Virginia Mayhew, was my first Aikido teacher who introduced me to this beautiful martial art.
Virginia was a very special American woman. She was a gifted aikido teacher who first brought this gentle, near-magical, defensive martial art to Hong Kong.
The year was 1967, and I was then a very immature 19-year-old who was working as a photographer on a local English-language newspaper, The Star.
I had done a little Judo at the Chinese YMCA, in Waterloo Road, Kowloon, when I was at school, and one of my friends suggested I might wish to photograph this Aikido teacher and her class for my newspaper.
First Aikido demonstration
I went round to the class, and was most impressed to learn about the joint locks and throws that Aikido uses to immobilize the person who attacks you. I took dozens of photographs and wrote about this in my story.
When the pictures were published, the newspapers sub-editors had added the horrifying headline, “Aikido, The Painful Art”. Virginia was less than impressed by this, but she never said a word to me about it (after her initial grimace).
She was very low-key about most things, but in the two years I got to know her a little I realized that she was “on a mission” to spread peace and non-violence through her beautiful martial art.
People would find her because they wanted to learn to fight, and Virginia Mayhew would teach them how to ‘not fight’. That was her life’s mission.
Virginia was one of only two women who ever learned directly from Master Morihei Ueshiba. (The other woman aikido student of O’Sensei’s was a Japanese national. I don’t know her name.)
Morihei Ueshiba is the founder of modern Aikido, and was affectionately known as O-Sensei (which means “Great Teacher”) by his Aikido students.
She was also taught by Koichi Tohei Sensei, the man who later founded the Ki Society. At that time he was the manager of O-‘Sensei’s Hombu Dojo.
Virginia was taught by O-Sensei that violence is a sort of “temporary insanity”, and is best neutralized without more violence. Otherwise it is just one insanity creating another insanity, and no peace comes from it. (Just look at places like the Middle East to see how this insanity keeps on and on.)
Virginia opened up the Hong Kong Aikikai in Tsimshtsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong, and also ran classes at two YMCAs and a chain of local schools, where it was taught as part of the school childrens physical education.
Two other now well-known Aikido personalities who passed through Hong Kong at that time and helped out at the Hong Kong Aikikai dojo were Henry Kono and Alan Ruddock. The last I heard, Henry Kono was teaching Aikido in Canada, and Alan Ruddock was teaching in the Isle of Man and in Ireland.
There was an occasion where Virginia Mayhew gave a demonstration in a commercial gymnasium on Hong Kong Island to recruit new students.
She demonstrated an Aikido kote-gaeshi wrist throw on her training partner, and then she slowed it down so we in the audience could see how it was done.
“Always keep your partner’s wrist close to their shoulder”, Virginia explained. “That way they can be thrown without being injured.” Then she changed the grip slightly and lowered he arm… “If you do it like this, the wrist and the arm will break, here, here and here.” She pointed to the wrist, the elbow and the shoulder joints.
A thin, small European man in the audience stood up and clapped with obvious delight at the mention of arm-breaking.
Virginia stared at him and said, “Your attitude is wrong. I will not have you as a student. Kindly leave my class.”
The man stood up and left the gymnasium without a word.
Now in 1967, Hong Kong was being racked by street riots and terrorist bombings. These were a by-product of Chairman Mao Tse-tung’s Cultural Revolution, happening just 40 miles away, across the border from the then-British Colony.
There were many street battles between communist sympathizers and the British authorities, and quite a number of people on both sides were killed in the violence, together with many innocents, including children, being killed when they touched these booby-trapped bombs.
Some weeks after Virginia’s aikido demonstration, she walked around a street corner straight into a street riot in Shamshuipo district, Kowloon. The man she had thrown out of her class was a uniformed Police Inspector, and she saw him on his own, cut off from his riot squad, with his back against a wall.
The mob of rioters was trying to reach him and snatch his .38 service revolver from its Sam Browne holster. He had lost his long wooden riot baton, and he was fending his attackers off by hitting at them with the edge of his disc-shaped wickerwork riot shield.
Virginia Mayhew danced into the crowd, smiling serenely and confidently. As the woman aikido teacher spun round, bodies were hurled away from her in all directions as the attackers discovered the power of “Ki”. Reaching the shaken Police Inspector, she took him by the arm and led him back down the street to rejoin his riot platoon.
The rest of the mob stood respectfully clear and allowed them both to pass through.
Once they were safe, Virginia said to him, “I am sorry. I was mistaken. I did not understand that violence has to be a part of your life. I will teach you.” And for the next two years this remarkable woman instructed the policeman as a private student.
The cop was from Glasgow, Scotland. At that time he was attached to the Royal Hong Kong Police Emergency Unit, where he headed a platoon of crack Chinese riot police.
He was the one who told me what happened, and he and I became great friends. But he was always mindful what he said to me because I worked as a journalist back then.
The Aikido techniques that Virginia taught him saved his life many times both in the riots and later on in his career after he returned to the United Kingdom, where he married and settled down.
Virginia Mayhew learned her aikido at Morihei Ueshiba’s original Aikikai Hombu dojo during the 1960s, when Koichi Tohei Sensei was chief instructor and dojo manager there. She was the only non-Japanese female to have learned Aikido directly from O-Sensei. I am told there was a Japanese woman student as well, but I do not have any details about her.
She was also one of the founders of the New York Aikikai, and I know she trained in Hawaii – possibly with Koichi Tohei Sensei again, but I’m not 100% sure they were both there at the same time.
O-Sensei died in 1969, and I remember Virginia telling us all that the great master was dead.
She travelled back to Honbu Dojo in Japan soon afterwards to ask for a replacement instructor for her schools. She wanted again visit India where she had a spiritual guru she wished to continue learning from.
When Virginia was unable to reach an agreement with the Aikikai management she came back to Hong Kong, closed up the dojo and the other clubs and schools where she taught Aikido.
Then she went off to India to learn from her guru there. I know she took the married an Indian businessman, and took on the family name of Patel. Later she bore a daughter named Shankari.
Some years ago I managed to find an address for Virginia and I wrote to her. I received a reply from Shankari telling me that Virginia had suffered a stroke. But when I wrote again my letters were returned, ‘address unknown’.
Virginia Mayhew was a perfect example of the best qualities that Aikido has to offer. She lived Aikido. Those of us who knew her have had our lives enriched as a result.
Virginia Mayhew died on 27th October 2006. She is survived by her daughter, Shankari.
Further info about the Hong Kong Police and the 1967 riots.
It’s amazing how many people come here wanting to know how to knock somebody out in a fight and, of course, most of them want to do it without injuring the other guy in any way.
I guess this attitude is quite commendable, at least that part of not wanting to hurt or do damage to the other person. But the reality of things is that it is very difficult to knock someone out in a fight without doing damage to them. In fact I would go so far as to call it a fantasy or a fairytale.
Knocking somebody out without injuring them badly is a flight of fancy, and Hollywood has much to blame in this respect. We’ve all grown up with cowboy movies on TV with a good guy gets knocked out by a whack on the head from the bad guys gun. And we’ve seen it hundreds of times in police and detective dramas as well.
Hero gets hit on the head. Hero goes to sleep. Hero wakes up with a sore head, and then goes on to defeat the baddie, save the world or whatever and, of course, win the pretty girl.
It’s fantasy of course…
It’s been the same thing in countless action movies, for example in the film the Presidio, actor Sean Connery plays a much-decorated soldier enjoying a quiet drink in a bar when a big bad bully harasses the hero and picks a fight. Connery tells the Bozo that he will defeat him, using only his thumb. He then proceeds to poke the guy in various places… If I remember correctly it could have been the solar plexus, the throat possibly even in the eye (but gently). Connery defeats the man but does no serious damage. Real, heroic stuff. And again total fantasy.
Then think about Star Trek the original TV series. There were countless situations where Capt Kirk or Mr Spock applied a “Vulcan nerve pinch” to paralyse a dangerous madman or some annoying alien. It is all the same fairytale.
If you hit someone on the head hard enough to knock them out, then you have hit them hard enough to cause concussion and be at risk of causing brain damage as well.
Back in the 1960s when I was a teenager playing judo, we all learned to apply jujitsu-type chokes and strangles. When training in a dojo, or even in a competition, the choke hold or stranglehold is released immediately when the guy you are doing it to taps out. (Using your hand or your foot to tap the mat repeatedly, or tap your opponents body. It is an instantly-recognised signal that you are in pain and are surrendering from the fight or match.) But on the street when lives are at stake, and everybody is pumped up with adrenaline, it is quite easy to apply the hold too hard or too long… And in such cases the person being choked or strangled can easily die.
This has happened in many cases when police officers have applied a sleeper hold to subdue a suspect, and that suspect has died. And for that reason most police departments now prohibit any kind of choke, strangle or sleeper hold. Nowadays they use capsicum spray, pepper spray or chemical Mace.
Many police and security officers use Taser pistols as well if a suspect or prisoner is violent or resists arrest. These taser guns shoot two little metal darts which pierce the target’s clothing and stick in their skin. The darts deliver a series of paralysing electric shocks along two very-thin conductive wires that feed out from the “gun” to the target. It is meant to subdue without causing any permanent damage, but there have been quite a few instances where the victim has died.
So it seems there is really is no guaranteed-safe way to k.o. those bad guys every time.
You can forget fancy pressure-point fighting for self-defense. If you are fighting for your life it isn’t pretty, it isn’t some dance. It is nasty… The liklihood is that you are both probably going to damage each other, and I don’t mean hurt as in pain or discomfort, I mean damage, as in body parts that get broken and don’t work any more.
If you are lucky, you get a chance to damage him enough that he cannot hurt you. But if he gets a good whack in on you first, and does real damage immediately, then it is almost certainly Game Over. There is no referee, and the victor gets to go whatever he wants with the loser. Yes, that is a frightening thought, isn’t it?
I have done Aikido for many years. I am a qualified Shodokan black belt and I have taught Aikido and self-defense classes for years also. In a real fight I would like to think I can stop the other guy without injuring him badly, and before he can injure me. But how many years has it taken me to reach that level of skill?
I have spent decades of my life learning this stuff. Nice, beautiful and sometimes-pretty techniques.
If it is a genuine self-defense situation and I cannot walk away or talk my way out of it, will I be beautiful and gentle? I think that’s a fantasy as well. If we are both fortunate, I might be able to take the guy to the ground and immobilize him with a joint lock or a hold. But who can say for sure? Reality is, I would just do whatever it takes to defend myself or my family or my close friends. And I wouldn’t want to be down on the ground with any opponent when his friends decide to jump me. Think about that.
I have always said that pressure point fighting is about striking and damaging vulnerable points on the human body. It is something that most serious artists learn about, to a greater or a lesser degree, depending on the type of martial art they train at. But the key here is training. Martial arts take time to train and hard work to learn and make the stuff your own. There is no magic bullet in martial arts or self defense. There is no Vulcan death pinch (a la Mister Spock of the original Star Trek TV series).
In this TV video clip, a news reporter goes to a martial arts studio to learn about Dim Mak, the famous Chinese Death Touch, which this teacher claims he is able to do. The man says he can even do a knockout blow without physically touching his target; instead he would use Chi power, he said. But when put to the test, for some inexplicable reason, it only seems to work on his own students…
See for yourself, below:
Like I have always said, there is no mystical or magical way to drop an opponent or attacker without touching him (or her). You either have to hurt them enough to stop them in their tracks, or you have to be skilled enough to evade their attack on you, throw them to the ground and capture them. Aikido teaches this and so does Judo and Jujutsu, and scores of other martial arts from all over the world. The catch is that it takes years of hard work and regular training to be able to do it.
And for all this skill and training, there is always going to be the chance that you can be taken by surprise and sucker punched or something. So there are no guarantees that you can win any fight.
That is why it is a mug’s game to willingly get into a fight with anybody. You should decline and walk away, or even run. It is no disgrace to use your brain. After all, consider just some of the possible worst-case scenarios if you do elect to fight.
You could kill or maim the other guy(s). So guess what? There will be consequences. The police may take you away. Your attacker and/or his friends and relatives may come and get you, or they may sue you in court… and they might win.
Or you could be killed or maimed for life.
If you think that’s worth it, well whoopee for you. You might win a victory of sorts, but then would you want to live with the knowledge that you did damage to someone when it wasn’t necessary in the first place? After all, nobody appointed you as Sheriff in the town, did they? And this isn’t the Wild West, or Hollywood either.
If you do ‘go for it’ then you must accept the consequences. And trust me, there will be consequences.
I think that would make you a fool, but that is my humble opinion. Perhaps you just need to calm yourself down and think things through properly. Remember, there are no short cuts in this world. Most good things have to be earned, the hard way. And that includes learning how to look after yourself, and feel good about yourself without being over-confident.