For those interested in discovering Aikido.

What is Aikido?


What is Aikido?

Understanding Aikido as a system is not a straightforward undertaking, there are a few key points one must understand in order to start training. In this summery I will take you through my understanding of Aikido.


This is meant to serve as merely an introduction. If you are serious about Aikido training you should not limit yourself to what you find here, but seek out your own source material.


Aikido is a traditional style Japanese gendai budo. This is a complicated way of saying that it is a  Japanese martial art  deeply rooted in the technology of ancient  soldiers, meant, in modern times, to develop strong capable people instead of deadly combatants. This is why Aikido’s technical practice revolves around old style weapons and why its practitioners wear old style Japanese clothes. Understanding this fact can also help you understand why Aikido employs so many arm and wrist techniques- traditional soldiers were not fighting on the battle field unarmed. Aikido’s techniques are attempts to control the weapon arm in close combat.


The techniques found in Aikido are the same types taught in  traditional Japanese Jujutsu. Jujutsu was the close quarters fighting methods of the Samurai. Jujutsu techniques were used when a samurai was forced to grapple for or with their own weapon or became unarmed facing armed attackers. In the modern era we view “jujutsu” as a style unto itself, but historically jujutsu was simply an auxiliary system to a larger weapon system. Today most of the Jujutsu we see has been developed in the modern era for unarmed sport fighting (most notably Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Judo) -this is historically inaccurate and makes understanding the kinds of techniques presented in traditional Jujutsu difficult. Modern Jujutsu variants (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Judo) have been adapted to specialize in unarmed combat which makes their techniques primarily about controlling the core of their opponent (body to body pins, holds and throws). While traditional Jujutsu focused more significantly on arm control- the reason for this being that either you, your attacker, or both of you would be armed and ignoring weapon hand control would get you killed, even if you managed to throw or pin your opponent’s body. This specialization in core control over arm control makes modern Jujutsu variations better for sport unarmed situations, but neglects the heavy need for weapon hand control outside of sport.


The multiple arts

Aikido as we know it today is not so much a single art as it is a collection of arts that were created by students of a man named Morihei Ueshiba (植芝 盛平 Ueshiba Morihei, December 14, 1883 – April 26, 1969), most often called “O-Sensei” (meaning great teacher/predecessor). O-Sensei is considered the founder of Aikido because it is his teachings on which the creators of the various schools of Aikido founded their systems. O-Sensei himself was a great martial artist and mystic. He practiced several martial arts systems including Daito-Ryu Aikijujutsu, Kito-Ryu, Goto ha Yagyu-ryu, and Judo, among others. He was also a devote practitioner of traditional Shinto (spiritual Japanese ancestral practices and mythos) and the Omoto Kyo, which is sect (founded 1892) of Shinto practice.


While O-Sensei spent a lot of his training years focusing on Jujutsu, and our art today still represents a strong technical connection to traditional Jujutsu, he created a martial art system that is decidedly not Jujutsu. In 1925 at the age of 42, Ueshiba was challenged to a duel (with bokken, wooden swords) by a Japanese naval officer. Ueshiba consented to the duel but decided himself not to use a sword. The naval officer took this as a sign of arrogance and attacked Ueshiba violently. While stories differ, apparently the naval officer was unable to hit Ueshiba. Somehow Ueshiba was able to avoid being hit all together, while the naval officer exhausted himself and eventually quit. This surprised everyone including Ueshiba. Later while Ueshiba was resting, he had an moment of enlightenment and realized a new way to develop and teach martial arts. This is where Aikido began its separation from the methods traditionally called Jujutsu, and became something different, an art without attack, a system of pure defense.


O-Sensei was a mystical martial artist who has been said to have achieved many semi-miraculous feats during his life. This combination of martial ability and mystical intrigue brought many students to his Dojo (martial art school). However because Ueshiba was a mystic and spoke in the language of the occult- often referencing Kami (Japanese spirit avatars) and other mythical practices, his lessons were difficult for his students to follow. While O-Sensei is considered the founder of Aikido, it is really his students who individually took on the role of organizing and structuring the lessons of what we today call Aikido. This created several slightly different schools that all fall under the same name- “Aikido”.


This makes Aikido a difficult subject to study because each school of Aikido has a slightly different emphasis on, and methodology for, teaching Aikido. Even the origin of the word “Aiki” (Aikido meaning the way of “Aiki”) and its meaning are hotly debated in Aikido circles. The term Aiki is said by Yoichiro Inoue Sensei (nephew and earliest student of Ueshiba) to have been suggested by Onisaburo Deguchi (founder of the Omote Kyo religion) in the early 20th century (“Aikido pioneers-pre war era” pg17-18). Others say that the term is much older and came from Daito Ryu (a style of Jujutsu that was very influential to O-Sensei’s martial arts)


While the origin of the word “Aiki” is still debated, it was around 1942 that Aikido (the way of “Aiki”) became the official name of what Ueshiba was teaching. Aikido literally can be translated as Ai (fitting, together, joining) Ki (energy, intent, feeling) Do (path of development). If we use a direct translation of Aikido (合気道) we might translate it in English to mean a path to developing accord or a way to reconcile energetic difference. While different schools interpreted this development of accord slightly differently, all schools agree that this fitting or joining of energies is the key element of Aikido. This study of what various schools of Aikido believe “Aiki” to be, is a core training focus.


While Ueshiba likely had hundreds of students during his lifetime, Stanley Pranin Sensei (Aikido’s greatest historian) listed sixty-seven main disciples of Ueshiba. These sixty seven students were those who did the most to promote the art of Aikido. Out of these major disciples, six stand out for outstanding achievements in organization and the dissemination of Aikido outside of Japan. Minoru Mochizuki, Kenji Tomiki, Gozo Shioda, Koichi Tohei, Morihero Saito and Kisshomaru Ueshiba. These six students each created their own styles of Aikido that expanded quickly outside of Japan and the majority of what we today call Aikido can be attributed to the works of these six exceptional teachers. These six styles (Yoseikan, Shodokan, Yoshinkan, Shin Shin Toitsu, Iwama and Aikikai) are far from the only styles of Aikido, but they do represent the most influential and far reaching. If you’ve seen an Aikido demonstration chances are it was related to one of these major schools of Aikido.


Each of these six schools have a different focus: some on hybridizing, making sport of, technical mastery, Ki development and fluid dynamic movement. At first it may seem like these schools are very different, but with only a small amount of study you can quickly find the similarities in each style. It is these similarities that represent the connection to the original teachings of O-Sensei and what binds all of it together as “Aikido”.


The history of Aikido is very involved and has many twists and turns. While it is not the focus of this website to discuss the history of Aikido it is important for the Aikido student to have at least a small understanding of Aikido’s origin. I would recommend strongly that you do your own research on the subject!


The five tenets

Even amongst all of this debate and difference it seems that the vast majority of Aikido schools share some major philosophical views:


  • Fostering a strong connection to a Japanese martial heritage.    


  • Studying and practicing Ki and Aiki development.    


  • Having no attack but instead redirecting the attacker’s force/aggression away or back towards them if necessary.        


  • Causing no undue harm to the attacker.    


  • Developing the ability to deal with multiple attackers.    


These five tenets are shared by nearly every Aikido style and what we will hold up as the philosophical goals of Aikido practice.


Alongside these philosophical tenets there are many technical similarities between the various schools of Aikido. Often names or details will be different but the technical outline you will find on this site would be understood in part or in whole by most learned Aikido practitioners.


The way we study

The main goal of Aikido as we present it on this site will be on arresting potential attack as soon as possible. In Aikido we want to avoid struggle and even physical contact all together if at all possible- this is the best way to ensure no harm will come to us or our attacker and will also allow a smaller person to defend themselves against a larger one. It is important to understand that Aikido itself has no attack- while there are things inside of our system that might seem like attacks, understanding them as such will keep you from understanding the core idea of our training.


The core idea of our training is to give up the idea of attacking those who attack us- instead we seek only to reconcile the situation as soon as possible in the least harmful way possible.  Your training can be augmented with other systems that have attack methods- however those methods will ultimately take us away from our underlying goals.


There is a fantastic power in this approach, one that Morihei Ueshiba realized in 1925 and attempted to teach to some very remarkable students.

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