“It was possible to sit in the stands and observe eight top-notch teachers all at once!”

As I sit here just back from Aiki Expo 2005 exhausted and jetlagged I find myself nonetheless reenergized, revitalized, and thoroughly exhilarated. Events of this magnitude are rare and extraordinary on many levels. Most of you don’t realize how tenuous the realization of this event is; the Pranin Family puts it on the line every time. The financial risk alone staggers my senses; Stan is totally committed to the growth and well-being of Aikido despite outright resistance from many quarters. Stan’s selfless vision and perseverance are contributing to the survival of O-Sensei’s Aikido during a perilous transition phase for the art worldwide. Stan is building bridges. Aiki Expo efficiently and effectively provides contrast, context, and perspective that would otherwise be impractical for all who attend.

As a student of the art, I found myself confronted with a difficult challenge: who to train with during the incredibly limited time available. Every class period was crammed with so much talent. As a teacher of the art, I was fascinated by the diversity of expression and perspective. It was both comforting and refreshing to see so many masters of the art exploring the alternative interpretations of their counterparts. This was both an example of leadership by example and a unique opportunity for sharing and growing… together. Many of us marveled at how that could never happen in Japan; a master teacher merely participating would be perceived as acceptance of another’s “superiority” which would cause a loss of face. So, the courage and humility demonstrated, particularly by my Japanese counterparts was truly inspiring. The future of the art is secure so long as we are willing to share in this way.

Equally significant was the fact that a certain amount of “reinterpretation” of other teacher’s approaches was being applied or explored by some of our senior-most sensei during their classes. This kind of “bootstrapping” is extremely positive as it is both complimentary and reinforcing. Sharing in this way will help insure that our generation avoids much of the sibling rivalry that has afflicted our immediate predecessors.

Behind the scenes, among the instructors, the Expo is a place for making new friends and reacquainting with old friends that we see far too infrequently. With few exceptions, the Sensei are hobnobbing into the wee hours every night, sharing thoughts and experiences, asking questions, postulating on Aikido’s past and future, seeking ways to improve the current situation. Kindred spirits all, the bonds grow stronger every time to everyone’s benefit and betterment. And while everyone likes, wants, needs to feel validated, it is truly gratifying and thoroughly encouraging to be genuinely complimented by the people you admire most. At the same time, it is quite humbling.

Stan told me that he believed this was the best Expo yet and I agree. The demonstrations were, for the most part, off the charts. Do yourself a favor and spring for that video! You won’t be disappointed; Stan had four cameras mounted at different angles so the results should be simply outstanding… I can hardly wait. Although I did not see all the demonstrations (as I was in final preparations part of the time), my favorites this year included Pat Hendricks, Patrick Auge, Katsuyuki Kondo, Hitohiro Saito, Haruo Matsuoka, Bruce Bookman, Kenji Ushiro, and Hiroshi Ikeda. The fact is I could watch Hendricks Sensei all night; she just knows how to please a crowd with non-stop, technically valid action. Auge Sensei showed us the future by showcasing not just his art, but his talented tots. Kondo Sensei made clear the roots of Aikido. Saito Sensei reminded me of his father all weekend; the stature, the voice, the movement and the power. Matsuoka Sensei cut to the chase in marvelous fashion, leaving everyone wanting more. Bookman Sensei demonstrated beautifully classical technique and its indisputable mutability and effectiveness. Ushiro Sensei clearly and unassumingly communicated how similar karate and aikido really are. Ikeda Sensei is the most efficient and effective Aikidoka I know; his expression of the art is truly sublime.

All in all Aiki Expo 2005 was incomparable. Going in, I had two concerns: first, that not enough people would attend (that issue was resolved on Day One), and second, that having all classes in one gym might prove distracting to the students (nope, didn’t happen). Having all the mats in one gym actually facilitated the contrast and camaraderie; it was possible to sit in the stands and observe eight top-notch teachers all at once. There was nothing circus-like about it, except that it was information overload! It was simply amazing; I can’t wait for the next time! Thanks Stan.

Aikido Journal offers a 4-DVD Set that captures all of the demonstrations and highlights from Aiki Expo 2005, a super-scale aikido cross-training event held in Los Angeles. It features the talents of top-ranked aikido instructors of different aikido styles along with demonstrations and classes of Daito-ryu aikijujutsu, Russian Systema, judo, jujutsu, and classical Japanese arts. Included in the 4 DVDs are the entirety of the 24 demonstrations given at the Expo, plus highlights of the seminars conducted by the 19 top instructors present at the event. The incredible array of talent and instruction in these DVDs will provide many hours of study and inspiration for you, the astute viewer! The 4-DVD set is available only through Sunday, December 2 for the special price of $49.95.

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