I was waiting in the main luggage area in the San Diego airport looking around at the passengers to see if I could spot the Englishman. Someone by the name of Richard Edmunds who had decided to join the Uchi Deshi programme for 6 months. Soon enough, a young red headed man, pale in appearance even for the UK, wandered out towards the luggage area. He stood out amongst the mainly American passengers coming or going. My first impressions were of a quiet, self contained and unassuming young man with a small physical frame. My immediate thoughts were “I’m not sure he is going to make it.”
After the introductions we headed off to the dojo and his home for the next half a year. First at the dojo to receive him was Yahe. I don’t recall if Chiba Sensei met him as well that day, but he was shown his quarters and his new life would begin from thereon.
It was quite funny when Richard confessed to me much later that when he first saw me he thought “Shit, I’m not going to make it.” And after meeting Yahe he was doubly sure he wouldn’t. Boy would he prove us all wrong.
In the 6 months he was there he didn’t miss a class, bar a few days towards the end of his stint and only after catching a very nasty bug. He stuck by his guns regardless of the intensity, the never ending chores and life as a full time student. He just got on with it and did his best, which is all anyone can do. On a personal level I felt responsible towards Richard and took him under my guidance as a senior would be expected to do. I’m sure a lot of this was due to our UK origins but also I liked the guy. There was no pretence in him, just hard work and perseverance. If anything he was too understated and we would often wish he was fired up a bit more. The truth is he exhibited a steady and reliable attitude which is in short supply in many a dojo. When he eventually graded for his shodan, after nearly 6 months, Chiba Sensei insisted that Yahe and I should decide if he passed. I found this irritating to say the least as my cynical side was wondering what he was playing at.
Well, long story short, we passed him and I couldn’t be clearer in my assessment. “He has exhibited everything you could ask for in a test and in a student.” I have pushed him, worked with him and seen him develop significantly from the young man who arrived earlier that year. He never faltered and he was never shaken, or at least he never showed it.
He could cook the most wicked roast dinner, although if you asked him, he would just say that he was only good at copying the recipe. He also completely out fished everyone whenever we went out on the boats on Sunday mornings. The custom was to put a few dollars into a pot and whoever caught the biggest fish would win the pot. He won hands down as he pulled in a good sized tuna that would feed us with the best sashimi money could buy.
He was too humble if such a thing were possible. When he left back for England I would get post as would Yahe and some other students, but not Chiba Sensei. Once Sensei found out that he was the only one not getting any communication, he just exploded, “What about me?” He was hurt. Yes, that’s right. Even the mighty Chiba Sensei has feelings (much more than most would guess). As per his character, Richard simply thought , “Why would he be interested in me? I am not senior and did not want to bother him.”
We would bump into each other from time to time after I returned to England and see him grow even more as a person. His Aikido had changed as I saw Chiba Sensei call him up for ukemi in seminars more frequently than before. He then threw himself into an Osteopathic degree over the next 4 or 5 years. A practice in which he excels at. We would eventually start to work with each other along with Stevie Boyle, at first modestly and then collaborate constructively when I began to organise my spring seminars and intensives in his dojo in the Derbyshire countryside. It would be more than fair to say that Richard and Stevie are the antithesis of each other, the ying and the yang.
Richard has much to offer as a teacher and aikidoka and I hope that we will keep working in the years to come? If you ever get a chance to visit his dojo in Tatenhill near Burton upon Trent, Ishinjuku, you will find good solid training in a most idyllic part of the country. Be warned, no internet, no phone signals, a true retreat.