John Sugumar Ratnam was born in 1955 to a family of three brothers and two sisters and after his education at St. Mary’s College, Bandarawela, stepped out into the world to make a living. A self-made person, Ratnam used to the full the many and varied talents he was blessed with. At different times he worked as a bill-board painter, choreographer, a stunt coordinator and an advertising company owner.
He received his first martial arts training in wrestling at the age of 12. He then began training in Karate in the 70’s and received his black belt (Shodan) in 1982. At about this time, he discovered a strong interest for Bruce Lee’s form of martial art, and began to learn Wing Tsun Kung Fu, for about a year. He then practiced Judo for a few months. Judo made him physically stronger. However, the gentleness of movement and the flow of inner power previously experienced through the Chi Sao technique of Kung Fu (the sticky hands), were missing. However the practice of Karate, Judo and Wing Tsun Kung Fu showed him a path towards his future martial fulfilment.
In 1980, when John had an opportunity to attend and watch an Aikido demonstration by Sakamoto Sensei, who was employed in Sri Lanka at that time and giving Aikido lessons for the Colombo Y.M.C.A, This demonstration was a revelation for John Sensei. It was first a first encounter with this form of martial art, and it represented exactly what he was looking for: grace and elegance, balance and coordination, beauty and smoothness. The techniques on display both charmed and struck him greatly. He experienced first glimpses of enlightenment. He began training at Aikido straight away with some of Sakamoto Sensei’s senior students, who were teaching at that time.
John recalls the initial training sessions, “I was very stiff at the beginning and I couldn’t perform such graceful Ukemi (an Art of falling forward) as fluidly as the other Aikido students did: I was trying very hard to copy their techniques but I felt that I always was losing my balance and was nearly hurting myself every time.”
The discovery of the book ‘Aikido in Daily Life’ by Koichi Thohei Sensei’s, changed his approach and attitude during training sessions, and eventually, towards his overall view of Aikido itself. “The book teaches you to relax completely, to keep one point, keep weight under the side, to practice and experience the power of the so called “un-bendable arm”, and extend your Ki” says John. “The book made me re-think my approach and attitude towards every moments of my life; I naturally began to apply the teachings and principles during my every day life. I found that everything clicked into place. I felt and discovered that every moment and situation in life was a gift; I began to experience more enjoyment in my life. I awakened to the reality that my whole life is a beautiful gift; my mental, physical and spiritual actions and attitudes changed as a result of my regular practice of Aikido”.
For the next decade, John strived himself to improve and refine his Aikido knowledge, and started teaching the basic techniques and principles to beginners at Y.M.C.A.1983. During this time, John also broadened his contacts within the Aikido family through the opportunity to meet with some Senseis from Australia and France, who were visiting Sri-Lanka and lodged at the Colombo Y.M.C.A.
In 1994 in England, UK, John received his Shodan from Chris Moslin Sensei, 6th Dan and founder of the Essex Budo Kan (Yoshinkan style). John credits Chris Moslin Sensei as the principal instigator behind his decision, not only to further his own skill in Aikido, but also to develop and promote Aikido as a way of life in Sri Lanka, and later on, in Dubai, UAE. With the permission and blessing of Chris Moslin Sensei, John opened up his dojo in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 1995. The same year, John also started an Aikido Club at the Dubai Karate Centre, Dubai, UAE. “At the beginning it was rather difficult for me to present and explain Aikido to local residents, especially the Japanese tradition of sitting in seiza position, bowing to the Kamiza and bowing to each other (the Japanese form of greeting and respect); with time, and through a growing interest for this Art, they began to understand the meaning of “Ai-ki”, the harmonisation of vital energies, and the purpose and the effects of Aikido training in their lives; many are now continuously taking part in the training, and not only at the dojo; but every day and every where else. Ultimately, they are practicing Aikido during their daily lives.”
In 1997, John left for Japan to further his training at the Aikikai Aikido World Headquarters in Hombu. John felt very fortunate to be able to receive Aikido teachings directly from the Source, from the great Hombu Shihans, and in particular from Moriteru Ueishiba Doshu, the Grand Son of O’Sensei himself, in daily classes. He also received training from Tatsuka Sugawara Sensei in Machida Tokyo at Sugawara Martial Arts Institute, and from Takano Shihan Azabu Dojo in Tokyo, before leaving Tokyo in 1998.
Since then, John strived himself to promote Aikido at his dojos in Dubai and Colombo, before finally settling in Dubai and fully concentrate on the establishment of Dubai Aikido Club (now known as Zanshinkan dojo). Besides training students at the Club, John also trained some officers of the Dubai Police Academy to the art of self-defence.
As John delved deeper into Aikido and continued to search for its Ki element, he was introduced to the late Fumio Toyoda Shihan, from whom he gleaned its valuable secrets. Through a relationship built on mutual trust with Toyoda Shihan, Aikido Club Dubai became officially affiliated with the Aikido Association International (under the Aikikai Hombu Dojo). After Toyoda Shihan’s passing-away in July 2001, the relationship continued with Andrew Sato Shihandai, who graded John Sensei for Shodan in Sofia, Bulgaria in 2002.
A member of the All Japan Kendo Federation, John Sensei also masters the art of Kendo, the live sword art of Iaido, Jodo, Bokken, Hambu Jutsu and the Pilipino fighting art of Escrima. John Sensei continuously trains and teaches a number of those Martial Art forms, as they each form roots or foundation to what Aikido has become. Those forms of Martial Art teach timely motion, concentration, abilities to focus, patience, awareness, integrity, rigour and humility, which form the grounds of Aikido.
To date, John holds the rank of 4th Dan from Aikikai and Hombu dojo, 4th Dan from A.A.I.. He also recently received his 2nd Dan from the Budo Fraternity, U.K. He hopes to continue his 28 years of learning and sharing the art of Aikido with the members of the Aikido family in Dubai and Sri Lanka, and to further spread Aikido (the art of peace) as a practical, realistic and effective Martial Art, and as a path to a joyful and harmonious life. A life we all want.
The Japanese martial art of Aikido is a comprehensive system of throwing, joint-locking, striking and pinning techniques, coupled with training in traditional Japanese weapons such as the sword, staff and knife. Founded by Morihei Ueshiba early in the twentieth century following his own extensive study of various armed and unarmed martial systems, Aikido represents a potent distillation of centuries of Japanese martial knowledge. It is one of the most widely practiced budo, or martial way, in the world. However, Ueshiba (commonly called O-Sensei, or “venerable teacher”) was determined that his Aikido be practiced as more than simply a method of fighting. The Japanese martial arts, influenced by the internal and meditative disciplines inherited from India and China, have often carried with them an emphasis on the development of internal, as well as physical, integrity. Wielding the life-taking sword with compassion and insight, the ideal warrior in Japanese thought is more than a simple killing machine; he is a model of uprightness, courage and loyalty, gladly sacrificing life (but never honor) in the name of principle and duty. Steeped in these traditions, O-Sensei conceived of Aikido as not only a means of vanquishing a foe, but as a means of promoting the positive character of the ideal warrior and ultimately of transcending dualistic conflict. For O-Sensei, Aikido was a path of self-development. He believed that it could be a means for anyone, of any nation, to follow the same path. Aikido is shugyo: an intense physical and spiritual training to perfect human character and develop true wisdom.