PORT ELIZABETH SCHOOL OF AIKIDO
PRELUDE 1989 - 1992
Our story starts, in and around 1989 when Casey Crellin commenced practicing aikido under Aldolfo Braga (3rd dan) who had a well-established dojo in Pretoria. Casey was serving in the Airforce at the time, however was in fact from Port Elizabeth
After completing his military service, he returned to Port Elizabeth and started an aikido club, in the very same building we practice in today.
AFSA’s technical director, Cottier Shihan was no stranger to the Eastern Cape after teaching a National seminar in Grahamstown in the late 1980’s. Casey invited Cottier Shihan to spend some time in Port Elizabeth which is what led to 1 Michael Zoetmulder and Jeremy Sims to start their aikido journey. (What is not widely known is Michael’s role in sparking my interesting in aikido which lead me to contact Casey in 1992)
Casey had a good relationship with Cottier Shihan which let him to attend the Hong Kong Aikikai’s 20 anniversary in 1990 of which Cottier Shihan was the founding member.
Unfortunately, the club dissolved shortly after Casey returned from Hong Kong as life priorities changed. Michael immersed himself into Lifesaving and Jeremy immigrated.
Michael ’s had an interesting introduction to aikido. Prior to joining Casey he was awarded his shodan in in Atemi -Jitsu under Stephan Goatley sensei. (Through the SA Institute of Unarmed Combat). Goatley sensei who hailed from the UK also taught some of his student’s aikido unofficially. Goatley Sensei returned to the UK which is what led him seek out Casey.
Returning to June 1989 - The Beyers and Zoetmulder families have a long history which lead Michael to join us on a trip to Botswana when I was about 13 years old. I had been practicing Shotokan karate since I was 9 and the conversation of martials arts came up. To pass some time, I asked him to demonstrate some aikido to me. Michael agreed, and we walked down to the banks of the Zambezi which served as an appropriate backdrop given that an experience was about to happen that would change my life. My knees would never be the same again.
I attacked with an almighty tsuki and accompanying kiai ! One moment I was standing on the picturesque Zambezi River at dusk, the next I was on the ground staring up at him. My last memory was of myself projecting my arm out and being sucked into what I thought was a tornado, losing my balance and hitting the ground. Through some wizardry my wrist had been twisted somewhere along the line.
I was sold, this was something I had to do!
I attempted to convince Michael to teach this young 13-year-old however it never gained any momentum. Life was simply too busy for Michael as he was very involved in Lifesaving. I was in Standard 6 which introduced its own challenges. That being said, Michael advised me to purchase a book from the UK called, “Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere” by Adele Westbrook and Oscar Ratti to use as reference – I was adamant to teach himself! (There was no such thing as YouTube in those days) In the meanwhile, I continued with karate, under Anthony (Tony) Williams Sensei in Swartkops, which was close to my family home. At the end of standard 8, I convinced my mother to take me to the local martial art shop, Princess, which was located in the dodgy part of Port Elizabeth, so I could purchase a bokken. In my mind a bokken would unlock the mystery of aikido and I would be set. I had just turned 17 years old. Upon exiting the shop, I saw an aikido advert which had been around for a while. “To study the Japanese art of Aikido, contact Casey Crellin”.
After completing my homework, I made the call. I was shattered as Casey’s mom (sensei’s have mothers!) who told me that he was overseas and would call me when he returned. I lost all hope and become frustrated that by striking up and down with a bokken (which resembled chopping down of trees) was not unlocking the secrets of aikido.
In 1992, having just started standard 9 I received the call. And the rest as they say was history.
Casey Crellin told me that if I found a dojo he would teach me aikido. I scoured the telephone book and looked up judo clubs. I contacted Bayden Westenberg Sensei (Judoka) who had converted his double garage into a dojo.
I now had a sensei and a dojo!
THE WILDERNESS 1992 - 1999
The Port Elizabeth Aikido Club had its first aikido class with four members, namely Casey Crellin (3rd kyu) , Erica Kleine, (5th kyu), Anthony Meek and myself. Anthony was a school friend of mine who I had convinced to join.
One of the many experiences was attending my first Winterschool in Durban under the instruction of Adolfa Braga, Paul De Beer and Fritz Zöllner sensei’s. I promoted to 5th kyu at this seminar. I observed Corrie Human promote to 1st kyu (now 5th dan) which completely inspired me. I fondly remember saying to Casey that I hope one day I can be as good as him.
This seminar was a watershed moment for me and cemented my love for what I was practicing. I kept my relationship with Tony Williams Sensei who was my karate teacher. Following this seminar, I resigned from karate face to face with him. It was one of my toughest decision I had ever made as I had the utmost respect for him. He was very supportive of my journey to explore aikido.
Later that year, Adolfa Braga (3rd dan) and Jos Niehause (2nd dan) visited our shores together with his daughter Martine. Jos sensei will always have a special place in our history. He was exceptionally supportive and encouraging. I fondly remember our telephone phone calls, more of which were during his working hours, trying to explain to me how to do perform a bokken cut. What I would have given to be a fly on the wall on anyone overhearing the conversation on his side.
A defining moment for me, from an aikido and personal perspective, was meeting Denzil Beukes and Paul Musto who were practicing aikido at Rhodes University under Christopher McQuaid (1st dan). I was about 18-year-old at the time.
As an aside, Rhodes Aikido Dojo is where Bruce Allemann (now 5th dan, and AFSA Chief Instructor) started his aikido journey in and around
At the end of 1992 Casey sensei informed me that he was leaving Port Elizabeth the following year to study in the University of Cape Town. I was devastated to realize that we had no option but to leave our dojo and effectively close our doors.
Denzil to the rescue.
As luck, would have it Denzil (2nd kyu) had completed his Honours at Rhodes and was going to spend some time working in Port Elizabeth. I was also entering Matric so we decided to keep training informal which resulted in us spending many hours training at Kings Beach, which was significantly safer in those days. Denzil was very supportive as I was at the mercy of my parents for transport.
To improve my rolling (ukemi) I snuck into the Blue Water Bay Junior School with the aim of assembling the gym mats. This was significantly softer than sand! As luck would have it, I met Marical Schroeder (Shodan in Judo) who was running a satellite judo club. He was happy that I joined in the odd class. After some time, I explained to him our predicament and he invited Denzil and I practice at his Walmer Club scheduled around his judo classes, which is where we practice today. He was very supportive and didn’t ask for anything in return. He gave us keys and said, respect the dojo like it is your own. It is for this reason I am loyalty to him this very day.
Growth was challenging as we didn’t have set hours which prevented us to promote the club therefore most nights consisted of just the two of us. It suited me as I was in my final year of school. In the back of my mind I prepared myself for the following year in which I would have more independence given that I would be studying at the University of Port Elizabeth. The plans were to formalize our club with regular training times and if we could grow our club by 100% we would be delighted.
Unfortunately, nothing works per plan. Denzil returned to study his Masters at Rhodes. We were still 5th and 2nd kyu respectively. I was forced to take over the lead however traveled to Grahamstown whenever I could afford to.
Another hero - In 1994 Michael Holm, returned from Japan after having taught English for two years. Michael was from Port Elizabeth and held the rank of Shodan. He was graded by Enomoto (6th dan) sensei from Kimitsu which was a small town in Japan. I was very appreciative of Michael’s support as he practiced from time to time and besides his technical ability he gave me moral support during a very tough time. I was a full-time student and had to pay for myself by working part time. I was desperately trying to grow the club as there were many nights where I would be the only person at the dojo. My philosophy was simple, no matter how tired or desponded I would be, I would always open the dojo, set up the kamiza and put on my gi. No matter what!
1995 started badly (from my perspective) when Michael left for Korea. My support base had disappeared and given that I was very junior it was challenging to gain credibility given that there are so many martial art options in Port Elizabeth taught by some exception individuals.
Now that the apron strings had been cut, I had no option but to put myself out there are promote the club as a result the club grew by 100%. One of the new students was Philip Pieterse who was very regular. Until he got a girlfriend that is. One of the highlights of that year was attending the Winterschool in Chistiana whereby we practiced under Giorgio Veneri (6th dan), the Rolls Royce of aikido. This seminar was a defining moment for me and for the whole of AFSA. He was an absolute gentleman and was genuinely interested in growing our humble organization. It was also at this seminar that Denzil promoted to 1st kyu.
With renewed enthusiasm and energy, we invited Fritz Zöllner Sensei (Bloemfontein) together with Richard Madden and Warren Braam who were his students. We had our second grading after Jos Sensei promoted Anthony Meek (6th kyu) and Casey Crellin (2nd kyu) back in 1992. Under Fritz sensei, Philip Pieterse promoted to 5th kyu, I graded to 4th kyu, and Richard to 3rd kyu.
In 1996, Michael Holm returned to Port Elizabeth for a holiday. It was great to see him again as we lost Philip as he commenced with his honours degree at the University of Port Elizabeth. During this time, Michael and I had some promotional photographs taken which were published in the PE Express newspaper which proved to be very successful. Through this article, Corry Versluis, Jonathan Heunis, Mark Whitnal (currently 1st kyu) Eddie Angylossy together with my friend, Robert Charlton started to train on a regular basis. I was very appreciative for the faith they had in me.
We were delighted to host AFSA’s Winterschool in June / July of this year. It was well attended nationally and introduced Franco Martufi sensei (6th dan, then 4th dan) to our humble dojo. This was the first of many. Corry, Jonathan and Robert all graded during this seminar.
Near the end of the year I was invited to attend the Instructors Seminar taught by Veneri sensei in a venue called Tussen Die Rieviere. I was one of two non-yudansha which was daunting however we pressed on. I fondly remember Veneri sensei demonstrating the bokken kumitachi during a thundershower.
1997 was an incredible year. We started to gain momentum. This is when Grant Kruger, Michael McMillian, Rhusdi Astri started training. (Grant and Rhusdi promoted to 1st dan in 2007 and 2017 respectively) It was also the year that Elke Rietesel (now Haas) commenced. She was an incredible woman who never wanted special treatment from anyone. She worked herself up to 3rd kyu and subsequently followed her husband to Pretoria. I saw her a few years later after she had left aikido. I mentioned to her that she would have been an iconic role model. Her reply was simple, there is no choice between having a family and practicing aikido. She valued her time with us, but a new chapter had dawned. I learned a lot from her. She believed in equality and individuality. Don’t treat her differently because she is a woman, treat everyone uniquely irrespective of gender, age, culture.
1999 was another year of building, rebuilding. We lost Elke, Corry and Jonathan who departed for other cities however Chris Singmin (Currently 3nd dan, UCT), Justin Horn (2nd dan) and Derrick Caird (1st dan) started their aikido career with us. Prior to my final university exams, I promoted to 1st dan together with Craig Borman under the watchful eye of Veneri sensei at AFSA’s Summer School in Johannesburg. I had just turned 24 and it was the greatest achievement of my life. I recall saying at our 10-year anniversary (some 2 years later) that when I received my shodan certificate it should not just have included my name, but all those individuals who walked that path alongside me. Every single student that offered their time played a part in laying the foundation.
Late 1999 / 2000 Denzil and I travelled to Italy to practice with Veneri sensei in his hometown of Mantova. Shortly thereafter we attended a seminar in Milan with Fujimoto sensei. My plans where to stay longer however I was summoned back home to re-write one of my exams.
2000 and 2001 were relatively uneventful years. We continued to work hard and formed a strong core group. For everyone student that joined 2 would leave and that is the nature of what we do.
In June 2001 Candice Dugmore started her journey (3rd dan, Kaigan Aikido) with us after returning from Australia. Her nephew was a student at the time through which she was introduced. Candice added an energetic and confident dynamic to the classes. Tim Kidson (1st dan, 2016) also started his journey. Tim was unbelievably committed and resilient and worked around his shift work and MBA studies.
From around 2002 – 2006 we experienced our first golden era. Life was very simple then. Martufi sensei lived in Port Elizabeth for 6 months in 2004 which contributed to our development and growth. It was also during this time that Gavin Booyens (1st dan, 2017 Kaigan Aikido), Ivo Huisman (1st dan, 2017) Justin Horn promoted to 1st dan which was a very proud moment indeed for us all.
It was also during these years that I formed a close friendship with Paul Musto who had settled in East London. I would often travel down to EL when I afford too, but not only to train but also for the philosophical conversations we would share. It was also during this time that he performed a demonstration and invited members of the public to observe. A young Kylee Nel (2nd dan , 2017) joined the East London Club as a result. Due to her study commitments, she moved to Port Elizabeth after a few months and joined our club. I had the upmost respect for Kylee’s determination and resolve.
Everyone found their own niche and followed their strengths. Justin took up Minegishi’s sensei charge and started a children’s program with the support of Kylee. Karan and Siddarth Ranchod, started under the Kids program when they were 9 years old and integrated into the adult class at the age of 13. They are now both 19 years old and hold the rank of 1st dan and 1nd kyu respectively. Emma Saunders who also started with the Kids program at the age of 5 and holds the rank of Junior Black. She is 13 and has already integrated into the adult classes.
Kai and Matthew (who started at age 5 and 6 now 11 and 12 years old) have recently been promoted to Junior Black.
I have the utmost respect for anyone who teaches aikido to kids. It’s a selfless act however with long lasting rewards.
2017 was a special year. We hosted the Winterschool which at Beach view outside of Port Elizabeth. It was a unique seminar as the make shift dojo was located on a tennis court enclosed by a giant tent. The sides opened up overlooking the ocean. Martufi sensei lessons were occasionally hijack by a school of dolphins swimming past. It was at this seminar whereby, Grant, Miguel, Candice promoting to 1st dan. Denzil, Paul and myself promoted to Sandan. Unfortunately, I damaged my knee during the exam which resulted in a knee operation which kept me out of training for a few months. Justin rose to the challenge and took over the majority of the classes. I was very grateful to be able to lean on him during this time.
2008 – 2010: A new generation
Grant married Sam who he had met at aikido many years before and shortly left for the USA. Miguel and Chantal were married in Durban and they left for the UK all in a space of a few months. This enabled a new generation to fit into their roles and make their mark. Kylee, Candice, Chris, Derrek and Ivo all stepped up and forged their unique niche. Justin promoted to 2nd dan in 2009 which was a special occasion for our small club. My son, Daniel was born in September of 2009 which directed my life down another path which made my training sporadic however the environment was such that the seniors has the space to create their own brand and following.
2011 – 2013
Justin gave notice to go on an aikido sabbatical so he could develop his music career and be with his young family. Kylee rose to the occasion and dutifully took over the program with Chris and Derricks support. The program to about 30 kids under their leadership. Chris promoted to 1st dan during the AFSA Winterschool 2011 which was long overdue. Mark Whitnal (1st kyu) returned to Port Elizabeth and commenced training again. His schedule permitted him to start a satellite dojo for a year at Nelson Mandela Bay University. I was also sporadic with my own practice in order to stabilize my family life. To this end, Candice (2nd dan , 2012) and Chris shared the bulk of the aikido classes.
2014 – 2017
I refer this to our second Golden Area. I returned to regular training in 2014 which was well timed as Candice wanted to develop herself as a teacher and follow her own preferred styleShe built her own dojo, called Kaigan Aikido Dojo and with the capable assistance of Melany Fuller (4th kyu) Candice was able to re-ignite the aikido passion of some of the students who had left us which served as a fantastic base to develop from, namely, Gavin Booysens (Was 4th kyu, currently Shodan 2017), Dylan Kolesky (Was 4th kyu now 2nd kyu).
We made a strategic decision to rename our dojo the “Port Elizabeth School of Aikido” PESA for short. 2014 was a great year with Chris Singmin promoting to 2nd dan, Kylee Nel to 1st dan.
In 2016 and 2017 a new generation of students are promoting and stepping into leadership roles, being: Kylee Nel, 2nd dan; Derrick Caird; 1st dan, Tim Kidson, 1st dan; Ivo Huisman, 1st dan and Rhusdi Astri 1st dan.
Kylee’s leadership came to the fore when she took it upon herself to start a Club in Malabar in 2014 after earning her 1st dan. Her aim was to introduce aikido to a different community who could not afford to commute to Walmer. She found some old rubber mats and offered classes in the attic of one of her student’s home. They soon outgrew the attic and moved to the Morningside High School. Her satisfaction was derived from the small yet grateful members of the club who would have had very limited options to practice a martial art. Tryon Goss and Marco Naidoo have been the anchor and remain active. They are currently 4th kyu. The kids program has have grown to 30 which has been very rewarding
It is rewarded to see the School return to the old culture of comradery and formation of lifelong friendships. A healthy test is when students form friendships outside the dojo and take initiative in projects which selflessly serve the School.
I think this develops character and fosters initiative which will inspire the creations of new dojos thereby introducing aikido to a broader community, from all walks of life which I believe is our purpose.
We have restructured our School to blood new leaders and create an environment for them to work to their strengths. This this in mind we formalized the School and a committee, which consists of :
Chairman: Tim Kidson
General Secretary: Tiaan van der Merwe
Finance: Danielle du Preez
Chief Instructor: Colin Beyers
Sensei: Kylee Nel
Senpai: Tim Kidson
Senpai: Dereck Caird (Morning side School – Adults)
I would personally like to acknowledge and show appreciation to the following people for their support and inspiration over the past 25 years (1992 – 2017)
Anthony Williams, Michael Zoetmulder, Casey Krellin, Anthony Meek, Paul de Beer, Fritz Zöllner; Corrie Human, Jos Niehause, Denzil Beukes, Paul Musto, Michael Holm, Darko Vucetic, Ken Cottier, Giorgio Veneri, Franco Martufi , Mutsuko Minegishi and to my buddy, Robert Charlton who was always my uke when I needed one most.
I will always be ever so grateful to all those people who have passed through our doors. Every single person has helped us grow and move us forward – one step at a time.
Kenneth Crellin, Michael Holm, Erica Kleine, Colin Beyers, Philippus Pieterse, Séamus Brennan, Robert Charlton, Attila Angyalossy, Cornelius Versluis, Jack O'Connell, Darryll Botha, Michael Brennan, Lloyd Mollison, Jonathan Heunis, Shaun Cerini, Mark Whitnall, Elke Rietesel, David Crone, Gavin Wagenaar, Rhushdi Astrie, Grant Kruger, Justin Horn, Craig Fourie, Gerhardt Goosen, Emil Goosen, Stephen Bellingan, Pieter Botha, Michael Macmillan, Gavin Du Plooy, Andrew Dapshis, Sean Sampson, Andile Buyambo, Jaques Botha, Erika Kühnel, Derrick Caird, Christopher Singmin, Andrew Hicks, Rheedan Dugmore, Timothy Kidson, Sonja Holtzhauzen, Michiel Horn, Simon Du Plooy, Claude Cass, Gaylia Madatt-Cass, Christy Vieira Da Cruz, Carla Collins, Candice Dugmore, Dylan Kolesky, Jacobus Sadie, Miguel Serra, André Vlok, Kyal Smith, Fazlu Arnold, Dave Francis, Misekile Charlieman, Janusz Meylahn, Faustino Mbala, Pedro Nzinga, Gavin Booyens, Gerard Page, Shelley Cohen, Andrew Erikson, Ivo Huisman, Kylee Nel, Johan Odendaal, Peter Johnson, Jonathan Pletschke, Deon Ackerman, Edgar Ockhuis, Pierre Gunter, Johann Beyers, Donovan Eybers, Lischka Ackerman, Nick Simic, Ivana Simic, Johannes Vosloo, Anton Nel, Kyle Mclachlan, Tyler Mclachlan, Mellanie Fuller, Roland Cawood, Anneke Cilliers, Pari Reshalin, Anya Ackerman, Ryan Hoffman, Idriss Mouchili, Siddharth Ranchod, Asanda Africa, Angela Pattinson, Karan Ranchod, Breeze Johnson, Cindy Mathibe, Ian Ferreira, Damiun Killian, Gysbert Kleyn, Patricia Ivins, Dean Von Schoultz, Brent Harker, Tiaan Van Der Merwe, Danielle Du Preez, Justin Slabbert, Anthony Reason, Harold Slabbert, Eric Dyer, Vinesh Naidu, Shaun Pillay, Kione Chetty, Tyron Goss, Amaranathan Chettiar, Damian Francis, Kolisile Mbete, Marco Moodaley, Shashi Naidoo, Umsheela Pillay, Natassja Van Der Merwe, John Chanhanga, Kurt Human, Chad Cairncross, Nastassja Van Der Merwe, Danielle Du Preez, Linda Eijbers, Pieter Marais, Johann Van Der Merwe, Tyrone Goss, Alice Fan, Madre Malan, Shun Padayachy, Jayde Schreiber, Derek Soutter, Linda Wessels, Shaun Dano, Chris Nel, Ramson Chanhanga