A number of you have commented both publicly and privately on the amount of new material we are adding of late to the Aikido Journal Members Site. One person even used the term “overwhelmed,” in a positive sense, to describe the steady of flow documents being made available to our readers. As I write this blog, every few minutes I’m looking over my shoulder monitoring a lecture-demonstration by Second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba from 1986 that I am digitizing from an old Sony Beta tape.
Let me explain what’s going on these days, and the sense of urgency behind our efforts. First of all, I’m sitting on a mountain of documents! These are in the form of old films, videotapes, audio recordings, over 100,000 photos, a heap of photocopied material, and an assortment of memorabilia, much of it unclassified.
If I could devote time to doing nothing other than digitizing and uploading these documents to the Members Site, it would still take years to complete the task. The reality is that I have only a couple of hours per day to allocate to these preservation efforts. The result is that it will take probably a couple of decades to complete the job. I need to push hard into my 80s!
One consideration affecting our present efforts is the fact that some of the most historically important materials exist in the form of videotape, a notoriously sensitive medium that degrades over time. This creates a certain urgency to digitize this analog material so that it is first preserved, and then edit and dessiminate it later as time and resources permit. That’s why a lot of what we’re uploading now has been only minimally edited, unlike what we would release as commercial products.
Another type of comment I sometimes hear is, “I wish the video had English subtitles,” or “I wish I could read Japanese,” or similar remarks. The fact is, aikido is a Japanese art created by a Japanese martial arts genius named “Morihei Ueshiba.” Most of my research took place over a 20-year period of living in Japan. Not surprisingly, almost all of our source material on aikido is in Japanese. In our various publications of the last three decades, we have managed to translate several thousand pages into English, but that represents a relatively small fraction of the totality of the materials we have collected. Here too, it’s a matter of priorities as to which task takes precedence over others. First preserve, then archive, then translate.
The next thing I have in mind to do is to make the appearance of the Aikido Journal Members Site more attractive, and then improve upon the site’s functionality. Even now, there is so much material that it takes a while to learn how to quickly find specific items on the website. Therefore, I’m studying various niche websites now to see different ways in which information databases are organized, displayed and accessed.
With the passage of time, I hope to get more Japanese speakers involved in our research community. One idea I’ve been entertaining is to organize teams of individuals with Japanese-language skills who work together to provide editing, translation, subtitling, and other services for specific documents that they “adopt.” I know that this is possible because, several years ago, we were successful in getting translators to undertake the translation of many articles on this website into their native languages. I believe it highly unlikely that any of the Japanese aikido organizations will allocate resources toward this sort of project, so we must do it. The scope of the material that deserves to be translated will undoubtedly require more resources than our humble operation can muster. I will work on getting this organized in coming months.
Once we have things operating smoothly with a steady flow of documents finding their way into the archives, some very interesting things can be done to present them in highly creative ways. To give an example, it’s possible to bring collections of photos alive through various software to make the video presentations that are much more compelling than a simple slide show. Even though things can get hectic, I’m having a lot of fun!
These are just some random thoughts to clarify for members of our aikido community what we’re up to right now. Indeed, these are exciting times for an historian, being able to apply the latest technology to breathing life to important documents from an earlier era that have a high-degree of relevance to our present-day lives. It may be that not all aikidoka are interested in the roots of the art or the life of Morihei Ueshiba, but there are enough of you who are passionate about the subject and who have sustained our efforts for nearly four decades. To you I express my sincere thanks and say, “the best is yet to come!”