I joined Aiki Extensions (AE) in 2006 and have been a member of the board of directors for most, if not all of that time. I have always been a great believer in the potential power of aikido ‘to reconcile the world.’ That said, I am a realist and believe that if it is to do this, then aikido practitioners have to take what they learn on the mat and apply it to life off it. So AE was an obvious group to join as one of its mission statements is to find out where people are practising aikido in real life and to promote the work they do.
Given the level of resources AE has available, it has achieved amazing things, (see the website for details, (www.aikiextensions.org). But in many ways it has been a hard road to travel as the truth is that the aikido community as a whole largely ignore our efforts and simply do not support what we do. The fact is that the numbers of paid up members is pathetically small.
Maybe people don’t really understand what we do and how we make a difference. The common response to a request to join is ‘What do I get for my money?’ It seems that being informed about the amazing work that some people around the world are doing and supporting some truly ground breaking projects, making a real difference for the beneficiaries, is not enough.
It took a fellow board member to remind me recently what the benefits are if you really want to get involved. So let me tell you about my own personal journey and the truly wonderful things that have happened to me directly as a result of my membership. No one can tell me that a minimum contribution of $50 a year hasn’t been worth it. I have been paid in immeasurable ways that are worth vastly more than this.
The first thing that changed was that for the first time I was connected to a group of people who thought largely the same as I did. Instead of feeling marginalised, I suddenly felt connected. More importantly I was connected with people who I had admired from afar such as Kayla Feder and Jamie Zimron, both of which I had seen at the Aiki Expo event in Las Vegas, organised by Stanley Pranin in 2002. They had made a huge impression on me. I never dreamt I would have direct contact with them and now all of a sudden we were working as a team. I soon learnt that I had much to contribute to this particular mission and that gave me a feeling of huge self-worth.
I was asked to teach at AE events in the UK organised by Mark Walsh, probably the leading innovator of embodiment work in the UK, who had got me involved with AE in the first place and I met and became friends with people like Terry Ezra in the UK, Paul Linden from the USA, Don Levine, the Founder of AE) and Jose Bueno from Brazil.
That lead to a European seminar which initially kicked off in Belgium and bonded me to fellow board members, (Paul Linden, Christian Vanhenten and the late Bertram Wohak). The following year it was organised by Bertram in Germany and included many more teachers. In particular, I became friends with Przemek Gawronski from Poland, which lead to a wonderful seminar in Warsaw that I was delighteded to teach at. We have seen each regularly since then.
The European seminar grew into an event, (Aiki Extended) that I organise in the UK, which has become a fixture in the calendars of many. We have around 25 teachers from around the planet join us over three days, sharing what their expertise for nothing. Students also come from near and far, and the shared learning, positive attitude and general good feeling has to be experienced to be believed. People now approach me to teach, rather than the other way round and the number of people that I am now connected to as a result is mind-blowing. Often they are people that I would never have expected to connect with in the ordinary course of events, but which I feel much richer for knowing.
In between times, I found myself in California directly as a result of my AE work. I spent an amazing 10 days either being taught or teaching in the dojos of Frank Doran, Robert Nadeau, Robert Frager, Richard Strozzi-Heckler, Kayla Feder, Wendy Palmer, Linda Holiday and David Keip. I also got to meet fellow board members, Robert Kent and Jamie Zimron, in the flesh. There were many others besides that I met and became firm friends with.
From that came the idea to produce the book of aikido stories, ‘A Way to Reconcile the World’ which firmed up my friendships with many of the names mentioned, but also linked me with students and teachers around the world. It was wonderful to bring such amazing stories to the attention of the aikido community and a privilege to be trusted with some very personal information along the way.
Since then I’ve been back to California and revisited some of the aforementioned dojos, but also got to spend time with Richard Moon and Mary Tesoro and to stay with Danielle and Michael Smith, as well as teaching at their dojo.
It goes on and on. I went out recently to Orlando, again as a result of my AE connections and friends and had a wonderful time at the Shindai dojo with Steve Fasen, Tim Magill and Ola Karasik, teaching one night and then attending a seminar with Mary Heiny.
Out of the blue, a few years back, I was contacted by Gordon Thomas in Calgary (Canada), who had seen a video of me on line and wanted to come and visit me. We became good friends and I helped him launch an Aikido for Daily Life dojo in his home town, which I visit most years and support.
These are just some of the highlights that I am certain would never have happened if I had not decided to support and work for Aiki Extensions. But it doesn’t stop there as the ripples just get wider and wider. As a direct result my brother, Piers Cooke, in particular has been able to share many of the benefits and had many adventures of his own, (Linda Holidays’ amazing summer camp with Ano Sensei in Santa Cruz and the Training Across Borders seminars in Lutraki, Greece), not forgetting attending seminars with the guest teachers Linda Holiday, Kayla Feder and Bjorn Saw, all of whom were known to me through AE and who as a result I could invite and host at my dojo. There have been a number of seminars in other dojos resulting directly from people connecting at the Aiki Extended event, so the connections get deeper and wider.
In summary, my own aikido journey has been enriched beyond my imagination and it’s the gift that keeps on giving, as these amazing happenings haven’t stopped and the circles just get wider and wider. (I’m just about to participate as one of 40 teachers, many of whom I now know and have nothing but respect for, in the amazing online event ‘Aikido At The Leading Edge’ organised by Miles Kessler).
So if you don’t want to pay good money to support AE’s wonderful projects and programmes then just be selfish, do it for you. It’s no different to the mat, put in the time and energy and you will be rewarded beyond your imaginings. All you have to do is join and then tell us how you want to be involved. It will be the start of an amazing journey.