20 years ago: 1997
In August 1997 I turned 35.
Computers were boxy things that ran Windows 95. Nintendo 64 was the hot gaming system. Cell phones looked like the handsets from wireless home phones. Everyone, it seemed, was watching Seinfeld and ER on television. Later that year most of the world's countries adopted an international treaty on addressing climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the Kyoto Protocol.
I spent that summer building a barn and corral to house my first horse - a life-long dream coming true. To get information and advice for this new pursuit I connected with a group of smart, experienced horse people via a "Listserv" email distribution list. One could ask about the best models of trucks and trailers, factors to consider in designing a barn, and which breed of horse might be most appropriate. Within hours thoughtful, detailed answers would come back from all over the U.S., plus far-flung places like Egypt, Finland, Germany, and the U.K. So that we could see each other (and each others' horses!), each year one member would create and mail out a printed calendar with photos we all submitted to her. I still have all of my calendars.
In a parallel universe that I had yet to discover, AikiWeb was founded. That online community provided a meeting place for Aikido practitioners around the world to share and collaborate. Connections were made, friendships developed, and long, thoughtful discussions were shared.
20 years before that: 1977
In August 1977 I turned 15.
Star Wars had been out a couple of months. Seattle Slew just won the Triple Crown. If someone caught you in a mistake you're likely retort would be Steve Martin's "Well excuuuuse meee!!!" The television series "Kung Fu," responsible for introducing many in the United States to martial arts, had finished its 2-1/2 year run in 1975.
Connections between people were mostly local. If a friend or coworker moved away, it was unlikely you would ever hear from them again. Long-distance phone rates were prohibitively expensive for casual conversation. If you wanted to learn about something you either spoke to someone directly, or went to the library. VHS video technology was only just introduced in the U.S. If you were lucky, you might have the opportunity to see a film on a subject of interest, perhaps through a club. Maybe a segment would appear on a television show. If you wanted to watch that, you planned to be home when it was on. If you missed it, you missed out.
O Sensei had been gone 8 years. Outside of a dojo, if you wanted to learn about
Aikido, or see what an Aikido technique looked like, you could buy a book from a bookstore, or by mail order. Perhaps the recently-published books Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere: An Illustrated Introduction
, or the "comprehensive and fully illustrated" Dynamic Aikido
by Gozo Shioda, or This is Aikido
, by Koichi Tohei. For interviews with important people in the art, information about training events, and news from the worldwide community, you would have subscribed to Stanley Pranin's Aiki News
20 years further still: 1957
In 1957 the Baby Boom was at its peak. The Frisbee was born. TV dinners were all the rage. The American civil rights movement was getting organized and making progress toward a more inclusive society.
If you wanted to connect with distant friends if would cost you a postage stamp and a week or two. But it was more likely that you didn't have any distant friends.
Aikido was beginning to spread outside of Japan. O Sensei, in his early 70s, gave a demonstration on the roof of the Self-Defense Ministry in Tokyo. It was recorded on 8mm film by André Nocquet, the first foreigner to be accepted as a live-in student with the founder, and preserved in his private collection.
This August, 2017, I turned 55.
After 8 years on the mat I am a shodan. I no longer have horses, dropping that pursuit in favor of Aikido. Instead I train at the dojo almost daily, and love every moment. I am learning to teach, leading a class now and then, and assisting in the children's program. I am preparing for my nidan demo early next year.
Many of us from that old-school equestrian Listserv are still good friends, meeting in person when we travel, and sharing our adventures and photos daily on Facebook. Right from the beginning I found the same wonderful sense of community on AikiWeb. My experience of the art has been enriched from the beginning, with a wealth of good advice and warm encouragement. Knowledgeable experts and supportive friends all over the world patiently answered my dozens of newbie questions, recommended books, and told me about upcoming events. I've been fortunate to meet many of them at seminars and camps, or just visiting their dojo when I'm in the area.
I write about my own experiences, starting with my first classes, in a blog that I started here on AikiWeb, and I've been a regular contributor to The Mirror
. Those experiences, alongside others, have led to my writing professionally. I'm now working on several books directed at supporting beginners in the art, and eventually books supporting beginners in other areas as well.
The international Aikido community has been nurtured by AikiWeb, and has in turn nurtured the art. Information is exchanged, connections made, and events organized. Just 20 years ago it was prohibitively expensive to talk with a friend even in another state. Now we can chat for hours across thousands of miles. Even more amazing, we can broadcast our own 360-degree videos, host live group chats, and share virtual open mat sessions with friends around the world. Anyone with even a passing interest in the art has limitless opportunities to get a sense for it, from anywhere, at any hour. Searching for Aikido videos on YouTube yields almost a million results.
Today Aikido people all over the world can watch O Sensei and his students, in that rooftop demonstration from 60 years ago - a tenuous connection with our roots, carefully preserved over the decades on fragile film - on our phones, right in the palms of our hands. [http://www.shambhala.com/videos/aiki...stration-1957/
20 years from now: 2037
In August 2037, if all goes well, I will turn 75.
Who knows what might be happening in the world. I hope humanity has managed to find some justice and peace by then, and that we have not damaged our environment beyond repair.
I hope I will still be training, teaching, learning, and making fresh discoveries. I hope when I lead seminars people will lean in and whisper to their neighbor "Wow, I hope I'm still doing suwari-waza like that when I'm that old!" If I allow myself to dream, maybe my books will have introduced more people to Aikido. Maybe I will have provided them the tools and encouragement to stick with it through that awkward beginning phase when nothing feels natural yet.
The kids from the children's program will be settling into adult life, launching careers, and may have young families of their own. I hope some continue training. Maybe a few will have their own dojo one day. I hope they will have better, happier lives because of their involvement with Aikido
I expect that in this world 20 years out we will have even more vivid and flexible ways to communicate and share with our fellow students, teachers, and friends around the world. Facetime and Zoom video conferencing will seem antiquated. Travel may even be easier, or accessible to more people.
I anticipate large in-person seminars will be less frequent, going the way of big conventions in other industries. For the most part they are about watching a teacher, then training with a partner. Hands-on transmission from one well-known teacher to many students is impractical. We can consider ourselves lucky if we get to feel a single technique in a weekend seminar. And it's too costly for most students, both in terms of time and money (counting travel, lodging, and time away from work and family). For every hundred people able to participate in a seminar, retreat, or camp, there are a thousand more who can't.
There's a lot of that experience that can be transmitted over distance. In 20 years - or maybe much sooner - it could be commonplace to bring a great instructor into many dojo at once. It's easy to imagine a big projected video on the front wall of the dojo, but what if ... maybe we'll have a stand-in demo-bot in each dojo, controlled by a motion-capture suit on a distant shihan. Imagine a senior teacher guest-instructing a week's worth of evening classes, in 20 cities at a time, anywhere in the world! Imagine whole communities of students who can't travel to seminars being able to access great teachers. Imagine that teaching being captured for future generations of students to experience.
I imagine that even with these technological wonders - or perhaps because of them - we will have come to treasure person-to-person teaching, and thoughtful, in-depth information. I expect AikiWeb will still be a central hub of the Aikido community, a valuable repository of considered long-form writing (and video, and motion-capture, and ...?) in a world of ephemeral, off-the-cuff commentary, connecting people around the world.