This weekend over 100 Aikidoka from the Middle East, the United States and Europe are gathered for a workshop outside Athens, Greece. Training Across Borders is part of the work of Aiki Extensions, the first TAB occurring in Cypress ten years ago.
Many of those attending had difficulty obtaining Visa’s because of the refugee crisis in Europe now. Others had difficulty simply leaving their country to travel abroad. Others had to travel to two or three different countries before they could book a flight to Athens. There are also problems with intimidation for attending with some and even worse threats of physical violence for some of the participants. The countries in the Middle East are familiar ones like Israel including the West Bank, Jordan, Iraq and Iran. A group is attending from Ethiopia. Other North African countries are represented as well. From America Sensei’s Richard Strozzi-Heckler and Linda Holiday are there as instructors. Many different traditions of Aikido are also being represented. Of the many positives, being able to experience and train with others from different schools is exciting and can also be challenging. I think one of the beauties of Aikido is that is can have so many expressions. It is the same and isn’t the same.
However, the core of TAB is to bring together Aikidoka that would never train together much less have any contact. There are many different aikido schools and traditions throughout the world. The sad fact is that some schools or traditions do not train with others. This and many other factors add to what can separate rather than unite. The TAB program is constructed to unite Aikidoka from many countries, traditions, associations and schools. And with the violence and tensions rising again in Israel, TAB is a means to get a conversation going rather than reverting to throwing a rock, attacking with a knife or responding with violence creating a cycle of even more violence. At the first TAB training in Cypress, Richard Strozzi-Heckler reported that the very first night the moment happened with one man stated to the whole group that already he had to rethink the beliefs he had about not liking people from this or that country. It was a powerful moment that cemented in the minds of those who created TAB that this can indeed work.
When you train in a martial art that involves a partner practice where partners are grasping or holding, something that involves a touch, non-verbal communication occurs. This is what happened at the last TAB training and this is what is happening right now in outside Athens as Aikidoka make contact with one another- with the result that cultural, racial, religious and ethnic beliefs and prejudices are changing one technique at a time. Aikido is bridging these differences as well as the differences and more. There will be more on this TAB training in a future article. For those wishing to support Aiki Extensions, you can go to their web page and either join or make a contribution there. Aiki Extensions is a not-for-profit organization. Your help will further this organizations work in the world for peace and harmony.