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"Aikido is health-giving," he says, "its good for everybody young and old."

MIND AND BODY: Marian Mucha's 30 years of Aikido
You Make Decisions At The Proper Time...

We had known about Aikido for many years, having friends who practiced it, one even moving to London to learn from a Japanese teacher. Our desire to learn had grown over the years, but we had never lived near enough to a dojo. Then, three years ago, a new Aikido club opened on our back doorstep, even offering a free first session! It was too good to miss.

The club was opened by Andrew Baird, a 3rd Dan (black belt) teacher from the Lancashire Aikikai, who had just moved into the area. Classes were small to begin with, consisting of one 4th Kyu and five or six complete beginners. Later, the club, held in a rather bare and dusty 19th century schoolhouse, dwindled for a time to four, three or even two students. But the enthusiasm of those students was high, and the club kept going. Eventually, we were able to offer classes in the local sports centre, and with publicity organised by club members, word got around and the club grew to surprising pro-portions. From one night a week with a handful of students we had grown to three nights a week in two venues with classes averaging about 20 members.

As well as practising Aikido we also read books about it, and articles in Martial Arts magazines - mainly Aiki News' which was ordered from Japan through the club, and Terry O'Neill's Fighting Arts International which seemed the best such magazine available on the news stands. These articles raised many questions about Alkido and its place in Britain today.

The Martial Arts, as we know them in this country today, mostly had their origins in the Far East - China, Japan. They brought with them Eastern philosophies and attitudes which, over the years since the second world war, have been assimilated and changed to fit our modern world.

There are now many thousands of karateka, judoka and aikidoka up and down the country, practising night after night, week after week. If asked about their reasons for doing so, they would probably talk about fitness, self defence, the challenge ... but mostly I suspect the real answer would be that there was something indefinable and fascinating about the 'art' that they practice, that 'hooked' them early on. They are so 'Into it' now that they rarely ask themselves why they do it.

The eastern cultures talk about Bushido, the 'Way of the Warrior' and link the martial arts to profound questions about the nature of existence and man's role in the world. Often we may find these ideas attractive but hard to under-stand...we are not sure about them and, since we do not want to be hypocritical, we quite rightly treat them with some caution.

We live in a secularised society where the success of science in allowing man to control his world has made us question any ideas which suggest there is more to life than what we usually perceive. If we are to believe in something we want proof, demonstration. Does it really work? This is the test that we should quite rightly apply to all that we are taught. But in doing so are we 'down grading' everything into techniques and losing the spirit and the higher ideals?

Morihel Ueshiba was particularly insistent that there was more to Budo than ways of fighting. He was a spiritual man, but much of what he said is difficult to understand and probably almost impossible to translate without losing the real meaning. We have been practising for three years now, and asking ourselves these questions, but we are still not yet in a position to pass judgement on the nature of the art. However we are sure that there is more to gain from this or any of the martial arts than just a collection of techniques.

Until we understand for ourselves we cannot really say but fortunately there is always the option of asking those who have achieved a high level and who have trained under the masters of the art. F.A.I. published articles about such teachers, British Aikido teachers as well as Japanese, operating in this country. Some of these teachers we suspected, from their age, must have been known to Mr, Marian Mucha, the head of our organisation, the Lancashire Aikikai. It was not long before we began to think it would be a good idea to interview him, and submit an article to F.A.I. We did not know much about him except that he is a Polish gentleman who settled in Britain after the war and learned Aikido not long after studying particularly under Chita Sensei. He had, however, taught all the Dan grades from whom we were learning Aikido, and we were very impressed by the quality of the teaching. We were very interested to learn something about this man rather than just reading about teachers we had never met.

Eventually we plucked up courage to ask Mr. Mucha if he would be willing to talk to us about his life and his feelings about Aikido today, and he agreed. It was a worthwhile experience, and he increased our appreciation of his teaching and his contribution to Aikido in Britain.

Marian was born in Niwaka in Poland in 1919. When a child his father, who was a butcher, found that the inflation brought on by the Depression meant that they had to leave Poland in search of work. They moved first to France and then Belgium where his father found work as a miner and then started his own business.

When the Second World War broke out Mr. Mucha joined the Polish forces in France (October 1939) and trained in Northern France. He saw action in Belfort France 1940 and then, together with his regiment withdrew to neutral Switzerland. In March 1942 he left Switzerland and crossed into occupied France. In February 1943 he left the continent via Spain and Portugal, landing in Britain on 13th March 1943. Here he rejoined the Polish forces and returned to France in 1944 where he was wounded in action. Although his activities during the war were a very important part of his life and must have had some bearing on his later outlook he is still not willing to give details of the time.

Returning to Britain after being wounded, he was hospitalised in the Polish Hospital in Ormskirk Lancashire. It was at this time that he met his future wife. After the war he decided, following a brief visit to Belgium to see his parents, to settle in this country.

As a child he had heard tales from sailors and travellers of the Japanese martial arts, of how a small man could throw a large man. These tales had caught his imagination, though there was no opportunity for him to try it out for himself, there were no clubs until after the war. He did not get this chance until working at English Electric in Liverpool in 1954, where there was a Works Club and he was able to begin to practice Judo, at the age of 35.

There were no high grades to teach at that time, the teacher being a 2nd Kyu. He remembers how when a 1st Kyu visited they all bowed very low because it was a rarity. Gradings were taken locally at other clubs including at the Birkenhead Amateur Judo Association.

In November 1954 he went to see a demonstration of Judo by Kenshiro Abbe, 8th Dan, who was in the process of forming the British Judo Council. He was very impressed by Abbe Sensei and resolved to practice with him. Later Mr. Mucha and his wife were to form a friend¬ship with this great teacher who is remembered by Mrs. Mucha as a marvellous man. Sometimes Abbe Sensei, who at that time was based in London, would stay at their house when visiting the area.

"Abbe Sensei was a 6th Dan in Aikido," she recalls, and once when he was performing a throw Marion asked him how he did it. 'It's Ki power' he replied, and told him about Aikido.

"He was also a Dan grade in Karate and his sister was a spear champion. They were a great martial arts family. He was presented to the Emperor, which was a great honour."

In 1962 Mr. Mucha was awarded 1st Dan in Judo, but before that, on a Summer School in Chigweli in 1956, he had practised Aikido for the first time. A demonstration was given by Sensei Ken Williams, one of the first people in this country to be taught Aikido. Half the day was spent practising Judo and half a day Aikido. Mr. Mucha was fascinated by Aikido, since it seemed to him to be a real fighting art. Being a fighting man this appealed to him, though at this first introduction there was much he did not understand. He felt that there was something about it that attracted him even more than Judo.

From then on he started training in both Judo and Aikido, which was being taught in Eastham village in the Wirral, by Mr. Ken Wainwright. Wainwright Sensei, 1st Dan at that time, had been taught Aikido in Japan. He was 3rd Dan when he died.

Mr. Mucha's progress in Judo continued and he was to be awarded 2nd Dan in 1967 and 3rd Dan in 1971. At the same time he set up his own Budo (Martial 'Way') club, first in Ormskirk and then Chorley, Lancashire in 1965/6. This was to become the Lancashire Aikikai.

During the same period he was graded in Aikido by Nakazono Sensei and Williams Sensei up to 1st Kyu. One of these gradings was taken successfully with a broken bone in his foot!

In 1967 a most significant event occurred. Chiba Sensei toured Britain with Noro Sensei from France. He had been sent by the Aikido Headquarters to teach Aikido in Britain. His tour included a course in Ormskirk. Mr. Mucha was so impressed by Chiba Sensei's attitude and abilities that he asked to join him as uchi-deshi ('inside student). As Chiba Sensei was based in Sunderland at the time this involved a great deal of travelling. Often accompanied by Mrs. Mucha he journeyed all over the country once or twice a month to practice Aikido with his teacher.

His persistence and dedication were rewarded by the award of 1st Dan in 1969, 2nd Dan in 1972 and 3rd Dan in 1975, all awarded by Chiba Sensei. He was also awarded his Teacher's Certificate from the Seikai Hombu in 1974. He asked Chiba Sensei to write on the back of the certificates what they were, as he could not read the Japanese script on the front!

In 1975 Chiba Sensei returned to Japan with his wife and 5-year-old daughter and since then he has moved to San Diego, U.S.A. Despite this distance Mr. Mucha still considers Chiba to be his teacher and has continued since then to teach in the way that Chiba Sensei had taught him. Neither has he taken a grading since, though his continued practice and experience probably mean that he could have achieved a higher grade. He did not wish to go to anyone else but to continue the work that Chiba Sensei had started.

Although he continued to teach Judo his students began to switch to Aikido and there was 'competition' from Karate and other martial arts at that time. Gradually Mr. Mucha's teaching developed so that he was concentrating on Aikido.

In the years that followed the Lancashire Aikikai expanded until now it consists of eight clubs spread all over the Poulton, Preston and St. Hellens.

To Mr. Mucha, Aikido, as well as being a Martial Art, is a spiritual path. By 'spiritual' he does not mean religious. He is referring to the development of the mind and body.

It is this aspect of Aikido which he thinks is most missing today. "Aikido hasn't changed as such - people have", he says. Obviously he sees that there is more to Aikido than just learning techniques. One must focus on the warrior spirit, learn Zanshin awareness and develop Ki in practice and daily life.

"Aikido is health-giving," he says, "its good for everybody young and old."

Mr. Mucha studied Zazen meditation under the late Taisen Deshimaru author of 'The Zen Way to the Martial Arts', published by E.P. Dutton Inc, New York, 1982) and believes that it is important in developing the mind. He feels that most people do not understand the subject, and that the lack of spirituality in Aikido could be improved by more meditation.

"You don't have to sit in lotus position, you sit on a chair in the proper way, sit straight, back at right angles to your legs, head following the same line - it's good for your back. Meditation is good for you - you learn to concentrate."

This ancient wisdom is being borne out by recent scientific studies. Reported at the British Association of Science Festival in Southampton, were studies of the brain-wave patterns of martial artists and athletes ('The Guardian', summer 1992). Those who performed well had high levels of alpha waves which are associated with mental stillness. Those who did not perform well exhibited beta waves, associated with information processing - thinking. Through meditation also we learn a concentration which changes our mental processes so that they become focussed and calm. We feel that bringing this ability to our Aikido enhances our stability to act, as our bodies become less inhibited by our intellects. As Mr. Mucha explained, beta waves are emanated during waking time; when we are tired gamma waves are produced, and during illness, delta waves; after Zazen meditation practice, alpha brain-waves are emanated.

Iai, the ritual art of drawing the sword and cutting, is also compared by Mr. Mucha to meditation. Iai combines meditation and action: it moves from concentration and physical stillness to explosive focussed action and back again. It is thus a valuable lesson enabling us to integrate the apparently contradictory pursuits of seated meditation and dynamic action. Iai is taught by Mr. Mucha being, as he says, of spiritual value.

One of the debates that continually rages in the world of Martial Arts is the nature of 'Ki'. Mr. Mucha has very definite ideas about this.

"Ki is natural - everyone has it but it is not developed," he says.

You develop it by practive, training, breathing exercises, not merely at your club but all the time. You must live and breathe Aikido and Ki, use extension of Ki all the time ... "even when picking up a pint!"

"Everything I do is with Ki, you see."

Mr. Mucha describes Ki as being a universal power in all of nature which, like electricity, you can't see directly. But you can see its effects.

"If you don't believe in Ki you will never have it but will use strength all the time.

"As a beginner even without knowing what Ki is you will find out as you progress. It's not something that comes in three easy lessons, you must practice and practice." you will develop Ki as you practice. After throwing, keep your eyes on your opponent and concentrate, be aware all the time that you are in practice, not only when you are in contact with your opponent...before, during and contact with them spiritually."

In a way Mr. Mucha is the living evidence of Ki power, at 73 and even though he has been ill, he can still throw people..."it's not strength," says Mrs. Mucha. He can also still take breakfalls, which in some ways is even more impressive.

Clearly Mr. Mucha's Aikido is more than just fighting but he still believes in effective techniques. Many people regard Aikido as a kind of choreographed exercise system but Mr Mucha sees this as a misunderstanding.

"In the dojo you must harmonise with the opponent so as not to be damaged and some techniques are exercises and are not dangerous, but others are dangerous. Everyone has to go to work the next day - that is why you have teach safely."

"You must practice soft first so as to learn movement and technique. But Aikido takes a long time. Some people practice just to learn techniques...they want everything very quick..."

"Aikido would work in a fight. You wouldn't recognise the technique, but the movement would be there. Tenchinage could be performed with a punch in the face rather than the projection under the chin as taught in the dojo..."

But there is more to Budo training, Mr. Mucha describes how he used to train and then drink in the local pubs, one of the 'hardest' parts of Liverpool. He never had a fight or was threaten over the years. He puts this down to the feeling that people would have about you. Your manner and bearing developed through practice.

"Aikido makes people more quiet, they don't jump in the deep end..."

"Aikido gives decision making - make decisions at the proper time."

We asked Mr Mucha about the importance of weapons training, as it is very much a part of the teaching given in the Lancashire Aikikai, and we enjoy it almost as much as the Aikido itself. He regards training with weapons to be of great importance, though he says that you could learn Aikido without using a sword. The movements of Aikido are the same as sword movements, and were derived from a very old school of swordsmen in Japan. The practice of sword movements both improves our technique and gives us greater understanding of Aikido. We also train with the staff, or Jo. Both sword and staff give appreciation of correct distance, which is vital to ones safety in many situations. Also, as mentioned above, we practice Iai, ritual sword drawing.

In addition to continuing his practice at the venerable age of 73, Mr. Mucha practices Shiatsu (healing massage) which was also taught to him by Chiba Sensei.

In the early days of Aikido, the Japanese masters could not speak English. We are lucky now that we can listen and be told what to do. But as Mr. Mucha says: "Europeans think they learn a lot by listening but in fact we learn 80% by watching." Indeed, some of the best teachers in the Lancashire Aikidai trained by Mr. Mucha teach by clear action and with very few words. Too many words complicate matters — it is often easier to understand the action alone when properly demonstrated.

Mr. Mucha has not been to Japan but hopes to visit his Sensei in San Diego this year (1993).

He says that people's attitude has changed today, the present generation are in too much of a hurry and do not properly understand the spirit of the martial arts. But we are lucky to have teachers like Mr. Mucha to help us to try and understand the art that we practice so keenly week after week.