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you know not if flames bring freedom or death
Cyprian Norwid, Polish poet
What had the Caesars but their thrones?
W B Yeats, Demon and Beast
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom
W H Auden, In Memory of W B Yeats
I believe in the freedom song
I'll choose my own destiny
Thin Lizzy, Freedom Song
We learn history not in order to know how to behave or how to succeed, but to know who we are.
Leszek Kołakowski, Polish philosopher
I think we practice to achieve dynamic movement and a freedom that lies within that movement.
Seishiro Endo Sensei, aikido teacher
The Arab Spring has turned into summer and autumn and winter. Throughout history leaders blinded by hubris have underestimated the groundswell of the desire for freedom.
In the 1980s the fall of communism was also called the Autumn of Nations. Some of the first rumblings began in Poland. The trade union Solidarity sparked a broad-based movement for social change. It's Polish name Solidarność was written in dripping red letters. In 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the USSR and advocated a new mood of perestroika, economic restructuring and glasnost, openness. The eventual result was the fall of communism.
The quotation in the first epigraph at the top of this article is from a poem by Cyprian Norwid. The poem is inscribed on a wall in the movie Ashes and Diamonds. It's directed by Andrzej Wajda, from a novel by Jerzy Andrzejewski. It is one of the great European films of the twentieth century. It's set in Poland after the end of World War II. The resistance movement against the Nazis develops into a resistance movement against communism. But resistance against an oppressor does not justify betraying your own humanity.
I went to Moscow in the early eighties. In my carry-on baggage I had a book about aikido and the mystery novel Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith about a Moscow detective. Both books were confiscated by customs officers. When I left the USSR a few days later the aikido book was returned to me. I never got Gorky Park back.
Later I discussed this with a friend in Japan. He had studied martial arts for many years and he was familiar with Eastern Europe. He told me they would never allow aikido in the Eastern Bloc. Not because it was possible to use aikido for unarmed combat. Judo and other martial arts already existed. But because aikido represented freedom. Aikido was freedom.
Seishiro Endo Sensei's words about freedom were in a recent thread. Through continuous rigorous - and unfree - practice finally you can reach freedom. That is still at a technical level. Beyond that there is real freedom.
And I'd like to think that somewhere in Moscow on a retired customs officer's bookshelf there is an old copy of Gorky Park.