Sensei Eileen Honeybun has been teaching a Japanese Aikido form in the village of Winsham for 28 years. Fergus Byrne has been to meet her.
In the Jubilee Hall in Winsham in South Somerset, with its impressive high ceiling, oak floor and beautiful wooden ceiling arch, Sensei Eileen Honeybun stands about four feet apart from one of her students, Jacco Toornent. They each hold one end of what in Aikido terms is known as a ‘Jo’; a wooden stick that looks not unlike a short curtain pole. With a movement not immediately apparent to the naked eye, Sensei Eileen uses the ‘Jo’ as a conduit to deliver enough energy to make Jacco tumble to the floor. He rolls elegantly across the specially designed rubber matting and springs to his feet. It’s a dramatic moment that is hard to comprehend. I can’t help but blurt out ‘What just happened?’ Eileen and Jacco smile. After so many years practising the Japanese art of Ki Aikido they know that an explanation, though perhaps simple to them, may be incomprehensible to those of us with little knowledge of their art.
Sensei Eileen has been teaching Aikido at the Jubilee Hall in Winsham for 28 years. Before that she had a class in Chard and prior to that practised in Seaton. Although elegance and grace go hand in hand with its highly choreographed and stylish movement—using the natural energy in our bodies—Aikido was the furthest thing from Eileen’s mind when she was growing up. She was born with back problems that were further exacerbated by an accident on a trampoline when she was thirteen.
‘It turns out that I was born with a problem with my spine’ she explains. ‘So I hated sports. My Grandad used to carry me to school because it hurt my legs so much to walk.’ After she ‘jack-knifed’ on the trampoline things got progressively worse and by the time she was a young mother an orthopaedic surgeon told her the most energetic thing she would ever do would be to read a book. When she asked the surgeon, who would look after her children, he simply answered, ‘Not you’.
At the suggestion of her sister’s husband she began learning about Kiatsu which is the healing art that goes with Aikido. As even that required a certain amount of physical input she hated it at first, but in time, expanding to Aikido practise, she began to see extraordinary changes. ‘It’ll all based on circular movements’ she explained ‘very beautiful, almost like dancing.’ After a while her back pain eased and bit by bit, thanks to Kiatzu from her head of the Federation, as well as practise, she says she is now totally pain free. ‘Best of all, I am also free of the fear of hurting my back’ she says. ‘That had ruled me for years.’
Designed around simple principles that use the power of the mind along with the body’s natural energy, or ‘Ki’ which literally means ‘Life Force’, Aikido originated from the ancient Japanese art of Aikijutsu. Aikido however is known as a softer less aggressive form which doesn’t encourage striking an opponent; instead blending with their movements to dissipate an attack. In the art of Ki Aikido there is no aggression, tension or competition. Classes are suitable for all levels of fitness and may be practised equally by men and women of any size, age or ability. According to the Ki Aikado Federation, the purpose of the practise is to learn to co-ordinate mind and body through enjoyable exercise.
Jacco Toornent, one of Eileen’s students has just passed his second Dan grading. He spoke about the ‘Ki’ element of their form. ‘I think the best way of explaining the Ki side of things is where a person is tense and the opposite force is tense – then you create a fight. With Aikido you don’t want to fight. What you want is that energy to move on. So what you do is you blend in, and by blending in, the person can’t resist it.’
Although the form practised with Sensei Eileen is softer now, even than when she first began, Jacco’s background in the Royal Dutch KCT Special Forces has seen him in what he described as some tricky situations. ‘It’s saved my life really’ he says, speaking of his earlier Aikido training. ‘In the forces you do tend to have to defend yourself. I’ve had a fair few close calls and being able to defend myself did save my life.’
However both Jacco and Sensei Eileen are keen to point out that Ki Aikido is not necessarily a martial art.
It’s hard to describe it properly explains Eileen. ‘People ask is it a martial art and no it’s not, it’s a Japanese art. They want to know is it self-defence and no we certainly don’t advertise it as self-defence. And yet it’s the greatest self-defence you can have – defence against the self. Eileen says it breaks down all your old habits and bad attitudes. She confided that she had always been a worrier. ‘I would worry about everything and anything endlessly until I practised this’ she said. ‘When you get to what’s known as green belt you’re doing your second test, which is the worry test. You learn not to react to something that hasn’t happened yet. So bit by bit I’ve now learned not to worry. Strangely it took me a very long time to learn to pass my second test, because that was my problem. Now it’s very rare I even catch myself beginning to worry.’
Being rural, Winsham Aikido Club is small which allows more time for individual training. Members work in pairs. ‘It’s not a competition’ she says ‘two people are working together to perfect an exercise. You’re both trying to help each other get it right. You’re testing the exercise rather than testing each other.’
The club has recently enjoyed a double celebration. Jacco passed his second Dan grading at the December Christmas course, held in the Headquarters of the Ki Federation of Great Britain in Mark, Somerset. And another club member, John Speirs, after 20 years of practice, was awarded 6th Dan by the Federation’s President, Sensei Margaret Williams.
Sensei Eileen said, ‘I’m immensely proud of them both; their grades are well deserved and concludes a great year for our Club’.
Classes for juniors (age 12+) and adults are held in the Jubilee Hall, Winsham every Monday 18:30 – 20:30 and Thursday 19:30 – 21:30.
For further information contact Eileen on 01297 34255 and for further information about Ki Aikido visit the federation’s website at www.kifederationofgreatbritain.co.uk