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A Bit Belated
A Bit Belated
by Ross Robertson
A Bit Belated

It might be hard for you to believe, but in spite of all my incredibly mystical martial awareness, some things do slip by me, and I have to deal with them in catch-up mode.

It might be impossible to imagine, especially if you're new to aikido (say, you've only been doing it 10 or 20 years), but it used to be really difficult to find any written materials about aikido. Very few original works in English or other languages besides Japanese, very few translations. When I started training, there was "Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere." There were a few translations of Koichi Tohei's early books. Saito also had published in English, but if there were others, they were not in abundance and not readily available.

It may further strain your credibility to be informed that, less than 30 years ago, most people had never heard of aikido. When I'd meet someone at a social gathering, people would politely ask what I was into, and I knew I'd have a lot of explaining to do if I was to try to tell them about aikido. Yes, most people today outside the martial arts still don't have a clue, but at least nowadays you stand a good chance that they'll at least know it's a form of self defense. And an impressive number of people know about O-Sensei and his teachings, even if they don't do aikido themselves.

When I started aikido in the late 1970's, it was so new that its very survival was by no means guaranteed. To illustrate the point, let's take my home state Texas, an area a bit larger than France. Back then there were only three aikido dojo that I was aware of in the entire state. There may have been others, but if so, we weren't talking to each other.

Which leads me to the other incomprehensible truth. Back then, people in different aikido affiliations hardly spoke to each other. Within a few short years after the Founder's death, his dream of uniting the world into a single family had turned into yet another excuse for tribalism, turf wars, and ideological chest-pounding. Already the Art of Reconciliation had become an exercise in galloping on high-horses, shouting holy proclamations about who was doing "real" aikido and whose lineage was the "pure" one and whose sensei could beat up whose (in the most peaceful and loving way, of course -- but still martially valid, dammit!). Vestiges of this linger, but are now widely recognized for their absurdity. You might think I'm a heretic (and you might be right), but at least you're reading my article.

Granted, communications were a lot different then. Email and the Web were still unheard of. It may seem like the stone-age now (even to me) but when all you have is the telephone (no, not cell phones) and snail mail, maybe a few fax machines, it's harder to freely exchange ideas with lots of people across great distances.

In fact, ARPANET was launched in 1969, the year O-Sensei died. Early versions of the Internet came together in the mid 1980's, but were not available to commercial interests until 1988, nearly 10 years after I started training. The World Wide Web didn't really come on line until around 1993, [1] the year I received my yondan.

Think about that. This is not to make a case that I'm old and venerable. I'm not -- I'm still in my 40's (barely). But put yourself in the place I was back then. You've been doing aikido for 14 or 15 years, and you still can't really talk to anyone about it outside your dojo. Resources are scarce, seminars are rare, and you may not be encouraged or allowed to go unless the event is sponsored by your native affiliation. Maybe you've got a subscription to Aikido Today Magazine or some such, but if you have regular contact with many different aikido styles, you're one of the really, really lucky ones. (I was part lucky. At least all my teachers encouraged us to learn from everyone and to freely share what we know.)

By the late 90's, however, there had been a significant shift. Increasingly members of the general population, non-specialists, and people of modest income had access to the Web. All of the sudden, people could find other like-minded people from all over the world, and as long as they had a common language, they could share ideas, argue, learn, know, and be known.

One such mailing list was Aikido-L, which is still my favorite haunt for an online aikido community. We argued a lot then, as we still do, but in 1998 we did something unheard of, something I believe to be unprecedented. The first Aikido-L seminar was held in San Antonio, Texas, featuring instructors from different styles and affiliations who regularly participated on Aikido-L, and open to everyone. For possibly the first time ever, aikido people from all across the nation, across styles, and from around the world converged to set aside differences, to showcase differences, to share and learn. And I think we all came away reminded that what we do is aikido first, and Brand X Aikido second. Aikido is what we have in common, but the difference in style is what we bring to the table to share.

I still believe that event changed the trajectory of aikido's global culture. If the Internet was necessary to get us speaking to each other, it was then essential to meet face to face, to get on the mat, offer our arms to strangers, and exchange sweat and breath and love. It may have been inevitable, but I really do think that seminar crystallized the idea that a gathering of styles was possible, desirable, and necessary.

It may be hard for you to believe, but once there were no Aikido-L seminars, no Aiki Expos, no AikiWeb symposia. In fact, once there was no AikiWeb.

That's right. Only ten years ago, plus a few weeks now, there was no AikiWeb. By now most everyone who does aikido knows about AikiWeb, and has probably utilized its enormous resource pool, and has chatted casually (or vigorously) with someone on the other side of the planet.

AikiWeb celebrated its 10th anniversary this past August, and though you might not believe it, I didn't catch that fact until recently. So I'm coming in a bit late, but this is me sending a greeting card to you. Happy Anniversary, You.

First, You the Reader. You, the Forum Phantom. Thanks for being here, however long you've been here. AikiWeb is, after all, a vast network of people just like you, and not at all like you. AikiWeb is individuals, groups and dojo and organizations and affiliations and styles. It is all of this together, and it is larger than even all of this. But it's made up of You. Thank You. You have no idea how important you are.

Next, You Jun Akiyama. Yeah, you. Jun, please stand up and take a bow. If it hadn't been you, then certainly someone else would have done it. But maybe not as well, not as persistently, and not as equitably. If it hadn't been for you, we wouldn't have this wonderful thing in this wonderful form.

If you others haven't met Jun (many of you have... the guy really gets around a lot), you may not realize what a treasure he is. His devotion to the art is obvious, but he's not sanctimonious about it. He's easy-going, self-effacing, intelligent, funny, and thoughtful.

And talented. Jun's ukemi skills are legendary, but he also happens to be a really gifted presenter when he's got an audience. His aikido is fluid, parsimonious, playful, and sincere. He is devoted to his home organization, but he is conversant with many styles and familiar with many instructors. He is what some people call a "nexus" person. He connects with people, and he connects people with each other on a very personal scale.

But it's his creation and maintenance of AikiWeb that we are gathered here today to honor and celebrate. The reason I have spent so much time writing about myself and my personal history is to underscore the importance of AikiWeb. For me, it is no exaggeration to say that it is possibly the most significant contribution to modern aikido, period.

Jun has shown us that one person can have a profound impact on the world. He has demonstrated that a comparatively small action rightly applied can have an effect many orders of magnitude in excess of the input. He connects with people, and connects people to each other on a massive scale.

I have no doubt that he works very hard maintaining AikiWeb. But in my opinion, the result of his effort outweighs that of some major organizations. No doubt he will point out that AikiWeb is really the result of the combined efforts of all of us, and of course that's true. Aikido is always a combined effort. What Jun has done is create the space where aikido happens of its own accord, the kind of do-nothing that is at once effortless, masterful, and really hard.

Truly AikiWeb has become an entity in its own right, precisely because Jun has the wisdom to not put his mark all over it. He doesn't intrude, and what he controls is guided with tact and delicacy. He is always there, stirring the pot, a close presence that is always connected, but out of the way, allowing the ki to flow freely.

Though I remain more active on Aikido-L than in the forums of AikiWeb, I am grateful to Jun for having a regular venue to share my thoughts with a larger audience. Dedicating this month's column space to him and his creation does not begin to approach the feelings of gratitude, admiration, and awe I have for him and what he has set in motion.

You may not believe it, but we often fail to recognize how amazing the world has become. We take for granted many of the infrastructures that facilitate unprecedented freedoms and opportunities. Often these are the results of governments, large agencies, and corporations. But sometimes just one person can open up a field where all the divergent grass roots can finally connect.

You may not believe it, but sometimes we forget to say thank you to those who have given us great gifts. I hope all of you will all join me in thanking Jun Akiyama for his perseverance and generosity. One man stands whispering toward the mountain, and sometimes the mountain replies with a mighty kiai.

Today let the mountain bow down, and let its thunderous voice speak words of praise and thanks. Aikido is spreading to all the world, but its potential is only beginning. I've seen a glimpse of how powerful and how gentle it can be, and all I can say is, you just wouldn't believe it. But believe me now when I say that AikiWeb matters.

Happy Birthday, Happy Anniversary. You're really not bad for a ten-year-old. I hope I will be around long enough to become old and venerable, but regardless, I will be watching your career eagerly and with excitement about the unbelievable future you are creating.

Thank you for letting me be a part of it.

Ross Robertson
Still Point Aikido
Austin, Texas, USA

[1] Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Wide_Web

Ross Robertson lives and teaches aikido in Austin, Texas.
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Old 10-25-2007, 01:58 PM   #2
SeiserL's Avatar
Location: Florida Gulf coast
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 3,902
Re: A Bit Belated

Better late than never.
Better said than assumed.
While some discuss the differences and separation,
others enter, blend, and train with each other.
The only constant is change,
and our gratitude that it does.
Rei, Domo.

Lynn Seiser PhD
Yondan Aikido & FMA/JKD
We do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training. Train well. KWATZ!
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Old 12-05-2007, 10:38 AM   #3
Katie Parsoneault
Dojo: Still Point
Location: Austin, TX
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 9
Re: A Bit Belated

Awareness ... This comes at a time when Jun is bringing our attention to the fall contribution drive to sustain and support aikiweb and everything Jun does for us all. Thanks, Ross Sensei, for such a timely acknowledgement. I will encourage all our Still Point dojo folk to consider a donation!
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