The Way of Harmony
Aikido (the way of harmonising the energy of the universe) is first and foremost a martial art but it is also much more. At its most basic level Aikido is a system of throwing, joint-locking, striking and pinning techniques, coupled with training in the use of sword (bokken), staff (jo) and knife (tanto) techniques. Aikido was founded by Morihei Ueshiba in the early twentieth century and has now grown to be one of the world’s most popular martial arts. It places emphasis on practical efficiency, and is the style used to train women and anti-riot teams of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police.
Size, weight, age and physical strength play only a small role in Aikido, also making it a uniquely suited option for women, children and older students.
As a form of Budo (the martial way), Aikido is more than a fighting art. It is a path of personal discovery and character improvement. The path on which you have taken the first steps is different for each person but if you train hard you will see improvements in many areas of your life. Some of the benefits include increased physical fitness, improved self-confidence and a greater awareness of yourself and your boundaries as well as those of people around you.
The principles of Aikido
Study of ‘Ai’
The most fundamental concept of Aikido is that of ‘harmonising’ with an attacker. In practical terms, a practitioner of aikido will use the force of an attack against their aggressor to apply a lock, throw or pin. When pulled, the Aikidoka (practioner of Aikido) moves forward in the direction of the attack. When pushed, the Aikidoka pivots out of the way. In this way, Aikido redirects the force of the attack until it is no longer a threat. In this weakened position, the attacker then becomes susceptible to various forms of controls (ways of directing an attacker to a final pin), or throw.
Underpinning this theoretical basis are a number of principles and methods, all integral to cultivating a greater understanding and means of applying this fundamental principle
Shite & Uke (Cooperation between partners)
The first of these methods is the appropriate roles of both ‘shite’ and ‘uke’. In traditional aikido training, shite and uke are training partners, not opponents. As a ‘pair’, both will work with each other, fostering an atmosphere suited to the application and research of often dangerous locks and throws. Such a high level of co-operation helps you to reconceptualise an attack – from a hostile and destructive force to a positive facilitator of your aikido technique. The attack becomes a positive means to your ends.
Another of the methods used is ‘Shuchu-ryoku’ – or focused power. This is the ability to focus your power into one point. Using the power of the hips, legs, knees, abdomen, etc, harnessed together to focus your energy towards one aim. The power generated is greater than the power of the muscles alone. It is the aikidoka’s ability to generate such power that enables a smaller and comparatively weaker person to apply techniques on larger and stronger opponents.
Breath power or ‘kokyu-ryoku’ results from the alignment of feeling (sensitivity), breathing and rhythm, allowing the Aikidoka to read uke’s movement and lead them. It is not necessary to do any special training in order to develop breath power, you will develop it through consistent training.
Mastery of Balance
At Aikido Shudokan, the ‘ki’ in aikido might be understood as the combination of correct posture, centre line, breathing and the augmented power of focused energy. Although there are many interpretations of such a complex concept, it might be said that “aiki” is the “mastery of balance
Modern day Aikido can trace its origins back to the feudal society of 9th Century Japan. It is rooted in several styles of jujitsu (from which modern judo is also derived), in particular daitoryu-(aiki)jujitsu, as well as sword and spear fighting arts.
A timeline of Aikido’s origins begins in the 9th century
Pre-Daito Ryu Aikijutsu
The Aiki system of techniques is said to have originated with Prince Teijun, the sixth son of the Emperor Seiwa (850-880), and was passed on to succeeding generations of the Minamoto family. Over the following generations the techniques were eventually handed down to Shinra Saburo Yoshimitsu , the younger brother of Yishiie Minamoto.
Yoshimitsu was a man of exceptional talent and skill, and it is said that he devised many of his techniques by watching a spider skilfully trap a large insect in its fragile web. His house, the Daito Mansion, has given its name to his system of Aikijutsu, which became known as Daito Ryu Aikijutsu.
Daito Ryu Aikijutsu
The Daito Ryu techniques were handed down in secret to family members and retainers, and eventually reached Takeda Sokaku (1859-1943). The Daito Ryu system that was handed down to Takeda Sokaku was undoubtably vastly different from what was taught one thousand years before hand. The specific arts studied by Takeda are unknown except for his training in Ono-ha Itto-ryu kenjutsu. All evidence points to the conclusion that the Daito-Ryu arts Takeda taught are as much a synthesis of his vast training experience and technical innovation as they are a faithful continuation of the Aizu clan martial tradition.
One of Takeda’s students was Ueshiba Morihei, the founder of Aikido. Born December 14, 1882 Ueshiba met Takeda in 1915, after attending a ten day seminar Takeda conducted. So impressed was he by Takeda’s techniques he began a study of Daito Ryu. In addition to his study of Daito Ryu (which makes up the basis of the techniques of Aikido), Ueshiba studied Kito Ryu Jujitsu, Yagyu Shinkage Ryu Kenjutsu, and other empty hand and weapon arts.
Ueshiba was a deeply spiritual man, and was a follower of the Omotokyo sect of Shintoism. The main person behind Ueshiba’s spiritual beliefs was Reverend Deguchi Onisaburo, and the Omotokyo sect had a strong influence on the development of Aikido.
In 1931, Ueshiba opened up the Kobukan or Hell Dojo. This was when Ueshiba was his most physically powerful, and training was said to be very “hard”. One of his students at this time was Gozo Shioda, who would go on to become a prominent post-war Aikido Pioneer and develop Yoshinkan Aikido.
Ueshiba was held in very high regard by other martial artists of the time including Kano Jigoro, the founder of Judo, who sent many of his top Judo students to learn Aikido. These students included Tomiki Kenji, who would later go on to develop a sport Aikido style – Tomiki Aikido, and Mochizuki Minoru who later founded Yoseikan Budo.
In 1942, Ueshiba moved to Iwama, where he opened up a dojo and a farm, and set up the Aiki shrine. A few years after that, in 1945, the Aikikai was set up, even though at that time, all forms of budo had been banned after the second world war. The main Aikikai dojo was set up in Tokyo, though Ueshiba mainly stayed at his Iwama dojo, leaving the Tokyo dojo in the care of his son Kisshomaru (1921 – 1999), and other leading instructors such as Tohei Koichi, who would later go on to form Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido (better known as Ki Society Aikido).
O-Sensei Ueshiba Morihei passed away on April 26th 1969 at the age of 86. Ueshiba left a legacy of martial techniques and spiritual teachings that are now being taught the world over, and are encompassed, to varying degrees, in the various Aikido schools that exist today, including the Aikido Shudokan in Melbourne as established in 1980 by Joe Thambu Shihan.