Interview with John Rogers Shihan, head of the Irish Aikido Federation
John Rogers (Seán Mac Ruairí in Irish) is the senior instructor of the Irish Aikido Federation – Ireland Aikikai. He holds the rank of 6th dan awarded on the recommendation by the Aikikai Hombu dojo. On the occasion of Ireland Aikikai’s annual spring course, he granted me an interview and spoke of his involvement in Aikido and the history of Aikido in Ireland. This year, Kuribayashi Takanori shihan was the guest instructor of Ireland Aikikai on the occasion of its 30th annual spring course. 2007 also marks the 35th anniversary of Aikido practice in Ireland as well as the 20th anniversary of Rogers sensei’s establishment of a full-time Aikido dojo in Dublin.
John Rogers: The reason I started Aikido had to do with an interest and enjoyment of physical exercise. I did some sports in school and I had a little experience of martial training. Mr. Matthew Folen, an Irish Judoka, recommended me to look into Aikido if ever I had the chance and he described it as “a more complete Budo”. He was also convinced that it might suit my personality.
Guillaume Erard: At that time, did Japanese instructors travel to Ireland? Did you have contact with the Akikidoka of the UK?
John Rogers: During the early 1970’s Aikidoland was very small, not many people were training but there was great openness and camaraderie. To answer the question: during 1974 – 1976 the British Aikido Federation provided instructors for monthly seminars, the first Japanese instructor to visit Ireland was Minoru Kanetsuka sensei and he came regularly from 1976-1996. However there were regularly other visitors, European, Japanese and American practitioners many of whom had trained in Japan visited and trained or took classes.
Guillaume Erard: How did you manage to develop your Aikido in those circumstances?
John Rogers: I traveled to the UK often; we had seminars here every two months with either Terry Ezra or Kanetsuka sensei. Mr. M. Sekiya visited during 1979-1987. In Ireland, we practiced everyday for years and years.
Guillaume Erard: When and how did Aïkido officially begin in Ireland?
John Rogers: Ireland Aikikai Aikido training started in 1972; our group was formally called Ireland Aikikai from 1974. The Irish Aikido Federation was set up in parallel in 1979; it took part in the early International Aikido Federation meetings and was recognized formally by Hombu dojo in 1983.
Guillaume Erard: I suppose that it wasn’t easy, at the time, to reconcile your passion for Aïkido with your job.
John Rogers: No problem really; no work no money, no money no food, no food you die; then how can you practice? (laughs) After university it was good for me to work, I got skills and experience and set up a training consultancy business, I had a young family, and it was interesting and happy time.
Guillaume Erard: When did you recognize that there was potential in Ireland for the establishment of a professional dojo?
John Rogers: It is an interesting question, but you are making many assumptions. The truth is that in 1986 the Irish economy went into a dive, early in 1987 work was very slow so I thought I might emigrate. In the other hand, I also thought that as I was not too busy I could look for a city center premises for a dojo. In the end I found premises and since I could not get a visa and that dojo life started to work, I kept going. It wasn’t market research really.
John Rogers stretching
Guillaume Erard: The Irish government intervenes very little in the martial arts, as distinct from the situation in France; whether in terms of regulating grades or of giving subventions. Could you explain to us the main differences between the two systems?
John Rogers: The government gives nothing for the support of Aikido and that’s not their job in my opinion. They should be looking after children, the old and the sick, education, health and order; these are the first priorities. Aikido is our interest, so we pursue it. I can of course discuss conditions in France or other countries but to what end? I live here so I deal with conditions here. In Ireland, even though it’s a very small place, with some good sense, a little cooperation and determination, you can do many things.
Under Aikikai international regulations we have permission to conduct the necessary grading examinations here. In other countries the arrangements are made with Aikikai Hombu dojo.
Guillaume Erard: Could you describe to us the organization (Irish Aikido Federation – Ireland Aikikai) and its activities?
John Rogers: The Irish Aikido Federation is constituted to support the development of Aikido in Ireland in direct connection with the Aikikai Foundation. Ireland Aikikai is the body of Irish yudansha; they operate the federation and the Chairman is Mr. Eoin de Butlear. The activities are keiko, keiko and keiko and grading. We have monthly basic courses, club courses and higher level seminars. Our spring course is conducted by a Hombu dojo instructor and I teach a summer course. Furthermore, all the member dojos and we have instructors visit a couple of times a year.
Guillaume Erard: When you look back on the past 35 years, is there any instructor who made a particular impression on your practice or on yourself?
John Rogers: I meet many teachers and I am a very impressionable person, but I could not put one shihan over another. However, Mr. Masatake Sekiya (1916-1996) who was an associate of Seigo Yamaguchi sensei and a designate of Kisshomaru Ueshiba, visited frequently. He was not a professional instructor, but he was a gentleman and a very helpful person.
Guillaume Erard: During the course with Kuribayashi Sensei, you mentioned your objectives at the time you started Aikido. What were they?
John Rogers: When I started I just wanted to be strong. Later I wanted to be able to teach others and I wanted Aikido to take root in Ireland.
Demonstration by John Rogers
Guillaume Erard: I get the impression that these have been attained, so what objectives for the next 35 years?
John Rogers: In 35 years I will be 89 or not? I will stay in tatamiland for as long as I can and adapt effectively according to my condition and circumstances.
Guillaume Erard: To conclude is there any message you would like us to pass on to fellow aikidoka?
John Rogers: OK, take care of your health, enjoy your life, and don’t believe everything you read.
Guillaume Erard: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions sensei.
John Rogers: Tá fáilte romhat. Thank you for taking an interest.