Interview with Dunken Francis of the Institute of Aikido Auckland
Property Type: Aikido
1. Who is the dojo’s founder and what prompted him/her to build the school? Is there any rich history behind its making?
We have two dojos – one in the north of Auckland (New Zealand) and a brand new, fulltime dojo which we have built on my property in Silverdale, about 20 minutes north of Auckland City. The new dojo is built from a converted barn and we are lucky enough to now have a fulltime training facility, with 110 mats, and basic facilities for live-in students. I am the senior instructor at both dojos, and I currently hold the rank of 4th dan.
The dojo I “grew up in” in the UK was the Hut dojo in London. I started there aged 10 back in 1974 under sensei H W Foster 7th dan, who is still teaching there today at the age of 84, and is the technical director of the Institute of Aikido worldwide. Sensei Foster was one of the original students of Kenshiro Abbe Sensei back in the late 1950’s, and the Hut dojo was the birthplace of Aikido in the UK.
I emigrated with my family to New Zealand in 2005, and it has taken us a few years to built the new dojo and get an organization established. We are very lucky to have a great group of students who are really enthusiastic, and I think this shows in the atmosphere we get on the mat and is contributing to the rapid growth of our group.
2. What forms of Japanese martial arts do you teach in your school? Can you please share with us the history behind them?
Traditional Aikido. We don’t follow a particular ’style’ per se, but due to Sensei Fosters strong links with Saito sensei we do follow the Ria-ai system of using Jo and Bokken weapons systems to improve our tai-jujtsu. I am a strong believer in looking at all the information available, including within martial arts, so if a student goes away to see another sensei, we always have a session afterwards to examine what they thought was interesting or valuable. In 2003 I published “Aikido – A beginner’s guide” and the DVD “Aikido – the first steps” to try to encourage people into our beautiful art, and we purposely kept the information as non style-specific as we could to give make it as relevant as possible to as many people as possible.
3. What are the principles and concepts that you uphold and try to instill in your students?
Train for others to train yourself. We have a wide variety of ages, nationalities, shapes and sizes, so everyone has to find their own Aikido, within the constraints of the syllabus. We are very lucky to live in a country where diversity is seen as a good thing. There is a strong focus within our training upon ukemi – the ability to fall safely is a valuable life skill.
4. Why do you think it is important for people to learn martial arts?
Within the modern lifestyle, it is easy to become lazy and internally focused. Studying a martial art is a bit like having children – it makes you realize that you are not the most important person in the world and it keeps you fit as well.
5. What difficulties and obstacles have you encountered so far with regards to teaching martial arts and how did you overcome them?
In 2005 I was diagnosed as a type I diabetic, so now I have to inject insulin 4 or 5 times a day and do regular blood tests. I try to be as vigilant as I can as this condition can make you very ill if not managed properly, but there is no doubt that my fitness level has dropped a bit since, and I have to be careful when training that my sugar levels don’t drop too low. In 2008 I dislocated my left shoulder and damaged the AC joint, and this has also been a slow healer. I think the reality is that when you get past 40, the body does start to fall apart a bit, so you just have to look after yourself a bit more carefully. As far as teaching is concerned, the biggest challenge for me is my kids’ classes. We take children from the age of 8, and sometime keeping their focus and concentration is a real battle. Over the years I have gradually developed a set of exercise and games all based upon Aikido movement and technique, and by delivering these in short segments mixed in with ‘proper’ aikido syllabus work and keeping the class moving we seem to have built a very successful youth group.
6. What advice and/or insights can you share with our readers who want to pursue their interest in the Japanese form of martial arts?
• Make sure your family and friends realize that training nights are sacred. None of my friends would even consider asking me out on a training night. If you miss one class, it’s easy to slip, and hard to get back into the routine.
• Don’t be bullied. If you are at a school where the instructor or senior students expect you to bow and scrape and treat you like inferiors, leave! There are many good dojos in every city in the world, so visit a few before you pick one.
• Train to your comfortable limit. If you don’t push yourself you’ll never make progress, but we are not living in Feudal Japan so be sensible – you have to go to work tomorrow!
• Keep an open mind. I have added a lot to my understanding of Aikido from training with Jujitsu people, Eagle claw Kung Fu people, Tai Chi people, even Yoga.
7. Can you please give a short biography of your dojo’s instructor(s)?
Dunken Francis 4th dan (Born 1964)
Sensei Francis trained under H.W. Foster sensei since beginning his Aikido career as a child in 1974, and for a several years was also a student of Ron Russell sensei.
Training at The Hut dojo instilled a commitment to the principles of Riai – “Blending of Truths”, and subsequently he is a strong advocate for the regular practice of Aiki-jo and Aiki-ken.
In 2005 he moved to Auckland with his wife and daughter, and in 2007 set up the Institute of Aikido dojo in Okura, with plans for a new, full-time dojo in Silverdale later this year.
Mainly focusing upon teaching beginners and bringing newcomers into the art, and to help newcomers clarify the myriad of techniques and technical terms used, “Aikido – A Beginner’s Guide” was published in July 2003 (see www.aikido4beginners.co.uk .)
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