Most of you know Jamie by know from my previous columns about her.
We spoke recently for an update on how The Martial Art of Peace is helping to foster new understandings and friendships amongst Israelis, Palestinians and others separated by violent conflicts.
Q: Can you fill us in on the Middle East Aikido Project (MAP)?
A: “It's been over 8 years now since Aiki Extensions officially launched the project, with the watershed Training Across Borders (TAB) Conference on the island of Cyprus. For four life-changing days, 100 attendees from conflict zones - Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Jordan, Greece, Turkey, Serbia, Bosnia - trained together, did meditation and massage, ate and danced, explored aiki leadership and healing, and created almost unimaginable new connections and friendships.
“The MAP / TAB idea is to connect people who have been locked in struggle, enmity, trauma, hatred, war. Aikido and other somatic practices serve as the vehicle to foster non-violent relationships and co-operative power. Much has happened since Cyprus, including:
- The first generation of Palestinian black belts in Jerusalem, training with Jewish Israelis
- Growth of a full-time Palestinian dojo in Ramallah
- Active partnership with Budo For Peace youth training programs and 'sister' Muslim-Christian-Jewish dojos in Israel
- The PeaceCamp Initiative, completing its 6th summer of bringing young Middle Eastern martial artists to American summer camp
- ‘Mini-TAB' trainings in Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, Amman, London, Zurich.
- Recognition and support from the Peres Peace Center in Israel
“MAP activities are changing lives and attitudes, with incalculable ripple effects for individuals and communities. Our Aiki Extensions Board is excited to begin organizing TAB 2015, as both a commemorative and creative 10th Anniversary Conference, and including ‘mini-TAB’ events leading up to and helping shape the 2015 gathering.”
Q: What’s happening that is frustrating?
A: “The realities of violence and division are persistent and intense. Neither side has been able to put forth collaborative or effective leaders, and extremists often prevail. The vast majority of the people on both sides are tired of violent strife, longing to live in safety and to work out conditions for a just and lasting peace.”
Q: Do the students need uniforms or other items that would help them with their training?
A: “Yes, particularly in the West Bank. Aikido has been developing inside of Israel since the 1980s. While goods are often expensive, Israelis have direct access to martial arts supplies. Palestinians generally need to go through Israeli, Jordanian or other contacts. Gis are always appreciated, and donations of funds go towards mats, space rental, teacher compensation, and other dojo necessities.”
Q: What is your vision for aikido in the region in the coming 1-5 years?
A: “I’d like to see more Palestinians starting to train in Israel, and growth of Arab aikido centers in the West Bank and someday in Gaza (‘Inshallah, God-willing’). Since Cyprus we now have a full-fledged dojo in Ramallah, that I imagine might act as a central Palestinian ‘hombu’ (headquarters) helping new groups and dojos to get established. I envision more joint Israeli-Palestinian trainings, and expanded collaborative efforts with people and programs that are cultivating peace-minded adult and youth leaders.
“Cultural and religious mores still often limit women and girls from training, so I’d really like to see a shift here. Aikido offers vital embodiment and martial arts experiences that ought to be available equally, so that every person can be peacefully empowered, healthy and reaching their potential in life
“An exciting, and ambitious, vision is to get aikido into the Palestinian school system. There is a Sports Teachers College in the West Bank town of Tulkarem, across the street from the home and learning center of a peace activist who teaches English throughout the area. We’ve been laying groundwork for Aiki Corps volunteer instructors to come spend time building aikido there, as well as train Sports College teachers who could then introduce aikido into West Bank schools. The vision is really of ‘Peace PE’: transformative physical education. This dovetails with Don Levine's vision of aikido in Ethiopian schools, and Charles Colten's Aikido in The Schools project in New York City.”
Q: Has the word about PeaceCamp that Robert Kent and you organize spread out to the larger population from the Palestinian kids who've attended?
A: “For the past 6 summers, PeaceCamp Initiative has brought 3-6 young Israeli and Palestinian martial artists to Camp Susquehannock, one of the oldest summer camps in America. It’s been very positive for everyone involved - the Mideast kids, as well as American campers and adult staff. The kids go home greatly energized, and their broadened friendships and world-views influence their own dojos, families, schools, communities. I love to think about these Muslim, Christian and Jewish kids as grownups - parents, educators, businesspeople, political leaders - freely picking up the phone, calling on one another, bonded from their time as teenagers traveling to PeaceCamp and able to work together as adult colleagues to create a more peaceful Middle East.”
Q: Any closing thoughts?
A: “I’d like to encourage everyone to visit the websites listed below, get involved, make a donation. And every dojo, in any martial art, is invited to participate in Aiki Extensions’ 4th Annual International Aiki Peace Week September 15-21st. Join over 400 dojos worldwide in focusing classes more fully on the peacemaking potential of training. People are also welcome to attend our Aiki Extensions national conference October 25-27, held here on the west coast for the first time at Sofia University in Palo Alto.”
Jamie added that she travels widely offering aiki-based Peak Performance and Peaceful Power trainings. This work, known as The KiAi Way, offers a unique blend of body-mind trainings designed to help both adults and kids learn self-mastery skills; golfers and athletes to play at new levels; and businesses and leaders to tap into holistic tools for greater satisfaction and success.
She concluded her reply to me with this:
“As O’Sensei envisioned, Aikido is an amazing universal Way to ‘help reconcile the world and make all human beings one family.’ MAP participants never cease to inspire, and to crack my heart open with their courage, warmth and words:
‘We prove that the training mat is a perfect tool that helps people forget their hate, and even love each other.’
‘We pull off what governments only dream about.’
‘My big idea is to start with the little children!’
‘I wish to plant peace by doing peace.’
‘Glow peace glow!’”
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