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The Biography of Sensei Derek Eastman - Part 1 of 2

I have known Sensei Eastman for some 12 years and during those years I have heard so many stories about both Sensei Eastman and Sensei Ellis and their dedication to the early promotion of UK Aikido, some of the history highlights their hard training and appreciation of a true martial art, yet there are many amusing anecdotes.
Sensei Eastman is the only Aikido student from 1950's "Hut " dojo who has never given an interview stating that "Sensei Ellis's story is more interesting than mine".
I asked Sensei Eastman to let the readers decide that on agreeing to this interview.
Q -DW: Sensei Eastman , first I would like to thank you for agreeing to this interview.
A -SE: My pleasure David.
Q -DW: When were you born?
A -DE: I was a premature baby; I was born 20 years too soon on the 31st-12-1943.
Q -DW: Where were you born?
A -SE: West Kensington (behind Harrods) London.
Q -DW: Before your introduction to Aikido were you ever involved in any other sports.
A -SE: Yes, I was in the County school track and field team and would often run for my county school in various events.
Q -DW: Now the important question Sensei, What year did you start your Way in Aikido ?
A -SE: I made a brief start at the end of 1959. .
Q -DW: Where did you begin your long journey of Aikido?
A -SE: At the now Internationally famed "Hut" or as it later became the "Abbe School of Budo" It was actually called the "Abbe School of Judo" when I first joined.
First visit to the " HUT" Dojo.
Q -DW: Would Judo have been your first introduction to martial arts on your first visit To the "Hut"?
A -SE: I vividly remember that first visit with a friend of mine, as we walked into the Hall no one noticed us as all eyes were focused on the action on the mat.
There was a guy in the centre of the mat with a blindfold on who I later came to know as Sensei Harry Ellis.
The blind folded student was being attacked by three other high grades, and believe me they were not messing around, in addition to three students attacking the blind folded student there was another guy who was obviously the top man here ( I later found out he was Sensei Williams).
He was whacking the guy with a shinai (bamboo sword) shouting at him about his bad posture and not moving around fast enough.
My friend turned to me and said " Jeeezzz Del ! , I don't want any of that, do you?, I'm out of here".
With that he left.
Maybe I was not thinking straight but I stayed around and asked for some club information on beginners classes.
Q -DW: After witnessing that first insight into the martial arts, why didn't you make the same wise move as your friend?
A -SE: I didn't really know what I was watching, my first impression was that maybe it could be ju-jitsu or something like that, hmmm why did I stay? I am not sure, crazier still the question should be why did I sign up.
I belonged to a motor cycle gang and I was the proud owner of a Royal Enfield 350cc.
I was also too young to hold a driving license. In those days our favourite place was the historic town of Windsor, which was a great meeting place for motorcycle gangs/groups. The problem was the place was full of soldiers of the Castle guard.
There were always fights with our guys and the soldiers of the Queens Household Cavalry who were a tough old bunch of lads.
In one of these frequent battles I got really hammered by one of the Castle guards, I then decided to check out the local Judo school, that's it!! I was in there and I joined there and then.
The Beginning of an Aikido Odyssey.
Q -DW: Sensei, tell me about your first class and who was your teacher?
A -SE: My first class was in Sensei Ellis's Monday night beginners class, this was the biggest class of the week with between 40 to 50 students a night on the mat.
Sensei Ellis's class was always packed to overflowing, and the training was always hard, yet I enjoyed it and found that I seemed to fit in naturally to this new martial art of Aikido.
Q -DW: Sensei, you said at the beginning of this interview that " I made a brief start in 1959" what did you mean by a brief start?
A -SE: Well, what happened was, I had a very serious crash on my motorcycle and my injuries were severe.
I was on crutches for three months.
I made a slow but good recovery and eventually went back to Aikido.
My teacher was still Sensei Ellis, I had only been back on the mat for about 4 or 5 lessons when one evening Sensei Ellis asked Sensei Williams to come on the mat and watch something.
I soon realised that the something was me, and to my surprise Sensei Ellis was smashing me all over the mat, as he threw me I just kept bouncing back up.
He then said to Sensei Williams;
"Sensei, have you ever seen anyone ukemi like that before?"
Sensei Williams then took me down in nikyo, a very painful wrist locking technique, he seemed to hold me down for a very long time before allowing me up.
He looked at Sensei Ellis and said "He's only a beginner give him time."
Sensei Ellis replied "You told me to take an assistant, that's him!"
Sensei Williams looked annoyed and sharply retorted "No! an assistant has to be 3rd kyu or higher"
Sensei Ellis was persistent and eventually got his way, of course I was not involved in this discussion. As Sensei Williams walked away Sensei Ellis then asked me to be his assistant.
He said I had a week to make up my mind, as I walked away Sensei Ellis said "Derek ! you don't have a choice by the way, let me know at the end of class".
I become Sensei Ellis's Assistant .
Q -DW: What were your responsibilities or duties as an assistant ?
A -SE: I was the only junior assistant at that time. I was also used by all the other instructors which was hard for me but also gave me a wider experience.
I didn't like being used by David Williams who was Sensei Ken Williams brother. David didn't have the same understanding of Budo as his brother, and I always felt that he had a very cruel streak to his nature that went beyond strict discipline.
It was also my responsibility to open the dojo on Sunday mornings ready for all the high grades.
In the winter I would have to light three paraffin heaters, two of which were in the changing room.
While they were warming up I would then sweep the frost off the tatami.
I recall one winters Sunday morning I arrived early and a few minutes later Sensei Ellis arrived.
He said " Derek, you sweep the mat and I will light the fires for you"
I was pleased about that, after a little while Sensei Ellis came out of the changing room shutting the door behind him and said
" keep that door shut Derek it will help to warm those damp gi's" (training suits).
Well, all the students and teachers left their gi's hanging from the ceiling beams. It was freezing so Sensei and I started to practice to try to warm up, then about 30 min later John Caldwell and some students arrived. As they opened the changing room door the smoke just billowed out. Everyone was coughing and choking, we thought the place was on fire.
It wasn't a fire, but Sensei Ellis had not trimmed the heater wicks. This then caused the fire to billow out all the smoke and smuts, the gi's were ruined.
Sensei Williams then arrived and demanded to know who was responsible; he looked straight at Sensei Ellis who without a word looked at me and pointed his finger in my direction.
After a few harsh words Sensei Williams made me do 200 press ups on the backs of my wrists as punishment. Some were demanding new gi's and others wanted to take their own punishment.
It was a while before I was forgiven.
Q -DW: It sounds tough being an assistant, surely there must have been some advantages to be had?
A -SE: As an assistant I did not have to pay a mat fee and trained almost every day.
This was a big advantage as I was an apprentice engineer and did not earn much money.
I also went on with the Judo and Karate classes. I also trained with Sensei Tomio Otani and I would be uke for all the dan grades at the HUT.
I Don't Like Walking!
Q -DW: Were there any other assistants or were you the only one?
A-DE: For about 9 months I was the only one, and then Ken Waite became assistant to the Karate teachers.
Harada Sensei was impressed with Ken and later made him his own personal assistant.
Then a very young judoka called Trevor Jones joined the Aikido section, he was a most talented student with immense natural ability, he was soon promoted to junior assistant to Sensei K Williams and Trevor and I shared the dojo responsibilities together and we became very good friends.
Trevor had a big problem , he had a bad habit of upsetting Sensei Ellis, and there were many times that Sensei had to sort him out and on several occasions when Trevor complained about Sensei Ellis's driving.
Sensei would stop the car and throw him out no matter where we were. He did drive too fast but I never complained as I don't like walking.
Lady Baden Powell almost Faints.
Q -DW: I know Sensei Ellis and Sensei Foster travelled a great deal with Sensei Williams, did you get to travel and visit other dojos ?
A -SE: I did get to travel but not on the scale of Sensei Ellis and Williams.
Sensei Williams had just made Sensei Ellis responsible for carrying out displays on his own and I took part in the first one at West Drayton.
We did so many over the years yet there are two that are most memorable, I know this story is told in Sensei Ellis article in "Fighting Arts International" magazine.
Abbe Sensei told us that this display was so very important as Lady Baden Powell and the Japanese ambassador were in the audience, and it was hoped that Lady Baden Powell would promote martial arts within her youth foundation groups internationally.
Sensei Ellis was standing back stage near the Japanese ambassador and Sensei Otani when he thought that a Judo man had insulted Sensei Otani.
There was an altercation between the Judo man and Sensei Ellis, I am not sure what happened out of site but the Judo man did not go on stage next as he should have.
Suddenly we heard the announcement and introduction of " Sensei Harry Ellis assistant National Coach" being called out.
We rushed onto the stage and as I was thrown in the first technique my cigarettes and matches fell from the folds of my gi.
Sensei went mad and immediately smashed me into, and around the mat.
His aggression demanded a response, I also got angry and fought back, every attack was for real.
I tried real hard to get him with the club without success. Then when it came to knife, I really thought I had him when the knife went deep into the folds of his gi.
Sensei gasped but still took me down in immobilization, as he released me and I lifted my head off the mat Lady Baden Powell was looking straight at me with horror all over her face.
I just knew there and then that we had blown it. Lady Baden Powell said to Abbe Sensei " That was the most horrific display of violence I have ever witnessed, and not for my girls"..
A meeting with Sensei Tatsuo Suzuki.
Q -DW: You said there were two occasions?
A -SE: We did a really big display at Crystal Palace in a Budo and Judo Championships, we always started with a display but with Sensei having a short fuse we always ended up having a battle of some sort, this one was no different.
The great Karate teacher

Tatsuo Suzuki who had just been on was now watching us, as we finished he walked over to us and he looked very stern, I was glad Sensei was in front of me..
As Sensei was about to step off the mat Suzuki Sensei walked up to him and said,.
"Thank you, That is the best display of Aikido I have ever seen", he then bowed and walked away.
Impressions of the early HUT teachers.
Q -DW: You said you were an assistant to Sensei Ellis and the only junior at that time and that you were also the general dojo assistant so you would have been in close contact with many if not all of the old teachers, what were your impressions of the ones you came into contact with ?.
A -SE: I will mention them from the highest grade down.
Kenshiro Abbe Sensei.
I would see Abbe Sensei occasionally on the aikido mat, he would step onto the mat to make a point or teach.
He didn't often bother to change into his gi, he would come on the mat in this old brown de-mob suit; (after the war soldiers were given a brown suit when leaving the army, and it was called a de-mob suit, I am sure that this was one).
Sensei Williams would sometimes ask me to take Abbe Sensei home to Acton in my three wheeled "Isetta" bubble car, Sensei Williams told me if I had an accident with Sensei in the car I would have to leave the country and never be seen again, I believed him.
Abbe Sensei sat in the Bubble car for the first time. He looked around the little car, then at me, he gave me a very puzzled look and asked " How many wheels" I replied " 3 Sensei ".
He replied " Necessary, where are wheels?"
I said "2 in the front and one at the back Sensei". He thought for a moment and then he said " Ahhhh! Strong triangle".
He did not speak another word during the journey, which was normal for Abbe Sensei.
Unlike some of his so called "FRIENDS" who claim to have had long and meaningful philosophical /psychological conversations with him, his English was poor and he did not waste it.
Ken Williams Sensei.
Sensei K Williams the head of the dojo did not use me as much as the others.
He was in total control of the dojo and all who were in it.
He was not only aikido but 3rd dan judo and a very good one at that. He would officiate as a referee at the American Air Base at Ruislip, once he was a referee at the USAF international Judo Championships.
We would get a lot of American students come to train at the Hut in our beginners classes.
David Williams Sensei.
David was in charge of the Karate section before the arrival of Harada Sensei, I enjoyed my regular practice with Ken Griffiths, and later Ken Waite who was to become the first European assistant to Harada Sensei.
However, David Williams in my opinion had a very cruel streak to his character. Williams and Ellis and others would teach as Abbe Sensei did with a shinai. It was used a gentle form of intimidation to help motivate you with a little whack on the backside to get your attention. This would be done with a smile and humour and no one ever objected to this light hearted form of discipline.
Now with David Williams, he meant it!, and appeared to enjoy it.
I will leave it at that as I don't want to expand on this subject. Closed!.
Eric Dollimore Sensei.
Eric was only 5ft 5in tall and the most dynamic exponent of aikido in the Hut dojo.
What I remember most of Eric was one Sunday morning when I was practicing at the bottom of the dojo with some of the high kyu grades.
There was quite a bit of action taking place at the top end of the mat with the dan grades, Eric did a very hard technique on Ellis slamming him deep into the mat. He then excused himself saying " Sorry! I have to go, I have to be at my girlfriends for lunch at 12-00 noon".
Ellis got up from the mat and I could see he was not happy, Eric had now left the mat.
Ellis called out to him "Eric you want to fight for real?"
Eric replied "Sorry Harry, I really don't have time".
Ellis walked back to the other dan grades, probably satisfied with Eric's excuse. It was then that I saw Eric come back out of the changing room minus his hakama and called out
"OK Harry!! But we have got to be quick".
They both immediately squared up to each other in posture, after a few seconds Ellis made what looked like a fearful blow at Eric's head, Eric turned under Ellis with the best Koshi waza technique I have ever seen launching Ellis into and through the plaster board office partition.
Sensei Williams was sitting in the office when Ellis joined him as he went straight through the wall.
As Ellis sat there covered in plaster board dust, Eric call out " See ya, Ive got to go I am late for dinner".
I have always said it was like something out of the movies.
Haydn Foster Sensei.
He was a little older than the rest of us and was regarded with respect and affection. His favourite technique was Irimi nage as he put you down hard he always gave that well know throaty laugh of his after leaving you stunned.
Henry (Harry)Ellis Sensei.
Henry Ellis was my teacher and is continually referred to in this interview.
There is one story that I have never seen in print that I will tell you of.
In the sixties we heard of another group who were doing Aikido in North London with a well known Japanese Judo teacher called Senta Yamada. He was teaching a style we had never heard of called "Tomiki Aikido" so we decided to go and check them out.
All the dan grades gathered at the HUT one evening and we set off to this Tomiki dojo. We just did not know what to expect. When we arrived we respectfully entered their dojo. Sensei Williams spoke to the instructor in charge and asked if we could practice. The instructor said "NO!, I am sorry but you wear hakama's and we don't allow them"
Sensei Williams replied "That's ok we will practice without our hakama's"
The instructor thought for a moment and replied " I still can't allow you to practice as you are a different organisation to us"
It was then that Sensei Ellis pushed forward and said "Organisations are names on paper, Aikido is Aikido",
The instructor was having none of it and politely asked us to leave.
We were not happy at this, so we then went into a nearby pub, after about one hour who should come in the pub; you guessed it Dave, all the students and the instructor.
We got chatting to the students and they were really nice lads. A big guy who was a 1st kyu made the mistake of asking Sensei Ellis what our nikyo was like.
He said it was his favourite technique, when he tried it on Sensei Ellis, nothing happened. He made another mistake, he asked Sensei to show him our style, Sensei nearly put him into the pub cellar.
The brown belt guy couldn't believe this and asked his teacher who was now talking with Sensei Williams. He told him what had just taken place and insisted that his instructor try to do this technique on Sensei Ellis.
Sensei Ellis offered his arm and the instructor agreed to try. The instructor could do nothing, then stated
"I can not move you because you are making the ARM of STONE, if I also make the ARM of Stone I will break your arm like a twig"
Sensei Ellis insisted he make his arm of stone, so the guy tried and to be honest it was no different to the first attempt.
Then! as he was making the arm of stone, Sensei Ellis picked up a full pint of beer and drunk it in one go while the guy was trying to break his arm!
The guy looked gutted.
Lennie Ballard Sensei and Peter Dowden Sensei.
They appeared inseparable and were really great friends, they would do most of the knife and club displays. I would deputise for them in their ladies classes. They left the HUT shortly after Eric Dollimore.
John Caldwell Sensei.
John was an electrician who worked with Sensei Williams.
He was not only a first dan in aikido but also a semi professional sparring partner and boxer. He sparred with some notable boxers such as ex world champs Terry Downs and Terry Spinks who were both world champions at their own weight.
John once took me to the 'Thomas A Becket' , a famous training gym for boxers above a London pub. That was a special treat for a young lad like me as many world famous UK and USA boxers had trained there.
I also remember that once when John was out doing some running training he was attacked by a large alsatian dog which chased after him. John turned as the dog launched itself at him. He kicked hard at the dog, kicking it straight in the throat and it died instantly.
A little different to Abbe Sensei's experience with an Alsatian but non the less unavoidable.
Hamish McFarlane Sensei.
Was older and senior to me he was also a good judoka. He was a 1st kyu (brown belt) in Aikido when I started yet we ended up taking our dan grade test together some four years later.
When I received my first dan, Sensei Ellis as tradition demanded presented me with my first black belt and hakama which was of a very good quality.
No one ever knew where Hamish got his hakama from. Ellis spread the rumour that the hakama was an ex war dept army blanket as it was a thick material with no traditional pleats. That joke never left Hamish, and I even laughed with Sensei Foster about it recently (July 2003).
There was one thing about Hamish that very few knew. When he first asked if he could join the Aikido class he told Sensei Williams that the Doctor had told him he would within 12 months be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life because of a serious condition with his spine. He started Aikido, and practiced until his death in his 60's. He also went to Japan and trained at the Aiki-Kai. I have recently heard the sad news that Hamish died a little while ago.
Early dan gradings.
Q-DW: How do you compare the grading system ofthe early days at the HUT with some that you have seen in later years ?.
A-SE: Grading procedures were not so technically ritualised as they are today.
Where as at the HUT, the grading would be very physical with constant 100% attack, no one ever got through a grading without a few lumps.
I think that most of the old dan grades would agree that 3rd kyu (green belt) was always the hardest; considered by both Abbe Sensei and Williams Sensei to be the transition grade between beginner and high grade and your first step as a assistant teacher.
It was also the first grading where we had to take attack from a real knife. When it was my first time Sensei Williams asked me "Are you prepared to accept real knife " I said "YES" but I really meant NO.
Eric Dollimore stood before me holding a large knife in his LEFT hand, I just froze.
Sensei Williams said " Derek you forgot Eric is left handed" then he told Eric to attack with his right and then his left.
When I took my first dan, what stands out most in my mind was how tired I was when it was my turn. I had been uke for all the other grades and to be honest I don't know how I got through it all. I just wanted to get it all over with.
I took Hamish with a positive tenchi nage and really hammered him into the mat. Nakazono Sensei said he was very pleased with that final technique and awarded me first dan.
Continued in Part 2

About The Author

Derek Eastman started aikido as a sixteen year old boy at the famous Hut Dojo in 1958 as a direct student of the legendary master Kenshiro Abbe Sensei.

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