Angry White Pyjamas: An Oxford Poet Trains with the Tokyo Riot Police

By Robert Twigger

Angry White Pyjamas cover

Phoenix Publications, 1999, 320 pages. Hardback £7.99. ISBN: 9780753808580

Review by William Farr

This is a fascinating account of a year on the Aikido Yoshinkan Senshusei course, mostly populated by Kidotai – riot police. Each member of the riot police must be a minimum black belt in another martial art before embarking on the year of training that will take them from white belt to black belt and beyond in Aikido.

For those who have ever made a living as an English language teacher in Japan, the early chapters in this book ring true. The packed out apartment full of people sharing, the general lack of fitness, and a growing ability to be able to converse in Japanese are some of the problems faced by the group that populate the cramped city apartment.

The whole story begins with Twigger watching as a truck driver with a punch perm makes another driver perform a full Emperor bow after a near collision on the road. This provokes Twigger to wonder what he would do if ever faced with a situation where he could potentially be hurt or have to fight. Various conversations ensue about how to tackle this issue, and eventually the housemates – all three of them, decide to sign on to do Yoshinkan Aikido. After regular training Twigger decides that immersion is the only way to truly tackle the martial art, and so signs on to do the Senshusei course. Two of his friends decide to take the regular route black belt with two sessions a day. The course means about four or five classes a day every day. This is “ganbatte” in the extreme. A year of daily throwing, callous growing, and all round pain plays out. Hajime classes require the continuous repetition of a particular move, for up to an hour, often resulting in people either passing out in the hot summer, or throwing up.

At one point it looks at though an injury could get Twigger thrown off the course, but the death of the head of the Aikido school means a week with no training. An extremely interesting funeral follows where different factions of the school jostle for position as to who will be the head of the school in the future.

At the end of the story, Twigger takes the black belt test, passes, and then also goes on to take the teacher’s test – enabling him to tutor other individuals. The new head of the order comments on the fact that his body shape and size is good for Aikido – short legs with a long body.
The whole book is extremely well written and for anyone who has ever thought of doing or does a martial art, this is a must-read which gives good insight into the world of the martial arts, and the ultra-conservative traditionalist streak present in Japan. This is a humorous and well-observed commentary.

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