Aikido (Japanese: 合気道 Hepburn: aikidō) (Kyūjitai: 合氣道) [aikiꜜdoː] is a modern Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy and religious beliefs. Ueshiba's goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury. Aikido is often translated as "the way of unifying (with) life energy" or as "the way of harmonious spirit".
Mitsuteru Ueshiba at the 55th All Japan Aikido Demonstration held at the Nippon Budokan (May 2017)
Aikido's techniques include: irimi (entering), and tenkan (turning) movements (that redirect the opponent's attack momentum), various types of throws and 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 formulated by Ueshiba and most have concern for the well-being of the attacker.
Etymology and basic philosophy
The word "aikido" is formed of three kanji:
- 合 – ai – joining, unifying, combining, fitting
- 気 – ki – spirit, energy, mood, morale
- 道 – dō – way, path
The term aiki does not readily appear in the Japanese language outside the scope of budō. This has led to many possible interpretations of the word. 合 is mainly used in compounds to mean 'combine, unite, join together, meet', examples being 合同 (combined/united), 合成 (composition), 結合 (unite/combine/join together), 連合 (union/alliance/association), 統合 (combine/unify), and 合意 (mutual agreement). There is an idea of reciprocity, 知り合う (to get to know one another), 話し合い (talk/discussion/negotiation), and 待ち合わせる (meet by appointment).
気 is often used to describe a feeling, as in X気がする ('I feel X', as in terms of thinking but with less cognitive reasoning), and 気持ち (feeling/sensation); it is used to mean energy or force, as in 電気 (electricity) and 磁気 (magnetism); it can also refer to qualities or aspects of people or things, as in 気質 (spirit/trait/temperament).
The term dō is also found in martial arts such as judo and kendo, and in various non-martial arts, such as Japanese calligraphy (shodō), flower arranging (kadō) and tea ceremony (chadō or sadō).
Therefore, from a purely literal interpretation, aikido is the "Way of combining forces" or "Way of unifying energy", in which the term aiki refers to the martial arts principle or tactic of blending with an attacker's movements for the purpose of controlling their actions with minimal effort. One applies aiki by understanding the rhythm and intent of the attacker to find the optimal position and timing to apply a counter-technique.
Aikido was created by Morihei Ueshiba (植芝 盛平 Ueshiba Morihei, 14 December 1883 – 26 April 1969), referred to by some aikido practitioners as Ōsensei (Great Teacher). The term aikido was coined in the twentieth century. Ueshiba envisioned aikido not only as the synthesis of his martial training, but as an expression of his personal philosophy of universal peace and reconciliation. During Ueshiba's lifetime and continuing today, aikido has evolved from the aiki that Ueshiba studied into a variety of expressions by martial artists throughout the world.
Ueshiba developed aikido primarily during the late 1920s through the 1930s through the synthesis of the older martial arts that he had studied. The core martial art from which aikido derives is Daitō-ryū aiki-jūjutsu, which Ueshiba studied directly with Takeda Sōkaku, the reviver of that art. Additionally, Ueshiba is known to have studied Tenjin Shin'yō-ryū with Tozawa Tokusaburō in Tokyo in 1901, Gotōha Yagyū Shingan-ryū under Nakai Masakatsu in Sakai from 1903 to 1908, and judo with Kiyoichi Takagi (高木 喜代市 Takagi Kiyoichi, 1894–1972) in Tanabe in 1911.
The art of Daitō-ryū is the primary technical influence on aikido. Along with empty-handed throwing and joint-locking techniques, Ueshiba incorporated training movements with weapons, such as those for the spear (yari), short staff (jō), and perhaps the bayonet (銃剣 jūken). However, aikido derives much of its technical structure from the art of swordsmanship (kenjutsu).
Ueshiba moved to Hokkaidō in 1912, and began studying under Takeda Sokaku in 1915. His official association with Daitō-ryū continued until 1937. However, during the latter part of that period, Ueshiba had already begun to distance himself from Takeda and the Daitō-ryū. At that time Ueshiba was referring to his martial art as "Aiki Budō". It is unclear exactly when Ueshiba began using the name "aikido", but it became the official name of the art in 1942 when the Greater Japan Martial Virtue Society (Dai Nippon Butoku Kai) was engaged in a government sponsored reorganization and centralization of Japanese martial arts.
After Ueshiba left Hokkaidō in 1919, he met and was profoundly influenced by Onisaburo Deguchi, the spiritual leader of the Ōmoto-kyō religion (a neo-Shinto movement) in Ayabe. One of the primary features of Ōmoto-kyō is its emphasis on the attainment of utopia during one's life. This was a great influence on Ueshiba's martial arts philosophy of extending love and compassion especially to those who seek to harm others. Aikido demonstrates this philosophy in its emphasis on mastering martial arts so that one may receive an attack and harmlessly redirect it. In an ideal resolution, not only is the receiver unharmed, but so is the attacker.
In addition to the effect on his spiritual growth, the connection with Deguchi gave Ueshiba entry to elite political and military circles as a martial artist. As a result of this exposure, he was able to attract not only financial backing but also gifted students. Several of these students would found their own styles of aikido.
Aikido was first brought to the rest of the world in 1951 by Minoru Mochizuki with a visit to France where he introduced aikido techniques to judo students. He was followed by Tadashi Abe in 1952, who came as the official Aikikai Hombu representative, remaining in France for seven years. Kenji Tomiki toured with a delegation of various martial arts through 15 continental states of the United States in 1953. Later that year, Koichi Tohei was sent by Aikikai Hombu to Hawaii for a full year, where he set up several dojo. This trip was followed by several further visits and is considered the formal introduction of aikido to the United States. The United Kingdom followed in 1955; Italy in 1964 by Hiroshi Tada; and Germany in 1965 by Katsuaki Asai. Designated "Official Delegate for Europe and Africa" by Morihei Ueshiba, Masamichi Noro arrived in France in September 1961. Seiichi Sugano was appointed to introduce aikido to Australia in 1965. Today there are aikido dojo throughout the world.
Proliferation of independent organizations
The largest aikido organization is the Aikikai Foundation, which remains under the control of the Ueshiba family. However, aikido has many styles, mostly formed by Morihei Ueshiba's major students.
The earliest independent styles to emerge were Yoseikan Aikido, begun by Minoru Mochizuki in 1931, Yoshinkan Aikido, founded by Gozo Shioda in 1955, and Shodokan Aikido, founded by Kenji Tomiki in 1967. The emergence of these styles pre-dated Ueshiba's death and did not cause any major upheavals when they were formalized. Shodokan Aikido, however, was controversial, since it introduced a unique rule-based competition that some felt was contrary to the spirit of aikido.
After Ueshiba's death in 1969, two more major styles emerged. Significant controversy arose with the departure of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo's chief instructor Koichi Tohei, in 1974. Tohei left as a result of a disagreement with the son of the founder, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, who at that time headed the Aikikai Foundation. The disagreement was over the proper role of ki development in regular aikido training. After Tohei left, he formed his own style, called Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido, and the organization that governs it, the Ki Society (Ki no Kenkyūkai).
A final major style evolved from Ueshiba's retirement in Iwama, Ibaraki and the teaching methodology of long term student Morihiro Saito. It is unofficially referred to as the "Iwama style", and at one point a number of its followers formed a loose network of schools they called Iwama Ryu. Although Iwama style practitioners remained part of the Aikikai until Saito's death in 2002, followers of Saito subsequently split into two groups. One remained with the Aikikai and the other formed the independent Shinshin Aikishuren Kai in 2004 around Saito's son Hitohiro Saito.
Today, the major styles of aikido are each run by a separate governing organization, have their own headquarters (本部道場 honbu dōjō) in Japan, and have an international breadth.
The study of ki is an important component of aikido, and its study defies categorization as either "physical" or "mental" training, as it encompasses both. The kanji for ki normally is written as 気. It was written as 氣 until the writing reforms after World War II, and this older form still is seen on occasion.
The character for ki is used in everyday Japanese terms, such as "health" (元気 genki), or "shyness" (内気 uchiki). Ki has many meanings, including "ambience", "mind", "mood", and "intention", however, in traditional martial arts it is often used to refer to "life energy". Gōzō Shioda's Yoshinkan Aikido, considered one of the "hard styles", largely follows Ueshiba's teachings from before World War II, and surmises that the secret to ki lies in timing and the application of the whole body's strength to a single point. In later years, Ueshiba's application of ki in aikido took on a softer, more gentle feel. This was his Takemusu Aiki and many of his later students teach about ki from this perspective. Koichi Tohei's Ki Society centers almost exclusively around the study of the empirical (albeit subjective) experience of ki with students ranked separately in aikido techniques and ki development
In aikido, as in virtually all Japanese martial arts, there are both physical and mental aspects of training. The physical training in aikido is diverse, covering both general physical fitness and conditioning, as well as specific techniques. Because a substantial portion of any aikido curriculum consists of throws, beginners learn how to safely fall or roll. The specific techniques for attack include both strikes and grabs; the techniques for defense consist of throws and pins. After basic techniques are learned, students study freestyle defense against multiple opponents, and techniques with weapons.
Physical training goals pursued in conjunction with aikido include controlled relaxation, correct movement of joints such as hips and shoulders, flexibility, and endurance, with less emphasis on strength training. In aikido, pushing or extending movements are much more common than pulling or contracting movements. This distinction can be applied to general fitness goals for the aikido practitioner.
In aikido, specific muscles or muscle groups are not isolated and worked to improve tone, mass, or power. Aikido-related training emphasizes the use of coordinated whole-body movement and balance similar to yoga or pilates. For example, many dojos begin each class with warm-up exercises (準備体操 junbi taisō), which may include stretching and ukemi (break falls).
Roles of uke and tori
Aikido training is based primarily on two partners practicing pre-arranged forms (kata) rather than freestyle practice. The basic pattern is for the receiver of the technique (uke) to initiate an attack against the person who applies the technique—the 取り tori, or shite 仕手 (depending on aikido style), also referred to as 投げ nage (when applying a throwing technique), who neutralises this attack with an aikido technique.
Both halves of the technique, that of uke and that of tori, are considered essential to aikido training. Both are studying aikido principles of blending and adaptation. Tori learns to blend with and control attacking energy, while uke learns to become calm and flexible in the disadvantageous, off-balance positions in which tori places them. This "receiving" of the technique is called ukemi. Uke continuously seeks to regain balance and cover vulnerabilities (e.g., an exposed side), while tori uses position and timing to keep uke off-balance and vulnerable. In more advanced training, uke will sometimes apply reversal techniques (返し技 kaeshi-waza) to regain balance and pin or throw tori.
Ukemi (受身) refers to the act of receiving a technique. Good ukemi involves attention to the technique, the partner and the immediate environment—it is an active rather than a passive receiving of aikido. The fall itself is part of aikido, and is a way for the practitioner to receive, safely, what would otherwise be a devastating strike or throw.
Aikido techniques are usually a defense against an attack, so students must learn to deliver various types of attacks to be able to practice aikido with a partner. Although attacks are not studied as thoroughly as in striking-based arts, sincere attacks (a strong strike or an immobilizing grab) are needed to study correct and effective application of technique.
Many of the strikes (打ち uchi) of aikido resemble cuts from a sword or other grasped object, which indicate its origins in techniques intended for armed combat. Other techniques, which explicitly appear to be punches (tsuki), are practiced as thrusts with a knife or sword. Kicks are generally reserved for upper-level variations; reasons cited include that falls from kicks are especially dangerous, and that kicks (high kicks in particular) were uncommon during the types of combat prevalent in feudal Japan. Some basic strikes include:
- Front-of-the-head strike (正面打ち shōmen'uchi) a vertical knifehand strike to the head. In training, this is usually directed at the forehead or the crown for safety, but more dangerous versions of this attack target the bridge of the nose and the maxillary sinus.
- Side-of-the-head strike (横面打ち yokomen'uchi) a diagonal knifehand strike to the side of the head or neck.
- Chest thrust (胸突き mune-tsuki) a punch to the torso. Specific targets include the chest, abdomen, and solar plexus. Same as "middle-level thrust" (中段突き chūdan-tsuki), and "direct thrust" (直突き choku-tsuki).
- Face thrust (顔面突き ganmen-tsuki) a punch to the face. Same as "upper-level thrust" (上段突き jōdan-tsuki).
Beginners in particular often practice techniques from grabs, both because they are safer and because it is easier to feel the energy and lines of force of a hold than a strike. Some grabs are historically derived from being held while trying to draw a weapon; a technique could then be used to free oneself and immobilize or strike the attacker who is grabbing the defender. The following are examples of some basic grabs:
- Single-hand grab (片手取り katate-dori) one hand grabs one wrist.
- Both-hands grab (諸手取り morote-dori) both hands grab one wrist. Same as "single hand double-handed grab" (片手両手取り katateryōte-dori)
- Both-hands grab (両手取り ryōte-dori) both hands grab both wrists. Same as "double single-handed grab" (両片手取り ryōkatate-dori).
- Shoulder grab (肩取り kata-dori) a shoulder grab. "Both-shoulders-grab" is ryōkata-dori (両肩取り). It is sometimes combined with an overhead strike as Shoulder grab face strike (肩取り面打ち kata-dori men-uchi).
- Chest grab (胸取り mune-dori or muna-dori) grabbing the (clothing of the) chest. Same as "collar grab" (襟取り eri-dori).