Terry Dobson

Terry Dobson (1937-1992) is a name that has been partially erased from official aikido history, yet many old-timers have a colourful story about him. Terry Dobson was an American live-in student of the founder of aikido – one of only two Westerners to be able to claim this.

I’ve developed a special fondness for Terry Dobson Sensei from books and videos, particularly his is vibrant personality, irreverent humour and unique insights into aikido. He was clearly totally different from the better known Japanese students of O’Sensei. One of the first (Tom Crum is also in the running) to work with aikido “off-the-mat” he is also one of the Granddaddies of Aiki Extensions for which I worked for three years. To paraphrase, “If you can do a hot koshi-nage that ain’t worth jack unless it translates into your life.” If he been more influential I suspect that aikido today would be more of a true “do” (way) and less of the athletic choreography it’s often today.

Terry Dobson surprised me as a naive young aikidoka with quotes comparing O’Sensei to a dog and how the Samurai sucked for having no heart. I was also fascinated by how he drew such diverse randomness as Native American rituals, poetry, and whips into his classes.

I have recently watched “A Seminar with Terry Dobson” a remastered DVD available from my favourite aikido supply company Bujin. In this video Dobson Sensei talks about respect, blending and brings a new meaning to “killing your enemy.” In it he’s often out of breath, is overweight and talks several times of his inability to live up to aikido ideals and his own failures. I like him more not less for these things, and tales of him coming to class stoned or being a difficult person to deal with only seem to make him more human.

The recording is not up to modern DVD standards, but as the disclaimer at the beginner says, it’s the equivalent of a old classic book. I would also recommend the book by Terry Dobson, “It’s a Lot Like Dancing – An Aikido Journey” – which also features photographs, including the famous “hands” one I’m using (with permission) from Jan Watson for Holistics.

Many well known names in the US West Coast aikido world today can be seen taking ukemi in the video – Jamie Zimron whose Kiai Golf has been blogged here and Wendy Palmer who has a practice called Conscious Embodiment not dissimilar to my own Holistics, to name but two.

Terry Dobson’s “Subway” story is well worth a read an will be enjoyed by aikido and normal people alike.

His biography is here.