Aikido

O'Sensei
O'Sensei

Aikido (合気道, aikidō), is a Japanese martial art developed by Ueshiba Morihei 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 practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury.

Aikido is primarily a grappling art in which attacks are neutralised with various types of throws or joint locks. Aikido techniques are intended to be implemented after first blending with the motion of the attacker, so that the defender may redirect the attacker’s momentum without directly opposing it, thus using minimum effort.

Today, aikido is found all over the world in a number of styles, with a broad range of interpretation and emphasis. However, they all share techniques learned from Ueshiba and a caring for the well-being of the attacker.

Origins of Aikido

Takeda Sokaku

Takeda Sokaku
Takeda Sokaku

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 Sokaku, the revivor 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 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, short staff, and perhaps the bayonet. However, aikido derives much of its technical structure from the art of swordsmanship.

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 reorganisation and centralisation of Japanese martial arts.

Physical training

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, the first thing most students learn is how to safely fall or roll. The specific techniques for attack include both strikes and grabs; the techniques for defence consist of throws and pins. After basic techniques are learned, students study freestyle defense against multiple opponents, and in certain styles, techniques with weapons.

General fitness and training

Physical training goals pursued in conjunction with aikido include controlled relaxation, flexibility, and endurance, with less emphasis on strength training. In aikido technique, pushing or extending movements are much more common than pulling or contracting movements found in other arts, and this distinction can be applied to general fitness goals for the aikido practitioner.

Certain anaerobic fitness activities, such as weight training, emphasize contractionary power, in which specific muscles or muscle groups are isolated and worked to improve tone, mass, and power. Aikido-related training instead emphasizes the use of coordinated whole-body movement and balance, more similar to yoga or pilates. For example, many dojo begin each class with warm-up exercises, which may include stretching and breakfalls.

Roles of uke and nage

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 thrower nage, also referred to as tori depending on aikido style, who neutralises this attack with an aikido technique.

Both halves of the technique, that of uke and that of nage, are considered essential to aikido training. Both are studying aikido principles of blending and adaptation. Nage learns to blend with and control attacking energy, while uke learns to become calm and flexible in the disadvantageous, off-balance positions in which nage 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 nage uses position and timing to keep uke off-balance and vulnerable. In more advanced training, uke will sometimes apply reversal techniques (kaeshi-waza) to regain balance and pin or throw nage.

Initial attacks

Aikido techniques are usually a defense against an attack; therefore, to practice aikido with their partner, students must learn to deliver various types of attacks. Although attacks are not studied as thoroughly as in striking-based arts, “honest” attacks (a strong strike or an immobilizing grab) are needed to study correct and effective application of technique.

Many of the strikes of aikido are often said to resemble cuts from a sword or other grasped object, which may suggest origins in techniques intended for armed combat. Other techniques, which appear to explicitly be punches, are also 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.

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

Implementations

Aikido makes use of body movement to blend with uke. For example, an “entering” technique consists of movements inward towards uke, while a “turning” technique uses a pivoting motion. Additionally, an “inside” technique takes place in front of uke, whereas an “outside” technique takes place to his side; a “front” technique is applied with motion to the front of uke, and a “rear” version is applied with motion towards the rear of uke, usually by incorporating a turning or pivoting motion. Finally, most techniques can be performed while in a seated posture (seiza). Seated techniques are called suwari-waza. Thus, from fewer than twenty basic techniques, there are thousands of possible implementations.

Atemi are strikes employed during an aikido technique. Some view atemi as attacks against “vital points” meant to cause damage in and of themselves. For instance, Shioda Gōzō described using atemi in a brawl to quickly down a gang’s leader. Others consider atemi, especially to the face, to be methods of distraction meant to enable other techniques. A strike, whether or not it is blocked, can startle the target and break his or her concentration. The target may also become unbalanced in attempting to avoid the blow, for example by jerking the head back, which may allow for an easier throw. Many sayings about atemi are attributed to Morihei Ueshiba, who considered them an essential element of technique.

Weapons training

Weapons training in aikido traditionally includes the short staff (jō), wooden sword (bokken), and knife (tantō). Today, some schools also incorporate firearms-disarming techniques. Both weapon-taking and weapon-retention are sometimes taught, to integrate armed and unarmed aspects, although some schools of aikido do not train with weapons at all. Others, such as the Iwama style of Morihiro Saito, usually spend substantial time with bokken and jō, practised under the names aiki-ken, and aiki-jō, respectively. The founder developed much of empty handed aikido from traditional sword and spear movements, so the practice of these movements is generally for the purpose of giving insight into the origin of techniques and movements, as well as vital practice of these basic building blocks.

Multiple attackers and randori

One feature of aikido is training to defend oneself against multiple attackers. Freestyle (randori) practice with multiple attackers is a key part of most curriculae and is required for the higher level ranks. Randori exercises a person’s ability to intuitively perform techniques in an unstructured environment. Strategic choice of techniques, based upon how they reposition the student relative to other attackers, is important in randori training. For instance, an ura technique might be used to neutralise the current attacker while turning to face attackers approaching from behind.

In Shodokan Aikido (also referred to as Tomiki Aikido) , randori differs in that it is not performed with multiple persons with defined roles of defender and attacker, but between two people, where both participants attack, defend, and counter at will. In this respect it resembles judo randori.

Mental training

Aikido training is mental as well as physical, emphasizing the ability to relax the mind and body even under the stress of dangerous situations. This is necessary in order to enable the practitioner to perform the bold enter-and-blend movements that underlie aikido techniques, wherein an attack is met with confidence and directness. Ueshiba Morihei once remarked that one “must be willing to receive 99% of an opponent’s attack and stare death in the face” in order to execute techniques without hesitation. As a martial art concerned not only with fighting proficiency but also with the betterment of daily life, this mental aspect is of key importance to aikido practitioners

Ki

The study of ki is a critical component of aikido, and its study defies categorization as either “physical” or “mental” training, as it encompasses both. The character “ki” is used in everyday Japanese terms, such as “health” ( genki), or “shyness” (uchiki). Ki is most often understood as unified physical and mental intention, however it is often found in traditional martial arts related with “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 referred to as 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.

Uniforms and ranking

Aikido practitioners, commonly called aikidoka, generally progress by promotion through a series of “grades” (kyū), followed by a series of “degrees” (dan), pursuant to formal testing procedures. Most aikido organisations use only white and black belts to distinguish rank, but some use various belt colors. Testing requirements vary, so a particular rank in one organization is not always comparable or interchangeable with the rank of another.

The uniform worn for practicing aikido (aikidōgi) is similar to the training uniform (keikogi) used in most other modern martial arts; simple trousers and a wraparound jacket, usually white. Both thick (”judo-style”), and thin (”karate-style”) cotton tops are used. Aikido-specific tops are also available with shorter sleeves which reach to just below the elbow.

Most aikido systems also add a pair of wide pleated black or indigo trousers called a hakama. In many styles its use is reserved for practitioners with black belt ranks, while others allow all practitioners or female practitioners to wear a hakama regardless of rank.

(article derived from information found in Wikipedia)