Barbara Sotowicz Barbara Sotowicz 5th Dan, GSK Shidoin, BAB Coach Level 3

Barbara Sotowicz

Barbara Sotowicz 5th Dan, GSK Shidoin, BAB Coach Level 3

Head of Dojo Cheltenham & Bloomsbury Aikido Club

  I have been practising, teaching and promoting Aikido and ‘martial way’ training for many years. I took up Aikido in 1977, while a postgraduate student, at the University College London (UCL) Aikido Club, becoming principal instructor there c.1986-2015. I currently run the Cheltenham & Bloomsbury Aikido Club and organise the UCL Alumni Aikido & Friends Group. I have trained students up to 4th Dan and up to Fukushidoin teaching rank. As one of GSK’s founding members, I work with GSK’s Principal and Committee to further its development and its good relations in the wider Aikido community.

The Cheltenham & Bloomsbury Aikido Club, which I formed in 2018, offers weekday daytime training to those adults who for work or family reasons may not be able to train in the evenings.

The UCL Alumni Aikido Group & Friends is an alumni, global, network which embraces all Aikido affiliations. I set up the group in 2013 in recognition of the significant role that UCL alumni and staff Aikido practitioners have always played in providing continuity, experience and teaching at UCL Aikido. The Group has social and working aims: to keep in touch with past UCL Aikido students all over the world; and to provide a platform of support for the student-run UCL Aikido Club. As a part of this support, I act as the UCL Aikido Club’s GSK Shidoin, mentoring the club’s next generation of instructors and I maintain the Bloomsbury Aikido Club (London) which, post 2017, is an alumni counterpart to the student UCL club for the organisation of special courses in London.

Aikido background: My Teachers; UCL and Bloomsbury Aikido

My early teachers at UCL were students Barry Hutchinson, Peter Goldsbury and Marian Hutchinson (then Holland). Between 1983 and 1994, I studied with Sensei M. Kanetsuka; from 1994 with Mr William Smith MBE (d.2006); now with Mr Mike Smith at Ren Sei Kan Dojo, Kidderminster. I gained my 1st Dan in 1986 and 5th Dan in 2012 and for me, Aikido training is lifelong learning.

From 1978 I was a student officer at the UCL club, as a 5th kyu grade I started taking responsibility for leading occasional practices, then teaching, eventually becoming its principal instructor. In the early years, I was also training at M. Kanetsuka’s Ryushinkan Dojo. In 1985, having successfully negotiated with UCL Students’ Union for Ryushinkan to hire the dojo, I was given the responsibility of being a club officer and, later, instructor for Ryushinkan (UCL site). The two clubs were closely associated until 1994. With the experience of having been a student officer and then taking up a job developing the gym for the UCL Students’ Union (in which I stayed until 2010), I was able to mentor successive generations of UCL Aikido Club student officers and keep the club going academic year after year, assisted by instructors whom I had trained.

I have been involved in two status changes of the club at UCL, both of which were effected to preserve the continuity of Aikido at UCL. In 2004, UCL Aikido transferred from a student union society to being a part of the volunteer ‘Martial Arts Activity Programme’ that I introduced at the student union gym, Bloomsbury Fitness (BF). This status continued until 2015, with the club’s name becoming ‘UCL Aikido Club at BF’, then from 2013 ‘Bloomsbury Aikido Club at BF’. During 2013-15, the club had problems with a restructured gym management (which was gone by mid-2017). It demolished the traditional dojo then attempted to close down Aikido. I worked with the UCL Aikido students to revive the student union society, the UCL Aikido Club. In its early stages this survived as an alliance of three Aikido styles, each having its own UCL student representatives. Alumni Group networking helped to bring this about. I continued to run my Bloomsbury Aikido Club externally, now as an UCL alumni counterpart to the student UCL Aikido Club. In January 2017 I handed over the teaching of the UCL Aikido Club to talented younger instructors from our Bloomsbury, UCL and Alumni groups, headed by Andy Washbrook, 2nd Dan and Ara Schorscher-Petcu, 2nd Dan.