Aikido is a powerful martial art developed throughout the mid 20th century by a Japanese named Morihei Ueshiba. Aikido differs from most other martial arts in that the practitioner seeks to achieve self-defense without injury to attackers. Furthermore, there are no competitions or tournaments in Aikido. Therefore, Aikido is non-competitive.
Generally speaking, Aikido is most often practiced with a partner where one person functions as an attacker and the other person practices defensive Aikido techniques. About half of the techniques involve joint locks which enable the “attacker” to be moved to a pinning position where they can be held without injury. Other Aikido techniques involve throwing the partner. An Aikido student spends much time learning how to fall safely. Proper falling is a fundamental component to the practice of Aikido.
The basic movements of Aikido are circular in nature. Most attacks are linear. An Aikido student harmonizes with, rather than confronts the linear attack and converts the energy of that linear attack into a circular energy that, ultimately, renders the attacker or attackers helpless.
Instead of using potentially crippling kicks or punches, the Aikido student trains to apply various wristlocks, arm pins, or unbalancing throws to neutralize aggressors without injury. Aikido is a 100% defensive martial art. The so-called “attacks” taught in Aikido are merely for purposes of learning to defend against those attacks rather than for the purpose of injuring an opponent.
Spectators often describe Aikido as looking very dance-like. This quality is essential to the safe and effective practice of Aikido. Aikido’s techniques can be so devastating that if the two Aikido practitioners do not harmonize their respective movements with such a dance-like quality carefully, an injury could easily occur. Students quickly discover that the strength of Aikido lay not in muscular force, but in flexibility, timing, control, and modesty.
Watching two experienced Aikido students or masters practice together can be an awesome site. An acute observer will notice a distinct, but subtle harmonizing energy forged between the two of them. This harmonizing energy, or connection, is highly sought after by Aikido practitioners and, when experienced, has the potential to transform the lives of Aikido participants. This transformation takes place not only in one’s ability to defend oneself physically, but also in every other aspect of one’s life. The uniqueness of Aikido makes it possible to experience deep levels of mental relaxation, emotional calmness, acute concentration and peak physical fitness in our daily lives. Aikido is the education and refinement of the spirit.
Aikido movies are rare. However, Aikido received significant attention in the 1990s following a series of martial art movies starring Aikido practitioner, Steven Seagal.
Purpose of Aikido
The purpose of Aikido training is not perfection of a martial skill, but rather the improvement of one’s character. The objective of Aikido is not necessarily to defend yourself or to hurt attackers, but ultimately to contribute to the making of a better society through the united training of body, mind and spirit. The developer of Aikido spent decades spreading this message of peace through the art of Aikido.
Being a martial art, people are often surprised, even perplexed to learn that Aikido means “the way of harmony.” “Ki” (pronounced ‘key’) is the Eastern philosophical concept of the universal creative principle of life – the life force or breath. Ki is at the heart of Aikido – both in concept and in word. When the word is broken down into syllables it reads Ai-Ki-Do.
AI = Harmony / Connection
KI = Spirit / Energy
DO = Way / Path
Literally, Aikido translates as “the way of harmony with Ki.” Aikido seeks to unite this Ki of the Universe with the Ki found within each person. The Founder of Aikido believed that a person was at their highest level of self-actualization when universal ki and one’s personal ki were aligned. Use of the word “ki” or spirit in a Japanese context doesn’t necessarily imply that of a religious connotation. Rather, it recognizes the inherent energy found in all living and non-living things… all matter and non-matter, that is.
Philosophy of Aikido
Much like a hurricane, tornado or tidal wave, the forces found in nature are efficient, rational, and soft, while the center is immovable, firm, and stable. Of course, these forces may not seem rational or soft relative to human experience, but relative to itself, these forces are perfectly balanced. This principle of a firm center and a soft, adaptable periphery is universally consistent — and must be true for each person, as well. The culmination of Aikido is expressed by aligning one’s own center with the center expressed throughout nature. One becomes “resilient” inside, yet this strength is expressed softly and powerfully.
The movements of Aikido maintain this firm and stable center simultaneously emphasizing spherical rotation characterized by flowing, circular motions. These pivoting, entering and circling motions are used to blend with, to control and to overcome an opponent. The principle of spherical rotation makes it possible to defend one’s self from an opponent of superior size, strength and experience.
Although Aikido movements are soft, logical and smooth, as are those found in nature, by applying a bit of force, these techniques can be devastatingly effective. The gentle quality of Aikido makes it appealing to many people. It not only provides excellent exercise and teaches proper etiquette and self-control, but for some it also offers spiritual growth and evolution.
Aikido Founder, Morihei Ueshiba
Aikido, a traditional Japanese martial art, was developed in the early part of the 20th century by Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969), now known as O-Sensei (venerable teacher). Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei, the Aikido Kaiso (founder), was born in 1883 in Tanabe, a coastal town in southern Japan. From the time of his youth, he studied various martial arts, eventually including sumo, swordsmanship, spear technique, staff technique, and various styles of jiujutsu, particularly the Yagyu and Daito styles.
From youth, Ueshiba also appears to have been a deeply sensitive and spiritual person. Eventually influenced by the charismatic spiritual leader and artist Onisaburo Deguchi, he came to view his martial training as a means of personal purification and spiritual training.
The time of O-Sensei’s life saw Japan involved in some of the most violent conflicts of the 20th century, culminating in the Pacific war. However, it was during this time that he founded Aikido and declared it to be a way of joining the peoples of the world together in peace. In this way, Aikido is truly Budo – a martial Way – rather than simply a bujutsu (martial technique) or bugei (martial art). When martial training is undertaken not simply as a means to conquer others, but as a means to refine and perfect the self, this can be said to be Budo. The famous motto of O-Sensei, “Masakatsu Agatsu”, contains the essence of the spirit of Aikido: “True victory is victory over the self.”
The Kaiso’s incredible technical expertise and charisma brought him tremendous support from high-ranking military officers, government personnel, and the Imperial family during his life. Following his death in 1969, he was posthumously awarded an Imperial medal for his unique contributions. However, recognitions and honors aside, it was the universality of his insights, and his vision of the martial Way being open to all sincere persons internationally, which have led to the phenomenal growth of Aikido. The noblest philosophies and intentions of the samurai have become a part of world culture, and give spiritual sustenance to millions of persons of all cultures; this is largely due to the groundbreaking influence of Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei.
Aikido: A Martial Way
To understand Aikido and its benefits, it must be said that as a traditional Japanese martial art, Aikido is more than simply an efficient method of self-defense. It is a form of Budo – a “martial way”. The word do in Japanese is the same as the Chinese word tao. It denotes a path of understanding, a way of life, and the Way of the universe itself.
In Japanese history, as in many cultures, the warrior arts were considered uniquely suited not only for practical use during times of war, but for the refinement and development of the human character. The qualities and principles of the ideal warrior – courage, decisiveness, strength, clarity of mind, compassion – are also the ideal qualities of the human being. In this way, the Japanese martial tradition, like European chivalry, has always stressed the applicability of martial principles to daily life. This understanding is the meaning of budo. A related word, Bushido (“the way of the warrior”) also expresses this. A warrior’s way of life is not simply fighting, but is the constant striving for self-perfection in all things.
The knightly ideal in European cultures was that of a powerful warrior who also possessed sensitivity and mercy. Likewise, the ideal of the samurai, the warriors of Japan, was not a simple fighter. It was a balanced human being, a warrior embodying the motto Bun Bu Ryodo: “The martial and the intellectual ways as one.” Balanced in this way, one could truly be useful and of service to others.
These traditions today are carried on in the martial ways like Aikido. Everything in Aikido training is meant to develop not only a strong individual, but one with the wisdom and energy to positively benefit society. A true martial artist views conflict not merely as a contest with others, but as an opportunity to forge oneself and overcome our true enemies, which are within. A life lived fully in this manner naturally becomes shugyo: the deepest possible spiritual training. A favorite saying of Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei, the founder of Aikido, was masakatsu, agatsu: “True victory is self-victory.” This truly is the spirit of Aikido.
Physical Benefits of Aikido
Of course, the philosophy and internal benefits of Aikido are accompanied by concrete physical benefits. Aikido training is an excellent program for all-around physical fitness, flexibility, and relaxation.
The human body in general can exert power in two ways: contractive and expansive. Many fitness activities, for example weight-lifting, emphasize the former, which means that specific muscles or muscle groups are isolated and worked to improve tone, mass, and power. The disadvantage of this, however, is that whole body movement and coordination are rarely stressed. Thus, while muscle size and power may increase, there is no teaming of the ways in which to use those muscles together most efficiently.
Also, this sort of training tends to increase tension, decrease flexibility, and stress the joints. The result may be aesthetically pleasing, but when done to excess it is ultimately useless, and actually detrimental to overall health.
The second type of power, expansive, is mostly stressed in activities such as dance or gymnastics. In these activities, the body must learn to move in a coordinated manner and with relaxation. Aikido, also, mostly stresses this sort of training.
While both types of power are important, it is interesting to note that a person who masters the second type of power can, in a martial context, often overcome a person who is much bigger or stronger. The reason for this is that the contractive power which most persons know is only as great as the mass and power of your individual muscles. Expansive power, however, as used in Aikido, can be much greater than your size may lead you to believe. This is because you move with your whole body.
Rather than stressing and tensing only a few muscles, you learn to relax and move from the center of your body, where you are most powerful. Power is then extended out naturally through the relaxed limbs, which become almost whip like in their motion.
So Aikido develops the body in a unique manner. Aerobic fitness is obtained through vigorous training. Flexibility of the joints and connective tissues is developed through various stretching exercises and through the techniques themselves. Relaxation is learned automatically, since without it the techniques will not function. And a balanced use of contractive and expansive power is mastered, enabling even a small person to generate enormous energy and self-defense skill.
Psychological Benefits of Aikido
Aikido training does not view the body and mind as separate. The condition of one will affect the other. For this reason, the physical relaxation learned in Aikido naturally becomes mental relaxation. Likewise, the perseverance and confidence that develop mentally are manifested in a body that moves and holds itself confidently and strongly. Any psychological or spiritual insight must be reflected in the body, or else it tends to be little more than intellectualization; under pressure, such insights disappear, and the person reverts to previously ingrained habits and patterns.
Aikido training requires the student to squarely face conflict, not to run away from it. Through this very concrete, physical experience, an Aikido practitioner learns to face the situations of life in a proactive, constructive manner. Patterns of avoidance and fear are broken. The tense, defensive reactions to pressure and conflict which so often only create more violence are recognized and deconstructed. A new person – straightforward, brave yet humble, able to be both strong and yielding as circumstances require – can emerge from this training.
Today, Aikido has become known in psychological and business circles as a highly useful metaphor in devising conflict resolution strategies. People everywhere are using Aikido philosophy to improve the quality of their lives.
Aikido as Self-Defense
In Japan, a nation of many martial arts, Aikido is the one chosen for instruction to the elite Tokyo Metropolitan Riot Police and Secret Police. The reason for this may be the extreme flexibility inherent in the art.
Unlike other arts, Aikido technique can be applied at varying levels of severity, in a continuum from the most gentle controlling techniques to the most severe countermeasures. Aikido is therefore ideal for application to a wide range of defensive situations, including law-enforcement / security / corrections, medical / mental-health environments, civilian self-defense, women’s self-defense, and children’s self- defense. Aikido can be flexibly adapted to whatever situation arises; this is the legacy of the samurai, who devised these techniques to face a bewildering array of assaults by single or multiple attackers. Today, we continue this tradition by instructing Aikido and specialized Aikido-derived technique to a wide-range of organizations which need decisive, effective defensive skills.
Aikido in Daily Life
The practice of Aikido ultimately must become the practice of our daily lives, moment to moment. Every moment of life involves some sort of conflict – with others, with our environments, with our bodies, with ourselves. And yet, it is our choice to see this conflict as something to be avoided and struggled with, or as the creative force of change which makes true growth and learning possible.
In order to develop the true human potential, some sort of discipline and refinement is necessary. In order to develop awareness, decisiveness, inner power and compassion, we must experience the hardship and work of facing life squarely. Life itself must be used to forge ourselves. This philosophy of Aikido means that, ultimately, our dojo (training hall) is much more than a building where we practice. Our true dojo is our life itself. And, Aikido consists of a unified training methodology designed to bring about this realization and put it to good use.
Viewed in this way, life becomes rich and filled with meaning. Every situation is used as a springboard to greater growth. We learn to open ourselves to experience, rather than shunning unpleasant aspects of life. Our minds expand, and we become strong.
This is the legacy of the martial ways, and the true value of Aikido training. The dream of O-Sensei was of all the peoples of the world, training together in peace for mutual benefit. Stressing the positive values of the martial ways, Aikido continues to grow and spread across the globe, fulfilling this vision.
Republished with the expressed permission of the Aikido Association of America