The passage of time is a difficult thing to measure.
Despite the tireless regularity of cesium, or the petty pace from day to day, or the reliability of the sun to also rise, we experience time as fluid. Fast, slow, occasionally stagnant, it can be difficult to always be current.
Maybe time does not pass at all. However we ascribe attributes of movement and of flow, time remains. Time is still, while everything else is transitory. Maybe time does not even exist, except as a derivative attempt by us humans to quantify the observation of Change.
Certainly things change.
The domain of aikido is now quite different from what I remember as a younger man. It was new then, not just to me, but new to the world. Emerging from a long tradition of martial heritage, it nonetheless brought a new idea and a new message: the Way of War is the Way of Love, and therefore the singular purpose of the warrior is to preserve and to protect.
(Of course, it was the Founder's claim that this was not a new idea at all, but rather a restoration of an ancient -- even Original -- imperative, divinely ordained.)
As we rolled toward the end of the 20th Century (itself a construct of arbitrary numbers), it was clear that we badly needed a new way of war. We needed a new way of being, of thinking, of interacting, and of how we conceptualize relating.
Then, miraculously, along came the Internet, which quickly morphed into the Web. Despite the significant digital divides that remained, it was clear that the human world was indeed becoming one. It all seemed very aiki. Very timely.
Those of us within the realm of aikido could now connect with other students and teachers, far beyond our geographic confines. We met. We connected. We felt the contact of thousands of invisible fingers on our wrists, and we learned to extend our kiai by way of electrons.
There were a number of nodes, naturally, but Aikido-L emerged as the dominant listserve for all things aikido. It was gloriously ecumenical in nature, with voices from around the world representing many styles and affiliations and experience levels.
Imagine… what happens when you merge a new thing like aikido with a new thing like the World Wide Web with its many eager and passionate minds?
What were the possibilities? What would emerge?
Naturally… we fought.
We first embraced one another as kindreds, only to discover that our distant cousins carried strains of DNA and customs that we could not recognize as something shared. Having met and welcomed the stranger, there now seemed something too strange, and more than a bit unsavory.
Connectedness, it seemed, could precipitate a disconnect.
Of course, we also made friends. We found allies, and did all the usual things that come from tribalism and its expediency of defining in-groups and out-groups.
I don't know exactly when I joined, but there were many joyful associations to be made. Conversations were spirited, and most people actually struggled mightily to understand one another, even as we were (perhaps more so) desperate to be understood. I couldn't say exactly that it looked to me like the realization of O Sensei's dream of creating a one-world family, but certainly good and lasting friendships were made. For many of us, it was life-changing.
Time passed (or didn't), and the culture of Aikido-L evolved. The bickering continued inexorably. In some ways, it actually was a kind of warfare. Though sublimated, there were nonetheless ideological incursions, defenses, countermeasures, attempts at diplomacy, shifting alliances, philosophical casualties, and actual harm and suffering.
Finally, we'd had enough. We realized the miracle of the Web was insufficient against the miracle of (funny that we actually have to have a name for it, let alone an acronym, but there it is) IRL. We came to a point where we simply had to move AFK and meet FTF.
So, a seminar was planned.
Now, aikido seminars were even then among the things that by then were not new. But this was different. If, back then, there were such things as Friendship Seminars, they tended to be local and not widely broadcast. Regular seminars would vary in their openness to outsiders, ranging from strict closed-door instances to hey-we're-a-poor-aikido-dojo-so-please-come-and-support-us being more common. But something that was initially conceived by and for a diversity of styles and affiliations with no headlining guest instructor was more or less unheard of.
No one was exactly expecting West Side Story, but there were those who seriously thought it would be dangerous to attend.
I was among those who thought it would be dangerous not to. Not to me, personally, but to the idea of aikido, and to the world which I believed needed something like the idea of aikido. A committee was formed, the call went out for host dojos, and I campaigned vigorously to offer my dojo, the Still Point Aikido Center, as host. I was confident that something momentous was in the works.
I lost the bid, but happily for me, a dojo in the nearby city of San Antonio won. The first ever Aikido-L seminar was held at Lee Escobar's Texas Aikikai San Antonio dojo, May 23 - 24, 1998.
The seminar was a success. Those who did come all seemed to have arrived in a spirit of sharing and learning. Aikido was done. Carousing was done (I heard [ahem] reports of senior aikido students getting thrown out of their hotel room). Friendships were solidified, and new ones made. At the end of the great battle, everybody won.
The effect of this was far-reaching, and long-lasting. The tenor of Aikido-L was forever changed. Disputes and contention did not disappear altogether, but in general the tone was more civil, more tolerant, and more productive. It seemed that we realized that other forms of aikido might have something to offer our own, and even if we didn't like all of each others' aikido, mostly we could still like each other.
Not long after, Friendship Seminars became a Thing. We'll never know if the Aikido-L deal was the source, or if it was just Time. Regardless, we got there first, or at least among the very first. It is a thing to remember, and be proud. It was, for a lot of us, a time when we knew we'd later say "I was there."
So it was, a long time ago. This is the past I've been writing about, so of course it must be considered only as prologue.
So, onward. Like I said, I made a number of friends on Aikido-L. I watched as we all matured, and I've been privileged to see careers and lives unfold.
One of the organizers of the first Aikido-L seminar was a young gentleman by the name of Jun Akiyama. The record shows that he joined Aikido-L in 1994, the same year he started his aikido practice.
Jun's voice was passionate, but measured. Serious and obviously dedicated, he nevertheless met all opposition with grace and fairness. When we met in '98, he was not yet an advanced practitioner, but it was plain to us all that he had real talent.
Jun's talents extended well beyond the mat, and into that miracle we call the Web. In 1997, he created AikiWeb. If Aikido-L was an expression of the Internet, then AikiWeb was an expression of the Web, for those who understand the difference.
I don't have the metrics, but AikiWeb became huge. There were others, notably Aikido Journal Online, but AikiWeb quickly became the pre-eminent watering hole for all things aikido, for all aikidoka. It is no overstatement to assert that AikiWeb has shaped the growth and development of all of aikido as it moved into the new millennium.
As with so many things of this nature, this is Jun's doing, and not Jun's doing. AikiWeb would not exist -- certainly not as it does -- without Jun. But in true aiki fashion, Jun set something up which allows us all to trade and traffic in aikido all around the planet. He has allowed us to make of it what we will. AikiWeb is our doing, thanks to Jun.
For all its diversity, AikiWeb is singular. It has continued to grow and evolve, and has served its purpose so well that it has no competitors. Why would anyone even want to try to make another AikiWeb, when this one simply works so well?
Today, just within my own brief lifetime, I see that aikido is no longer a new thing. People may still not really understand it, but most have heard the word and can at least place it in its context. There are more books on the subject than I can possibly read. When I started it was hard to find any.
Aikido people still debate, still divide, still behave tribally. But no one really seems to think that their style exists in a vacuum, or is surprised by the desire to know and explore different approaches.
If anything, aikido has matured to the point of mundanity. It is a thing we can now take for granted.
But please don't.
Aikido is still in development, still a raw and unfinished project. More than ever, the world needs its promise. First, though, it has to remember its purpose and potential. It needs good exemplars and viable vehicles.
AikiWeb is turning 20 this year, and it's hard to convey how stupendously important this is, how monumental. Twenty years may be just another of those arbitrary numbers, but that's no excuse for complacency.
Geologically, 20 years doesn't even register. On the human scale, 20 years is just an overripe teenager. But in Internet time, it's staggering.
We owe so much to those who have gone before us, and to those also who walk beside us. It's overwhelming and incomprehensible to calculate or quantify all those who make us what we are, so our brains shut down and we need special occasions to remind us.
I feel tremendous honor, I feel deliriously lucky, to have you all in my life. I am able to extend myself because of the global dojo that is AikiWeb. Please join me in celebrating its continuing longevity, and to give a deep bow of thanks to its founder. Take a moment to shout out to those herein who have helped you in your progress, and who have challenged you to more carefully refine your views. And while you're at it, take time to rejoice in your own presence here.
Regardless of how long things persist, it's important to be able to say "I was there."
It's easy to lose track of time. Sometimes we think we have no time. We do our best to survive bad times, and we try to maximize good times.
Generally, we think it's bad when we've run out of time. Yet in an anthropological sense, there is the possibility of stepping outside of time and entering a kind of ritual continuum. Sometimes this happens on the mat, during a particularly good training flow. Sometimes we invoke it deliberately, for celebrations and the recognition of important temporal milestones.
So, happy birthday, AikiWeb. Happy anniversary, happy vicennial. May you be ancient, may you always be fresh -- forever timeless.
Still Point Aikido Systems
Austin TX, USA
(Oh, and if you happen to run into Jun, ask him about getting thrown out of the hotel room. Come to think of it, if he mentions any involvement by me, maybe it's best you don't believe everything you hear.)