Aidan Trimble 7th Dan
Greek philosopher Heraclitus once stated ‘the only constant is change’, and critics of Shotokan Karate have often noted its lack of relevance and function in the context of reality based conflict. There are however, a select group of karate instructors that illustrate perfectly how the art of karate can be both relevant, and functional.
Aidan Trimble is a powerhouse of British Shotokan Karate. A former World Champion, he developed an international reputation, primarily as a world-class competitor, but later as a globally sought instructor of the highest calibre.
In 1986 he established the Federation of Shotokan Karate, an association that stands for ‘excellence, without exclusion’. In more recent years, he has opened ‘The Dojo’, the Hombu of the FSK located in Nottingham, UK. Here he continues to teach his unique interpretation of Shotokan Karate, producing first-rate students and instructors that continue to push the art onward and upward.
This year, Aidan Trimble taught at the prestigious Ozawa Cup Masters Seminar, and gave attendees an insight into the skill that brought him World titles, and has helped produce students that are skilled on the tatami, and on the pavement.
His karate has never stagnated, never stood still, as Gichin Funakoshi once wrote, ‘Karate is like boiling water: without heat, it returns to its tepid state’. He has sought constant progression and development and after over four decades in the art, he continues to explore, improve, and raise questions; never resting on his laurels. Having trained under Sensei Trimble many times, both on home turf in Wales and later at ‘The Dojo’ in Nottingham, I was eager to interview him and ask a range of historical, current and technical questions. I would like to express my gratitude to Sensei Trimble for his time and willingness to be interviewed. (Please note this interview was conducted in 2012, prior to the Ozawa Cup Masters Seminars) – Shaun Banfield 2012
(Shaun Banfield) Aidan, thank you for agreeing to this interview. How has life been treating you?
(Aidan Trimble) It’s been a while; I think I was one of your first interviews if I’m not mistaken. I’m still teaching and training and still healthy thank you.
(SB) The FSK squad regularly travels to America to compete at the Ozawa Cup. What attracts you to this event and draws you with such regularity?
(AT) Well it goes back quite some time. I first went to Vegas in 1989 when Dirk Robertson, who was a Dan grade and colleague, said he could get sponsorship for us both to go. By sponsorship he meant that he would write an article about me travelling and competing at this competition as a former World Champion and see who was interested and they would pay for the trip. He was writing for a couple of non martial art magazines at the time, however when he said who had shown interest I was surprised: Pravda (Soviet News Agency) and Penthouse Magazine! And that is a whole other story.
Anyway, we went to the competition and I hadn’t fought for about three or four years, so to say I was rusty would be an understatement. After a couple of rounds I went over and landed on my knee quite badly and had to pull out.
I thought that Vegas was great fun, the competition was huge and well organized, so I planned to take a senior team the following year. Again we had a great time and we came third in the team event which was a bonus. Although we have taken teams all over the world, we tend to go back to Vegas every now and then as the event is in the Hotel you stay in, and after the Competition there is so much to do.
(SB) You met Sensei Ozawa many times am I correct? What were your impressions of him?
(AT) Yes I met him many times, in fact the first time was in 1989 when I was asked to be on a question and answer panel along with Sensei Ozawa, Sensei Higaonna, Sensei Kanazawa and I think one other if I remember. He was quite funny because the audience were asking quite serious questions and one guy asked Sensei Ozawa what kind of training he now did and he said, ”Nothing really I just mess around with the dog!”
He has a very interesting background; apparently during the war he was a Kamikaze pilot who crashed his plane during takeoff and was quite seriously injured. After the War he worked for Japanese television. In 1998 I took a large team again and one evening at the party Sensei Ozawa presented me with an award for contributions to Karate and within an hour or so, tragically, he passed away. The tournament is now organized by one of his students James Tawatao. James, who runs the Las Vegas Dojo, is a great guy and has continued to promote the event that still attracts teams from around the World.
(SB) In light of Sensei Ozawa’s Samurai heritage and Kamikaze training, he must have been a formidable and frightening character. Is that a fair assumption?
(AT) To be honest he never came across that way when I met him, not that I spent a great deal of time with him but on those occasions he was very relaxed and affable. In fact it is slightly strange coming from the UK that all the Japanese that I have met from the US are a lot more approachable. That is a great generalization but I think people that have experienced it will know what I mean. I think the Americans are less tolerant of that.
(SB) This year, you are teaching at the Ozawa Cup Masters Seminar. Can you tell us a little about this?
(AT) Yes, well last year I was asked to do a demonstration that I think went down quite well and I was contacted by James to teach on the Masters seminars, so of course I said yes. They have, over the years, had some of the top traditional Karate Masters in the World teach on these seminars, so it’s an honour for me. I have been asked to do a Kumite course.
(SB) What is the key to training a champion do you think? What raw ingredients do they require, and what ingredients do you – the instructor/coach – have to give them?
(AT) Ooh that’s a difficult one, by the way if this alludes to the answer I gave regarding the Masters seminar in Vegas it won’t necessarily be competition Kumite! To answer your question however I think a good start is someone who likes to fight! But not just that, they need to be clever; have a fighting brain if you like. There are plenty of people that have spirit and are brave, but to win you need more. As a coach/instructor you often come across people that can fight, but you need to see what they are lacking, you need to have a good eye. A good example of that would be Ticky Donovan. He could turn an average competitor into a point scorer, not necessarily a World Champion, but he would give him/her the basic tools to go beyond their ability. Give him very talented fighters and you see why Britain was the best sport karate Nation for so many years under his stewardship.
Some students, if you ask them, would do a thousand press-ups without question and others would need a reason, some react to criticism, some to praise and everything in between, a skilful coach can see the see that. A good friend of mine is a very good swimming coach and he has been coaching for many years and funds are continually cut year on year, but one year a girl joins his squad and he coaches her the same way he has coached thousands before, however she wins two Olympic Gold medals! He was always a good coach but all he needed was the right athlete and all she needed was him. Luck and genes.
(SB) Now, you are a former student of Sensei Asano. Can you tell us about him, your experiences with him, possible relaying a few stories to illustrate your time with him?
(AT) Well again speaking of luck I was very lucky that I ended up at Sensei Asano’s Dojo, because I could have ended up anywhere. The first time I trained with Sensei I would have been around fourteen years old or younger, so you can imagine I was in awe of him and his students. There are so many stories but I think what was different about Sensei was that he would fight all his senior students on a weekly basis and I did hear from people over the years - usually people that were not there - that he was a bully and battered people. In all the years that I trained with him, I never saw that. The only people that got hurt were the awkward ones or ones that took a liberty with him.
I loved fighting him and he did say to others that he liked fighting me because right from the beginning I went for him, swiftly followed by me flying through the air, no doubt. When you see a lot of the JKA fights of the sixties and seventies, it was gyaku-zuki, maybe a mae-geri, but Sensei Asano was nothing like that. I will never forget one year we had a big two-day course in Nottingham and a lot of different people attended and I remember in particular a few black belts from another group and they all seemed huge guys. Well Sensei, as usual, sat everyone down and promptly got each Dan grade up to fight. Now, although I knew how good Sensei was I was worried for him because I thought maybe these guys don’t have as much respect for Sensei as we did, or maybe they don’t know the rules that you don’t take liberties. Well, sure enough, a few started to get really frustrated and angry as Sensei was landing techniques and they really went for him. I can only say that it was one of the best demonstrations of Kumite I have ever witnessed. He just took them apart, very cool and methodical with ashi-barai taking the front leg, the back leg both legs spinning backwards, taking both legs, scissor takedowns, jodan mawashi-geri, chudan mawashi-geri , back kick. It was a joy to watch.
(SB) You have said – very respectfully – that Sensei Asano’s approach was more spirit than technical precision, yet your teaching is incredibly technical and spirited. At what phase in your karate career did you really start to think about the finer details of what you were doing or were you naturally wired this way?
(AT) With regard to Sensei Asano, Yes I think I would still stand by that but that’s not a negative. Like I said in the last answer he was an inspiration to me. You wanted to perform your best for him and he produced some very good fighters. It sounds ridiculous but I remember thinking when another of his seniors got hospitalized after a competition because he just kept getting up after being punched or kicked, I thought, I wish I could get smashed like that so I can show that I have the same spirit!(I was very young!) I should’ve been careful what I wished for as I got my chance many times after that. If you got knocked down and didn’t get straight back up you better not show your face at the next session.
I think the technical side of my teaching is just different influences from many teachers over the years but I did find that I picked things up pretty quickly and I could remember everything about a session years later. As a young instructor when you first start you just copy the way you were taught so basically I would get senior students out and do kumite, however I was always interested and loved doing Kata and so that would be a big part of my teaching. We never did bunkai with Sensei Asano; the first time I did bunkai was with a Shito-Ryu instructor, so again that was picked up over the years. The big step is when you start being paid to teach and then when I started my own Organization you have to study and know what you are talking about and justify it. Because people will ask you to teach once but you know you’re doing something right when you are asked back time after time.
(SB) Since you were last interviewed for the magazine, you opened ‘The Dojo’ – The Federation of Shotokan Karate’s Honbu Dojo. What has this done for you and for FSK?
(AT) Yes about seven years now. It was a big undertaking and it has been very time consuming, but it has been worth it. I have some great instructors that help at The Dojo and I have some excellent students. It’s a Dojo that I would have loved to train in when I was younger. We now hold our Black and Brown Belt courses, Instructor courses and The Master Class courses that Dave Hazard and I do together at The Dojo. I have had to learn a new set of skills however because it is a business and you need to make it work financially. I did visit a couple of full-time Dojos to see how they made it work and got a lot of advice. I was determined to keep it as a Karate Dojo though as many other Dojo’s had different martial arts in them and that’s not for me. I don’t mind having Yoga or some other thing that would probably compliment the karate but other than that no. What I did find was that it attracted a lot of adults and I think that’s down to the place itself. It looks like a place that adults would like to train. I think the days of training in a freezing cold scout hut are gone. People are used to training in nice health clubs and the like so people expect more, so you find a lot of full time Martial Arts centres now. I did resist calling it The Aidan Trimble Black Belt Academy that I was told over and over I should call it, Please! I know we all have egos but really? Having said that I have had to advertise and that is a new experience. Before I never really promoted my old Dojo but this is different. I have had ads in glossy magazines, the whole back of a bus and I even had an advert on the radio. Apparently I have a good face for radio.
(SB) I’m glad you mentioned ‘The Master Class’ courses with Sensei Hazard. Unlike most seminars and courses, you cap the number of attendees, offering places on a first come, first served basis which creates more of a personal learning experience. Can you tell us about the course and what it’s like working with Sensei Hazard so closely?
(AT) We have been doing the courses for a number of years now and it seems to work well and we work well together. To be honest it would make more sense to have it in a bigger venue, but Dave insists we have it at my Dojo and he can be very persuasive! It’s a nice format and people keep coming back so as long as they do, we will keep doing them and as you know, Dave Hazard is a class act, so it’s always great to see him do his stuff!
(SB) There seems to be an air of ‘undeserved’ arrogance that seems to prevail within the martial arts amongst many instructors, often keen to create almost a cultist following. Have you seen examples of this? You and Dave however fervently avoid self praise and just ‘get on with the job’. Is this one of the reasons you work so well together?
(AT) No we’re just mates. I’m not sure really about the undeserved arrogance, I don’t really see that anymore because I don’t go on many courses. If I do, I’ve been personally invited and so people don’t seem to be arrogant to me but you know what? I’ve been called arrogant when I was younger and I never thought of myself as arrogant and to be honest I don’t really care what other people do, or is that arrogant? Ha ha.
(SB) Each year you travel to Norway in order to teach alongside a variety of other instructors. Can you please tell us about this event?
(AT) Actually I have been travelling to Norway teaching since the early 80s, but I was asked to teach on the Shotokan Summer course first in 1991 I think along with Sensei Kato. Well, actually I was asked to teach with another Japanese instructor but he died! Kato replaced him.
The course and students were great, but to be honest I knew Sensei Kato from before and we didn’t really gel if you know what I mean, so I didn’t do the course for a few years. I was invited every year since that course however to teach at various clubs in Norway, but then the group parted company with Kato and I was invited to teach on the summer Course again, this time with Richard Amos and Tom Kompier.
I had met Richard in Japan on Sensei Yahara’s Gasshuku but I hadn’t met Tom. Tom’s a great guy and we got on straight away. Later, maybe the next year, Scott Langley joined us and we have been the team ever since then, other than when we have been joined by guest instructors such as Soon Pretorius from South Africa, and a few times by Steve Ubl from San Diego. We all get on very well and we have a great time and a lot of fun. It’s a great course because for one it’s a beautiful country and secondly there is a lot going on other than the training, party nights, BBQ etc. It attracts students from all over Europe, Scandinavia, USA, and even Japan.
Apart from the teaching we get to spend a lot of time together and we discuss ideas and we don’t all agree but that’s great. All very talented individuals I love watching them work and getting ideas myself.
(SB) You mentioned Steve Ubl. I personally had been sent a DVD including Steve a few years back, so when he made the trip to the UK I went to train with him and I couldn’t believe the power he generates from such relaxation. How did you find working him?
(AT) A real gentleman, very humble, very knowledgeable and always willing to answer anyone’s questions. We did a class together and again very interesting to see his take on various kata and training methods.
(SB) Coming back to an earlier answer, you mentioned your trip to Japan for Sensei Yahara’s Gasshuku. Can you tell us about this trip?
(AT) Mmm, that was a strange trip and so many stories from that Gasshuku. There were 12 of us that went I think, and by the end, due to one thing or another, eight of us saw the end of the trip. The purpose of that trip was to train on Yahara Sensei’s Gasshuku (training camp), out on an island called Hachijo Jima where they once sent convicts – do you think they were trying to tell us something?! The training was quite brutal at times, which wasn’t unusual for us, but I think it would have shocked a great deal of karate-ka who train in your average dojo now. There were broken noses, jaws, missing teeth and black eyes, fortunately none of them were ours! Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all from us, they were battering each other.
I remember at one stage standing, lining up to fight. I had heard that Yahara liked people to get ‘stuck in’ as it were, but I wasn’t sure how heavy, and then I watched Dave Hazard with his first partner. Fair enough I thought, that’ll do for me and bang – I dropped my bloke with a back kick. Bear in mind they weren’t holding back, and it wasn’t a cheap shot or anything. Most of them were University students and they were great, loads of spirit and trained like demons, but Yahara Sensei made their life a misery on that course. We were told that he wasn’t happy unless he broke a Shinai (Bamboo Sword) on the students before the end of the course; he smashed it in half on a student during the first day!
In the end it was a positive trip putting aside all the mind games the Japanese like to play. The comradeship, everybody training and fighting together, it was good for me, because I wasn’t really getting too much of a chance to test myself in that way at that time, it was great because I don’t think any of the students had a clue who I was, so there was no holding back, it was good. It was the first time I met Richard Amos who was living in Japan at that time and was doing the JKA instructors class or was about to do the course, not sure really. A very talented karate-ka who is now based in New York but as I said earlier we get to meet up every year when we do the summer course in Norway.
(SB) You have taught all over the world. From your experiences travelling and teaching for dojos outside of the FSK, what would you say are the most common mistakes that you see?
(AT) I can’t say there are common mistakes as it depends, they may not see them as mistakes! That’s one thing you learn through experience, diplomacy. There’s always something that can be improved though, thankfully, because if they were all perfect, I’d be out of a job!
(SB) You are Chief Instructor of the Federation of Shotokan Karate (FSK). What has been, and what continues to be the central objective of the Federation?
(AT) To teach good Shotokan Karate, to give people every opportunity to improve and enjoy their training, as simple as that really.
(SB) Based on an earlier answer, I am assuming that you are teaching close range reality based fighting in The Ozawa Cup Masters Seminars, am I right?
(AT) I will teach kumite at all distances and the use of the appropriate technique for that distance, so yes that will include close range.
Professional Shots courtesy of Bernard Rose!
Part 2 to follow in the next edition of TSW