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What is Aikido?


Aikido is a Japanese martial art that allows a practitioner to use an attacker’s momentum to take his balance and subdue him with a variety of throws, joint locks and pins.

Aikido was created by Morihei Ueshiba at the turn of the century.  The roots of Aikido are the bujutsu (martial arts) of the samurai (warrior class) in feudal Japan.  Ueshiba adapted Daito-ryu aikijujutsu and built upon it to create Aikido, a martial art that conformed to his philosophy and was adapted to the modern world.

In Aikido, the emphasis is on controlling an attacker.  In keeping with Aikido’s philosophy of non-violence practitioners almost never initiate an attack.  We learn Aikido to improve our minds and bodies and for self-defence.

Aikido history

Japan's extensive and well-documented history is full of long and bloody feuds between the rivalling clans of the east and west. The samurai culture which traditionally generated very skilful and disciplined swordfighters who defended their honour and the terrain of their respective feudal lords, changed drastically after 1603. That year Tokugawa Ieyasu founded the Tokugawa Shogunate pacifying the country and uniting the serfs under one shogun - consequently, the samurai were made redundant. Quite often, they formed into marauding bands of defenders for whomever was able to afford their services. (Akira Kurosawa's film 'The Seven Samurai' draws a vivid picture of the lifestyle of that kind of 'hired sword'). With the Meiji Restoration in 1868 came a law that banned the carrying of swords as Japan became a modern nation-state.

Sokaku Takeda, the head of a famous samurai family, practiced techniques for sword-less combat called Daitoryu aikijujutsu (Daito-style aikitechnique). The 'secrets' of these techniques had been passed down the Takeda clan for a few generations and allowed the former warriors to practice their skills without killing their opponents. Daitoryu puts emphasis on joint-locks, pins and strangleholds, and its practice was very painful and confrontational. In 1905, Takeda met a young man called Morihei UESHIBA who started studying aikijujutsu under him. Apart from his lifelong pursuit of mastering various martial arts, Ueshiba became increasingly interested in religion, philosophy and spiritual growth and therefore developed his own form of aikijujutsu to suit his inner needs.

Halfway through WW II, Ueshiba, who had been a soldier in the Russo-Japanese war, grew tired of the seemingly unending bloodshed and withdrew to the countryside to work on the land, leaving his dojo in the care of a few dedicated disciples whom he had already acquired by the 1930s. Legend has it, that whilst working in a field he heard the birds sing, the brook murmur, the leaves on the trees and bushes rustle, and he realised that everything had to be about harmony and love, and that any form of physical activity had to include the spiritual realm.

Origins of Aikido

Morihei Ueshiba

Ueshiba returned to his dojo after the war and started to rework his techniques in the spirit of the new art he named AI KI DO.

'Ai' means harmony.
'Ki' is the universal energy that circulates in and amongst all animate things.
'Do' literally means way or path and expressed the notion that a commitment to it was like a commitment to live, just as the path of life only stops with death regardless of the direction it may take.

The commitment to a life on the 'path of harmonious energy' sought to cultivate mind, body and spirit.

Its principle was the belief that an enlightened mind cannot be achieved in isolation from the body, and so through disciplining the physical body and being in complete control of its movements, - a concept akin to Yoga - followers could free their spirit and learn to avoid prejudice and rash judgement.

Modern Aikido

the Dojo

During the practice of Aikido, this ideal state is attempted by 'mushin' (lit. without mind). Mushin enables the practitioner to harmonise with anything that comes at him/her without turning that meeting of energies into a confrontation, which is always the case if the mind is led by the ego. Aikido is a non-competitive martial art, not a sport. "Sh'te" (the one who applies a technique) and 'uke' (the one who receives the technique) take turns, so there is no winner or loser in training. The exchange is based on mutual trust to allow the growth of confidence in both roles.

The ultimate aim of an Aikido technique, just as that of any other martial art, is the control of the opponent's body. This is achieved by breaking his/her balance without confrontation or application of muscular power. Depending on what direction the oncoming power takes, i.e. whether you are being pulled, pushed, punched to the front or side of your head or abdomen, or attacked from behind, an Aikido technique extends the oncoming power to unbalance the opponent and, in a circular motion, returns it to control him/her. An opponent's attack can also be parried by evasion where the balance is broken by the power of the attack itself.