People | PERSONALITY PROFILE

Roland Thompson

by Vivienne Kenrick

His happiest memory, Roland Thompson says, is of his training, and learning advanced techniques, in Soke Shioda’s black-belt aikido classes. His saddest memory is of the day Shioda died. He regards himself as “very fortunate to have been with him, and to have trained with him, during that last part of his life. He was one of the last true masters.”

Since life has given him many happy memories, to single out one period as having produced the best is an accolade to his teacher. Thompson came to Japan in 1987 to study the language, culture and martial arts of Japan. “Martial arts were part of my upbringing,” he said. “My father put me through judo.”

His father was an officer in the Australian Army, with postings that kept the family on the move. “We lived in Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore as well as different places around Australia,” Thompson said. “Malay was one of my first languages, which I spoke with my ‘amah.’ ” He had inbuilt equilibrium, which frequent changes of countries and school systems didn’t upset. “I am one of the odd few who enjoy studying and don’t mind taking examinations,” he said. He took his bachelor’s degree in real estate development and valuations from the University of Queensland.

Thompson’s curiosity in Japan began in his childhood, when his Malaysian amah used sometimes to speak some Japanese to him. His martial arts pointed him to Japan. At university he mingled with students who were majoring in the Japanese language. In Japan, Thompson at age 24 began studying at Yoshinkan Aikido, “the house for cultivating the spirit,” which the master Shioda established in 1956.

“This style of aikido is occasionally called the hard style because the training methods are a product of the grueling period Soke Shioda spent when he was a student of Morihei Ueshiba. It is the development and strengthening of the body and mind,” Thompson said. He emphasizes the self-defense values of martial arts, the skills that effect the management of dangerous situations, the controlling without harming. “It becomes a way of living, an expression of life,” he said. “If more people studied martial arts, it would be good for the world.”

Thompson proved himself equal to hard-style training, when he took a yearlong course in intensive aikido designed as a defense course for the Japanese police, both male and female. “You jump in with your boots,” he said. “The course is very demanding. In the school you are suddenly screamed at and ordered around. It’s very humbling.” He graduated from the 25th Tokyo Metropolitan Riot Police Course in 1989.

Thereafter he traveled through southern China, studying Chinese martial arts and teaching aikido. For five years, he worked as an instructor at the world headquarters, and gained his fourth-level black belt.

Three years ago he established his own Roppongi Yoshinkan Aikido Dojo, which he describes as small and personalized. He goes to its early morning classes regularly. “It is invigorating before you begin your day in the office,” he said.

Thompson married here, and has four children. “They make for a noisy house,” he said. He is representative director for Credit Suisse First Boston (Asia) Services Ltd., with responsibilities that cover South Korea as well as Japan. “I am Australian by heritage, and feel I have become very international,” he said. “Tokyo is a wonderful city, always fascinating, with many things that interest me.”

A volunteer, Thompson allied himself with the Foreign Community Supporting Committee of the Young Men’s Christian Association Japan. He said, “It is a wonderful organization, which provides a conduit to international businesses, embassies, social leaders, celebrities and the community at large, to make a difference and give something back to the community.” He is now a member of YMCA/FCSC operating committee.

Thompson explains that the function of the FCSC is to help YMCA Japan in its programs for mentally and physically challenged children, learning-disabled children and youth, and the needy and underprivileged. FCSC raises money by staging different events at different times throughout each year. In his volunteer work Thompson hopes to bring about stronger recognition by the community of the YMCA/FCSC. “I continue to enjoy volunteering and providing assistance,” he said. “I have learned that handicapped children often become the best teachers for their siblings and parents.”