Often I hear stories from guys who practiced Aikido since before the passing of Morihei Ueshiba. Volumes of information are written about Ueshiba’s students (thanks largely to Stanley Pranin of Aikido Journal), the commercially successful teachers, and even the British pioneers under Kenshiro Abbe, but I could find almost nothing on how it first came to be practiced in Wales.
Henry Ellis covered in detail how Aikido was first taught in Britain, when it was still a revision of Daito-ryu Aikijutsu with a sprinkling of Ueshiba’s philosophy/theology for the more advanced students. Training was hard, intense, physically demanding and probably less accessible back then.
Kenshiro Abbe was invited to the UK by a Judo council in 1955 to demonstrate Japanese martial arts, and quite a few martial artists were impressed by his display of Aikido techniques that a select group began properly studying it as the ‘Abbe School of Budo’, and they later travelled around Britain passing on what they learned. This group included an instructor called Ken Williams. It’s no coincidence that many of the initial practitioners were recruited into the early schools from a Judo background.
Getting information on how Aikido reached Wales wasn’t so easy, but I’m fairly certain Ken Williams was the man behind it. He did a couple of things: He organised a seminar in Cardiff sometime in the early 1960s (Ellis didn’t say which year exactly), and this was around the time Mal Saunders began practising and the Newport Aikido Club was formed. Saunders would have been among the first outside Abbe’s circle to learn Aikido.
Williams moved to Rhondda in 1967/68 and founded the Ki Federation. By the early to mid 1970s, there were already a fair number of practitioners in Wales at various clubs. From what I heard from the old-timers in The Valleys, they played rough until realising that something Ueshiba taught was being overlooked, that something was missing from the techniques practised at the time. They turned to Williams and Koichi Tohei, and so elements of Ki Aikido were incorporated into their syllabus.
We’re in a better position to understand why Aikido was later taught generally as a more graceful martial art, for better or worse, and more distanced from its Aikijutsu origins. However, the Welsh Aikido Society still kept to the framework of traditional Aikido, taking what it could from Ki Aikido.