The origins of Aikido

The origins of Aikido

The word 'Aikido' in Japanese is made up of three characters or kanji. Aikido is often translated as ‘the Way of Unifying with the Universal Energy’ (ai = unite, harmony, love; ki = spirit, mind, universal energy; do = the way). Aikido is a true budo, a martial art that derived from the historic traditions of Japanese combative arts; practiced seriously it is more than performing mere tactics and self-defense techniques: Aikido is the art of perfecting the soul.

Aikido was developed by Ueshiba Morihei, who is often referred to as O’Sensei or ‘Great Teacher’ by the over one million practitioners of Aikido. He devoted himself to hard physical conditioning and eventually to the practice of martial arts, receiving certificates of mastery in several styles of jujitsu, fencing, and spear fighting. He contemplated a lot on the uselessness of wanting to defeat an opponent by force. Transformed by his long meditations, Ueshiba developed his technical skills into a martial art of refinement and amazing physical power, which is different from any other former combative arts.

O’Sensei said, “The secret of Aikido is to harmonize ourselves with the movement of the universe and bring ourselves into accord with the universe itself. You must make the spirit of the universe your own spirit.” “True budo is a work of love. It is a work of giving life to all beings, and not killing or struggling with each other. Aikido is the realization of love.” There have always been people with outstanding intellectual capacities, but O’Sensei taught that real knowledge cannot be gained by mere intellect. “This is not simply theory” he said, “you must practice it”.

The dynamism of Aikido

The movements of Aikido maintain a firm and stable center simultaneously emphasizing spherical rotation characterized by flowing, circular motions. These pivoting, entering and circling motions are used to blend with, to control and to overcome an opponent. The principle of spherical rotation makes it possible to defend oneself from an opponent of superior size, strength and experience.

Although Aikido movements are soft, logical and smooth, as are those found in nature, by applying a bit of force, these techniques can be devastatingly effective. The gentle quality of Aikido makes it appealing to people of all ages. In fact, Aikido can be enjoyed by all — men and women (regardless of age) and children. It not only provides excellent exercise and teaches proper etiquette and self-control, but for some it also offers spiritual growth and evolution.

So Aikido develops the body in a unique manner. Aerobic fitness is obtained through vigorous training. Flexibility of the joints and connective tissues is developed through various stretching exercises and through the techniques themselves. Relaxation is learned automatically, since without it the techniques will not function. Also, a balanced use of contractive and expansive power is mastered, enabling even a small person to generate enormous energy and self-defense skill.

Practicing Aikido

The final goal of budo is improving personality and harmonizing the soul. Still, philosophical conversations rarely happen in the dojo. The emphasis is on practicing: the basic movements, the proper timing and breathing are mastered through constant repetitions. The students learn how to react to an opponent’s attack and redirect and/or reverse it into a throw or lock. Also, they learn how to keep balance under any circumstances. Most exercises are practiced with a partner; both practice according to their own abilities, taking turns as ‘uke’ (the attacker) and ‘nage’ (who receives the attack). Both roles are important as both contribute to the improvement of the partners’ agility and sensibility.

How Aikido improves your body posture

An aikidoka obtains a relaxed body posture, when body weight is focused and directed in the physiological center of the body. Gravity is no longer a force to be overcome but one that makes your posture stable, and thus everyday body movement becomes more relaxed. This centered energy affects not only your body but also your spirit: your vigor is boosted, your senses are refined, and it becomes easier for you to remain calm in times of trouble or irritation. In this state you possess ‘hara’ or ‘powerful ki’ – as they say it in Japan –, an inner ability that helps an aikidoka utilize all their capacity in everyday life.