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30th Anniversary Dan Grade

Ric Costigan

It is not as much as the song says – it was 20 years ago today, but actually 30 years ago today that on 19 September 1976, Sensei Barbara Moss, Sensei Greville Cooke and Sensei Brian Kennedy took their first black belts together.

Not here of course, but in the Yama Arashi dojo in Brussels, Belgium, where we all had to travel to take our Dan grades until the mid-nineties under the supervision of Tony Thielemans Sensei. It was an experience from start to finish.

Depending on where we stayed, in was either a tram or taxi ride from the likes of the Van Belle Hotel or a 20-minute walk from the Hotel Central on the Sunday morning to clear the head from the previous evening’s alcoholic excesses, through the cobbled streets of Brussels up to the dojo for the usual 10am start. The dojo was situated just off the Grand Sablon, an area known for its antique trade. It was an uphill walk most of the way, and little was said en-route as the club got nearer and the pressure built because of what lay ahead in the coming couple of hours on the mat. The Sablon church bell used to toll loudly as you neared the dojo, making matters seem even more black – pardon the pun – and then you had to gather your breath for two flights of very steep stairs before you got to the large mat area, which was blue but roughly square in size to ours. Changing rooms were approached over the lounge area by a creaking timber staircase.

Before they knew it they were First Dans, black belts complete with hakama, something they had strived for, and their aikido life could begin in earnest.

So what has happened over the last 30 years. The club was originally based in Foleshill Road, and about 1973 or 74 it moved to here (Broad Lane) and became the Phoenix that we know today, a club now well known and recognised throughout the aikido fraternity. Tom and Barbara had a lot to put up with here while developing the club. Initially the building was shared with other clubs. The mat – not the blue one you see here today, but a traditional white canvas one was laid out. It much to Tom’s consternation that he had to clear the mat each Sunday following the rabbit club from the day before! The roof leaked. Despite numerous attempts at repairs it still leaked, when it was frosty the mat used to crunch under your feet, so don’t ever complain that it is cold! After training you were bound to go around the mat with whatever pots pans bins you could find and place them diligently on the exact spot where the leaks came in. Woe betides you if you missed them you were in for some real hard training the next session.

Courses – as well as the annual pilgrimage to Brussels each September, summer courses were organised and held at various venues in Coventry with invited instructors teaching. Another favourite, held at Silverstone in conjunction with the Kai Shin Kai with Mike Smith, was one of the first which opened the Yama Arashi doors to other styles. Due to association with masters such as Hadyn Foster and the late Bill Smith at the Big Three Courses at Lowestoft, the club became highly recognised and return visits to the Phoenix by those respected men and others will be long remembered.

Tom put his heart and soul into building the club both physically and spiritually up right up until his untimely death in 2003. Barbara has of course been at his side all this time, with John Moss too. Barbara returned to aikido after setting up alternative activities involving the fitness side, and became RSA qualified instructor in various aerobics exercise classes, and of course is now our 5th dan principal. Grev 4th Dan Aikido and 1st dan Kendo and Brian 4th dan Aikido and 1st dan Iaido are time-served club members whose loyalty, support, dedication and commitment on and off the mat have contributed to the smooth running of the club over the years, and whose teaching is certainly a testament to the unique spirit that this Club possesses.

Thousands of people have passed through these doors to taste what aikido has to offer, hundreds have stayed the course to reach black belt and then disappear when the hard work has been done to get there – I have never understood why – but only a very few give and have given the substantial part of their whole lives to being here. I sincerely hope that they will continue to show us the Way for the next 30 years too – there is still a great deal to learn!

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