I recently organised a seminar in Burwell, called ‘Aiki Extended 2016’, which was designed to bring together aikidoka, no matter where they were based and what their lineage was. I wanted it to be an aikido festival that demonstrated the powerful contribution aikido can make to bringing about more harmony in society as a whole.
After much toing and froing, I ended up with 23 teachers, all of whom gave their services for free and paid their way to be at the event. They came from as far away as New Zealand, the U.S.A., Greece, Germany, Switzerland, France and Belgium and of course the UK. The seminar was run in three halls, and sessions lasted for an hour. Every hour students had to select which session most suited them. Of course, there were traditional aikido sessions, albeit with a bias towards the principles within our technique rather than technique for its own sake. Alternatively students could select workshops on things like how aikido could be used in business situations, verbal communication, counselling troubled teenage boys or students could select classes on related topics like tai chi, Alexander technique, back and hip health and yoga.
We had just over 70 people attend the seminar and students as well as teachers came from far and wide. Logistically this presents a number of challenging issues, which come into sharp focus as you get closer to the event. People drop out, (students and teachers alike), people decide to come after all, people suddenly realise that they have decisions to make and need information to do so. There is suddenly a lot of information flowing back and forth.
Given the vast distances that people were travelling, there are transport issues to consider and to put in place.
You also have to ensure that everyone arrives at the right place at the right time, and as the event ran for 3 days, you need to make certain that everyone has somewhere to sleep and will be suitably fed and watered. All of this needs to be in place, so that everyone can focus on having a good time and are not distracted by anything that might take away from their enjoyment.
Once up and running, it takes some ringmaster skills to ensure that the show keeps on rolling and stays on track.
The whole process requires total immersion, as whilst the seminar officially started on Friday, I had started putting things in place many months before and had been living and breathing it for a solid week leading up to the seminar and wasn’t able to let go until some days after it’s finished. In short, the whole event takes a lot of energy.
So the question is why did I do it and was it worthwhile. In honesty, I am not sure if I could have verbalised the answer very well before the event. I did it from a certain sense of duty, and knowledge that people would enjoy it, but I couldn’t have told you much more than that. It’s only post the event, having seen people’s feedback forms that I have clarity. Here are a few of the comments:
‘It was a privilege to be with so many inspirational people; not only the teachers but other participants too.’
I am still very early into my journey of aikido but for me the course has helped me with the more connective side of the art.
‘I am now more aware of the vital importance of ‘connection’; I am learning more deeply to think into uke’s structure. I gained a greater understanding how softness, gentleness leads to effectiveness.’
‘My knowledge of aiki and aikido (and more generally of myself and other people) has been stretched, broadened and deepened by this event, and the people who attended it.’
‘The ripples cast further than we can imagine.’
I believe in aikido’s capacity to make a better world and here is living proof that it does. The event changed people’s lives, maybe only in a small way, but definitely in a positive direction. That change will reflect in their own lives and the people around them, and to borrow from the last quotation, the ripples will cast further than we can imagine.
It is a reality that the world will not all come to the mat, so those of us that do, have a duty to do our bit to study hard, improve ourselves and to use what we learn on the mat to make a difference off it.
I will always remember this, the next time I consider organising a seminar. It will no longer be with just a sense of duty, but with the certainty that we can change the world for the better.
And finally, as if that was not enough, we raised over £3,000 to support the valuable work undertaken by Aiki Extensions(www.aikiextensions.org), who help run and encourage projects using aikido as a tool to support the lives of those who really need it most. A nice little bonus!