My name is Martin Ridley, and I was born with spastic diplegic cerebral palsy.
My feet were pointing in, my balance was not great and walking in general was difficult, however I managed and made sure I tried to do what all the other kids were doing. I also underwent speech theory as this was affected. I was later diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia and dyscalculia – all three. At the age of 8, I underwent a major operation which involved both hips being broken and twisted so that my legs were no longer facing inwards but facing forwards. The operation itself went really well, but recovery was not so smooth. Apart from the agony, I was put in an A frame style plaster cast from waist to toes for 8 weeks. However, when it came to the day that the cast was meant to come off, I learnt via x rays that my bone was not completely healed and needed another 2 weeks in a cast. However, it was not until the cast was removed that I leant realised just how much work and physio I needed. My legs looked like bone with skin painted on, there was no muscle left and I could not even bend my knees, so I had months of very painful intensive physio. After a year I was due to have the plates that had been put into the hips removed. Again, the operation went very well, but I soon found myself in a lot of pain. Each time I stood this was believed to be physiological issue by the hospital team rather than physical, so I was pretty much forced to walk. After two weeks and many trips to the hospital it was discovered I had a very small fracture where the bones had not completely fused. I had to have another operation to have a plate put back into the hip. One year later it was taken out and this time everything was fine. I have had a few other operations since, but this was by far the biggest and I think, looking back, this is where I got my resilience from — which has definitely been tested in martial arts. This year 2020 marks my 20th year training in Aiki-Jujitsu. I started martial art training for three main reasons: I was being bullied, it was great exercise, and it was good for balance. In the time I have been training, I have had several different operations and found some aspects of my disability to be deteriorating. It took me about 10 years to achieve my black belt; this was partly because I started as a child and worked to blue belt before having to drop back to white, as I was old enough to start attending the adult classes. I also had quite a few delays in grading, both because it took me longer to learn and adapt in view of my disability and as a result of various operations and medical setbacks. There were also many changes to the syllabus requirements that would change just before I was due to a grading. I was not happy about these last-minute changes, however I loved the Art and just carried on. All these setbacks never put me off and if anything, it made me more determined.
In November 2015 I decided to leave the martial arts association I had been a part of for 15 years. There are number of reasons for this, but to put it simply the associations were making and wanting to make changes I was not happy with, and I believed I would continue developing more as a martial artist and person away from the association. Looking back this was the right decision and after a lot of encouragement from my family and friends I was able to set up All Abilities Martial art with my long-time instructor Martin Thompson. If I am being honest, I will say this was a very difficult time for myself and everyone involved, but I don’t want to spend more time thinking about the past instead of looking to the future, I have also had to learn how to adapt my martial art techniques to be functional should I be in a wheelchair. As I know my disability will become worse and it’s possible the use of my wheelchair would increase. However, I have also resisted any opportunity to use a wheelchair as it always felt like I would be giving up and I am not going to do that. After a long time, my wife was able to convince me it would not be giving up and in fact would allow me to do more. I was able to explore this new idea when I took my 3rd Dan. I wrote a short essay on the use of a wheelchair in martial arts and how I was able to turn what I initially considered a hindrance into a positive aspect of the art — turning the wheelchair into a kind of weapon. I am not naturally the most balanced and steady of people on my feet, but I have spent years working on how to use my opponents’ balance against them, as well as finding ways of supporting my own. I struggle sometimes to move from side to side, so I have learnt to use ‘locks’ as a way of moving opponents to where I want them to be. In 2016 I received an award from Warriors Assemble Fighting Spirit for my work on making martial arts accessible to disabled people. I have worked with both able-bodied and disabled people, as well as those with learning disabilities such as ADHD and autism; the club is also affiliated with Fighting for Autism. I have trained with some amazing instructors and attended many events and have had my eyes opened to what martial arts really is, about how diverse it is and, in some cases, even had the odd history lesson and that’s what I want to talk about next. It has only really been over the last year to 18 months, since I started regularly training with George Scarrott, that I had really given the history of the Art any real thought. While I talk about training in Aiki-Jujitsu for 20 years, the style was never really mentioned by my previous association, so the name was not too recognisable to me. Over the last few years my understanding of what the art is has increased to a point where I am happy.
My knowledge of the history definitely needed to improve, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to call myself an expert in Japanese history, but I would like to have a basic understanding and that’s where I think I am now. Aiki-jujitsu has a long history spanning over 1000 years; in a interview with Tokimune son and successor of Sokaku Takeda “ The art’s origins lie in an art called tegoi. There is a story about this art in the Kojiki (early Japanese chronicle of myths, legends). When the goddess Amaterasu Omikami went to her fellow god Takeminakata no Mikoto to order him to return her country to her, he and the god Takemikazuchi no Mikoto fought a match. This match was conducted using tegoi, which can be considered to be the origin of present-day sumo. In ancient times, sumo matches were held at shrine festivals. Emperor Seiwa created the two Imperial Guard corps of Ukon and Sakon, and made sumo into a martial art. Later, during the Kamakura period, sumo became the most popular martial art. Therefore, it can be said that Emperor Seiwa is the founder of Daito-ryu. When the youngest grandson of Emperor Seiwa, Shinra Saburo Yoshimitsu, went to Oshu in the northeastern district of Japan, he studied human anatomy through dissection, and this was the origin of Daito-ryu. He stayed at a place known as Daito, and called himself Saburo of Daito. This is the source of the name. Daito-ryu was then passed down through generations of the Takeda family, as we are also descendants of the Emperor Seiwa” (Pranin, 1996, 42).
It is important to know the term Aikijutsu name only came about in the last 100 – 150 years under the headmastership of Takeda Sōkaku. Originally called Daitō-ryū, the term Aikijutsu started to be used when teaching self-defence during the Tokugawa Period.Takeda Sōkaku grew up in the time of the Boshin War and was the second son of Takeda Sōkichi, who was a samurai of the Takeda clan. His mother, Tomi Kurokochi, was a daughter of Dengoro Kurokochi, a Kenjutsu master (Anon, undated). As a child he witnessed the battles of the Aizu War, many taking place within walking distance from his home. Rather then staying away “Sokaku used to walk some seven miles in the middle of the night to see the cannons firing. The old cannon balls were quite different from modern ones. They didn’t explode, but were heated, red balls of flame that could easily be seen in the dark. Every night Sokaku would make some rice balls and set out to watch the fighting because he was interested in seeing the guns being shot at the castle. Since it was a battlefield, many people were carrying spears and other weapons. Sokaku saw people kill each other this way when he was very young. He loved battlefields. Because he was a child he didn’t have to worry about being killed and he used to run around wherever he pleased. But there were guards everywhere and they often caught him when he made a sound. Since he was only a little boy, he was threatened and sent home. But he always went back!” (Pranin, 1996, 44).It is believed widely that Sōkaku was taught martial art by his father who had his own dojo at their property and was an expert in the use of both the sword and the spear, as well as being at one point a sumo wrestler of ozeki rank (champion rank) (Anon, undated). Later in life Sokaku takes part in a Sumo Match without his father’s permission. It is believed that Sōkaku was exposed to the teachings of Hōzōin-ryū (schools of spear), Takada-ha and Ono-ha Ittō-ryū, (swordsmanship.) of the Aizu clan. His training was not just limited to styles ad martial artest within is own clang he also spent time as a live-in student of Kenkichi Sakakibara, headmaster of the Jikishinkage-ryū who was one of the most famous and skilled swordsmen at the time. This gave Sokaku the opportunity to train with many highly skilled students and perfect his skill with the staff, spear, small bow, kusarigama and naginata. He is believed to have engaged in many matches and duels with shinai, as well as live blades (Anon, undated).Takeda Sōkaku was someone who was of royal heritage that went back centuries. He also spoke about being a Minamoto, this again laid further claim to his royal heritage. I think it is important to note Sokaku’s ancestors were not recorded. One thought as to why this is the case, is because of the upheaval that was taking place at the military base at Kai under Lord Shingen. Sōkaku spent a lot of his life traveling around Japan providing martial arts seminars to the military, police and martial arts enthusiasts, as well as continuing his own development. It was a fact Sokaku kept records of his student attendance and fee ledgers which is more remarkable given he was illiterate and unable to read His most famous student was the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba (Anon, undated). The Takeda Sōkaku system needed to fit within the twentieth century where the use of sword was prohibited, however Sokaku carried the attitude and mindset of the Samurai where one false move could cost your life. His teaching focus was fixed very firmly on the battlefield and self-defence aspect of martial arts This included not eating food not being eaten by other people, “he would only eat something if you ate it first in his presence and the offered to him” (Pranin, 1996, 64), as well as not walking in front of people. Sokaku is quoted as saying: “walking in front of some one is the same as being killed” “it is natural for a man of Budo to follow others”. Be aware at all times! “ It seems that is the old days situations such as he described actually happened. For example, one would come to a corner and suddenly be attacked by men wielding spears. “ (Pranin, 1996, 64), his sun Tokimune Takeda also mentions that sukaku “always spoke in a loud voice as if he were quarrelling. He used to tell me that he spoke loudly so that people would understand him. Since he was a samurai he retained the habit of talking at his voices highest pitch – like a traditional warrior – when introducing himself!” (Pranin, 1996, 64). While no one is able to say what battles Sokaku took part in, it is fair to say he was involved in fights. One such fight was documented with a gang of construction workers in Fukushima, during which he kills several attackers which landed him in jail for a month before being let out. The verdict ruled the deaths to have been in self-defence. There were also stories of him dealing with a robber who terrorized a village who even the bravest and police were unable to find and deal with. When Sokaku learnt about the misuse of Daito Ryu, it is believed he dealt with this person as the robberies stopped and the body was found headfirst stuck in the mud by the side of the road on which Sokaku regularly travelled.
As I mentioned the Minamoto clan earlier, I think I should try explaining who they were. They came about in the 9th century in Japan when a process called Dynastic shedding started. This is due to the fact the royal family had become just so large and expensive to maintain with some emperors having 30 plus children. The children that were removed from the direct line of descendants from the Emperor Saga (r. 809-823 CE) were called Minamoto. The Minamoto name was first given as a surname to the children removed from the direct line of descent of Emperor Saga (r. 809-823 CE). The name Minamoto or Genji translates as ‘spring’ / ‘fount or beginning’. Eventually, the family group expanded as successive emperors awarded the title name. There were eventually 17 different branches, for example, descendants of Emperor Seiwa (r. 858-876 CE) were known as ‘Seiwa Genji’ and became one of the most successful (Cartwright, 2017a).While Japan was split into different provinces and had their own person governing them, this governing person typically did not like their own province, instead preferring to live in the capital. So, when there was trouble in a province, often caused by people not collecting and sending tax to the capital and maybe keeping it for themselves, then the Governor needed to step in and try to deal with the situation. However, there wasn’t a national army to step in, so it was decided that the Minamoto clang would step in and deal with situations. Long before becoming a highly successful army, it is important to note their main weapon was the bow on horseback. In the 11th century, Hachiman, the Shinto god of war, divination, and culture, was selected to become the symbolic head and patron of the Minamoto clan strengthening the clan’s ties to this god (Cartwright, 2017a).
The Taira clan started later in history but in much the same way as the Minamoto. Emperor Kanmu had a lot of children and needed to remove some from the direct line of descendants so formed the Taira Clan. In 1156CE the retired Emperor Toba died and sparked conflict between the two clans as both thought they had birth right to the imperial throne. Sutoku was supported by Minamoto. Meanwhile, the then Emperor Go-Shirakawa was supported by Tameyoshi’s eldest son, who joined with the Taira (Cartwright, 2017a). Minamoto with the help from some factions of the very powerful Fukiwara, a clan that had been growing increasingly powerful mainly by marrying children into the Emperor’s family. The Taira clan had been able to convince some factions of the Fujiwara to join forces. In this case the Taira were able to beat the rebellion, however this defeat was short lived. In fact, 4 years later would see another outbreak between these two clans, this time Minamoto no Yoshitomo took the throne while Taira no Kiyomori was away. Taira no Kiyomori was quick to return after hearing what had happened, and Minamoto no Yoshitomo was killed. Third time was the charm. After defeating the Minamoto twice, Taira no Kiyomori was made grand minister of state in 1167 CE. But once more this was short lived, and his support started to drop. Their support including the retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa, who even plotted to assassinate Kiyomori. The final straw was in 1180 when he tried to move the court from Kyoto to Kobe and put his two-year-old grandson Antoku, on the throne at Kyoto. The Minamoto and Mochito, the son of an old Emperor, declared war. As you can imagine there were many battles taking place across the country.The Taira court thought that by sending 70,000 men to battle near Mt. Fuji to deal with the Minamoto army lead by no Yoritomo would be effective. However, Yoritomo had approximately 200,000 men at his command, way more than the Taira had thought because he was able to attract rebels who had long been disgruntled with the Taira (Cartwright, 2017b). The Taira withdrew and were forced to go back to the capital, this humiliation only led to increase the numbers of Minamoto support. Rather than following the Taira into the capital they decided to concentrate their effort on gaining complete control of the east of Japan, again generating an even bigger army. The Taira burned several different temples including one that belonged to the powerful Fujiwara clan, some of which were then allies of the Taira. In 1183CE the Minamoto started clearing their way to Kyoto, this was largely helped by Kiso Yoshinaka who with his army defeated a massive Taira Army at Kurikara in Etchu. Later in 1183CE most of the Taira Clan left Kyoto knowing they were defeated and Yoshinaka declared himself shogun. However, his success was short lived as his army was defeated at Uji and Seta and he was the subject of an assassination attempt by his cousin Yoritomo. This led Yoshinaka to take his own life, leaving Yoritomo to take control of Kyoto. In 1184CE the Taira Clan were not ready to give up despite being defeated at several battles on land. It was at Kyushu their naval base on the island of Yashima ware they were able to regroup and take control over the Inland Sea. A year later Yoritomo (Minamoto) sent two arms, one to the coast and one to Kyushu itself while Taira regrouped. They were no match and ended up having to flee. They were followed by Yoshitsune who caught up to the Taira and defeated them once again. This became known as the Battle of Dannoura (Dannoura no Tatakai). Tomomori one of the Taira Clan’s chief commanders took his own life by throwing himself into the sea. The widow of Kiyomori (a Taira military leader) followed suit with the six-year-old Antoku, the then emperor in her arms. The Taira clan would never regain its former position (Cartwright, 2017b). References
Anon. (undated). Takeda Sōkaku. Wikipedia. Accessed from
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takeda_S%C5%8Dkaku [17 Dec 2020].
Cartwright, M. (2017a). Minamoto Clan. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Accessed from https://www.ancient.eu/Minamoto_Clan/ [17 Dec 2020].
Cartwright, M. (2017b). Genpei War. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Accessed from https://www.ancient.eu/Genpei_War/ [17 Dec 2020].
Pranin, S. A. (1996). Daito-ryu Aikijujtsu conversations with Daito- ryu Master.
Irvine, CA: Aiki News Publication.
This content was made possible with generous support from the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation.