BIG INTERVIEW: Craig Salmon talks to long-serving aikido instructor Ian Cherry

Ian Cherry has been teaching Aikido - a form of martial arts - for many years

Ian Cherry has been teaching Aikido - a form of martial arts - for many years

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When Ian Cherry announced to his mother that he was thinking of taking up aikido – a form of martial art – she was not too impressed.

Concerned for the welfare of her 25-year-old son due to the physical nature of the sport, her fears appeared to be well founded when he returned from his first ever lesson sporting a painful-looking bruise on his backside.

Despite the big coincidence, the injury had, in fact, nothing to do with his first foray into the world of martial arts and was indeed sustained when he slipped outside in the icy weather conditions on his way home.

Although his mother took a lot of convincing that the injury was totally unrelated to his exertions in aikido, there was very little she could have done in any case to dissuade him from continuing.

That very first taste of the sport in 1979 ignited a spark in Cherry’s head and it’s remained lit for the rest of his life.

Now aged 61, the chartered accountant – who has a practice in Winckley Square, Preston, is approaching 40 years involved in the sport.

He is a 5th dan black belt and has been an instructor for more than three decades.

“I had never done any martial arts until the age of 25 although I had always been interested,” Cherry said.

“I remember saying to my mother that I was thinking of taking it up and her reply was, ‘Oh you want to be careful doing that, you can get really injured’.

“I went along for the first time to one of the training sessions, we trained for two hours and I really enjoyed it. I thought it was great.

“But afterwards as I stepped outside to go home, I slipped and banged my backside because it was really icy.

“When I got home, my mother said, ‘I told you it was dangerous’!

Despite aikido being developed by a Japanese man called Morihei Ueshiba in the early 20th century, Cherry was initially taught by a Polish man called Marian Mucha in Chorley.

“I was friends with a man called Richard Kacperek who owned a Polish delicatessen on the market,” Cherry said.

“There was a man who used to buy food from his stall called Mr Mucha. He used to run an aikido club in Chorley and one day he just said to us, ‘Do you fancy coming along?’.

“We started going on a Wednesday and Thursday night every week – Mr Mucha used to hold the sessions at a church in Chorley just opposite the train station.

“It was a case of we enjoyed it so much that we just carried on going.”

In 1985, Cherry opened his own Aikido club called Sakura Dojo – a slight play on words as Sakura means cherry blossom in Japanese and dojo is of course a place where martial arts is practised.

Initially the club was based in the sports hall at the old polytechnic in Preston before moving to Fylde Road, where a lot of martial arts clubs in Preston are based.

After 20-plus years there and with the facilities deteriorating, Cherry decided to search for somewhere new for his club.

Having looked around, the martial arts enthusiast decided there was an opportunity to create a dojo on the upstairs floor of his accountancy firm offices.

“I actually own this building on Winckley Square,” said Cherry, who is married to Susan and has two daughters Gemma (31) and Lucy (28).

“Part of this building is where I used to go to school – Preston Catholic College for boys. “It’s on five floors and it’s quite a big old place.

“The top floor I used to use as a store room, but I looked at it and thought I can just about get away with putting a dojo in there.”

Last month the club celebrated its 30th anniversary and Cherry marked the special occasion by holding a grand opening ceremony at the new premises.

He invited the head of the Lancashire Aikikai movement Bob Spence to open the premises and he did so despite undergoing a cataract operation on the same day.

“I agreed a date for the opening with Mr Spence, but he had been waiting for a cataract operation,” Cherry said.

“And it just so happened that he got booked in on the same days as our grand opening.

“I asked him if he wanted to cancel it, but he said no and told me that he would be there.

“So he had his operation at 11-30am and then came to open the new dojo at 2-30pm.

“It was incredible really because he could barely stand up and it involved him using a live sword blade to cut through the paper.

“But he got it absolutely spot on to be fair.”

Over the years, Cherry has trained thousands of athletes and he admits it takes a certain kind of person to excel in the sport. Aikido in its traditional form is totally non-competitive, essentially non aggressive and non-violent.

It specialises in defending against attackers with weapons and multiple attackers.

“There’s a certain type of person who likes the physicality of learning a martial art,” Cherry said.

“I would say we probably keep one out of a thousand student who does it long enough to be able to go on and train other students.

“Most people pack it up because it’s hard. A lot of it is all down to practice.

“Some people come along and think after a few lessons, they will be able to go out and have the ability to beat an attacker up, but it’s a lot harder than that.

“You have to enjoy the practice because it’s that which makes you good at it.

“The good thing about aikido is that you don’t have to stop it as you get older because it is a martial art where you have to blend with your opponent.

“It’s not like a clashing martial art where you’re trying to block somebody or fight with them.

“You blend with the opponent and add to what they are doing.

“For example if somebody was going to sit on a chair and I was to pull the chair away from them, they would fall over and probably hurt themselves.

“I haven’t actually done anything to that person, I have just encouraged them to do something for themselves and aikido is sort of similar to that.”

The intimate setting of Cherry’s new dojo means he can implement a traditional style of teaching.

“We have sort of gone old fashioned,” Cherry said.

“The traditional way of teaching martial arts was that if you were a teacher, you would just have a small room in your house and people would come along, live at the house, and you would teach them.

“The size of the room would dictate how many mats you would have.

“That is why traditionally you have mats down in a training room because that is where students would sleep in a house.”

Being skilled in the art of self-defence does give Cherry a great deal of confidence in life, although he has only ever had cause to use the skills he has learned in a real-life situation once.

“The only time I have used it was when I was on a train once,” he revealed.

“I was sitting in a four-compartment ready to get off and I could see two lads at the back of the train.

“They must have been in the Army because they were dressed in Army gear.

“They were mucking about and having a few drinks.

“They were trying to shove food in each other’s mouth and as I walked past them, one of them got up and tried to shove some food in my mouth.

“I remember just stopping him straight away without even thinking really because I actually had a brief case in my hand.

“I took hold of his hand and I could have broken his wrist if I wanted, but I just told him quietly to stop and he said, ‘Oh I’m sorry and sat back down’.

“He would not have known that I would have used any aikido on him and that is the best way.”

Sakura Dojo is an adults club and currently trains three days per week, from 6-15pm to 7-45 pm.

It is ideal for people working in the city centre wanting to train after work.

For further information, please contact Ian Cherry on 201015 or pop into 26 Winckley Square when you are passing for a chat or look the club up on its Facebook page. The website address is: www.prestonaikido.co.uk