What is Aikido:
Aikido (Japanese: 合気道 Hepburn: Aikidō?) [a.i.ki.doː] is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs. Aikido is often translated as “the Way of unifying (with) life energy” or as “the Way of harmonious spirit.”Ueshiba’s goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury.
Aikido is performed by blending with the motion of the attacker and redirecting the force of the attack rather than opposing it head-on. This requires very little physical strength, as the aikidōka (aikido practitioner) “leads” the attacker’s momentum using entering and turning movements. The techniques are completed with various throws or joint locks.
Aikido derives mainly from the martial art of Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu, but began to diverge from it in the late 1920s, partly due to Ueshiba’s involvement with the Ōmoto-kyō religion. Ueshiba’s early students’ documents bear the term aiki-jūjutsu.
Ueshiba’s senior students have different approaches to aikido, depending partly on when they studied with him. Today aikido is found all over the world in a number of styles, with broad ranges of interpretation and emphasis. However, they all share techniques learned from Ueshiba and most have concern for the well-being of the attacker.
History of the Founder:
Brief History of Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969)
Aikido’s founder, Morihei Ueshiba, was born in Japan on December 14, 1883. As a boy, he often saw local thugs beat up his father for political reasons. He set out to make himself strong so that he could take revenge. He devoted himself to hard physical conditioning and eventually to the practice of martial arts, receiving certificates of mastery in several styles of jujitsu, fencing, and spear fighting. In spite of his impressive physical and martial capabilities, however, he felt very dissatisfied. He began delving into religions in hopes of finding a deeper significance to life, all the while continuing to pursue his studies of budo, or the martial arts. By combining his martial training with his religious and political ideologies, he created the modern martial art of aikido. Ueshiba decided on the name “aikido” in 1942 (before that he called his martial art “aikibudo” and “aikinomichi”).
On the technical side, aikido is rooted in several styles of jujitsu (from which modern judo is also derived), in particular daitoryu-(aiki)jujitsu, as well as sword and spear fighting arts. Oversimplifying somewhat, we may say that aikido takes the joint locks and throws from jujitsu and combines them with the body movements of sword and spear fighting. However, we must also realize that many aikido techniques are the result of Master Ueshiba’s own innovation.
On the religious side, Ueshiba was a devotee of one of Japan’s so-called “new religions,” Omotokyo. Omotokyo was (and is) part neo-shintoism, and part sociopolitical idealism. One goal of Omotokyo has been the unification of all humanity in a single “heavenly kingdom on earth” where all religions would be united under the banner of Omotokyo. It is impossible sufficiently to understand many of O-sensei’s writings and sayings without keeping the influence of Omotokyo firmly in mind.
Despite what many people think or claim, there is no unified philosophy of aikido. What there is, instead, is a disorganized and only partially coherent collect ion of religious, ethical, and metaphysical beliefs which are only more or less shared by aikidoka, and which are either transmitted by word of mouth or found in scattered publications about aikido.
Some examples: “Aikido is not a way to fight with or defeat enemies; it is a way to reconcile the world and make all human beings one family.” “The essence of aikido is the cultivation of ki [a vital force, internal power, mental/spiritual energy].” “The secret of aikido is to become one with the universe.” “Aikido is primarily a way to achieve physical and psycho logical self-mastery .” “The body is the concrete unification of the physical and spiritual created by the universe.” And so forth. At the core of almost all philosophical interpretations of aikido, however, we may identify at least two fundamental threads: (1) A commitment to peaceful resolution of conflict whenever possible. (2) A commitment to self-improvement through aikido training.
A Note on Ki:
The concept of Ki is one of the most difficult associated with the philosophy and practice of aikido. Since the word “aikido” means something like “the way of harmony with Ki,” it is hardly surprising that many aikidoka are interested in understanding just what Ki is supposed to be.
Etymologically, the word “Ki” derives from the Chinese “Qi” or “Chi.” In Chinese philosophy, chi was originally supposed to be that which differentiated living and non-living things. But as Chinese philosophy developed, the concept of chi took on a wider range of meanings and applications. On some views, chi was held to be the most basic “stuff” out of which all things were made. The differences between things depended not on some things having chi and others not, but rather on a principle (li, Japanese = RI) which determined how the chi was organized and functioned (the view here bears some similarity to the ancient Greek matter-form metaphysical).
Modern aikidoka are less concerned with the historiography of the concept of Ki than with the question of whether or not the term “Ki” denotes anything real, and, if so, just what it does denote. There have been some attempts to demonstrate the objective existence of Ki as a kind of “energy” or “stuff” that flows within the body (especially along certain channels, called “meridians”). So far, however, there have been no reputable studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals that substantiate such claims. This does not, of course, settle the question decisively against the existence of Ki, but, just yet, the evidence does not support existence claims for Ki.
There are a number of aikidoka who claim to be able to demonstrate the (objective) existence of Ki by performing various sorts of feats. One such feat, which is very popular, is the so- called “unbendable arm.” In this exercise, one person, A, extends her arm, while another person, B, tries to bend the arm. First, A makes a fist and tightens the muscles in her arm. B is usually able to bend the arm. Next, A relaxes her arm (but leaves it extended) and “extends Ki” (since “extending Ki” is not something most newcomers to aikido know precisely how to do, A is often simply advised to think of her arm as a fire-hose gushing water, or some such similar metaphor). This time, B finds it (far) more difficult to bend the arm. The conclusion is supposed to be that it is the force/activity of Ki that accounts for the difference. However, there are alternative explanations expressible within the vocabulary or scope of physics (or, perhaps, psychology) that are fully capable of accounting for the phenomenon here. In addition, the fact that it is difficult to filter out the biases and expectations of the participants in such “experiments” makes it all the more questionable whether they provide reliable evidence for the objective existence of Ki.
Not all aikidoka believe that Ki is a kind of “stuff” or “energy.” For some aikidoka, Ki is an expedient concept — a blanket-concept which covers intentions, momentum, will, and attention. If one eschews the view that Ki is a stuff that can literally be extended, to extend KI is to adopt a physically and psychologically positive bearing. This maximizes the efficiency and adaptability of one’s movement, resulting in stronger technique and a feeling of affirmation both of oneself and one’s partner.
Irrespective of whether one chooses to take a realist or an anti-realist stance with respect to the objective existence of Ki, there can be little doubt that there is more to aikido than the mere physical manipulation of another person’s body. Aikido requires a sensitivity to such diverse variables as timing, momentum, balance, the speed and power of an attack, and especially to the psychological state of one’s partner (or of an attacker).
In addition, to the extent that aikido is not a system for gaining physical control over others, but rather a vehicle for self-improvement (or even enlightenment (see SATORI)), there can be little doubt that cultivation of a positive physical and psychological bearing is an important part of aikido. Again, one may or may not wish to describe the cultivation of this positive bearing in terms of Ki.
Philosophy of Aikido:
The Japanese word Aikido can be translated roughly as the path or way (Do) of harmonizing or blending (Ai) the energy or spirit (Ki). So, Aikido is the way of harmonizing energy.
Aikido is learned through techniques, yet it is not about techniques. Through the practice of techniques, principles are learned. These principles, integrated first in the body and then the mind of the Aikidoka, offer unlimited opt ions to deal with aggression and violence in any form and whenever
it occurs whether that be the practice hall, the street, the work place, the home, or from within the self. One doesn’ t need to use words to convey and integrate these principles. Aikido teaches us most clearly through the actual physical practice.
Aikido is not a way to fight with or defeat enemies; it is a way to reconcile the world and make all human beings one family. At the core of almost all philosophical interpretations of Aikido, we may identify at least two fundamental threads: (1) A commitment to peaceful resolution of conflict whenever possible. (2) A commitment to self-improvement through Aikido training.
Benefits of Aikido:
- Improves your life at all levels.
- Improves coordination and flexibility.
- Increases your awareness.
- Stress relief and a calm mind.
- Increased self confidence.
- Heightened awareness of surroundings.
- Conflict resolution.
- Physical health and mental discipline.
- Ability to handle whatever comes your way in the form of physical or verbal attacks.
What to Expect
Aikido is interesting:
Aikido is learned through techniques, yet it is not about techniques. Through the practice of techniques, principles are learned. These principles, integrated in first the body then the mind of the Aikidoka, offer unlimited options to deal with aggression and violence in any form and whenever it occurs whether that be the practice hall, the street, the work place, the home, or from within the self. One doesn’t need to use words to convey and integrate these principles. Aikido teaches us most clearly through the actual physical practice.
Aikido is the teacher:
Aikido teaches through practice. This primary responsibility of the leader of the practice is to maintain a respectful and caring spirit of practice in order that the participants may safely “play” with the techniques of Aikido and thus integrate it’s principles.
Aikido is caring:
Aikido teaches ways of taking care of yourself and others without causing harm. It is an art with the ethic of extending the attitude of protection to include the attacker. In the real world this permits the defusing of anger and violence and allows for the ultimately peaceful resolution of conflict.
Aikido is realistic:
It is undeniably true that nature and man sometimes provide situations of overpowering force which are futile to confront directly. It is, for instance, best to get out of the way of a freight train or tornado until that energy is either past or spent. The physical practice of Aikido teaches alternatives to
the direct confrontation of overpowering force. Practices are laboratories for refining understanding
Instructors demonstrate techniques, choose the focus and guide the flow of practice. Since their most important role is to foster an attitude and atmosphere for safe optimal growth, it’s imperative to follow their directives at all times.
We use this term (or practitioners) rather than students as it is inherent in our art that we are learning from each other at all times.
What to expect and how to approach being new to our practice:
We have found that at the juncture of new learning one sometimes feels awkward or confused. Welcome this as a sign of potential growth. OBSERVE AND DO – HINT: the members with the black hakama have been around longest and welcome the opportunity to teach and learn with new folks.
An Aikido Practice:
We attempt to calm and clear our minds by sitting in silence at the opening and near the close of practice. Bowing to the front and to the teacher is followed by guided group warm-up exercises. The teacher will next demonstrate that which the immediate focus of practice is. We practice in pairs. Techniques, focus, and partners change throughout the practice at the teacher’s discretion. Stretches frequently precede the sitting close and bowing out.