Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, said that when he moved in a direction that was natural to him, his opponent had no other option but to do so as well. This is what we can call “ittaika” or “putting two bodies together as one.”

When attacked, O Sensei, through his natural movement and exquisite “understanding” of the opponent, in some way formed a powerful connection that allowed him to affect his opponent’s body as though it were a part of his own; both bodies became one under the founder’s control. At that point, O Sensei could simply move, and his opponent would also be moved without having the opportunity to create any opposition. This is “aiki,” perhaps one of the most influential and important aspects of aikido.

How can we hope to discover aiki for ourselves? How can we gain the finesse required to achieve ittaika? The search for the answer keeps us busy with our training year after year.

If you use your mind’s eye, you can visualize yourself in a situation in which you are terribly off-balanced. Perhaps you are bending forward or backward at the waist, somewhat twisted, with arms awry and one leg out from under you. You are falling and at the last possible moment you manage to tenuously regain your balance by touching a post with one desperate finger. But then the post moves slightly, and you also half-move, half-fall to keep the tenuous contact with the post, your only hope of marginally maintaining your balance. In your compromised position, you have little choice, and instinctively you focus on the post. The post, your one hope of balance, keeps moving. The post is always upright and its balance is never compromised.

I think that this is the condition nage should strive to create for uke. Nage is controlling uke’s direction and movement, and no force is needed! Causing uke to lose his/her balance and then giving him the briefest hope of recovery may provide an opportunity for ittaika. Within ittaika, there lies an option other than destruction and harm. With ittaika, there is the possibility of peaceful resolution. O Sensei defined aikido as the budo of love.

How do we attain ittaika at the first instant of engagement? Perhaps it is in the basics that at least part of the answer lies. Thoughtful experimentation and exploration of tenkan and irimi can yield important information about connecting with our partner, about our own balance and posture, about natural spiral forces and paths of least resistance. Facing a bokken or shinai can tell us much about entering and connecting. And ikkyo, the “lifetime technique,” gives us limitless opportunities to study our behavior and that of our partner, with the goal of ittaika in mind. Without this, our aikido will be merely the practice of form.

By Hiroshi Ikeda
translated by Jun Akiyama
edited by Ginger Ikeda