I tend to put things off a lot. Writing this column, for instance. Or, writing any column here on AikiWeb in any shape or form, since this will be my first one; on this 20th anniversary of AikiWeb, I thought I'd just take a bit of time to reflect upon these two decades to share some of my behind-the-scenes perspectives and experiences running the site.
AikiWeb came to being in August, 1997 on a Pentium Pro 200 machine running FreeBSD, placed on the company network where I worked at the time (Walnut Creek CDROM, home of the then-beloved ftp.cdrom.com). I've actually always run AikiWeb on my own hardware, starting out with that homebrewed piece of machinery that I put together by hand (Adaptec 2940UW controller was great). Alongside all of the hardware tinkering, I've also been responsible for maintaining the server-side software, too (Apache, PHP, MySQL, sendmail/postfix, etc). So, I guess one can say I've been pretty hands-on with the running of the site from the ground up. For a number of years, the site was hosted in a closet at the dojo at the end of a 768K DSL line; these days, it's a 1U rack-mounted machine colocated at a local ISP.
When I first started AikiWeb, there really weren't all that many aikido websites. Sure, there were a number of aikido dojo
websites, but the number of general "aikido" websites were few. In one sense, I believe the success of AikiWeb has been simply that of timing. Kjartan's Aikido FAQ pages were, at that time, still hosted in his personal home directory at his university. Aikido Today Magazine, I believe, had their website up in 1995—Aikido Journal, in 2000. The AikiWeb Dojo Search Engine
started soon thereafter when Cindy Paloma gave me permission to use her online dojo listings (first hosted at ucsd.edu as a set of text document); it now contains over 5,000 dojo entries in 128 countries, having served over 1.7 million dojo searches so far. In June, 2000, I started up the AikiWeb Forums
—a discussion board which has become one of the most vibrant online aikido communities with over 26,500 registered users today.
In 2004, I recruited a number of authors for the monthly AikiWeb Columns
. Since then, over 500 columns have been published here on AikiWeb. I owe a huge debt of gratitude for every author who has supported the site through their writings. Knowing I could trust each and every single of of these authors, I have never placed any kind of restriction on what they could write about; in fact, this set of columns this month was the only time I requested a topic (of "twenty years") of them. My hope has been that, then, each author could write about what felt pertinent to them, perhaps echoing a zeitgeist of their part of the aikido world. I could not be more amazed and thankful for what each of the authors have contributed to the site.
In "real" life on the mat, I held the first AikiWeb Workshop in August, 2004, with Ellis Amdur, Chuck Clark, and Dennis Hooker at the Greensboro Kodokan Aikido Dojo in Greensboro, NC and the second AikiWeb Workshop with the same three instructors in February, 2007 at Dennis's Shindai Aikikai Dojo in Orlando, Florida. The third AikiWeb Workshop was held at Two Cranes Aikido in Seattle, WA in March 2009 with George Ledyard, Toby Threadgill, and Aaron Clark. I truly enjoyed getting people together for these workshops, both in seeing participants training with each other as well as the instructors getting to know one another.
All of these are "historical" facts and milestones—important, but definitely not the full story. I have neither the time nor energy to recap all of the details of the entire story, but many experiences I have had with AikiWeb still feel very significant for me personally today.
Predating AikiWeb by many years was the Aikido-L online mailing list. When I joined in 1994, Gerry Santoro in Pennsylvania was maintaining the mailing list. Although I picked up the responsibility of maintaining the mailing list soon thereafter, moderation of Aikido-L was mainly held as a group effort by those active on the mailing list. Frequently heavily trafficked (with upwards of over a hundred messages a day at times) and perhaps even contentious at times, this mailing list provided fertile grounds for the exchange of information, opinions, and experiences about aikido that still influence my own practice to this day. Without this mailing list, I would not be the aikido practitioner that I am now, nor would AikiWeb exist.
Many people from Aikido-L came and supported AikiWeb by becoming members. Others joined the discussions from all around the world. Over the years, the AikiWeb community lost a number of memorable members. Ubaldo Alcantara. Kensho Furuya. Hiroaki "Rocky" Izumi. Dennis Hooker. Mark "Tamon" Uttech. Don Modesto. Frank Gordon. These are the names that come to my mind personally, so I'm sure there are more. Although they may have passed on, their voices still live on within the Forums and within my heart.
As with any kind of public exchange of information, there have been challenges. One intention I have held in creating and maintaining AikiWeb over the years has been to support civil discussion regardless of its content. Allowing open communication regarding differing opinions, experiences, and intentions of aikido practice has felt and still feels critical to the world of aikido, and I have done what I can to promote, cultivate, and support such. Although I have had to implement certain moderation boundaries in the past—undoubtedly, to the disagreement of some and perhaps offense to others—my hopes have always rested upon creating a community where exchange of ideas may take place in a respectful manner, regardless of experience level, background, or affiliation. I believe I've been an imperfect moderator—and, I hope my intention to create an open, inclusive, and respectful community here has been supportive for AikiWeb and its members.
Although I dabbled with merchandise for a number of years, selling things has never been a strong point for me nor for the site; I still have some boxes full of aikido temporary tattoos and stickers somewhere. At times, I've also held "contributing membership" drives in the past. To be transparent, though, neither such merchandise, workshops, nor AikiWeb contributing memberships have ever come close to completely offsetting the material costs (hardware, hosting, software) of running the website—not to mention the time I personally put into writing code for the site, upkeep (hardware, software), and maintaining the dojo/seminar/forums databases. Yet, it's all been worth it for me. Without a doubt. (And, if anyone here wants to become a contributing member, please click here
And, with that, comes the future of AikiWeb. I still very much have full intention of continuing to support the website and our community—and, perhaps, the larger aikido world—in one way or other. I have had intentions of revamping the website for a number of years now; perhaps, I will get to it by carving out some time later this year. I've also been taking a look at perhaps hosting the site on a virtual server somewhere, rather than maintaining the hardware myself, which will probably save time and money in the long/short run. Thinking about and implementing sustainability feel important. Even with the proliferation of social media and other platforms, I still very much believe there is a place for AikiWeb and its amazing community. So, please stay tuned.
All in all, these twenty years have felt full and swift. There's a saying in some dojo I've been in that goes something like, "Iriminage, 20 years; ikkyo, a lifetime" to refer to how long it takes for one to "get" those techniques. I believe I must be a slow learner since I still don't "get" iriminage, much less ikkyo! Sometimes, I feel like I have a good idea within the form and principles of iriminage that I pursue for a while, although I wonder at times whether those explorations really accumulate to much in terms of my understanding. But, for some reason, I just keep going back to the dojo to keep exploring, night after night. In the same way, I don't know what kind of difference AikiWeb has made out there in the world, but it's my intention to keep coming back to it and to keep working on it.
So, thank you, everyone for your support. If you have any ideas for the website, please don't hesitate to let me know. And, please let your dojomates know about AikiWeb if doing so pleases you.