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At the rate I'm going (still bogged down by jetlag, I might add): the next journal entry of TAB will come out shortly after I finish it, in book form, and right before aiki-extensions puts out their own online version (which I'm told will be happening soon). And so, I'll just forge on ahead, in a piecemeal format. No time like the present, after all (note: picture links included, with text below, noted by an *).
The TAB Project itself was the result of many collaborators, working at different ends of the spectrum. From beginning to end, many hands went into the planning and execution of TAB, on different levels. For instance, Horoshi Ikeda Sensei contributed to the calligraphy for the shomen (when there was concern about the Islamic proscription about bowing to images), and he also held a benefit seminar. One Sensei wanted to take part in the Seminar and even was one of the five featured Sensei's, but he had to bow out when he learned that his foreign citizenship might get him into legal problems, in training with Aikidoists from a hostile nation.
I came onboard about a year ago, after I had searched the internet and interested Aikido Sensei's for an Iraqi-American Aikido Friendship Seminar. Three years' ago on aikidojournal, I made the acquaintance of Ala'a Hijazi, from Jordan. We both agreed what a great idea it would be to establish an Iraqi-Jordanian-American AIkido Seminar, possibly taking place in Amman, Jordan. Timewise, this was shortly before the US invasion (around November 2001).
Events in Iraq escalated to a point that made such a seminar impractical. Still, Ala'a and I kept our dream alive, even as we mostly lost touch. I wrote to several American Sensei's pitching the idea, and finally Paul Linden pointed me in the direction of aiki-extensions, and Don Levine (at one point, Don offhandedly mentioned that without the internet, Aiki-extensions would not exist).
When I spoke to Don, we made an immediate connection. He and aiki-extensions were working on a similar idea, and Jamie Zimron was also working on supporting the growth of a cooperative Palestinian-Israeli Aikido effort. We started work on an Israeli-Palestinian meeting in Istanbul at a Seminar already established by Ayhan Kaya's dojo, with Sensei David Goldberg (I wrote an article about the Seminar in the August '04 issue of Aikido Today Magazine).
Sadly, the meeting never took place. An internet exchange based on an announcement of the event put pressure on the Palestinian's to withdraw their support, and the whole effort fell through, even as the regular seminar continued, independently of aiki-extensions. I went to Istanbul more out of a symbolic effort and to find Cyprian contacts (in preparation for next years' effort), than anything else. I also attempted to organize a gi-drive to send a "gi-packet" to Palestinian's, but this also failed when the new do-gi's I brought were somehow switched for a set of worn, undersize gi's (I am still puzzling over that one).
Fall down, get up...fall down...
Successful results feed off the failures of the past. This project was no exception. Even tho I returned from Istanbul empty-handed, the effort was not in vain. It was later decided to include more countries in the international seminar than Israel and Palestine. In fact, Don tells me that were it not for the failure of the Istanbul Seminar, the TAB Seminar would not have happened. The effort would have channelled into further Palestinian-Israeli meetings, with less inclusion of other groups. Lemons, into lemonade. The growth of the Seminar planning took an "organic" aspect, in how it progressed. We learned from our mistakes and took strength from them.
A former British colony, Cyprus received independence in 1960 following years of resistance to British rule. Tensions between the Greek Cypriot majority and Turkish Cypriot minority came to a head in December 1963, when violence broke out in the capital of Nicosia. Despite the deployment of UN peacekeepers in 1964, sporadic intercommunal violence continued forcing most Turkish Cypriots into enclaves throughout the island. In 1974, a Greek-sponsored attempt to seize the government was met by military intervention from Turkey, which soon controlled more than a third of the island. In 1983, the Turkish-held area declared itself the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus," but it is recognized only by Turkey. The latest two-year round of UN-brokered direct talks - between the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities to reach an agreement to reunite the divided island - ended when the Greek Cypriots rejected the UN settlement plan in an April 2004 referendum.
Why Cyprus? In many ways, Cyprus was the perfect spot for the first TAB Seminar. Cyprus has a politically contested "buffer" zone maintained by the UN, yet there has been a ceasefire maintained for years. The weather perfect (if a little hot), the island has been host to thousands of years of empires and culture, and Aikido is still very new, there. The Cyprian's themselves are sensitive in referring to the northern region as anything other than the "occupied zone." The standard of living is quite high (The Cypriot pound was equivalent to 2.2 US dollars).
While Cyprus boasts a rich history, playing host to a series of empires and civilizations that go back tens of thousands of years: its recent history is still quite arresting (no pun intended...OK, maybe a little). The first President, Makarios III*, also held the title of Archbishop of Cyprus, the only person to hold both titles. He played a pivotal role in liberating Cyprus from the British.* The current occupation of Cyprus partly stems from the Greek military junta's attempt to depose him in 1974 (a brief personal footnote: my Greek stepfather was visiting Greece at the time and was in danger of being drafted by the military to go fight in Cyprus).
It is interesting how the Cyprian's feel in regards to the Occupied Zone. I later discovered that the Cyprian's do not consider Cyprus to have any borders, only an occupied zone. When we went through the checkpoints to dine at the Turkish restaurant on Friday night, the Cyprian's did not come along. Many Cyprian's simply refuse to go through the Turkish checkpoints. If you ask a Cyprian whether they are from North or South Cyprus, they will inevitably answer that there IS only one Cyprus: no "North" or "South." Philip asked Herodotus (our local contact) to elaborate on this point as we drove to the airport: what do Cyprian's call the "northern" region? "Ah, that is the 'Occupied Area,' said Herodotus. He did not join us for dinner either, that Friday, as he finds the idea of having to cross through foreign military checkpoints in his own country unpalatable.
Which brings me to the choice of venue within Nicosia, itself. We could well have had the whole Seminar within the Holiday Inn near the Buffer Zone, but Philip (the TAB Manager) cleverly chose to spread the Seminar over three areas (actually, it later became four, if you count the park where we had the Beginner's Classes). If you look at the site map,* you can see that the route from the hotels to the dojo is bisected by a huge wall that runs around the whole of Nicosia (the wall itself is very interesting and plays a key role in the T-shirt design, which has a story all its own. But that's for next time, maybe). To get from the hotel to the dojo, you had to walk around the length of the wall until you found a road-opening.
The building that became our dojo has an interesting history of its own. Known as the American Center,* the building, currently owned by the Fulbright Center (and graciously lent to Aiki-Extensions), used to be owned by the UN until about five years' ago. It was clearly built to withstand a military assault: the windows had heavy, barred slats on the windows and it was practically impossible to scale it from the outside. When the dojo was closed for the evening: it was locked down! It had two stories, with a huge meeting room* on the ground floor. For a dojo, it was perfect.
The other spot was actually in the Buffer Zone in the Fulbright Center,* right next to the Ledra Palace, which housed the UN (wish I had pic's, but pic's were verboten). Philip wanted the participants to get the feel of going through military checkpoints as part of the experience of training here. I thought of this spot more as a "dojo auxillary," than anything else. We had a few workshops here and in the Ledra Palace, but the main keiko took place in the American Center.
On the last day, we practiced and had demo's by the various Sensei's in the Holiday Inn.* Why the Holiday Inn? The actual floor-space was larger than in the American Center, and we needed to not be so cramped, as we had to do several activities (meet in small groups, etc., which I shall go into detail in a later entry). Also, Philip wanted us to carry the mats back to the dojo in a sort of "ant chain," attracting public attention to TAB (as, Sunday is a busy day in Nicosia, with many people outside enjoying the day off), and also participating in a group work-activity. This was only partly successful, as most of us did not understand that we were to stay together, as we carried the mats back.
Next entry, I will talk about the TAB Program, which bedeviled the organizers no end (literally finishing it minutes after we all met, for the first time).