What is Aikido


Aikido as Bujutsu (Martial Art).


On the surface, aikido is a modern martial art based on the techniques derived from the classical fighting arts of medieval Japanese samurai.  As such it encompasses techniques, primarily counterattacks, performed against an attacker’s grabs and strikes, from standing and seated positions.  Primarily a defensive martial art, aikido emphasizes a maintaining a centered, calm state of mind, in order to use the attackers’ weight and momentum against them, without panicking or over-reacting.  The techniques of aikido often (but not always) involve the application of joint locks, circular motion, and ending the encounter with a pin or throw, either immobilizing the opponent on the ground, or sending the opponent spinning off into space. 


Given the nature of technique, practice is by necessity, cooperative, and students spend at least a third of their practice time much learning how to attack, and then roll and fall safely.  Students also practice with wooden swords, knives and fighting staffs, both to preserve the traditional forms that lie at the root of much aikido technique, as well as develop centered movement and proper posture, without the added complication of the continual adjustments necessary when working with partners of varied body types and experience.  Students are likewise advised to practice meditation, to help develop the calm, not easily unperturbed consciousness necessary to receive an attack without over-reacting.


Aikido as Budo (Martial Way).


Aikido is also a modern Japanese budo (martial way) that was created by O-Sensei (great teacher) Morehei Ueshiba (1883-1969) in the early 20th century.  One of the pre-eminent martial artists of his day, O-Sensei was also an intensely spiritual person.  When he set out to establish his own school in the 1930’s, he wanted to do more than simply transmit his physical art to the next generation.  He sought a training regimen that could also convey the spiritual lessons he’d gleaned from a lifetime of study, meditation, and his own personal experience of challenge matches and combat, transforming, ‘the sword that kills,’ into, ‘the sword that gives life.’ 


Hence the martial art of Aikido, “the way of harmony with the essential energies of the universe.” 


The Principles of Aikido.


What are the “spiritual principles,” that O-Sensei sought to convey through his art?


  • Through proper training, we can experience a unity of breath and being (aikido’s kokyu or breath power) that gives rise to a sense of‘oneness’ with the universe.


  • It follows from that sense of connection to the universe, that we are connected to all life, and the notion of an separate self that lives in opposition to “the other,” or “the enemy,” is an illusion.  Thus the fear and uncertainty that drives aggressive behavior, is both unnecessary and counterproductive.  Transcending fear and uncertainty allows aikido practitioners to merge with, and redirect the energy of their partners’ attacks.  It also opens the door to self-purification, communication and great spiritual strength.


  • The interconnectedness of all life has moral and ethical implications that aikido practitioners should strive to embody in their lives outside the training hall (dojo) as well as on the mat during practice.  Thus, as we go about our daily lives, we grow in wisdom, regarding all life - our own and others’ – with respect, reverence and a growing sense of guardianship.


These principles are not abstract ideals.  They have a tangible reality that is expressed in aikido technique, and embedded in the conventions governing daily practice.  It’s all there.   It’s up to us to us to realize these ideals in our lives, both on and off the mat.


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