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“Study hard
what interests you the most
in the most undisciplined,
irreverent and original manner possible.”

– Richard Feynman

A girl once approached me while putting up a poster for the beginner classes of aikido at the bulletin board at a campus of the University in Trondheim, asking: “Is it good for self defence?” I replied immediately: “Not really.” So she asked: “So what do I get out of it?” I never really though that through, because it was so obvious for me, but not so easy to put into words for somebody who knows nothing about it. Still, the answer came natural without hesitation: “It is a lot of fun, and it will make you feel happy.” She turned and walked away.

Tai no tenkan at the Colloseo in Rome in October 2018. Photo and katate dori by Eric Dollinger.

I had a period of time, some seven or so years after I started, when I thought that everybody are like me and deeply needed aikido every day to not fall into a dark abyss of self hate and depression. During this period I did everything I could to spread the word to everybody I met that the salvation exists. All we have to do is to go into this padded room, grab on to each other and throw each other around for a bit, and we will feel better than we ever have before, from the first couple of minutes, lasting until the next day, when we can do it again. My friends told me that my eyes were on fire every time I spoke of aikido.

However, after a period of that, and experiencing to my extreme agony, that many of my new friends, who tried out aikido, left the practice (and I never met them again) after a short time. Because for them it was just another activity amongst others. Nothing special. And after some years I realised that not everybody have this need which I feel, and they can easily go a week or a month, or forever, without aikido, and not feel less happy. And this is good. They are healthy.

I kind of realised that only a few percent out of the population has this need for aikido. We really need it, but we are few, and there is no need to push it on to the “healthy” ones. All that is important is to make sure that everybody who are in need of it know that we exist.

Irimi nage by Hélène Doué at the seminar with Hélène Doué and Fabrice Croizé in Nyköping in September 2018. Photo by Mathias Bäck.

Another quite interesting experience from my years in Trondheim comes to my mind. There was a girl looking for a different martial arts (I will not say which one) wandering the sports centre at the very beginning of the term (when only the freaks are practising, the other groups starts later). She found us, as we have similar clothes, and asked if we were practicing that martial arts. I replied that no, we are doing aikido, and the group she were looking for were practicing upstairs, in the hall just above us, but that most likely they had not started their practice term yet.

Anyway, nobody were upstairs that day, so she came back to us after checking, and asked if she could join us for this class. I was very happy that she would consider joining our keiko and of course welcomed her to attend. She appeared to enjoy it a lot, both from her body language, facial expression and by her words. However, she confessed that she would not come back, because she already did the other martial arts for a few years then, and she was determined to continue with them. She thanked us very graciously for the keiko (and we thanked her for her participation of course) and she went on her way. And that was all there was to it, I thought.

Several years later, on my way to the practice, I met a smiling girl when I was passing a bus stop. She asked me if I remembered her. I had to admit, embarrassingly, that I did not. She told me about her experience of trying out aikido that day. She told me that the warm feelings she got from the practice sustained inside of her for a LONG time. A very long time. Several months, she told me. And she still remembers those feelings. However, she did not try aikido again. She thanked me once more for the possibility to practise with us. I was very happy to hear that aikido made such a strong positive impression on her, but it was all a bit unexpected, so I was at a loss for words.

She could feel it. Still, her mind was determined to do something else, so she did. The outside world has different value measurements than what we have inside of ourselves. We will do what is logically good for us, but not what feels right, but makes no sense logically.

Yokomen uchi keiko in Sjøholt in December 2017. Photo By Marius Hatlen.

Nowadays, if somebody who does not do aikido asks me about it I usually encourage them to check it out for themselves. If they need information about the clubs and such I would of course provide information, but trying to explain, trying to get them into aikido, is not something I do any more. I never once brought a single person into aikido by trying, and during my years in Trondheim I spoke to thousands, tens of thousands of people. When we were having stands at the campuses in of the University the people who got the flyers were not the ones to show up at the beginner classes. That was other people, who found aikido by themselves. The talkers were not the doers, and this was always the case. Both in our recruitment efforts, and amongst those who started. The ones with the biggest plans to do aikido, were gone after a few weeks, and the unnoticed, silent ones, were remaining, every time.

A lot of clubs are struggling right now, with their rent and expenses. They have insufficient members for the economy to be sustainable. This is very sad. I am not sure why things has changed from ten years ago, but something has. Still, I don’t believe that the number of people who need aikido has receded. That is a constant percentage of the population, and it is not likely to change any time soon. So what did change?

Giuseppe, Klaus, Leonardo and myself at the seminar with Endo sensei in Vienna in December 2018. Aikido makes people happy. Photo by Giuseppe Caciolla.

I believe it is a spiralling effect of the times in the outside world and panic happening in the aikido world is damaging the aikido environment. I believe we should not sell what we are doing, because in the end we will come around to the same result anyway. Nobody can be fooled forever. Either we find something in aikido or we don’t. Many practitioners change to different martial arts after a few years, realising that they were sold lies and marketing statements which did not come true, in their experience. I find this situation unethical, and not for the benefit of aikido in the longer time perspective. Aikido gets a bad reputation by pretending to be something which we are not.

I believe aikido’s strength lies in our core. Not by trying to do what other martial arts offers, and specialise in. No matter if that is things which are valued by the standards of the outside world. Our qualities are more difficult to market, because it is more challenging to describe in words. There is nothing similar to aikido which we can compare it to. I often compare it to music, and there is a deep connection between music and aikido. Especially since we are practising techniques to transmit emotions. However, it is still a quite different thing altogether, and it is not so easy to explain to somebody who never heard our “music”.

“So what do I get out of it?” That was the question by that first girl I mentioned. We could lie to her, and tell her that she will for sure lose those 5 kilos she wants to get rid of by starting aikido, or that she will be able to defend herself with what she learns at this beginners course, or that she will be able to get a black belt in a few years, and that would be such and such a great achievement. The reality, which is difficult to accept is that when such questions arise, we are already speaking to somebody lost to our cause. Arguments by words should not ever be needed. If we feel it, we do, thus the question of a reson for doing it will never arise. If we do not feel it, no words nor any empty promises can keep our interest for long. Still, we should be able to transmit the curiosity to check it out some more, when we meet people who potentially could be an aikidoka.

The tatami and kamiza in Sjøholt. December 2018. Photo by Marius Hatlen.

Aikido is one of the most precious things in the world, just because it cannot easily be used as a means for “powers” in the world. There is not much money in it. It requires lots of time and effort to achieve seemingly small goals in the eyes of these people. It leaves aikido the freedom we have, to do what we need to do. Still, we need enough members to pay the rent of the place where we are doing our study.

I have no solutions. However, I believe that we should make sure to keep our own fire burning first and foremost. We should do what we do. Not what the world expects us to do. If we do what we love, people who find us will love it as well. If we lose our place for the practice, we need to find a new, cheaper one, probably further away, and we might have to carry tatami. The conditions are changing, but not the keiko. Aikido lives forever, but we do not, and neither does the world.

“Physics is like sex:
sure, it may give some practical results,
but that’s not why we do it.”

– Richard Feynman

You and your club have all my very best wishes for 2019 and the years to come!
Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!