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Reflections on Aiki Expo 2002

by Stanley Pranin

Published Online

The recent Aiki Expo 2002 held May 3-5 in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA represents a milestone in our attempts to refocus the attention of the world aikido community on the philosophy and techniques of Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei. The Founder viewed aikido as a martial art for a modern age intended to develop strong, ethical individuals who are actively engaged in the promotion of peace and harmony in their daily lives.

The predecessors of the Aiki Expo were the Aiki News Friendship Demonstrations held from 1985-1988 in Tokyo. The goal of these earlier demonstrations was to relax the boundaries created by organizations and encourage teachers of diverse backgrounds to come together in an atmosphere of friendship. At these events, leading instructors of aikido and several traditional martial arts—some of whom are no longer with us—presented lecture demonstrations that highlighted the best of their techniques and insights gleaned from decades of training.

The formula of this year’s event in Las Vegas expanded upon this original concept. On this occasion, both teachers and students of aikido, aikijujutsu and other modern and classic martial arts gathered together to train in a non-partisan setting. Instead of being solely observers as in the original Friendship Demonstrations, attendees participated in the seminars of their choosing. They also had an opportunity to view demonstrations by a broad range of advanced practitioners of aikido and other arts. Many of the spectators were stimulated by the abundance of outstanding performances to renew their commitment to practice and to contemplate the possibility of cross-training in other martial disciplines.

The format of the Aiki Expo also afforded the invited teachers an opportunity to interact in ways that would not normally be available to them. They spent several days together in the same hotel, sharing meals and interacting with one another according to their natural inclinations. Moreover, they had an opportunity to observe each other’s performances and teaching methodologies at close hand. Several of the featured instructors have reported that new friendships were formed and a common ground for future relationships laid.

Why would members of a particular organization have ventured outside the safe bounds of their own group to participate in an open event such as the Aiki Expo? I believe there are several important reasons they chose to do so. From the standpoint of leaders of an organization, the Expo represented an excellent chance to reach out to large numbers of people from outside groups who might potentially be interested in the new approaches they have to offer. In a similar manner, the opportunity to network with leaders of other groups in congenial surroundings appears to have opened new possibilities for joint activities on an inter-organizational level that would not have been possible beforehand.

Martial arts in modern society tend to be viewed as means of personal growth more so than as fighting arts. In this regard, when leaders adopt enlightened courses of action that raise the profile of the organization and are viewed as being in consonance with their stated goals and ideals, such behavior is certain to reflect back most positively on the group as a whole.

At that same time, the nature of the Aiki Expo constitutes a challenge for individual organizations and exponents of particular persuasions. The training methods of one group when juxtaposed with those of others can create in the mind of attendees a marketplace mentality of “comparative shopping” where they naturally gravitate to the instructor and approach most to their liking. Participating instructors must have strong self-confidence and a willingness to constantly improve in such a context.

It is our hope that the kind of thinking behind the Aiki Expo will foment a “quiet revolution” in the aikido world. In this scenario, the overall level of commitment to the practice of the art and the quality of training will evolve to heretofore unseen levels. This in turn will enhance the growth of a sub-culture within society that has internalized the goals of the art as propagated by the Founder Morihei Ueshiba.

Plans are now underway to hold Aiki Expo 2003 in September of next year. Please join us!

Stanley Pranin
Las Vegas, Nevada