top of page

The Wisdom of Aikido for Life

"You will need to get a cultural visa if you want to work in Japan, Ronnie…how about Aikido?”, said Ted, my new housemate who was renting me a room in his old Japanese house in Kyoto. Ted had been in Japan for over 14 years at the time and he certainly knew the ins and outs of being a “gaijin” (foreigner) in Japan. A “cultural visa” was some sort of status the immigration authorities designated to put a framework around the scores of English-speaking foreigners who were streaming into Japan during the 1980’s to get high salaries for “English conversation teaching”- a term I learned quickly in Japan. It meant that you opened your “Native-Anglo mouth”, spoke English words and the Japanese “student” would put down in cash a startling sum of money for the “experience”.

It was just what I needed at the time. Not yet 25, I was tired from a year of traveling through Asia with my backpack and sense of wanderlust. It was a truly amazing year, unlike any other of my life, and it made a deep imprint on how my life would unveil after that. There were 2 months of trekking the Himalayas, 5 months traversing India alone, on trains, busses, mixing in with the locals wherever possible. China was just opening up to independent tourism, and I grabbed at the opportunity, spending over two months all over this huge country, ending up disguising myself as a “local” in the very west of China: sneaking on to a dilapidated bus with a fellow Australian traveller, Danny Hakim, for a 3 day journey bound for Kashgar, a “forbidden city” for foreigners at the time. Kashgar was like going back centuries in time, it had not seen tourists in years; it was one of the westernmost cities of China populated by the Uyghur Islamic minority, near the border with Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Pakistan. Kashgar had served as a trading post and strategically important city on the Silk Road between China, the Middle East and Europe for over 2,000 years.

As part of my “Deep China journey” I also picked up some Hepatitis A, which I took with me to the Philippines; after 10 days in hospital, I took the next 6 weeks to convalesce on a small island, where I stayed on about $5 a day, doing yoga, swimming, eating papayas and mango, reading, writing and gaining strength for the next part of my journey.

Welcome to Japan

Japan awaited me in more ways than I could imagine…but what was Aikido and why should it have interested me? As a child and youth I took no interest in martial arts, and this was one of them. Yet, I did check it out, and could you imagine? I fell in love with it all- Aikido, life in Japan, a Japanese women and the fact that I could make enough money to live on just by opening my mouth and speaking English. I would leave Japan 2.5 years later with my black belt in Aikido, conversational Japanese, diverse knowledge in various traditional spiritual traditions, a broken heart and a nice savings account.