William Smith was known to many Aikido students throughout the world as a generous teacher with a sincere sense of love for both his art and his students; many of whom became close personal friends and in this short article I will attempt to outline the main points of the life of this remarkable man, always known as Bill to family and friends.
He was born on the 1st July 1929, and always maintained his interest in all sports but particularly boxing, football and gymnastics and at age 18 was given life membership to the Birmingham Athletics Institute where he was a PTI.
By now he was settled into his career as a butcher and in 1951 he and Gladys married and started married life in rented rooms in Birch Coppice. Bill however was determined to build a home for his family and so began construction of the house known to so many Aikidoka in Birch Coppice, which was completed some seven years later.
Bill still retained his links with the BAI and this led to his interest in Aikido when in around 1961 or 2 he saw a demonstration there. He was immediately hooked and began training regularly, both at the BAI and the Niko Academy of Budo in Small Heath. This led to him starting his own class in West Heath at the Community Centre in Fairfax Road, which many Aikidoka will remember with affection.
In 1966 he met Kazuo Chiba who had been sent to Great Britain from Japan as head of the Aikikai of Great Britain and the two forged a deep friendship which continued until his death.
As a result of this Aikido relationship Bill became an important and influential figure in the Aikido world. In 1973 he was given the position of Head of National Coaches for the Aikikai of Great Britain (now the British Aikido Federation) a position he held until his resignation from the BAF in 1986; when he formed the United Kingdom Aikikai. This was followed by his appointment to the Superior Council of the International Aikido Federation in 1976, where he served three terms of office until 1988.
This was the year that saw the UKA gain recognition by the Hombu dojo in Japan, the first time a second Aikikai had been recognised in a member country as a result of both Bill and Chiba Sensei’s efforts.
In the following years his reputation grew both as an Aikido teacher and as an individual, gaining students and friends in places as diverse as America, Serbia, Australia, Hong Kong and Japan.
Bill was honoured by Birmingham City Council in 2001 for his contribution to Aikido and in 2002 was awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) by the British Monarch for his services to Aikido, the first person to be so honoured. This was followed by his appointment to Shihan in 2003; the pinnacle of his Aikido career.
Bill died on 24th August 2006 at the home he built looking out over his beloved garden surrounded by his family. He will be sorely missed by them and by the (literally thousands) people whose lives he touched. He leaves behind a wonderful legacy in the UKA and of course Ren Shin Kan.