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Our firm friend and companion in Aikido Paul Mitton has died November 2011

'by the Fudoshin Aikido in Cardiff'

Paul Mitton Paul Mitton, from Bath Aikido Society, has died after suffering pancreatic cancer for several months.

Paul was with us since the beginning - before the beginning, in fact, because his association with members of the club pre-dates it by many years.

Through all that time he remained a true friend and companion; he was supportive of individuals and the club, and generous with his time and energy.

Paul as a willing helper demonstrating shiho-nage His approach to Aikido and life was permeated with his good humour and the kind of common-sense that counts as wisdom, and which promptly evaporated any pompousness or overbearing solemnity that wandered into his path. At the same time he wore his own dignity lightly.

Once, Paul was informed by the British Aikido Board that the name Bath Aikido Society would not do - it was too parochial. He was never one to indulge in pointless battles or disputes, so after giving the matter a little thought, he put forward an alternative which was duly accepted as a suitable improvement: Furo Ryu Aikido. In other words, Hot Bath Aikido - because he wasn’t one who was willing just to give in either.

As was often the case with Paul, his solution meant that he got what he wanted, the other side were happy - and Paul Mitton
everyone else got an object lesson in how Aikido works in real life.

To his Aikido practice he brought a playfulness that we loved. At a seminar on a mat full of people you’d be grabbed from behind (Paul’s favourite way of inviting you to practise with him) with the words “Let’s play!” and turn round - if he let you - to see a grin on his face and a glint in his eye.

He took everyone he practised with equally seriously. No-one, however mismatched to his strength or experience, ever felt that he was just going through the motions for them. This attitude was equally evident off the mat - at an Aikido dinner he’d be as generous and sincere with his attention towards a child at the table as towards an Aikido luminary on his other side.
Eulogy given by Tony Bristow at Pauls Funeral.

I know that there are others here who have shared much with Paul over the years and who knew him equally well, so this is a special privilege for me.

Unlike Paul’s sister I have to say that I never knew Paul when he had hair. He used once to pretend to be jealous of mine and we continued an absurd banter for many months until, one day he triumphantly produced a little black and white passport sized photo of a wild young man with long shoulder length hair looking like he’d just emerged from the Sorbonne riots. A young Paul stared out at the camera with the same unmistakable expression which he wore when he was having fun; the same expression which he often wore when he was practicing Aikido.

Aikido was a great passion for Paul. Even now his body is dressed in his white gi and black hakama. He has his favourite wooden bokken sword by his side. In addition he’s wearing a colourful pair of woolen socks which were his last request from Jacqui. I think he would really enjoy this combination.

Everyone who knew him knows that Paul devoted an enormous amount of time and effort into his Aikido practice, but actually much more into creating the conditions so that others could also learn and practice. It’s down to his efforts that we now have a beautiful, modern practice hall in Bath where we can continue to learn. But I expect there must be friends here who have come to say goodbye who have heard about Aikido from Paul but are still wondering what on earth I’m talking about, and they deserve at least a short explanation. Well, if you were you were a fly on the wall in our practice hall you’d see men and women of all ages dressed in white practice suits gripping each other, striking and tumbling. They take turns to play the role of attacker and defender and everyone attempts to move with some element of fluid grace, repeating and refining their movement. But this activity isn’t just for the benefit of physical exercise. It’s a method of resolving a potentially violent confrontation into a situation in which neither party is harmed. It’s a set of principles which provide an alternative to the self perpetuating conflict which is normal to the world. A happy bi-product of all this hard work and concentration is a feeling of joy and companionship, and Paul has always been a larger than life presence in the centre of our fellowship.

To say he brought a special presence on the mat is an understatement. A friend, Andrew, describes him as using heterodox methods, and he was indeed unconventional in his approach to teaching, always questioning and seeking to improve and adapt the established methods, stripping them down, examining their parts and reconstructing them into something unique to him. He never taught so much as shared his ongoing understanding. He interest in judo, which he took up seriously when most men are retiring from the sport, brought a new element to our practice. He enthused about Backwell judo club, and kept his limbs in tact with growing lengths of blue of Velcro. Injuries to him, seemed to be being an enticement to practice harder. Sparring with an Olympic standard judo champion he once timed a throw so beautifully and unexpectedly that, much to Paul’s horror, poor Danny da Costa was temporarily concussed. His classes were like workshops and he once said that he learned more from beginners than from established teachers. He had time for everybody, and the attention he gave to everyone was undiluted and rewarding. It seems strange to me to be using these words in his eulogy, but now that I think about him I realize that he brought to our practice a vibrancy and immediacy we will all dearly miss. We’ll remember him wielding a wooden sword, gloves on, like a descending banshee. We’ll remember him locked in a struggle on the ground, face red with effort, talking through tactics with his opponent as if for all the world he were engaged in a game of chess. We’ll remember his sudden whoops of joy resounding around the dojo.

But it was with the young people that Paul’s influence will have such a long lasting effect. There must be more than a hundred children in Bath who, at some time in their life, will look back to their Aikido classes and remember the experience with affection. I’ve honestly lost count of the years I’ve witnessed Paul somehow orchestrate wild bands of children into meaningful, joyful and structured children’s classes. Discipline is a word with ambiguous connotations, but the kind of discipline on offer in Paul’s classes was sometimes fierce, always fair, and unfailingly backed up with a genuine and unsentimental compassion. Perhaps it’s because nothing like it is on offer at home or in school that the children took to it with such enthusiasm. I can still hear the ear ringing shout of combined ki ai which marked the end of the children’s class. Paul delighted in sharing jokes which normally entertain anyone below the age of six. He would say that it was the reason he ran the children’s class for all those years and that he was really, a child at heart. But the lasting consequences of his influence can make us all genuinely proud of him. Here is an e mail message written by a parent of a young person to Paul recently. I’m not sure whether he even saw it. I forwarded it to him as it arrived, days before his death.

Dear Paul,

Adam has just sent us a letter where he talks about you. it's clear that you have given him so much, and that he will really miss you.
As parents we'd like to thank you for all you've done for him, and by extension for all the young people who have come into your Dojo. The gifts you gave them - respect, discipline, self-assurance - are eternal.
If there is justice anywhere in existence, it's that the gifts people like you bring to the world last long after they leave it, and are never forgotten.

Many thanks, Branko and Mary Bufacchi

There are several goals we seek to achieve in our Aikido practice. Perhaps the most elusive and difficult one is training the mind to remain calm, no matter how disturbing or dramatic the situation, and to deal with every situation with equanimity as and when it occurs. It seems like only a short time ago that death tapped Paul on the shoulder. To me it seemed as if he didn’t break step. Many might have rushed off to seek refuge or have gone into denial, but whenever I saw him, Paul was calm, well informed about his situation and quietly determined to carry on with his active life until he could no longer do so. He did not participate in the tragedy of his situation, so keenly felt by his friends. Weeks before he died a group of Aikido friends went to visit him in his woods to pick blackberries. On that day he delighted in talking about forest husbandry, identifying mushrooms, exploring the woods with us and watching us split logs. He continued to come to aikido practice and work with the children until he could no longer trust his body and when it came time to say goodbye, he shook us by the hand as if he were off on a journey. He was composed and fully present. This last lesson shines like a diamond and, to me, is a sign of rare mastery.

At the end of this service, and with the permission of Paul’s family, some of his friends from the Aikido community, who wish to do so, would like to bow to Paul as his nephew’s carry his body past, outside this chapel. It might seem a bit incongruous to witness us perform an odd oriental gesture on an English autumn’s afternoon. But for us it symbolizes the deep respect and gratitude we have for Paul, it symbolizes the quality of the companionship we’ve shared with him. It is to say farewell and Godspeed.

Abridged by The BAB Webmaster.

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