Senior Instructors

We are extremely lucky to have a wealth of senior Aikido instructors resident in Victoria, many of whom also train and attend events as students themselves. Click on a profile to learn more about their history and where they usually teach.

Sugano Foundation Trustee
Technical and Teaching Committee Member

Technical and Teaching Committee Member

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Robert Botterill Shihan began training in 1965, at the age of 18. It was one of several martial arts that he was studying, all with different characters and styles. After about 10 years, he gave them all up, except Aikido, because, as he said, “it’s me”.

He has described Aikido as an ultimate martial art, “because you have to accept both authority from above, and responsibility for juniors.”

“So that changed all of my life because that meant I changed how I talked to people, how I did business…(I became) less competitive with other people, more cooperative with other needs and people…”

His memories of Sugano Sensei include Sensei demonstrating suwari waza, with an effortless and natural power. This was very different to the Karate spirit that Botterill Shihan had studied in earlier years, which focused on power and aggression. From Sugano Sensei, he gained a sense of the meaning of cooperation.

Botterill Shihan became one of the first three Australian Shihans in 2008 and was awarded the rank of 7th Dan in 2011. With this position in the organization, he now thinks in a global sense, focused on the direction that international aikido will take in the future.

Botterill Shihan teaches regularly at Clifton Hill and Glen Waverley dojos.

Watch a demonstration by Robert Botterill Shihan here!

John Watson Shihan teaches regularly at Caulfield, Clifton Hill and Special Days of training.

Dave Brown Shihan began his Aikido training in 1965.

Brown Shihan teaches regularly at Clifton Hill, Christmas Hills and Special Days of training.

John Rockstrom Shihan began training in Judo at the age of 14, and by age 16 he was in Japan studying Judo, Kendo and traditional jiu jutsu full time. He also spent a period studying Korean Judo, training with their Olympic team.

He began his study of Aikido with Sugano Sensei in 1970 and after a period of a few years devoted his whole time to Aikido, forgoing the other forms previously trained. Aikido has remained his first love and interest to today, but along the way he found time to study Muso Shinden Ryu iaido for a number of years and Wing Chun Kung Fu. As an adjunct to the martial studies and to better understand Japanese philosophy and ways he spent over 10 years practising Urasenke chanoyu, tea ceremony. John Sensei freely admits he understands very little of any of these forms but firmly remains an active student of martial studies, with a major in Aikido.

Rockstrom Shihan regularly teaches at Mornington and at Special Days of training.

Ray Oldman Shihan (Nanadan) started his Aikido training in 1972.

After 52 years of continuous training, Oldman Shihan achieved the rank of 7th Dan in January 2024. “Uncle Ray Sensei”, as he’s better known, serves as an inspiration to us all. He teaches regularly at Clifton Hill dojo, and is present at most Special Days and TTC weekends in Victoria. He has been the backbone of National Summer Schools always. He is an exemplary student, and we are thrilled to see him receive this well-deserved promotion.

He believes Aikido has changed his life: ‘Well, in relation to people, it’s made me accept the differences in people more. You know someone about your size might have made comment about we’re eccentric, but I don’t see it as eccentric, we’re just different. Really, everybody comes from different lifestyles, workplaces, some with long hair, straggly beards, and I used to have the idea that people who didn’t conform were a bit different and to be wary of them, but I have become more aware, that I’m more liberal — what would be the right word? — I accept them for what they are and not what they look like.’

Oldman Sensei was particularly impressed by Sugano Sensei during his early
training: ‘The 1st year that I was training, I used to go to Monash, and he came down for a weekend. I believe that the technique was Ikkyo but I finished up with bruises all along both wrists because obviously I was doing it incorrectly. But he used to join in with bokken work and we were doing a routine once where I had to cut, take the head off and turn, but when I turned he was already waiting and came towards me, and I felt it. Physically I felt it, and I was very impressed. That was in the first 12 months of training. It was a wonderful feeling.’

At this stage of his aikido journey: ‘Well, I think at my age I’m just glad to be on the mat. How many other martial arts have people in their 80’s still training? I love to help students, especially junior instructors and students. I focus on getting them to leave their muscles on the dining table’.

Uncle Ray Sensei does not see himself as remarkable or deserving of any of his
promotions. He says he cannot see what others see in him, which speaks volumes about his natural humility. Regardless, his classes are inspiring in how effortless he makes aikido feel, and how he joyfully trains with anyone. When he picks up a jo, he is magic in motion.

Oldman Sensei teaches regularly at Clifton Hill and Special Days of training.

Felicia Birman Sensei began Aikido in 1974. For her, it has been the longest thing that she has done continuously in life, so it has formed a constant that she cannot imagine living without. “It’s just been something that I’ve always wanted to learn more about, and it’s taught me a lot about myself I guess, and other people…”

“Perhaps it’s mellowed me a little bit, made me more responsive to people… I mean, it’s a journey.”

She feels very strongly the privilege that is afforded to Australian Aikido to have Sugano Sensei as our Shihan. She describes him as a kind and decent human being, and recalls his words when asked what the most important thing that a teacher can do for his students – “to be kind to them”.

“He’s a terrific teacher and a terrific inspiration, but he’s also a really kind human being… and he’s always been somebody that is not showy. He’s just normal, natural… he’s a good man, and I think we’re very honoured to have him as our Sensei.”

Birman Sensei was awarded her 6th Dan in 2008. Felicia looks forward to the ongoing challenge of applying Aikido to everyday life where personalities and egos get in the way. For the future of Aiki Kai, she hopes that more younger people become part of the organisation, as she sees it as becoming older at the moment. She wished that Sensei could be around for ever, “because I can’t imagine Aiki Kai without him.”

Birman Sensei teaches at Special Days of training and is a regular student at Clifton Hill dojo.

Geoff Savage Sensei began his aikido training in 1976.

He has said that Aikido has had a profound effect on his life because “I think with Aikido, you realise it is something you can do for the rest of your life. In Australia when you’re thinking about sports you sort of think about young people who give the game away… but with Aikido you just continue to develop throughout your life, and there’s that much more to understand. I think O-Sensei was quite correct when he said he was just a 1st year student in Aikido… because it has many mountains to climb and many hill tops.”

Among his more than 30 years of impressions of Sugano Shihan: “It’s his presence. When he’s around there’s more direction, there’s more focus… it’s more of an overwhelming thing that’s there. Otherwise there’s Aikido, but when he’s around you really are more focused and you really try and be attentive and listen to what he’s got to say because he’s got such knowledge… and we were so lucky having a person like him that we can follow.”

And on Aikido’s future: “I do get a kick out watching other people develop… to see the young people come through and see their progress. I mean, I realise I’m still developing myself.”

Geoff Savage Sensei teaches regularly at Clifton Hill and Special Days of training.

From an early age, Alfred Camilleri Sensei had a great interest in many sports, particularly rowing, ashram yoga (which he practiced for many years) and running. He was even trained by an Olympic coach at Melbourne University. He gave up all these sports when he started aikido, realising that he felt more energised after training, compared to being tired after running 10 miles.

His first introduction to aikido was a very thick book by Saito Sensei on weapon techniques, but a further ten years went by before he started aikido.

One of Camilleri Sensei’s first experiences with aikido was being taken by a friend to a demonstration by David Brown Shihan of shiho nage. Despite reservations, they joined in. His friend left a few weeks later, but Camilleri Sensei stayed on, encouraged by this noble way of exercise that, in many ways, reminded him of dynamic yoga.

He trained with Sugano Sensei for many years, and was fortunate that his early teachers, Tony Smibert Shihan, Robert Botterill Shihan, and David Brown Shihan all were among Sugano Sensei’s first students. His impression of Sugano Sensei was that he knew many yoga techniques, especially mudras. He also taught a breathing technique called pranayama in yoga practice.

Camilleri Sensei says: “I believe that aikido transforms the personality of the practitioner. Much of aikido’s teachings translate well into daily life, such as in how we navigate interactions and win arguments with others, and in how to improve self-confidence.

This leads to the important topic of Irimi and Ura. Irimi resonates to showing our abilities to our colleagues whist Ura is our private domain, the way we mentally assimilate all we learn.”

Camilleri Sensei believes that instructor demonstrates by example, and the student must absorb and convert what has been seen into their own body movements. He sees the greatest difficulty that new students can face is mental control; not realising that all the student observes mentally is a mirror image of what is perceived, that is, a lateral inversion. Once this limitation is overcome, the student will evolve by frequent and repetitive practice.

Camilleri Sensei was taught many times by the first Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba, when he visited Australia. He also attended many national schools and was awarded all of gradings by Sugano Sensei, including his sandan. (See Editor’s Note below)

Sugano Sensei inspired Alfred Sensei the most through the seemingly effortless way he carried out kokyu nage techniques. This showed him the true power of ki.

While teaching – in the same way as O Sensei would teach his own students – Camilleri Sensei would remind his own students to extend their fingers and “send their ki around the world”. Sugano Sensei would effortlessly throw someone across the dojo or simply flatten a student with the surprisingly smallest kokyu.

He takes a great interest in training and developing young students. He loves to hold special classes to ensure their success in gradings.

He believes without a doubt that aikido has changed his life. Of all the martial arts he researched, aikido was his choice because it is a complete budo – developing the mind and the body. “With aikido, we do not rely on muscle strength, push-ups, or military discipline.” Despite the strong Japanese samurai tradition, Camilleri Sensei considers aikido as a martial art relevant and best suited to the Australian temperament.

He was also Aiki Kai Australia’s national treasurer and accountant for over thirty years.

Camilleri Sensei teaches regularly at Clifton Hill dojo and at Special Days of training.

Editor’s Note: At the time, dan gradings in Aiki Kai Australia were only conducted up to the rank of sandan (3rd level). Ranks beyond sandan were awarded. Aiki Kai Australia now conducts gradings up to the rank of yondan (4th) and admits students to the rank of godan (5th) and higher.

Linda Sensei started training in Tomiki aikido by doing a beginner/self defence course, which was recommended by her chiropractor. At the time, she knew nothing of different aikido styles and chose based on geographic proximity to home. She continues to train because of the endless learning it affords. She finds the movement and focus leaves her feeling very calm and fulfilled. She says, it does not seem to matter how she starts a class but at the end of it, she feels so much better than when she started.

She has always been fascinated by the movement. Taking good ukemi is a wondrous effortless feeling. She likes not using strength and avoiding conflict. The movement is captivating and downright addictive. She did judo for six years as a teenager and left primarily because she was not interested in competition.

There were several male seniors that were very significant for her. The transition from Tomiki aikido was greatly helped by Matthew Bretherton who helped her to see that, at the end of the day, it was all aikido as in they all have the same goal at heart. He was also incredibly supportive in her rehabilitation from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), enabling her to return to aikido in the way that was best for her. Matthew encouraged her to attend national schools to train with (Sugano) Sensei. She did not understand what that meant until her first school, where once she saw (Sugano) Sensei, she understood that she was seeing something amazing in him offering to have so many people following him for so long. Many of those students are now the seniors of the organisation, notably our Trustees.

She considers herself blessed to be able to regularly train with Robert Botterill Shihan and the students who follow him. He continues to be the greatest influence in her regular training. His technical precision and depth is extraordinary and there is such joy in his classes.

Linda Sensei’s first national school introduced her to the ‘Canberra ladies’ especially Ruth Treyde Sensei, who looked after her, and over time turned into one of those life long friendships that makes it a pleasure to reconnect with at every school. She was able to ask Ruth Sensei questions from a woman’s physical perspective, which empowered her to adapt her aikido to what was suitable for her physicality as opposed to anyone else’s.

Leading and participating in the ‘Journey of Women in Aikido’ at the Aiki Kai Australia 50th Anniversary and being asked to host a similar forum at the 2016 International Aikido Federation (IAF), and to create our ‘In Conversation with Aikido Women’ book has again influenced her direction in aikido. The senior women from Australia and the rest of the world have much in common. We had all struggled with junior men resisting and correcting our aikido. What was of more interest was that this was first time that the predominantly male audience learnt this locally and internationally.

She continues to be excited to be part of an organisation that is actively embracing the ongoing conversation. Victoria has significantly improved female participation as students and instructors. “To attract women, you have to have women.” In Victorian dojos, the conversations around ‘inappropriate’ behaviours are now mostly in the open.

Her role as State Area Representative of Victoria occupies much of her time, most which is not visible to other students. She says she is fortunate to have the support of so many instructors and students, without which we would not be able to operate so many dojos, let alone be usual host state of the National Summer School.

Godfrey Sensei regularly teaches at Glen Waverley Dojo and at special days of training.

Brian Johns Sensei commenced training Aikido in 1976 in Darwin under Richard Barnes Sensei.

He developed an interest in aikido after having discovered yoga and, having learnt that there was a class in Darwin, he went along to watch. He became very interested in the movements and enrolled as a student. He was graded to 5th Kyu in 1977.

He then spent all of 1978 back-packing in Asia, and during 1979 and into 1980 lived in Byron Bay, NSW, where there was no aikido. He did, however, find the Singapore aikido dojo during his travels, and stayed there for 2 months training every day, and learnt a lot from Harry Ng, chief instructor.

Later in the year, he visited Tokyo and enrolled at Hombu dojo, and trained for a few weeks. He went up to Iwama, mainly just to have a look at the training there. He ended up staying just over 3 months. He trained every day and sometimes twice a day. Saito Sensei’s instruction was very clear and he learnt a lot including the importance of jo and bokken training.

Johns Sensei returned to Darwin in 1980 and recommenced training with Richard Barnes Sensei, and in 1984 was graded to Shodan by Sugano Sensei.

Since then, Johns Sensei has attended just about every Summer School and some Winter Schools training under Sugano Sensei and other senseis he invited to Australia including Osawa Sensei, Yamada Sensei, Doshu, as well as senior Australian senseis.

Sugano Shihan has been the major influence on Brian, and as an instructor, Johns Sensei aims to pass on his teaching.

Johns Sensei regularly teaches at St Albans and at Special Days of training.

In Leon Sensei’s view, Aikido can offer to any practitioner discipline, mental and physical training, and long lasting friendships.

He first saw a demonstration of Tomiki style Aikido, in 1973 during year 12 of high school. Straight away, he felt interested in the art, and started training then.

He then went to Monash University. The university had an Aikido Club. Tony Smibert was teaching as a Shodan back then in 1974. Leon sensei trained actively for 1.5 years, sometimes under Sugano Sensei “without appreciating who he (Sugano) really was”.

He came back to aikido in 1978, when he started training at Melbourne University under Mike Bennetts, who was a big influence in Leon Sensei’s training and his view of Aikido. He trained 6 to 7 days a week until he reached 1st kyu.

Leon sensei then went travelling for 2 years. He then came back to Australia in the mid-80s.

In 1987, Leon Sensei went for his Shodan grading. In his words, it was one of his biggest life experiences because he failed it. The feedback he got was “the grading was ok, but you could have done better”. In Sensei’s words: “It was a hard lesson but a great lesson… in all situations in life if you are going to do stuff do it as well as you can… be as good as you can be”.

After 6 months of focused training, Leon Sensei, took his Shodan test for a second time. Again, in his words: “it was over within 5 minutes”. Leon Sensei started teaching after receiving his Shodan.

Leon Sensei sees Aikido as a way to be a better person, to observe and work with others to achieve personal improvement. There is no competitive aspect, instead, you are developing the individual relative to the individual, not in comparison to others.

Leon Sensei has been part of the National Committee as Treasurer and Registrar, and also is on the State Representative Committee of Victoria. He teaches at special events.

Peter Morgenroth Sensei began studying martial arts in 1954. In the late 1960s, he first met and studied Aikido (Yoshinkan) as an employment requirement. He migrated to Australia and, in 1980, met Sugano Shihan and studied with him until his death in 2010.

Over the past thirty five years, he has also studied Aikido in Hawaii with Aoyagi Hiroshi Sensei, regrettably briefly with Ishida Takaji Sensei, and attended seminars by various Aikido notables both in Australia and overseas. Those include the nidai Doshu (Ueshiba Kisshomaru), the sandai (current) Doshu (Ueshiba Moriteru), Shihans Kanai Mitsunari, Matsuda Seijuro, Osawa Kisaburo, Saito Morihero, Sugunuma Morito, Tamura Nobuyoshi, Tohei Aikira, Yamada Yoshimitsu, and Senseis Shimokawa Yukio (Wesley), Thomas Ishihara, Richard Hirao, and received instruction from many others including Australian practitioners among whom are Michael Bennetts, Barry Knight, Shihans Robert Botterill, Tony Smibert and, notably, David Brown Shihan who was his day-to-day teacher for many years.

He started RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) Aikido in 1981 and taught there until 1997. He established Kahama Dojo in the late 1980s.

In 1990, he wrote a book entitled Posture and Power in the Martial Arts – an exposition of body mechanics, force generation, and associated topics. At the time of this writing, his primary focus of interest in Aikido is upon the interaction of physiology and body mechanics in Aikido technique, and upon economy of movement (now ‘forced’ upon him by age – old man’s Aikido). He developed multiple-day seminars on these topics and delivered them in Australia and overseas to Aikido and other martial arts organizations.

He was admitted to rokudan at the Kagami Biraki (New Year) ceremony in 2015. His primary teaching focus is upon helping new and junior students to establish appropriate habits of movement and posture.

Morgenroth Sensei regularly teaches at Bon Beach.

James Waller Sensei first discovered Aikido in 1979 after a poster caught his eye with the words, ‘Japanese martial art with harmony’ at the Preston Institute of Technology. He remembers the classes were instructed by a very young “Uncle Ray Sensei” at the time. James Sensei started to attend classes regularly run by mainly Tony Shihan at Caufield Dojo and graded to Shodan in 1983.

During the time that Doshu came to demonstrate at the Art Center in the early 1980’s, James Sensei was inspired by Suganuma Sensei who took the ukemi for Doshu. He decided to quit his job and go to Japan to learn from Suganuma sensei directly in Fukuoka city, Kyushu prefecture.

Going to Fukuoka at a young age, without any Japanese language skills, no job, no place to live and not much money, James Sensei learnt important life lessons and believes that ‘Aikido is the way to understand life, if you are having trouble in your life’. He originally planned to train in Japan for 6 months but ended up staying for 3 years. He remembers that Suganuma sensei always said, “The most important thing is to continue”, so he did.

He was graded to 2nd dan by Sugano sensei and also started teaching classes in Fukuoka.

After coming back to Melbourne in 1988, he started actively teaching at YMCA, RMIT, Caufield and Melbourne Uni. His focus during his class is teaching flexible Ukemi, precision of techniques and flowing form.

Waller Sensei regularly teaches at Glen Waverley dojo, occasionally at Caulfield dojo, and at special days of training.