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Bloomsbury Aikido – Cheltenham & Bloomsbury Aikido Club

Beginners and visitors are always welcome (you must be 18 years or over). Our members have a range of experience, from ungraded to 6th Dan. Over the years, the Bloomsbury club has produced many Dan grades and instructors. Kyu gradings are held regularly at the Club. In our new association, Goshinkai, Dan gradings will be held at Goshinkai courses, and with the agreement of the Goshinkai Principal, at the Club.

Club Origins and History – UCL Aikido

The Bloomsbury Aikido Club originated as the UCL Aikido Club. UCL Aikido Club was founded in 1976 by UCL student Barry Hutchinson, as a UCL Students’ Union club, run by students for students. Barry, the Club’s first instructor, was an Aikido student of Minoru Kanetsuka (Technical Director, British Aikido Federation). Also teaching at UCL in the 1970’s was UCL postgraduate student, Peter Goldsbury (since 1996, the Chair of the International Aikido Federation). Peter Goldsbury was one of the first students to practise Aikido at the UCL Dojo before the Club was formally established, having arrived at UCL in 1975. So Aikido has been practised at UCL for over 50 years. Martial arts students at UCL were fortunate in having a permanent, traditional Dojo in the Central Collegiate Building (became Bloomsbury Fitness Centre, Bloomsbury Building) from the earliest days until a new BF Manager demolished it in December 2013.

The Club was a member of the British Aikido Federation until 1994, when it joined the United Kingdom Aikikai, Principal and founder, Mr William Smith Sensei, MBE (d.2006). In 2016, the Club joined with four other clubs to found the new Goshinkai Aikido association, of which the elected Principal is Mr Mike Smith, 6 Dan, nephew of Mr William Smith.

The Club celebrated its 25 year anniversary in 2002. The highlight of the year was the 25 Year Celebration weekend course 16-17 March 2002 with Senseis Mr W Smith, Gordon Jones and Philip Smith. See United Kingdom Aikikai News, UKA News article number 23

In August 2004, the club transferred its status from a Students’ Union society to a Bloomsbury Fitness Martial Arts club – i.e. one of the martial arts activities offered by UCL Union’s Bloomsbury Fitness centre to its members. In January 2013, the club was renamed the Bloomsbury Aikido Club at Bloomsbury Fitness. Since the very early days (1970s) of the student UCL Union Aikido Club to the Club’s evolution (2004) as a Bloomsbury Fitness UCL Union martial arts activity, UCL alumni and staff Aikido practitioners have played a significant role in providing continuity, experience and teaching. The establishment, in 2013, of the UCL Alumni Aikido Group was in recognition of this contribution.

December 2013 – September 2015: Aikido at UCLUBF had a struggle for survival after re-structuring of the BF management. In December 2013 the new BF Manager and the Commercial Services Manager demolished the permanent Dojo, replacing it with a “multi-purpose” room. The Aikido Club initiated a campaign to restore the Dojo. In September 2014, that same pair cancelled the Bloomsbury Fitness Martial Arts Activity programme but the UCL students had already set in motion the revival of the student-led Aikido Club. The revival of the student-led Club meant that traditional Aikido survived at UCL after the cancellation of BF Aikido classes. Affiliation to UCLU was not a straight-forward matter. Initially affiliation was declined because the affiliation panel had been advised that Aikido was not a “unique” martial art. However, thanks to the actions of the 2014-15 club officers, James Fairney, Erin Niles, and Paul Magee, affiliation was granted in March 2015 and completed in September 2015. Over the year from September 2014 to September 2015, the student officers succeeded in obtaining agreement from UCLU Clubs and Societies that the club could continue to train at the BF under a “transitional” status, subsequently under a “pending for affiliation” status. In September 2014 the BF Manager had handed over the Aikido class slots of Monday and Wednesday evenings 6-8pm to the Squash Club. The “transitional” Aikido club had to take whatever times were left over on the booking timetable, i.e. at the weekend. The club re-organised itself to hold classes on Saturdays 3-5pm and Sundays 10-12noon. Eventually, in June 2015 (with different staff organising the UCLU Clubs booking timetable), James (Treasurer and Acting President at the time) was able to obtain bookings for classes at the better times of Wednesdays 6-8pm and Saturdays 10-12noon.

September 2015- September 2016:The student-led New UCLU Aikido Club (fr.2015/16) emerged as an association of three Aikido styles: Goshinkai (Aikikai) and Eigoku Bansen Kai, Exeter Aikido, both traditional, and the competitive Shodokan Aikido. By coming together, the three groups were able to raise the minimum 30 UCL student member requirement for a club to be affiliated by UCLU. Club bookings for training were: Mondays at Astor College for the Shodokan group; Wednesdays and Saturdays at Bloomsbury Fitness Dojo/Multipurpose Room for the traditional group. Paul Magee (EBK Exeter and UCLU Aikido Club President 2015/16) was teaching on the Wednesdays. The Goshinkai style training takes place on Saturdays with Barbara Sotowicz teaching on two Saturdays a month and Kris Zymla, assistant instructor, co-ordinating informal practice on the other Saturdays. The Bloomsbury Aikido Club continued as an Alumni (Aikikai) counterpart of the New UCLU Aikido Club. In October 2016, Bloomsbury Aikido Club started Friday 17:30-18:30 training sessions at a new venue, The Upper Room in Camden Town.

September 2016- September 2021: …………


Current Club Instructors, Senior Practitioners and Officers

more in preparation

Barbara Sotowicz Sensei, 6th Dan, Shidoin teaching rank. BAB Coach Level 3.
View Barbara Sotowicz's profile on LinkedIn

I have been practising, teaching and running a Dojo for over 30 years, actively promoting Aikido and ‘martial way’ training. I have trained students up to 4th Dan grade and up to Fukushidoin level. I started Aikido in 1977, got my 1st Dan in 1986 and 5th Dan at UKA Summer School 2012. I was awarded the Shidoin teaching rank in August 2008 by the United Kingdom Aikikai. This rank authorized me to examine and promote Aikido students to 1st Kyu and to be a member of the UKA Technical Committee, sitting on the Dan grading examination panels. In 2016, I took a part in the founding of a new association, Goshinkai Aikido.

My Aikido Senseis (where dates overlap my study was/is concurrent):

  • 1977-1985: My first Aikido teacher was Barry Hutchinson, the founder of the UCL Club. My other teachers included Peter Goldsbury and Marian Hutchinson (nee Holland). UCLU Aikido Club
  • 1983-1994: M. Kanetsuka at his Ryushinkan Dojo (British Aikido Federation).
  • 1983 – 1985: Derek Coffey, at his Dojo at Sundance Studio, Chiswick.
  • 1994 – 2016: Mr William Smith (d. 2006) and the senior teachers of Renshinkan House, United Kingdom Aikikai – Gordon Jones, Philip Smith, Mike Smith and Mrs. Pat Narey (d. 17 March 2010).
  • 2014 – present Mike Smith at Renseikan Dojo, Kidderminster, of Go Shin Kan House, UKA (fr. 1/1/2016), Goshinkai Aikdo association fr. 1.6.2016.

Club and Teaching Record (where dates overlap, my involvement was/is concurrent):

  • 1978 – 1986: UCLU Aikido Club Secretary. Fr. 1982: Instructor (having led occasional classes since 1979).
  • 1985-1993: Ryushinkan Dojo (UCL site) club secretary. 1986-1994: Ryushinkan (UCL site) Instructor.
  • Fr. 1986 – present: Principal instructor at ‘UCL Aikido Club’ which later became the ‘Bloomsbury Aikido Club’.
  • 2013 – present: established the UCL Alumni Aikido Group, becoming contact for the Group.
  • 2014-2015: active in the campaign to restore the permanent Dojo and in raising awareness of obstacles experienced by martial arts clubs at UCLU/BF; aiding students in the establishment of the new, multi-association, UCLU Aikido Club (2015/16). Fr. 2015-2017 UCLU Aikido Club Coach, traditional, Aikikai style.
  • 1/1/2016 – present: one of the founding members of Go Shin Kan House, becoming Goshinkai association on 1/6/2016.
  • 9/7/2016 – present: Goshinkai’s Coach Liaison Officer.
  • January 2018: started new Aikido Club in Cheltenham.

I started Aikido while a postgraduate student at University College London. I agreed to be secretary of the Club in 1978 (until 1986) (awarded Full Colours for Aikido in 1978/9 from UCL Students’ Union) and continued to support Aikido at UCL to the present day. In April 1985 Kanetsuka Sensei’s Ryushinkan Dojo came to the UCL site after I negotiated with the Students’ Union on Ryushinkan’s behalf. This included having to prepare a written proposal for submission to the Union. This was the first time an external martial arts club was allowed to hire the Union’s facilities. The two clubs continued a close association until 1994. In 1994 I left Ryushinkan and consequently the BAF and joined the United Kingdom Aikikai. My students followed suit and so the UCL Aikido club became a member of the UKA, Renshinkan House. In 2016, we are members of Goshinkai.

Career-wise, my absorption in Aikido training led to an interest in Fitness Training and exercise science. I qualified as a Fitness Instructor and became UCLU’s first gym instructor, working at UCL for the Students’ Union’s Bloomsbury Fitness Centre from 1987, becoming the first Bloomsbury Fitness Manager in 2003 and holding and developing that post until leaving UCLU’s employment on 30 April 2010. In 2004, while working for UCL Union, I set up a BF Martial Arts Activity Programme. This made use of the services of volunteer martial arts instructors, myself included. Hence UCLU Aikido transferred its status from a Students’ Union society to a BF Martial Arts club. In 2013, I set up the UCL Alumni Aikido Group, to recognise and encourage the contribution (in continuity, experience, teaching) that Alumni, staff and friends have been making to Aikido at UCL. The Group also functions to enable its members worldwide to keep in touch and to spread knowledge of Aikido.

In 2014/15 Aikido at UCL entered a new phase. The Club had to struggle for survival after the re-structuring of the BF management in 2013 (see Club History, above). The new BF Manager demolished the permanent Dojo, then cancelled the BF Martial Arts Activity Programme. The newly revived student UCLU Aikido Club experienced various administrative obstacles which resulted in the process of affiliation of the Club to UCLU being dragged out for over one academic year. I was active in the campaign (2014) to restore the Dojo. In 2015 I worked on raising awareness of the problems and obstacles being experienced by students, coaches and martial arts clubs at UCLU/BF, sending a series of complaints to the UCLU Trustees. I am involved by way of being a UCL Alumna, an Associate Member of UCLU, Club coach and associate member of UCLU Aikido Club.

2016-17 in preparation
Kris Zymla, 1 Dan. Instructor at UCL Aikido Club 2017.

Andy Washbrook, 3 Dan. Instructor at UCL Aikido Club 2017 – present. Sensei Andy was one of the guest instructors at the first UCL Alumni Aikido Group & Friends Reunion of 2016: UCLAAG Reunion2016 InstructorProfiles

Dr. Ara Schorscher-Petcu, 2 Dan, Go Shin Kai Fukushidoin . Instructor at UCL Aikido Club 2017 – present.
Ara started Aikido in 2004, then a graduate student in neuroscience at McGill University, Montreal. She joined the student club McGill Aikido run by Daniel Laurendeau Shihan, and trained in parallel at Montreal Aikikai with Massimo di Villadorata Shihan. Both dojos are part of the US Aikido Federation under the umbrella of Yoshimitsu Yamada Shihan (New York Aikikai).
In 2010, then 2nd Kyu, Ara moved to Paris and discovered the precise, dynamic Aikido and Kashima Shin Ryu inspired Kenjutsu of Cercle Tissier. There she had the privilege to study with Christian Tissier Shihan and his expert assistant instructors, in particular Patrick Bénézi Shihan, Bruno Gonzalez, and Fabrice Croizé. Ara was awarded Shodan (2014), then Nidan (2018) by Christian Tissier Shihan.
Relocating to London in 2016 to take on a research position at University College London, Ara became a member of UCL Aikido and found her new home at Go Shin Kai. With the invaluable mentorship of Barbara Sotowicz, Ara has been leading UCL Aikido jointly with Andy Washbrook since 2017.
Sensei Ara was one of the guest instructors at the second UCL Alumni Aikido Groups & Friends Reunion of 2017: UCLAAG Reunion2017 InstructorProfiles

Fr. Tom Plant, 1 Dan. Instructor at UCL Aikido Club 2017.

UCLAAG Reunion2016 InstructorProfiles

Past Club Instructors and Officers

more to follow

Prof. Peter Goldsbury, 7 Dan, Chair IAF. Instructor at UCL Aikido Club in the 1970’s:
I returned from the US in 1975 and immediately became a Ph.D student at UCL. However, I started as a part-time student initially, because the state studentship I had applied for did not come through until a year later. So I did not reside in London until 1976. I lived in Brighton, but I did commute to UCL, but I think I mainly practised Aikido at the Sussex University club, of which I was a founder member. I might have practiced occasionally before then, but when I started at Ryushinkan, I also trained at the UCL club and Barry was there. I received my Shodan in 1978.

more to follow

Marian Hutchinson, Instructor at UCL Aikido Club in the early 1980’s
more to follow

Prof. Mire Zloh, 5th Dan Aikikai, Senior coach (CL3). Instructor at UCL Aikido Club 1997-c.2005
I started practising Aikido at the Aikido club “Pinki”, Zemun, Yugoslavia IN October 1982. My first Aikido instructor was Njegos Djakovic Sensei. In the enthusiastic Aikido family, I have established some life-long friendships including that with Sasa Obradovic Sensei. After a longer break in my Aikido practice due to moving to the UK, I found the UCLU AIKIDO club in London in September 1994. My Aikido life continued with constant help of Barbara Sotowicz Sensei and many friends in the UCLU dojo. I met a lot of friends during UKA courses. I express my special gratitude to Barbara Sotowicz and the late Mr William (Bill) Smith Shihan (UKA Principal) for their selfless help and encouragement.
I obtained my Shodan during the UKA Summer School in August 1996. Also, I got BAB First Aid, Coach and Children Coach awards, and became instructor in the UCLU Aikido Club in 1997 and UKA Fukushidoin in 1999. I was awarded the 4th Dan grade in 2003 after a grading in March that year under Mr Smith Shihan (UKA) and was promoted to 5th Dan in 2018.
I started the YMCA Walthamstow Aikido Club in May 2001. Sadly, due to my injury that took over one year to overcome, the dojo was closed in 2010 and I focused more on my career. Since 2012 I have focussed on helping Aikido Bedford club and clubs in Serbia. I still work closely with Barbara Sotowicz Sensei and the UCL Alumni Aikido Group.
I am a lifetime member and Shidoin of Aikikai Serbia. I am also a member of United Kingdom Aikikai (UKA) where I attained the Senior Coach (Coach level 3) qualification.

Sensei Mire was one of the guest instructors at the first UCL Alumni Aikido Group & Friends Reunion of 2016:
UCLAAG Reunion2016 InstructorProfiles