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Between the Steps - Setting the Direction for Nippon Kan AHAN Activities for 2005

by Gaku Homma

Published Online

The following article is reprinted here with the kind permission of Gaku Homma Sensei of the Nippon Kan in Denver, Colorado, USA.

This special column was taken from excerpts of Homma Kancho’s New Year speech given at Keiko Hajime (opening ceremony) at Nippon Kan on January 3rd, 2005.

Facing one another, like statues of Rodin’s “The Thinker”, the hallowed threesome sat together reflecting deeply. Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha, each looked pensive as they reflected on the events of the day. It was devastation unfathomable; the South Asia Tsunami had overcome so many and the aftermath had touched so many more…

This disaster, which has taken so many thousands of lives, has brought many countries together in efforts of rescue and relief. Civilian corps and military troops from many countries have been mobilized to aid in relief efforts to recover victims, rescue survivors and try to stop further loss of life to disease, starvation and dehydration. Everyone with eagerness and goodwill have rushed to help in repairing and rebuilding infrastructure lost as quickly as possible.

Life, and death go on, however, in all parts of the world. With the world’s eye turned with good reason to the tsunami disaster, civilians and military casualties continue to mount in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and other places plagued with domestic strife. There seems to be a difference in our reactions however to life lost to natural disasters and life lost through human conflict. It really should not matter, life is life but the differences in circumstances seem to have different moral implications that affect our reactions and actions.

In a war torn region, if innocent civilians lose their lives to a bomb falling from the sky, the loved ones of those lost curse the perpetrators. The loss becomes fodder for government propaganda and political strategy. In the wake of the tsunami, if innocent civilians lose their lives, the loved ones of those lost might mount blame against insufficient warning systems or faulty planning, but unlike the families of victims of war, there is no one human being or country to curse or blame. Many countries in the world have joined together to aid the victims of the tsunami, and this is a wonderful thing. This time, there are no countries to blame only countries to thank for their help.

Human nature interferes with the best of intentions at times, and even in this colossal effort to render aid, there are reports of politics and one-upmanship among donor nations, fraudulent schemes to divert donations and cut-throat competition for rebuilding contracts. Even with these unfortunate side effects, this will be the largest rescue and aid effort in the history of the world, and should be commended.

The people of South Asia most affected by this disaster are innocent people of different religious and cultural backgrounds. Once the initial need for food, water, medical care and other basic necessities are met, I think that spiritual and psychological comfort needs to be provided. Providing emotional and spiritual security I think would be beneficial in healing those so horrendously affected. Christ, Mohammed, Buddha and any other leaders of faith, it is time to administer spiritual aid to the hearts and souls of the survivors by rebuilding places of community worship.

We can’t forget, however, that at this same point in time, people are dying as victims of war or internal strife in other parts of the world. Aid is not so readily available to these, and there is not enough food, water or medicine being sent here. These people carry the added burden of the upheaval brought by international politics and governmental instability. They bear the burden of the labels and the hatred that war brings. There are only a few organizations rendering aid and support here, and when planes fly overhead, civilians on the ground below hide in fear and resignation or think more about revenge than relief.

Wars are fought in many cases over who is right and who is just. The definitions of righteousness and justice vary however and are built in most cases on the religious convictions of those involved. In our history there have been more wars fought over religious convictions than anything else. I think we can all agree that if we could somehow remove religion from conflicts, wars would be over much sooner. We could use the help of Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha and other religious leaders in trying to solve this dilemma that has plagued mankind for centuries.

It is a wonderful effort that is being made to help the tsunami victims, but with all of this energy focused on this tragedy, I worry about the victims of ongoing wars and other domestic strife that have faded from the headlines. Countries on the front lines of political controversy seem to be hiding the conflicts that have embroiled their citizens behind shiny new efforts to aid in this most recent catastrophe.

This relief and rebuilding effort needs to be organized by the United Nations, not one country alone with respect for the pace, customs and needs of the countries in need; not built to suit the goals of donor countries with even the best intentions.

In the United States after the tragic events of 9/11, donations to the Denver Rescue Mission dropped off dramatically. Nippon Kan has been serving meals to the homeless at the Denver Rescue Mission for fifteen years and has witnessed first hand the community support the mission receives. It was not only monetary donations that declined but food and clothing donations as well. Everyone understandably had turned their attention to the terrorist attacks, but an unanticipated result was that many other people in need were overlooked as all eyes turned to this monumental event.

It is somewhat similar during the holidays each year. Every December, hundreds of turkeys are donated to the mission and there are an abundance of volunteers to help with meal services. In January however, private donations drop off, and for most of the rest of the year, the mission survives on the donations of food distribution companies. I fear that due to the efforts allocated to relief for tsunami disaster victims, this year will be a difficult year for those who depend on the Denver Rescue Mission for survival. The victims of the tsunami well deserve our aid, but we also need to remember and protect the other victims of domestic wars, famine, and other strife plaguing other citizens of this planet.

After the news of the tsunami disaster reached us here in Denver, a few of my students asked if AHAN could put on a special fundraising seminar for victim relief. I answered, “I feel deeply for and sympathize greatly with the suffering of these tsunami victims, but I feel that AHAN’s place is to continue to support the ongoing projects and activities in other parts of the world that depend on our aid too. We are a very small organization, and our limited resources need to be dedicated to those we care for now. It is a great opportunity to offer support for the tsunami victims, and I hope aikido organizations that do not currently support other humanitarian projects get involved to raise support in their communities for this effort. Nippon Kan and AHAN are a little different in that we have many humanitarian projects in place and all of these projects are long term. It is not fair I believe, to those we have made commitments to, to divert our attention from them even for the short term. Our goals are not to give aid only in the spirit of the moment, as I have seen at holiday season at the Denver Rescue Mission. Our goal is to support and monitor the growth of our humanitarian projects over many years to come. Privately, of course, I think contributions to the Red Cross or other reputable tsunami relief organizations are a wonderful thing, and I too privately will make a donation.”

Nippon Kan AHAN activities are not measured in the end by amounts of money or materials raised for donation. Our main focus is in the actions themselves on a consistent and long-term basis. One of our goals lies in our hope that other aikidoka will follow in our spirit of “Sharing and Caring”. The Founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba taught that “Aikido is Love”. At Nippon Kan we try to demonstrate this principle through our actions and projects and hope to inspire others to do the same. Anytime one aikidoka or aikido organization stands up themselves for these principles and demonstrates their caring through projects that help our community, AHAN’s purpose is fulfilled.

If Nippon Kan as a small independent dojo can do this, there is no reason why large, affiliated organizations can’t do this as well. I fear that the only reason that they might not, is that their leaders have forgotten that other people are hungry. I feel it is my duty to continue to make my appeal to Shihan and organizations with so much power that could be mobilized to help others in need.

This South Asia Tsunami disaster is one of the largest disasters in our history, and is a great opportunity for aikido students and instructors to take action. For Nippon Kan and AHAN, I feel it is our place to walk between the steps that governments and large organizations can take to lend their aid. Our job is to take care of those that fall between the large step marks made by others with continuity and vision for their futures. At this time Nippon Kan will continue its care by supporting AHAN’s ongoing projects. If you wish to donate to the tsunami relief victims privately we encourage you to contact the Red Cross or other reputable organizations. Thank you very much for your understanding and your continued support in 2005.

Gaku Homma
Nippon Kan Kancho
Keiko Hajime Ceremonies
January 3rd, 2005