COVID-19 and the Aikido Community: The Aiki Extensions Initiative

On April 16th, Aiki Extensions hosted what would become the first of many conferences, bringing together aikido practitioners from all around the world. In an effort for solidarity, event organizers Robert Kent, Jamie Zimron, and Quentin Cooke invited speakers from Israel, Turkey, Greece, Poland, and other locations to convey the effects of the recent COVID-19 pandemic and how aikido fits into the current global situation.

 

There was support and solidarity for those that sought it; there was reassurance and attitudes of hope for those who were open to it. More than 100 aikidoka from around the globe gathered to provide support, listen to what others had to say in light of COVID-19, and see how others are applying their aikido training off the mat and outside the dojo via Zoom. With a short introduction from Jamie, each speaker began to relay their current situation from their call-in location. Brazil, Poland, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Palestine all had similar experiences – a country-wide lockdown, closure of non-essential businesses, and spending more time at home than usual. This obstacle that, for some began only a few months ago, would have caused massive fear and anxiety in any average citizen, has not hindered or intimidated those that joined the conference. Many have begun to practice in their own homes, finding solo exercises and drills to keep them engaged in training, healthy, and filled with the desire to return to the dojo sooner than ever.

Within this individualized training, some have found a connection from their physical training to their mental and psychological training. As Dimitra Zirou and Spyros Baviatsos of Athens, Greece, who were the first of many speakers, found that aikido training has helped them to keep their center and calm in the face of fear and the unknown, allowing them to blend and adapt with the new situation and experience. Others, like Canar Bugday of Turkey felt reassured that just like aikido training, he and others like him know they can stand up after this fall, much like one would take ukemi in a technique.

By blending and adapting to the current situation, almost all the speakers have begun hosting virtual classes at least once a week just to keep some sense of routine of training, for themselves and their respective students. Tesfaye Tekelu of Ethiopia, in addition to hosting Zoom classes, has stirred up community involvement to assist local community members in receiving food and other, less crowded means of transportation. Other have found ways to create a fun atmosphere with their students in an otherwise gloomy environment, playing games and holding contests for small prizes.

At the close of the conference, many of the speakers, participants, and the organizers commented on the ability to bring practitioners together in a time of crisis. It was within this community that, as Jamie remarked, the conference demonstrated the power of aikido to create a worldwide family, something O-Sensei wanted to materialize in relation to his art. With the turnout more than expected, Robert, Jamie, and Quentin plan to hold these conferences every Thursday, providing the support and hope to those that need it the most in the global aikido community.

For more information on this conference, click here.

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