What is Aikido?
To blend, join, harmonize, love
Spirit, universal creative energy
The way or path, to live one’s life
Aikido, therefore, can be translated as “the way of harmony.” A more expansive translation, however, would be that Aikido is an art for developing people as change agents in society who, guided by compassion and love, will strive to create a just and unified world community. It is this broader meaning that led O-Sensei to frequently refer to Aikido as “the art of peace.” As he once stated in an interview, “the ultimate goal of Aiki is creation of heaven on earth.”Aikido is a modern Japanese martial art with deep roots in Samurai tradition. In Aikido, much like in Kenjutsu, we control the terms of the encounter by managing the mai-ai (distance) and timing, using our own openings as a trap, and blending with the attacker’s energy to evade the strike. In developing Aikido O-Sensei combined these aspects of weapons training, the techniques of Japanese Jujutsu, the study of natural phenomena, and insights from eastern religions. Unlike Kenjutsu, the objective is not to destroy an attacker with a counter strike but to defend oneself and others while attempting to minimize harm to the attacker.
About Aikido History
Aikido was founded by Morihei Ueshiba (1883 – 1969), known to all Aikidoka (practitioners of aikido) as “O-Sensei” (Great Teacher). As a young man, Ueshiba trained in many forms of martial arts and studied Budhism. He served in the Japanese infantry for four years beginning in 1903 (serving in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05). He became quite skilled in the use of the bayonet. After the war he became involved in community activism and organizing. In 1912 He led a group of settlers to Hokkaido, known for harsh winters and difficult farming conditions. It was in Hokkaido that he met Takeda Sokaku, founder of Daito-ryu Aiki-Jujutsu. From 1915 until 1919 Ueshiba received regular instruction in Daito-Ryu from Sokaku. During a visit to Ueshiba’s home in 1922, Sokaku granted him a teaching certificate in the art.
At the same time, Ueshiba was drawn to various ascetic and spiritual practices. In 1919 he became a member of the Omoto-kyo religion. Emerging from Shinto, this religion emphasized the goal unifying the people and religions of the world. In 1924 he was arrested and briefly held by Chinese authorities in Mangolia where he and a group of Omoto-kyo members had traveled to establishing a kingdom based on their religious beliefs. His spiritual growth and continuing exploration of Budo (the martial way) left him increasingly dissatisfied with Daito-Ryu.
For a time during this period Ueshiba only instructed members of Omoto-kyo. He soon began to teach military officers, members of the royal family, and other prominent persons. He relocated with his family to Tokyo in 1927, initially teaching in the billiard room of Prince Shimazu. In 1931 Ueshiba opened the Kobukan Dojo, which the students nicknamed “hell dojo” because of the hard training. During this period he tried several different names for his art, such as “Ueshiba Aiki-jutsu” to further distinguish his it from Daito-ryu. For the duration of World War II he retreated to the village of Iwama in Ibaragi Prefecture, where he constructed the Aiki Shrine dojo. It was during this period that Ueshiba developed the foundation of what would later become modern Aikido, settling on the name Aikido in 1942. During the occupation of Japan after the war the practice of martial arts was forbidden. O-Sensei convinced general MacArthur, however, that Aikido was a new martial art of peace and was given permission to begin teaching the art in 1948.
The destruction caused in the war, as well as a series of what he would describe as enlightenment experiences, had accelerated the evolution of Aikido. As O-Sensei told Michio Hikituchi Sensei (who had been his student from 1927 to 1939) in 1949: “I have changed how we do everything… Until now all Budo has been for destruction, for killing. From now on Budo must become… the Budo of love.” This meant that one should even try to protect one’s attacker. This is a truly radical shift in martial arts philosophy. Before World War II, Aikido was practiced by only a few people. One needed a formal introduction even to be considered for admittance as a student. But with the lesson of war fresh in his mind, he opened the practice of Aikido to the general public in the late 1940’s, hoping that his art might help to contribute to greater social and personal harmony. Since then, under the leadership of his son Kisshomaru Ueshiba (1921-1999) and grandson Moriteru Uesheiba, Aikido has spread throughout the world. In the United States, there are now Aikido schools in every state and major city.