Sep 10 2012 by Caitlin Black, Harrow Observer
Britain is still pumping with Olympic spirit, so keen to tap into the buzz, reporter CAITLIN BLACK tried out a Japanese martial art in Pinner.
FIGHTER Gemma Gibbons’ brave Olympic performance in front of raucous support at the ExCel Centre won her many admirers and capped a day of absorbing and successful judo.
Impressed with her bout and the fact she has become Great Britain's first Olympic judo medalist for 12 years, I decided to try out a similar form of martial arts locally.
Pinner Aikido Club has been running since 1995. It is a not-for-profit club and the instructors are not paid. They do it because they love it.
Instructor Bob Sallaway said: “This is a hobby for me and the other instructors, I have been doing aikido for over 30 years. It is one of the cheapest martial arts around.”
Aikido is an ancient Japanese form of self-defence involving throws and joint locks that are derived from the related disciplines of jujitsu and judo.
It focuses not on punching or kicking opponents but rather on using their energy to gain control of them or to throw them away from you, and is primarily a defensive art.
Usual class sizes are 12 to 15 and sessions are held three times a week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings for two hours in Harrow and Pinner.
I went to a recent Thursday night session in Pinner. As I entered the old church hall at Pinner Free Church, in Paines Lane, Pinner, where the club are based, I could detect a calm, quiet atmosphere, even though there were 14 of us in the room. The silence was not forced, but it made me slightly apprehensive.
The percentage of men to women – 80 per cent male, 20 per cent female – was what I expected. What was surprising was two out of the three women there were black belts, which is the highest standard that can be achieved in the sport. Those who have achieved black belt grades wear black trousers over their white robes. The young women present for the class were petite and young but gave out a powerful vibe.
Mr Sallaway said: “We would like to get more women joining as women need to protect themselves.
“A lot of women ask me if I do women-only classes, but I don’t have enough women to do it and in real life situations women are more likely to be attacked by men.
“It is unfortunate we don’t have that many women: the art looks more like a male-dominating thing. It’s funny, when women get really good, a lot of the men do not want to work with them.”
Bill McKee, 48, of High Street, Wealdstone, is another of the aikido instructors. He said: “It’s great fun, and we do get women joining. We had a 70-year-old Japanese lady recently. She was brilliant, really flexible.”
After my tiring introduction to the sport Bill encouraged me to come back and keep going. I assured him I would be useless, but he disagreed and said: “Not at all, you will learn.”
As a woman, I wanted to know defence techniques so I was taught simple moves such as stepping to the right if someone grabs you. Your automatic reaction would be to pull away but, Bill said, you would have no hope of defending yourself.
However, stepping to the side forces your attacker to lose balance and protects you from a punch.
I wondered if I did face an attacker, would I have the presence of mind to remember to step aside? But once I had practiced it a few times, it did seem to come more naturally and there is no doubt it works.
As the lesson continued, my 29-year-old instructor Rob Roszczyk, originally from Poland but now of Hatch End, would call out for one of the club members to act as my attacker. After each try, a bigger and stronger man would be used as my attacker. As each came to me, I nimbly stepped aside, forcing them off balance and was thus able to force them to the ground. The whole experience helped reassure me that I should not be daunted or panicked should someone attack me.
Mr Sallaway said: “You do not fight. It’s about timing. Doesn’t matter what size you are, or what size your opponent. Your physical strength is completely irrelevant.”
When asked about the impact of the Olympics, he added: “Yes, we have had a few more people trying out the classes. The Olympics have turned the country on to sport, which I think is brilliant.”
At the end of the two-hour session I sat and watched the professionals fight against each other. They do it in groups of three, two attackers and one defender. The defender has to watch out for both attackers and use the ‘gentle’ moves to throw them to the ground.
The martial art class left me a little stiff the next day but also exhilarated. I felt really proud that I had managed to floor men nearly twice my size.
I think I will return, knowing how to protect yourself is something everyone should learn.
The try-out session is only £10 and thereafter it costs £50 for four sessions including the white robes to train in.
* To sign up to the classes or for more information go to www.pinneraikido.co.uk.