Ever since Aikido of London was established a rich tapestry of people have come and gone while trying to learn Aikido. The diversity represented from all over the globe is a particular achievement which I am very proud of. It never ceases to amaze me that over 35 nations have been training at the dojo at some point over the years. They have come from The USA, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, Israel, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Oman, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, France, Germany, Denmark, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Norway, Malaysia, Japan, Cyprus, Iraq, Romania, Finland, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, China, Taiwan, Vietnam and of course the UK. Much of this has been made possible because of London’s unique position as a major cosmopolitan city extraordinaire and because of the open nature of the people who train here. The mix of people who may even be historical enemies find expression through training and a generally positive experience.
The emphasis is naturally Aikido and for some Iaido but underneath the surface of each one of us we bring our respective qualities, mainly good ones I hope, sometimes bad ones (not too often) but always genuine. I find this incredible in view of the current divisiveness that often occupies the media together with groups or organisations that serve to influence society in negative ways. It is my belief that the dojo is a counter to these divisive attitudes, in a way that is very natural and organic. I never set out to create this entity with all this in mind, to do this as some sort of United Nations in a London based martial art school, nor did I carry it as an agenda of any kind or cause other than to transmit the teaching as best I can. It just happened to work out this way. People come and go, some struggle and some give up but the outcome over many years is this very cosmopolitan dojo bound together with a passion for training and good relations off the mat. The balance is good in that the social element does not impede the training or visa versa.
Alongside the international character of the dojo is a healthy balance between men and women. It is about 60% to 40% respectively and fluctuates one way or other fairly evenly. It is my belief that a strong female presence is very important and changes the dynamic of the dojo in a positive way. I believe all dojo members should be treated seriously if they are committed in their training, regardless of gender. A patronising or dismissive manner towards a female student or using physical and psychological domination to hinder progression is not welcome here. There are differences that characterise each of us, regardless of gender, age, faith, character and it is important that these are all channelled effectively into the training and as part of the material needed to work on and develop. Sometimes there are difficulties, points of conflict but nothing that usually cannot be addressed or worked out.
The only area where participation has been weak despite efforts in the last few years, is young people. Aikido has not appealed to them in a significant way as yet. In conversation with sports bodies in the London area it is I understand a nationwide problem and applies to a lot of sport across the board. It has proven to be a challenge to get young people active in the 21st century. I will elaborate on this subject in a future article.