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One’s beginnings are often full of energy and overwhelming enthusiasm and on rare occasions, those early footsteps can even make history. It is however precisely what happened to the small number of people who built the basis of Aikido in Norway and who recently celebrated their 40 years anniversary. We attended this special seminar and had the pleasure of listening to Bjorn Eirik Olsen, a 7th Dan Shihan talking about how Aikido started to be practiced in his country.

Norway 2017 group ok

My friend, Birger Sorensen 6th dan, was the first to come into contact with Aikido. He decided to go to London, actually practice another martial art, but he discovered that he was looking for something deeper, with more philosophy in its concept. And so it happened that he ran into a dojo where people were on the path he seemed to be looking for. He was so excited about it that he prolonged his stay to half a year and then, when he returned to Norway, he opened a dojo in Tromso. That was in September 1977.

Shortly after however, Birger sensei underwent a knee operation and Bjorn sensei was put in charge of the dojo. Even though he was only 6th kyu, he realized that he had to do it if Aikido was to continue in his country. Eager to improve his practice, he also decided to spend a year in England, where he totalled on average over 40 hours of weekly practice.

It was very hard, but it was a very good training. Back in Norway, I had to take more and more responsibility for the dojo and then, in 1982, I got a scholarship to Japan for almost 2 years. Of course, I practiced Aikido on a daily basis; two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening. Later on, in the 90’s, I had the opportunity to work at the Norwegian Embassy in Tokyo for 4 years and to resume my daily practice.

Today, Norway hosts two Aikido federations, the Norwegian Aikido Federation (NAF) and the Aikikan. They cooperate frequently and gather almost 40 dojos.

Indeed, I want to mention Mouliko Halen 7th dan. He came from Sweden and moved to Norway in the 80’s. He built his own dojo and, in time, established his own organization. So, now there are 2 federations. The bigger one is the NAF, it has the most dojos around the country.

The Hombu Dojo-cho, Mitsuteru Ueshiba, came for the third time in Norway this summer, on the occasion of the 40th Aikido anniversary. The previous times, there were reasons of celebration for him as well, not only for the Norwegian Aikido Federation.

Norway 2017 dojo cho

We are happy of Dojo-cho’s special connection with Norway. In 1997, he came with his father, Moriteru Ueshiba Doshu for our 20 years anniversary. He was only 16 years old and it was his first time away from Japan. Ten years later, when we had the 30 years anniversary, he came again together with his father, but this time, he taught two classes of his own. It was the first time he taught adults because in Japan, until then, he had only been teaching children classes.

Bjorn Olsen sensei talked about the teachers who made Norwegian Aikido to what is over the past four decades. He mentioned two of O Sensei’s direct students : Morito Suganuma Sensei, who has been to Norway 20 times, and Seiseki Abe sensei, who notably taught calligraphy to his teacher. Bjorn sensei also acted as a kind of link between Norway and Iwama since he practiced with Morihiro Saito Sensei, with whom he had a close relation. Last but not least, Minoru Kanetsuka Sensei was the first Japanese sensei he met in London, 40 years ago, and the most important influence for early Aikido in Norway. He also stated that perhaps the most important of all was the connection with Hombu Dojo.

Norway always had a good relationship with Hombu Dojo. The Norwegian King and Queen even went to Hombu Dojo in the late 80’s to watch a demonstration. I was then translating and also gave a demonstration together with the 2nd Doshu. That visit created a very strong link as not many kings and queens have been to Hombu Dojo to see demonstrations.

Brandbu hosted the anniversary seminar. This small village has a school campus that offers best conditions for organizing an Aikido seminar. Actually, at this school – Folkehogskole, people can attend Aikido classes for one or several years, so that they can study deeper this martial art. It is like a university program, but without the pressure of exams.

Norway 2017 shihonage

The feeling on the tatami was fantastic because people were quite focused on what they had been taught by the Dojo-cho. He had 6 classes, from Friday to Sunday. On Thursday, Bjorn Eirik Olsen Shihan taught one class. The Saturday party had some special entertainment with every artist on the stage being an Aikidoka. Acts included singing, dancing, reciting poems, playing the piano, the violin, or performing theater acts.

The high number of hakama on the tatami suggested that a number of the people present had actually seen the beginnings of Aikido in Norway. We therefore inquired about the future perspectives of Aikido in Norway, and especially on how are children responding to Aikido.

That's an important issue. We have a few children dojos in Norway. Too few, I think. Every dojo should have, sooner or later, a children program because we can see that today recruitment is quite difficult. There are so many alternatives to practice, so many mobile phones and a lot of social media. So, it's hard to find young people who are as committed as we want them to be. We need some people who can dedicate a large part of their life to Aikido. Not everybody needs to do that, but some have to. If not, Aikido might get superficial. We need a group of people that is 100% committed for 20-30 years. It is an issue not only for our country, but also for the whole Western Europe. People like to try many things and to get things easily. The hard way is a bit foreign for lots of people. At the same time, I think Aikido has something important to offer to people of modern society: Aikido is teaching naturalness. And this is so important in a technological society like the one we are living in. Aikido teaches you to be in touch with your own body, with your breath, to move in harmony with nature and other people. My opinion is that Aikido has to be able to communicate these things better to society. Of course, Aikido is a martial art, but the most important with Aikido are the principles of harmony, of musubi – connectedness. We need to cultivate these aspects of Aikido and to communicate them better to the society - what Aikido is and what Aikido can offer.

Norway actually has special programs that are being developed in order to give young people more opportunities to practice Aikido deeply.

I think it's important that people should learn not only Aikido, but also zen meditation, for instance. Myself, I’ve been practicing this for 40 years. I also trained sword and other weapons. These are recommended, too. I think it's important. These are important for those who want to understand Aikido deeply, who want to have a spiritual practice, who want to learn the sharpness of Aikido and its roots, in a way.

Norway 2017 suwari

We are going to start an Aikido Retreat Program. We are doing it on an island in Greece, with a very intensive schedule, for one week, for a few selected young teachers. The first edition will be next spring. The participants are from Norway, England, Greece and Bulgaria. Later, we can invite young teachers from other countries, too.

We asked to know more things about the programs that are being developed for young practitioners.

Norway 2017 training

We are now encouraging the local dojos to have assistant teacher programs locally and to give young people some special opportunities. For instance, I started a very small “uchi deshi program”, so to say. Once a week, I invite six of the youngest students to come to my home to do meditation and to talk about Aikido. We do this every Saturday morning. I want to give them something extra. I think we need to make these kinds of things. It is not enough for people just to train in seminars or in the dojo while their lives go on without any change. I think people need to get the link between Aikido and daily life, between Aikido and society and between Aikido and its history - the spiritual history, to the martial history. I do not wish to see Aikido turn into Aiki-Aerobics, where one practices, sweats and that's it. For me, this is not an option. I encourage Aikido to be spiritual and more martial. In Aikido we should also develop sharpness and even strength. This does not destroy the harmony as I am talking about the essence of Aikido. I insist on the idea of linking Aikido more to the roots, more to the spiritual, more to the society and, this way, more to the future.

Photo credit: Alba Gullerud

International Aikido Federation

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