After breaking too many bones (his own, not other people's) during his year on the 1972 University of Texas judo team, Fred Phillips wandered into Bill Lee and Jay Portnow's aikido group. Fred had read much of George Leonard's writing about aikido — without, he admits, believing most of it. But after a half hour in his first aikido class, he knew he was hooked for life.
Jay was a student of Kanai Sensei's, and Fred remembers his first test (for 5th kyu) during Kanai Sensei's visit to Austin as one of his young life's scariest moments. Shortly after, Jay left Austin, and Bill Lee worked hard and selflessly to train a small and difficult group (Wynne Lee, Steve McAdam, Armando Flores, Mark Roddy, Martha Smith, Wesley Tanaka, and Fred). Bill became the godfather of a flourishing aikido community in Austin, with (they believe) more practitioners per capita than any U.S. city outside the west coast and Hawaii.
Bill had affiliated with the Ki Society, and brought a number of sensei to Austin to give weekend seminars. These included Rod Kobayashi, Roy Suenaka, Jon Takagi, and Bill Sosa. If Fred ever writes a book on "most memorable moments in aikido," one chapter will tell about Koichi Tohei Sensei dancing with the bunnies when a Chicago Ki Society member took them to the Playboy Club.
When Fred won a graduate fellowship for research in Japan, he trained under Koichi Tohei Sensei at Ki Society HQ in Tokyo in 1975-76. Fred returned to Austin, trained there and in Aspen, Colorado with Kobayashi Sensei, and in 1977 was examined for shodan by Kobayashi Sensei.
Finishing graduate school, Fred moved to Chicago and commenced training in aikido and zen under Fumio Toyoda Sensei. The instruction was wonderful, and Fred advanced to nidan, but during Chicago's Great Blizzard of 1979, Fred and his wife decided to take a gamble on making a living back in Austin. Toyoda Sensei (now founding chief instructor of the Aikido Association of America) soon encouraged Fred to open a dojo in Austin, examined him for sandan rank, and began a series of very popular and successful seminar visits to Austin.
Fred helped several students advance to black belt rank, and feels greatly rewarded by his aikido teaching experience and his students' accounts of how his teaching has affected their lives. In 1989, Toyoda Sensei advanced Phillips Sensei to yondan, which Fred says he's still trying to live up to. Shihan Toyoda, meanwhile, worked hard to build the Aikido Association of America and re-affiliate it with the World Aikikai Honbu. Toyoda Sensei's successful efforts have ensured that his students' and their students' test requirements and ranks are recognized by this central world aikido organization.
In 1995, Fred moved to Portland, Oregon, and with Scott Prahl (another Texas-ex), founded the Oregon Graduate Institute Aikido Club. The OGI Aikido Club has become the Jinshinkan Dojo of the Aikido Association of America.
Fred's day job is as a professor and administrator at OGI. He has two daughters who only kibitz at aikido, but he says he wishes that they had gotten their black belts before starting to date.