TS Eliot wrote about the moment when “we arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”.
For me the recent 30th Anniversary celebrations and training of AFSA (the Aikido Federation of South Africa) in my hometown of Cape Town represented such a moment. The celebrations brought together 5 very senior instructors - Osawa Shihan (7th dan), Fujimoto Shihan (7th dan), Minegishi Sensei (6th dan), Martuffi Sensei (6th dan) and our own De Beer Sensei (5th dan)and nearly 150 practitioners from around the globe and the country.
That space at the foot of the imposing Table Mountain, Hoerikwaggo to call it by its more mystical name, that space where the idea of an aikido federation for South Africa was born presented an unique laboratory. A place to rediscover that feeling of first stepping onto the mat, of letting go of the familiar, the comfortable. A space to open the mind and try out new ways of doing things, of being reminded of old, sometimes forgotten, ways of doing things.
In short, it was a space to close off this cycle and start anew - and a new cycle.
For AFSA, the event marked 3 decades of training in South Africa. It also heralded a worthy celebration of our emergence from isolation. The past 30 years were marred by our physical distance from the rest of the world and for much of that time the isolation that came from being a political pariah on the world scene. The last decade - our decade of democracy - has seen a dramatic shift, a narrowing of the gap between us and the rest of the (aikido) world.
The next 30 years pose a big challenge for AFSA. This new cycle we are starting will place new demands on us - of growth, of living up to the theme of "training together under African skies". In a country of nearly 48 million only 2,500 know about or have tried out aikido. There rests a responsibility on all of us who love and practice this rather unique martial art to introduce it to more people and thereby spreading its message of dealing with violence differently, more constructively to a wider audience.
On a more personal note, the seminar also marked in some ways my own coming of age - after 21 years of training. This year I struggled to re-locate my centre. Because Aikido is much more than a series of techniques or exercises; because it is based on a philosophy that permeates every aspect of the art, it demands a degree of consistency throughout one's life - both on and off the mat. Thus, if the exhortation on the mat is to ensure that you do not hurt either yourself or your partner, that self-same principle has to apply off the mat too. This is even more true when one is cast in the role of instructor.
So even though all of us are people, and are therefore fallible and make mistakes, and thereby hurt people, failing to recognise the mistake, and taking steps to ensure that you do not repeat it, is critical. It is to that lack of consistency, that lack of authenticity that students react, even unconsciously. And leave. Similarly it is the consistency, the authenticity in one's practice that ultimately shines through. And so, a lesson for me from the 30th anniversary has been that no matter whether you are flamboyant or reserved, training in a way that is effective yet does not cause harm requires a stable posture, a foundation of fundamental principles if you like that informs everything you do.
From there springs the joy in training, that infectious spirit that brings aikidoists together and sets aikido apart from other 'ways'.
So here's to the next 21 years for me, the next 30 years for AFSA! Here's to making new mistakes - and learning from them- to growth and expansion... And most importantly....here's to seeing you back on the tatami soon...