What is Aikido?

A brief history and explanation of martial aikido

If you’re not familiar with martial aikido, you may erroneously think that it is just another way of exchanging punches and kicks, and possibly imagine that Verbal Aikido would then be just a means to joust verbally in order to ‘slay’ your interlocutor. However, once you discover the philosophy and approach to this non-competitive martial art, you will quickly see the differences it has with other forms of ‘combat’. In fact, one of the main principles in aikido is that there is no combat, because it is over as soon as it begins. Another core concept is that aggressiveness is never replied to with aggressiveness. The specific goal that the founder, Morihei Ueshiba, had for the art was that it would enable practitioners to defend themselves while also keeping the attacker from harm! Indeed, you will not find competitions in mainstream aikido; rather ‘seminars’ where the techniques are exchanged between practitioners for mutual benefit.

So what does the word ‘aikido’ mean?

You may already be familiar with the use of ‘do’ in other martial arts, for example: Judo, Taekwondo and Jeet Kun Do. In all of these, the do signifies ‘the way of’ or ‘the path to’. Ai is the Japanese for ‘harmonious’ or ‘balancing’, and ki means ‘life spirit’ or ‘energy force’ (e.g. Tai-Chi, Qi-Gong). Ai-ki-do is thus often translated as ‘the way of harmonious spirit’ or ‘the path to balancing energy’.

It was during the period of Pacific War, when Japan was experiencing some of the most violent conflicts in the 20th century, that Ueshiba (photo) Morihei-Ueshibafounded Aikido, proclaiming it to be a way of joining the peoples of the world together in peace. Aikido is thus considered to be truly budo – a martial way, rather than a martial technique or art. O-Sensei, as Ueshiba came to be known, developed and tweaked this veritable budo in the last century. He died in 1969, and martial aikido around the world now has literally millions of followers, students and practitioners. With his teachings he professed incessantly about peace and Aikido’s philosophical ideal of “refining one’s mind to foster a spirit of harmony”.

Budo was seen by Ueshiba as martial training, not simply as a means to emerge victorious from conflict, but as a means to refine and perfect the self. The essence of the spirit of aikido may be found in one of O-Sensei’s most remembered mottos, “Masakatsu agatsu” – True victory is victory over the self.

In practice, here are seven of the martial aikido practitioner’s basic goals:

  • Strategically calm an attack.
  • Never respond to force or aggression with a similar energy.
  • Join and combine with the energy of the other.
  • Rapidly use and redirect the force of the attacker.
  • Turn or pivot with the force of the attacker, letting them continue their stride.
  • Protect the attacker from injury.
  • Consider the attacker as a partner

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