Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


Aikido (合氣道) is a gendai budo — a modern Japanese martial art. It was developed by Morihei Ueshiba (also known by Aikidoka as "O Sensei" which can be loosely translated as "great teacher") over the period of the 1930s to the 1960s. Ueshiba created aikido from his experience in Daito-ryu Aiki-jutsu and sword work.

Aikido is a defensive art, incorporating a wide range of techniques which use principles of energy and motion to redirect and neutralize the attack. At its highest level aikido can be used to defend oneself without causing serious injury to either the agressor or the defender. Due to its nature aikido can be practiced effectively by both men and women of any size. It is widely considered one of the most difficult of the martial arts to gain a martial proficiency in and generally takes several years to gain a command of the basic techniques.

Traditionally competition is banned in aikido training for both practical and spiritual reasons. The emphasis is on developing mind, body and spirit until perfect harmony is achieved. In addition, due to a heavy emphasis on small joint locks, competitive practice is very risky even between skilled practitioners.

Typically classes involve observing a demonstration of a given technique or principle by the teacher which the students then attempt to replicate in co-operative partner (or sometimes group) practice, thereby improving their own understanding and application of the art. Movement, awareness, precision and timing are all important to the execution of techniques as students progress from rigidly defined excercises to more fluid and adaptable applications of the principles. The methods of training vary widely from organization to organization and indeed even between different dojo in a single organization.

In formal aikido practice uke (the reciever of the technique) usually initiates an attack against nage (or tori), who neutralizes it with an aikido technique. In practice, uke and nage take turns in both roles and through this approach learn to both defend against the attack in question and to safely fall or otherwise protect themselves from the defence applied by nage.

A distinct aspect of Aikido practice is the active role played by uke which emphasizes that while nage executes the aikido defense and theoretically "wins" each encounter, uke is also gaining valuable experience in responding to the defence and in learning to protect him or herself from injury. In this way uke is learning what works and what doesn't, as well as learning to spot weaknesses in the defender's posture and technique. This back and forth exchange is crucial to developing martial awareness and effective technique. Aikidoka are expected to instantly return to a poised and ready standing position (hanmi) automatically upon being thrown.

Typical aikido practice attacks include various stylized strikes and grabs such as shomenuchi (a vertical strike to the head) , yokomenuchi (a lateral strike to the side of the head and/or neck) , munetsuki (a straight punch), ryotedori (a two handed grab) and katadori (a shoulder grab).

Most Aikido defences are based on tai sabaki (loosely translated as "techniques of body displacement") and incorporate entering (irimi), turning (tenkan), striking (atemi) and centre-taking movements to either throw or control an attacker. Much of Aikido's repetoire of defences can be performed as either throwing techniques (nage-waza) or as controls (katame-waza) depending on the situation.

History and Styles

The name Aikido is formed of three Japanese characters (or Kanji), 合氣道, written with Roman characters as Ai, Ki and Do, often translated as meaning Harmony, Energy and Way (or Method), so Aikido can be translated as "The Way of Harmony with Energy". Another common interpretation of the characters is Harmony, Sprit and Way, so Aikido can also mean "The Way of Spritual Harmony". Both interpretations draw attention to the fact that Aikido's techniques are designed to control an attacker by controlling their energy and not by blocking it. An analogy is often made of the way a flexible willow bends with the storm whereas the stout oak will break if the wind force is too high.(The martial art commonly known as Hapkido uses the same three characters. There may even exist a historical link through the Daito Ryu)

Mr. Ueshiba developed Aikido from Daito Ryu aikijutsu, incorporating the training movements of Yari (spear), Jo (a short quarterstaff), and Juken (Bayonet). Daito-ryu had strong influence from sword schools; as result, many of the flowing movements of the bokken, a wooden katana or "samurai sword" have been translated into unarmed aikido defense. Traditional Aikido training is mainly unarmed practice, but the three weapons, sword, staff and knife (usually wooden training weapons) often play an important part. Some styles place less importance on weapons training than others.

The roots of Aikido as a sword art play an important role in the development of the techniques. Most Aikido techniques can be performed equally well either unarmed or armed with a sword. This also bears on the fact that Aikido techniques rarely involve blocking an opponents strike, as if the opponent were armed with a weapon; the blocking limb would be severed.

The major styles of aikido each have their own Hombu Dojo in Japan; these define their various syllabi. Aikido was brought to the United States in the 1960s, to Australia in 1965 and to many other countries. Today there are many aikido dojos available to train at throughout the world.

Aikido as formulated by O Sensei is not a sport and competition is not allowed in traditional aikido. Partners work together so each can perfect their technique and progress in rank is made by demonstrating techniques with a partner who is not an opponent in the sense of sporting opponents. However, there are a number of styles of sports Aikido. Aikido training can be a very vigorous cardiovascular workout and improves flexibility.

Shodokan Aikido the main sporting form has on a system of rule based competition. Tomiki Aikido, as it is popularily known, tends to place more emphasis on kata training than more competitive or sports oriented martial arts. People tend to compete to train rather than to train to compete.

In kata training, the objective of the student is to perfectly copy the style demonstrated by their teacher during a series of formal set movements. This form of Training is usually reserved for work with weapons. Its purpose is the preservation of traditional technique rather than training in the usual sense. The degree to which variations to this form appear varies between styles and teachers. Yoshinkan has a reputation for being the most rigidly precise.

As with most martial arts, Aikido is not without differences of opinion. Over time instructors have split off from the mainstream organisation Aikikai to go their own way, and this has resulted in a great diversity of Aikido styles. For example, at one extreme of training is the approach followed by the Ki Society, which emphasises very soft flowing techniques with very few blows. At another extreme are styles of Aikido with very martial and physical techniques, more similar to the original "Aiki Jujutsu" from which Aikido was derived. Most Aikido schools are somewhere in between.

"Ki" in Aikido

No article about Aikido can be complete without a discussion of the concept of Ki.

Ki is often translated as 'breath power' or 'power' sometimes even as 'soul'. The kanji for Ki (氣) is the pictograph of a steaming rice pot - steam above, the handle of the pot to the right and the star-like sign stands for rice. When Aikidoka say that someone (usually high ranking teachers) is training with a lot of Ki they usually want to express that the respective person has developed a high level of harmony in the execution of his technique. Timing, a sense for the correct distance and a centered (undisturbed) mind and body are particularly important. Most teachers locate Ki in the Hara (the center of gravity of the body, lower abdomen, right under the navel). In training it is constantly emphasized that one should keep ones Hara in order not to lose the Ki. Very high ranking teachers sometimes reach a level of coordination that enables them to execute techniques with very little or sometimes even without touching an opponents body. A related martial art is the art of KiAi or war cry which specialices in transporting Ki via the voice.

(From Aikido FAQ): "you may not believe in Ki, but you sure as hell cultivate it" Aikido makes extensive use of the concept of ki. Aikido is one of the more spiritual martial arts and has been referred to as 'moving zen'. The name Aikido can be translated as 'the way of harmony of ki'. Exactly what ki 'is' is a somewhat controversial issue.

Some believe that the physical entity ki simply does not exist. Instead, it is a concept used to teach spirit, intention, the bio-physico-psychological coordination through relaxation and awareness are concepts being used needed. These aikidoka sometimes tend to frown upon the philosophical/spiritual aspect of ki.

Other aikidoka believe that ki does exist as a physical entity and can be transmitted through space. They, on the other hand, make use of concepts such as ki of the universe, extending ki etc.

The fact of the matter is that there is a large portion of aikidoka who are still, and no doubt will continue to be, on their 'quest for ki'.

See also: Qi, Qigong

External Links:

Ki Exercises, Scuola della Respirazione Italian dojo of the School Itsuo Tsuda