From Citizendium
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Aikido (Japanese: 合気道; "The Way of Harmony of the Spirit") is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba. It is derived from the Daitoryu Aikijujitsu, an old family style of Jujutsu or unarmed combat that was taught to the samurai (warrior class) so that they could defend themselves should they find themselves without their swords. As Ueshiba-Sensei (Sensei is a title of courtesy which means: He who has gone before) grew older, his knowledge and values changed; and, so he changed the emphasis of his style to match the changes in himself. This is one explanation of the origin of the differences which exist among the several branches of Aikido that exist today: each one reflects the teachings of Ueshiba-Sensei at a different stage in his life.

At its core, Aikido is the way of harmony with one's surroundings, be it a partner or the world. As such, there is little in the way of attacking moves. An Aikidoka will rely principally on re-directing the energy of an attacker to either throw, control in a lock or pin the attacker. By practicing kata (literally: techniques) and then applying them through randori ho (free play methods), effective and safe self-defense moves can be learned.


Most Aikido techniques can be described by the following pattern:

  • Move out of the way of the attack.
  • Break the attacker's Kuzushi or balance balance by means of leverage and timing.
  • Apply a throw, pin or lock to immobilize the attacker without injury to either party.

The use of Atemi or Striking Techniques is one way to break an opponent's physical, mental or spirit center. It can be an integral part of all Aikido techniques.

As stated above, all of these concepts rely on on the following principle:

  • The concept of being in Harmony or "at one" with one's surroundings. Further, in order to be in Harmony with anything, a practitioner's body, mind and spirit must first be centered and rooted in his/her center. If he/she is unable to do this, then he/she will be unable to move his/her body, mind or spirit at will until it comes back to center.

Without this centering some physical movements will still be possible. The options will depend upon exactly how the practitioner's body is off-centered or out of Harmony.

Leveraging will be limited in exactly the same way. Being off-centered will limit the directions and the amount of energy that can flow without changing something.

Proper timing will also become extremely difficult if one's mind is not centered.

Applying a throw, pin or lock successfully will obviously be affected by all of these conditions.

However, beyond all of this, an Aikidoka must always bear in mind his/her goal is the essence of Aikido as stated above: "to immobilize the attacker without injury to either party."

A practitioner will be depending upon luck to achieve this goal if his body, mind and spirit are not Harmonized enough with the opponent to permit him/her to be sensitive enough to work at combat speed and not take any body part past its physical limitations.

Indeed, one may say the basis of making Aikido techniques work is the capture of an opponent's center. His center will become your center. You will be in control of it and him. If done properly, the attacker will literally feel as if he has lost control of his actions.

In general, the ease of success of Aikido is proportional to the amount of the attacker's commitment to the action he is presently doing. It is easier to Harmonize with something if it is only one thing done with 100% commitment to the success of that one thing.

For example, it is much easier to parry and move around a right cross "Haymaker" thrown to knock you out; than it is to evade a lighting jab thrown only to distract you.

The Traditional way of fighting in Japan is too deliver each attack as if your life depended upon it. This author believes this stems from the type of sword the Japanese developed. It is much too heavy to change its direction quickly if it is moving at combat speed (of course, one could say that the Japanese developed this type of sword to match their fighting style. But, this debate is beyond the scope of this article).

Therefore, Traditional Japanese Martial Arts relies heavily on the concept of All or Nothing, Win or Lose with each and every technique.

And so, Aikido and Aiki Jujutsu, from which it evolved, work well in this context. However, high level modern combat relies much less on total commitment to each and every technique. It stresses self-protection and recoverability even when attacking.

This makes the goal of harmonizing much more difficult because the attacker is protecting his center at all times. It is not easily accessible to an outsider. It must be taken from him.


Aikido is rather different than other martial arts, though the differences are perhaps not as fundamental as some players would claim.

Aikido arose at about the same time as judo and can be seen as a different answer to the same problem. Both are descended from jiu jitsu. Historically, jiu jitsu was taught to samurai and was embedded in a whole cultural matrix; the warrior's code of bushido, the traditions of Shinto, zen meditation, and so on. With the end of the samurai class due to the Meiji restoration in the late 19th century, that matrix was disturbed. Jiujitsu fell into disrepute; if the techniques are taught in isolation, without the code and the meditation, they become mere violence. Judo, aikido and modern jiujitsu practice all solve this problem, but in different ways.

Judo is a sport, among other things an art widely taught to children and an Olympic sport. Ideas like fairness in competition and respect for the referee are an important part of it; to some extent they play the role bushido once did. Various techniques with high risk of injury, in particular striking techniques and wrist locks, are forbidden in order to make it a reasonably safe sport.

Aikido goes another way, keeping the striking techniques and wrist locks but eliminating competition.

Other martial arts are symmetrical; there are usually exactly two players and both players are trying to do the same thing, whether that be to kick the opponent in the head, to pin him to the mat, or whatever. This is a model of a fair fight — stepping outside the bar for fisticuffs, meeting with swords at dawn, or some such. There will be a winner and a loser. Aikido is asymmetrical; it models a different situation — someone loses control and comes at you; deal with it! The two players here have very different goals. The person who is the target of the attack does not necessarily aim at defeating the opponent; his main goal is to control the situation. In Aikido practice, the two roles are formalized as uke (the one who receives the technique, usually the attacker) and nage (the one who performs the technique). At advanced levels, practice against multiple opponents is routine; not all fights are fair.

In chess, one can sometimes say one player "has a won game"; given the current position, he is bound to win unless he makes a foolish error. The notion in Aikido is that, at the point where someone decides to attack, the target of the attack has a won game. The attacker must already be off balance mentally or he would not be doing this. To actually carry out an attack, he must put himself off balance physically and create openings for countermeasures. If the target stays cool, keeps moving, and avoids foolish errors, the attack is bound to fail.

One foolish error is to just collapse, retreat or curl up, letting the attacker control the situation completely; in that case, he of course beats you to a pulp. Another mistake is to confront him on his own terms, turn it into a symmetrical sort of fight. Of course this can work against some opponents; sometimes you "win", but even then it does not give a optimal result; in winning, you may do the opponent more damage than is actually necessary. Meeting other opponents on their own terms can be a disaster; consider a bull-fighter who tries to match the animal at head-butting. Along the same lines, if you confront either a bull or an aggressive human and your attitude is "I'm tough; you can't push me around!", then your rigidity may bring distinctly unpleasant results.

The Aikido approach is more that of a matador, avoiding the impact of all that nasty energy and controlling the perpetrator by out-maneuvering him. He gets to push you around, but as he does that you can take control of the overall movement. This requires some technique, but even more it requires being sensitive to the opponent and co-ordinating your movements with his. A surfer does not defeat a wave; he adapts his actions to what the wave is doing. Timing and balance are critical.

Experimental work on the "gunfighter paradox"[1][2] — the cowboy who goes for his gun first gets shot — may provide some support for the Aikido notions. People move faster when reacting than when initiating the action.


Daito ryu Aikijujitsu is said to have been founded by Saburo Minamoto no Yoshimitsu [1045-1127] (Note: Japanese names are given with family name first.) The art was then handed down through his descendants, the Takeda family of Kai Province (modern day Yamanashi Prefecture). Around the turn of the century, Takeda Sokaku inherited the style and began to teach it outside the family. Ueshiba Morihei trained with him and was granted a Menkyo Kaiden (high level certificate). The art is still taught and practiced today.

Ueshiba was born on the 14th of December 1883. He moved with his family to Hokkaido in 1912 where he met Takeda Sokaku and started to learn from him. He started to teach Daito ryu Aikijujitsu in 1916 in the town of Engaru in Hokkaido. On 15th September 1923 he became qualified to teach.

After his father's death, Ueshiba joined the new Omotokyo religion founded by Deguchi Onisaburo. Omotokyo was (and is) part neo-shintoism and part socio-political 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. Ueshiba said that Aikido came from his belief in this religion and encouraged others to join.

In 1931, Ueshiba founded his own dojo in Tokyo and called it the Kobukan. This dojo was nick named "hell dojo" because of the hard training. Tomiki Kenji, the founder of Shodokan Aikido, and Shioda Gozo, the founder of Yoshinkan Aikido, both learned Aikido during that time.

In 1942, Ueshiba moved to Iwama as the Kobukan was emptied by the war. This is the time when the name Aikido was first used by Ueshiba. The emphasis of the art changed from a martial art to a spiritual path.

Under Ueshiba Kisshomaru, Morihei's son, the Kobukan was reopened and then became the honbu (head dojo) of the Aikikai. To this day, the Ueshiba family teaches Aikido there. Ueshiba Morihei died on the 26th of April 1969 aged 86. His parting words were: "Aikido is for the entire world. Train not for selfish reasons, but for all people everywhere".

Different styles

There are different styles because Ueshiba Morihei, the founder of Aikido, changed the emphasis of his training and art during his life. This combined with the ideas and emphasis of different students create the diversity of Aikido schools and organisation that exist today.

  • Aikikai: This school is headed by the family of Ueshiba and is the most commonly practiced school of Aikido. It is an umbrella association which recognises many different dojo and organisations in different and sometimes the same country.
  • Shodokan: This school was developed by Tomiki Kenji and Oba Hideo just after WW2 in Japan. Contrary to many styles of Aikido there is an element of competition named randori. It is similar to the randori of Judo. It is there to develop the skills needed to respond appropriately to attacks with vigorous resistance.
  • Ki Aikido: Founded in 1971 by Tohei Koichi, this school of Aikido emphasises ki training and principles. Ki is seen as life energy. It is seen as the softest form of Aikido.
  • Iwama: This school was headed by Saito Morihiro. He spend a lot of his life with Ueshiba in Iwama. His school seeks to preserve the Aikido of O-sensei (Ueshiba Morihei) as taught to Saito and includes a lot of weapons work. Saito has developed a series of bokken (wooden sword) and jo (spear) kata (techniques) to help in the practice of Aikido.


York Aikido Web Site shares a lot with this page.

Albright, Scott (2002) Aikido and Randori: Reconciliation of Two Opposing Forces.- The Crowood Press.

Shioda, Gozo et al. (1997) Total Aikido: The Master Course.- Kodansha Europe.

Shishida, Fumiaki & Nariyama, Tetsuro (2002) Aikido: Tradition and the Competitive Edge.- Shodokan Publishing USA.

Ueshiba, Morihei et al. (1996) Budo: Teachings of the Founder of Aikido.- Kodansha Europe.


  1. Tim Wogan (February 2010), Better to React Than to Act
  2. Welchman, Stanley, Schomers, Miall & Bülthoff (January 2010), The quick and the dead: when reaction beats intention