Aikido is a Japanese ‘peaceful’ martial art (or ‘Budo’) incorporating a series of twisting, throwing and joint lock techniques, developed by Morihei Ueshiba, and combines the martial arts of Judo and Jujitsu. Aikido does not involve punching or kicking another person. It is much more about learning to use another’s energy for control through the dynamics of movement – motion.
Morihei Ueshiba, or ‘O Sensei’, meaning ‘Great Teacher’, developed Aikido to concentrate on the aspects of morality and spirituality by developing harmony and peace. Aikido could be translated to: “The Way of Harmony of the Spirit”.
Students of O Sensei over the years have developed their own ‘styles’ of Aikido, principally down the way they have interpreted the ways of Aikido. There are no competitions or tournaments, contests or ‘sparring’ when learning Aikido. Morihei Ueshiba’s Dojo (or ‘school’) Regulations recommend that:
1. You always follow the teacher’s instructions carefully.
2. You learn how to deal with more than one enemy; to be alert from all sides.
3. All Aikido training must take place in a pleasant and happy atmosphere.
4. At the start of training, develop movement of the body before going on to more intensive practice techniques; never force any movement.
5. The purpose of Aikido is to train the mind and the body.
It takes longer to learn and master the art of Aikido, longer than Karate, Tae Kwon Do or Kempo, and plenty of practice and training is required before it can be used effectively in self-defense.
History of Aikido
Morihei Ueshiba was born in 1883 in Japan and, after witnessing his father being attacked by local thugs for political reasons, he vowed to become strong to avenge his father. He practiced martial arts, gaining certificates in Jujitsu, fencing and spear fighting. Later, he started to look into religion and then combined his religious and political ideologies with ‘budo’, or the martial arts, to create “aikibudo” and “aikinomichi”, which became Aikido in 1942.
Techniques of Aikido
Aikido is developed from the throws and joint locks of Jujitsu, particularly daito-ryu jujitsu, the body movements of sword or spear fighting, and Morihei Ueshiba’s own innovations.
The fundamentals, such as ki, posture, centre or core, are key elements to learning Aikido and the techniques that have been developed are a way of expressing these fundamentals. Without the fundamentals learnt and in place, the techniques would not work as well. There are 10 groups of techniques in Aikido which are:
1. Tachiwaza-mae – which are attacks from the front in a standing position.
2. Tachiwaza-ushiro – which are attacks from the rear in a standing position.
3. Suwariwaza – with uke (the recipient of the technique to be practiced) and tori (the person initiating the attack) sitting.
4. Hanmi handachiwaza – with uke standing and tori sitting.
5. Tantodori – a defense movement against a knife.
6. Tachidori – a defense movement against a sword.
7. Jodori – a defense movement against a staff.
8. Kaeshiwaza – which are counter techniques.
9. Henkawaza – which are changed techniques.
10. Kogeki – which are attack movements.
Once you have learnt the basics, you can interact what you’ve learnt into other forms of Aikido, so that you can train and adapt into any other dojo that you might visit. If you wish to progress through the levels of Aikido, it is good to learn more than the basics and how to put variations together.
Principally, Aikido is the development of Ki, or energy/spirit, and a way to achieve harmony, or unification of mind and body. Teachers emphasise to basic elements to learning Aikido: (a) a commitment to resolution instead of conflict, whenever possible, and (b) self-improvement through training. They use the laws of physics, controlling your movement with skill, grace and timing, i.e. a slight shift in weight or position to move effortlessly, similar to dancing or skiing.
For a ‘tori’, or attacker, and ‘uke’, or receiver, there are a range of principles to be learnt and followed.
For a ‘tori’, they should always start with an evasive movement and blocking the attack is not necessary. Aikido is a non-confrontational art and although blocking can sometimes be practical, it should not be necessary, otherwise you are defeating the objective of Aikido, i.e. turning the attacker’s power back to them. Techniques should be done in such a way that it not only avoids the attacker, but also controls them. While learning the basics, movements should be performed in a low posture, which helps you learn balance and control. The techniques in Aikido should be united, i.e. the defense and the attack should not work against each other, but with each other. It may be tempting to use a strike, or ‘atemi’, technique, but these movements should be avoided. A tori must also be positioned so that he is able to defend any of the techniques from a ‘uke’, controlling the situation at all times and being aware of what is happening.
For a ‘uke’, it is important that they have learnt the attack as much as the defense movements. Again, the movements should be performed in a low posture, developing balance and control, and they must not resist the technique on purpose as you may become more vulnerable to other techniques. Although the uke is the receiver, they must remain alert and keep the thought of attack in their mind. They must not change the direction of an attack during the technique, unless it is required in training.
Styles of Aikido
Over the years, as students left O Sensei’s teachings, they used their own interpretations of Aikido and developed differing styles. “Old School” styles were principally taught by O Sensei’s early students. ‘Aiki-Budo’ is very similar to the Jutsu forms of martial art and is probably one of the hardest styles to master.
‘Yoseikan’ is an amalgamation of what he learnt from O Sensei and Jigaro-Kano Sensei at the Kodokan. This form of Aikido includes elements from Aiki-Budo, Judo and a range of other martial arts.
‘Yoshinkan’ was taught by the late Gozo Shioda. It is harder style of martial art and focuses on the practicality, efficiency and physical techniques of Aikido. This form is principally taught within the Japanese Police branches. “Modern School” styles are principally variations of what is taught today by most senior students of O Sensei.
“Traditional School” styles include Aikikai and Iwama-ryu.
‘Aikikai’ is headed by Mariteru Ueshiba, the grandson of O Sensei, and is generally a more flowing form of Aikido, concentrating on the standard syllabus rather than on weapons training. However, some teachers of Aikikai do focus more on the weapons training aspect.
‘Shinshin Toitsu Aikido’, taught by Koichi Tohei, is more about unifying the mind and body. He puts much more emphasis on the concept of Ki, learning to understand and developing this aspect, and applying it to daily life and health. This form involves softer movements, with ‘jumping’ or ‘skipping’ during the movement.
‘Iwama-ryu’ is based in the Iwama Dojo, and has a much larger technical repertoire than most styles of Aikido. This form has a much bigger emphasis on the weapons training aspect, and is the style that is said to be the closest to that of O Sensei’s teaching.
“Sporting” styles were proposed by Konji Tomiki, who wanted to rationalise the training of Aikido by using Kata and Competition.
‘Tomiki-ryu’ is a combination of O Sensei’s teachings and of the Judo founder, Jigaro Kano, and follows a similar theme as Judo which means it can be taught more easily, particularly in Japanese universities. Konji Tomiki believed that by introducing a competitive element into Aikido, it would sharpen the mind and help to focus the practice of Aikido.
To learn Aikido, you don’t need any special equipment or clothing, although you may invest in a training uniform, simple black trousers and wraparound jacket which is principally white, at a later date. However, to start with, tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt are perfectly suitable (no footwear is worn during training). It is recommended that you remove all jewellery, earrings, nose or belly button studs, etc, or tape over any rings, for your own safety.
Where to Learn
There are many dojo (or schools) around the world that teach Aikido, as well as other martial arts. Search through your directory to find your nearest club, then go along and speak to a teacher, who will probably advise you to stay and watch other students practicing the art of Aikido. If you are still interested in learning Aikido, you can register to take part. There will be a weekly attendance fee to cover the cost of you training or participating in Aikido.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Do I need to be physically strong and fit?
A: No. Aikido is not based on strength. It re-directs your opponents energy back, so you don’t need to be strong. As you learn Aikido as a martial art and control of your movements, your strength and physical ability will increase.
Q: Do I need any special clothing or equipment?
A: No. To start with, tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt is absolutely fine. If you progress through the grades, you may want to invest in a training uniform – simple trousers, usually black and a wraparound jacket, usually white.
Q: Where can I find a local club?
A: Aikido is practised throughout the world. Search your local directories, the internet or contact the Aikido Foundation.
Q: Is there a minimum or maximum age to participate in Aikido?
A: No. Aikido is a very flexible martial art, but would recommend that children are at least 5 years old before learning.