear old grateful mum, selling what was leftover to the neighbours for a few pennies..
Today, one can have chicken every day of the week. In those dark days you may just be lucky enough to have a chicken at Christmas...Chicken was rare, snared rabbits were a delicacy, and cats were becoming an endangered species, actually it was said they tasted a little like chicken after a couple of hours in the stew pot. For those that are horrified that cats were on the menu, have you ever been hungry ? I mean, have you ever been in a shop and all you see is empty shelves, when I ask that, I don't mean a late night out and your sense of hunger is getting to the Kebab van as it is closing for the night.
Taking care of lost chickens
Henry being a resourceful kid would ``find`` eggs at a local farm, eggs were a valuable commodity and these along with an occasional ` lost ` chicken were supplied to his mum and the rest sold to neighbours.
Schools changed and so did Henry.
In later years he would build a company employing 48 people. Henry's early hardships helped him to maintain a sense of values and self discipline for the whole of his life..
Slavery is alive and well.
As a schoolboy in the 1940s I had to work 8 hours a day picking potatoes for 5 shillings a day = 25p - I was sitting in Costco drinking a cup of coffee last week and thought ` who would ever have believed that one day I would have had to break my back as a kid for 12 days picking potatoes in all weathers to just buy one cup of coffee one day in the future.
The Largest Stately Home in Europe.
I lived just a few miles from a large stately home where they entertained most of the titled and royalty of the UK and Europe. There was a great `orangery` where all kinds of fruits from around the world were grown all year round. Imagine during the war taking a bunch of grapes home to my dear old mother. We kids would raid the orangery and the chicken coop on a regular basis until the gamekeeper fired at us with his shotgun - I am not sure if he shot at us, or in the air - we were just running and never looked back.
A Boy and his Bike
The Lonely Bike makes Good.
At fourteen years of age Henry was a kind and caring boy who found a bycycle that was looking for a good home. Henry soon joined a local cycling club, at fifteen he started work earning the grand sum of one pound five shillings a week ( 75p ), he bought a new bike for £12 pounds ~ paying 5 shillings (25p) a week for one year, he trained hard and with disciplined training came the success, eventually becoming the third and youngest member of the first team for TT racing in 25 & 50 mile road races.
1950s ~ A Life of Martial Arts ~ Aikido ~ Judo ~ Karate ~ Kendo.
Martial Arts 1956 ~ Henry Ellis begins Judo.
From North to South.
As a teenager Henry Ellis moved from the Midlands to the London suburb of Hayes Middlesex..At the age of 19 he joined the local Judo Dojo behind the Old Hut Pub in Hillingdon.. Henry really enjoyed the competitive Judo under the instruction of Ken Williams and the direction of Kenshiro Abbe Sensei.
The Hut Dojo group 1957 ~ Judo & Aikido..Front centre K Abbe & K Williams..Back row - second from right Henry Ellis..Back row second from left Robin Otani Sensei 14yrs - 4th Haydn Foster.
What is Aikido ?
Henry watched a class doing the ``new`` martial art of Aikido. It was the martial effectiveness of the techniques that immediately caught his interest. The training was hard and very intense, above all else it was real. Thankfully for Henry it was a time before Ki Aikido and ``Ring a Ring Roses Aikido all fall down `` - otherwise I would still be riding my bike.
In 1957 Henry decided to join the new Aikido class that had just a small group of students. Kenshiro Abbe Sensei had introduced Aikido to Britain in 1955, this created an interest within K Williams who became Abbe Sensei's first Aikido student ~ and the first student of Aikido in the UK.. This was the only Aikido Dojo and `class ` in the
whole of Britain...
Kenshiro Abbe would often just call in at the dojo and kick off his shoes and step on the mat and teach wearing a suit, as seen in the old photo `right `.
When Henry joined the Aikido class, he met another student who had started Aikido just three months before him named Haydn Foster, over fifty years later they are still good friends........Henry was now training in both Judo and Aikido.
When Henry reached 3rd Kyu ( green belt) he was invited to become William Sensei's first assistant..The Aikido classes at the Hut were now getting larger, with more sessions. Many Judo clubs had taken an interest in Aikido with invitations to visit dojos around the UK..He recalls the first ever Aikido seminar which took place at the Devises Judo Club in Wiltshire. Ken Williams had a large Ariel Square Four motorcycle with a sidecar, Henry described sitting in the sidecar as sitting in a coffin and waiting for death. He has never been in one since...
Strong mind ~ Strong body.
Abbe Sensei would say " Necessary strong mind strong body ! " The study of Aikido at the Hut Dojo was very serious and the training very physical.
Each class would start with 200 push-ups on the back of the wrists as seen here in a modern ESTA video with student Charles Griffiths.Click below for push-ups video.
Push-ups on back of wrists ~ video -> Click here for Push-Ups
Fluent Speaking Shinai
Abbe Sensei would pick up a Shinai to assist his teaching, he would say " My English not good, my Shinai speakes fluent English " and a sharp tap on the offending arm or leg needed no further explanation. Abbe Sensei did not use Japanese names for the techniques, he would demonstrate saying " Necessary this action or necessary that action.....It was only when Nakazono Sensei and Noro Sensei arrived in the UK did we start to add names and forms to the techniques.
In those days no one would even think of grading themselves or adopting grandiose titles as is so common today. Abbe Sensei would often say " No matter your pretence, you are what you are and nothing more ! ".....
I do wonder about people who grade themselves and use various Japanese titles, what do they really see when looking in the mirror each morning ? you really are what you are, nothing more.
1950s The early days of British Aikido
1950s ~ Just think, this was a time when Aikido was respected by other martial artists, there was not a tree hugger in sight, plastic had not yet been invented and neither had the `plastic samurai `. Every grade or title had to be earned. They were the times of discipline ~ self respect ~ grades mattered very little, achievements meant everthing. There was no music in the dojo other than sounds that were followed by a pungent smell. Only dan grades would wear a Hakama as is the traditional way, as it still is today in the ESTA.
Friendships and familiarity was left outside the dojo. All teachers were referred to as Sensei and students were referred to as `Mr` or `Ms`.
The assistants such as a 16 yr old Derek Eastman would have to check students for long toe and finger nails, in the winter dirty feet had to be washed outside under the only tap often in freezing tempretures. Most students could only afford one gi,in those days a Milom gi was approx £4 never the less, it must always be clean. Derek Eastman would always be the first in the dojo to sweep the frost off the mat long before the teachers and students arrived.
Kicking and Punching in Aikido..Many of the modern `Plastic Samurai` state when not hugging a tree, ``there is no kicking and punching in Aikido`` well, there was kicking and punching in every class from the inception of Aikido in 1955..If you punched or kicked off centre of your opponent you would be punished with between 50 and 200 push-ups...As I am not into hugging trees or throwing students from a distance without contact, I still teach solid Traditional Aikido.
The Hut Dojo would be open Sunday mornings for dan grades only, no one else was allowed in as this was the time that the dan grades would fight for real and test their technique to the full.
One Sunday morning I challenged Eric Dollimore who was the smallest dan grade in the dojo, he had excellent technique. He was just leaving the mat so I asked if he would like to fight ? Eric replied " No thanks, I am off to my girlfriends for dinner " I turned away and smiled as I thought I had won without a fight. Suddenly I saw Eric re-appear minus his Hakama, he said " OK, lets make it quick " ..I thought this will be quick once I connect.......As I entered for real I was suddenly thrown off the mat and through the dojo office partition, as I looked up through the dust and debris I was laying at the feet of Sensei Williams who was sitting at his desk. Sensei Williams was angry as he shouted " Ellis ! why don't you use the bloody door like everone else ?" ...The next weekend I spent repairing the damage.
There are many articles on the early days of British Aikido and all the visiting Japanese Budo Masters. Click here> Aikido Articles
Kenshiro Abbe Sensei 1915 ~ 1985...8th dan Judo ~ Aikido 6th ~ Karate 6th ~ Kendo 6th ~ Kyudo 6th ~ JuKendo 6th.
Senei was without doubt the greatest Budo teacher of them all. A humble man who asked for little other than a students dedication.
In 2005 a 50th Memorial Event was held at Crystal Palace London. The event was totally sold out as so many martial artists wished to pay their respects. See video for a small part of the event....
Kenshiro Abbe Memorial Video ->Click here
Tadashi Abe Sensei 1926 ~ 1984..Abe Sensei was responsible for the early promotion of Aikido to France. Sensei was a friend of Kenshiro Abbe and as a result we were most fortunate to receive regular visits from Abe Sensei. Most would agree that Abe Sensei was a true modern Samurai and totally fearless.
TK Chiba Sensei once told me that Tadashi Abe was his hero. During the war Abe Sensei had trained as a suicide pilot on the one man submarine torpedos "The Kaiten".As Abe Sensei was prepared to die for his Emperor when the war ended,denying hin of what he believed was his destiny.
Masahilo Nakazono Sensei 1918 ~ 1994..Sensei 7th dan Aikido ~ 7th dan Judo Kodokan..Sensei was the first official AikiKai representative to be invited to UK in 1960..Sensei became one of the most popular of all teachers. In 2007 a Memorial Event was held in memory of this great teacher. Jiro Nakazono the second son of Sensei travelled from the USA to attend the event in Neath Wales.
Nakazono Memorial Event Video ->Click here
Left: Masamichi Noro Sensei came to the UK in 1962. Sensei was quite different to the other teachers, he had much more flowing movement. He was a regular visitor to Britain.
Right: Kazuo Chiba Shihan came to the UK in 1966 as the official AikiKai representative. Henry Ellis was assistant to Sensei from 1967 to 1972. In 2006 Henry was asked to make a speech at 40th Celebration Event dinner.
Henry Ellis speech Henry Ellis speech
M Harada Sensei ~ ShotoKai Karate..Sensei was invited to the UK in 1963 by Abbe Sensei, he taught at the Hut Dojo, during that time Henry Ellis took advantage of the opportunity to train with Harada Sensei.
Tomio Otani Sensei 1939 - 1991 ~ National Coach for the British Kendo Council. Tomio was a good personal friend with both Henry and Derek, training and partying together as they were all of a similar age.
British Aikido Origins from 1955
Narrated Movie Slide-Show by Henry Ellis ~ Arrival of Kenshiro Abbe Sensei to the UK 1955 ~ Development of British Budo.- Henry Ellis speaks of his personal experiences in the development of Aikido in the UK from its 1955 inception by Kenshiro Abbe Sensei.