Aikido – Japanese martial art founded by Morihei Ueshiba,
literally meaning “way of harmony”. It is characterized by use of throwing, locking and immobilizing
techniques as opposed to violent striking methods. Of all martial arts it has the highest ethical basis.
Although it is most widely
known as a martial art or system of self-defense, aikido is also a profound spiritual training. Its purpose is
to develop the innate qualities of our divine heritage. This was the opinion stated by aikido's founder, Morihei
Ueshiba (1883-1969), a Japanese soldier, farmer, and philosopher, and one of the greatest martial arts masters
in history. In recognition of his contribution to the martial arts, aikido practitioners refer to him as
O-sensei, "the great teacher." As created and fashioned by O-sensei, aikido's purpose is to promote life and
understanding, not to defeat others. The only enemy that Ueshiba recognized was the enemy within.
AIKIDO is most commonly translated as "the way of harmony." Do is the Tao, the way; ki translates
as "spiritual energy"; and the most all-encompassing meaning of ai is "harmony." Harmony is blending
with our environment by changing difficulties into joy and conflict into peace. This need not be a merely a
lofty concept. It can become a practical reality through the development of real power. To the degree that this
is accomplished, ai also takes on the meaning of "love" or "compassion."
Ueshiba Morihei taught that love and harmony are synonymous and implicit in the meaning of aikido. The harmony
of nature is the source of unlimited power, the source of all our energy and abilities. There is no love without
power, only the need for fulfillment. The purpose of aikido training is to bring forth our true nature, to
develop the spiritual power which is our innate heritage.
What is aikido? This is not a question to be answered simply. Attempts to explain aikido through technique or
philosophy alone are caught up in dualism. Aikido is an intuitive study of human life. Aikido contains the
foundation of the ancient martial arts, yet it is also the fruition or blossoming of those ancient practices.
Its beautiful and powerful techniques are ideal martial forms.
Aikido has been labeled "wrist-twisting,"
"receiving conflict without opposition," and "using your partner's strength against him."
Such descriptions contain degrees of validity, yet none of them grasps aikido's spiritual content.
Martial arts in general can be divided into three categories. The first category concentrates on striking
the enemy; the second attempts to control him; and the third, most difficult, attempts to upset his balance
and throw him down. Aikido contains all of these, yet expresses them through its own unique principle.
Throwing in aikido is different from judo. In aikido you unify with your partner's intention and redirect his
or her force to lead your partner off balance. Controlling is also different from other martial arts techniques
such as shaolin kung fu (chin na) or jujutsu. Rather than controlling through pain or injury to the joints,
aikido concentrates the mind in such a way that your partner receives the intensity of your power throughout
his body (especially at his center of balance) more than at the place of contact. This reduces the possibility
of a counterattack, as he is unable to discover the source of the power controlling him. The main emphasis of
aikido training should be on control.
Striking (atemi) in aikido has great potential power: it can cause serious injury to the internal
organs. The founder taught that one blow could kill a man but that the use of this unrestrained power is
unnecessary and unacceptable for practice. Atemi should be used to lead your partner's mind rather than to
Aikido is usually practiced as a hand-to-hand form, yet its essence derives from the art
of Japanese swordsmanship. The highest teaching (okugi) of sword, called aiki, refers to a
method of escaping unharmed without cutting your partner. It is also called ai nuki. In the Yagyu
style of sword it is katsu jin ken, the sword that gives life (satsu jin ken is the sword
In aikido, as in swordsmanship, any attempt to control your partner through physical force makes
you vulnerable. To see the reality of any situation, you must see it not only with your physical eyes but
also with your mind's eye, the eye of intuition. To be successful, your body and mind must be alert and free
from tension. In aikido speed or physical power is much less important than the development of an all-embracing
attitude. This is not apparent to the inexperienced observer; indeed, it is understood by the aspiring aikidoka
only after years of training. Despite its formality, aikido is not static. It is decided in the moment, before
technique even appears.
Movement begins in the center of the hara, the tanden no ichi or “one point," where the
aikidoka's mind is focused. The spiritual content of aikido can be expressed in the one word hara,
which ranges in meaning from "belly" to "heart-mind" or "soul." Hara is not only the physical center of the
body; properly understood, it is also the center of our spiritual energy. The kototama of hara is ha
(eight) and ra (spiraling outward). Much the same as the heart pumps out blood to nourish the physical
cells of the body, hara distributes ki to all parts of the body. This process of ki distribution can be
controlled by concentration. In the center of the brain is another energy-producing center, or hara, from which
new consciousness (word souls) is born. When these two centers are combined, great spiritual power can be realized.
Kototama is a many-faceted Japanese concept for which there is no equivalent in English. Kototama is one and
many: it can be described as the invisible world of spirit, the divine plan, and the creative energy of life.
It is the dimensions of ki that give structure to the forms of the material universe.
Practicing aikido day in and day out, these two hara centers become united vertically; the will becomes rooted
in the body's physical center and the excess activity of the mind ceases. Heaven (mind) and earth (body) are
united through spirit (the will). In this way the total meaning of hara, body-mind, is realized. We come to
embody the Japanese expressions, hara de kangaeru, to think with one's hara, and hara de yam,
to act from hara.
This process of developing hara in aikido shares common points with the development of samadhi in Zen.
In each, the practitioner must penetrate beyond dualistic thought to the basis of heijoshin, or everyday
mind. In the case of Zen, "The initial aim of sitting zen (zazen) is samadhi, the condition of total stillness,
in which body and mind are fallen off, no thought stirs, the mind is empty, yet we are in a state of extreme
wakeful-ness. This is the state known as absolute samadhi or pure existence. In this state, kensho (satori) is
latent. Working samadhi is a state where the normal activity of consciousness is arrested yet the mind is still
active with what it is concentrating on. Aikido helps to remind us of our natural state of being. It is a kind
of working samadhi within which intuitive research continues to function. The spiritual power of hara is to
manifest technique spontaneously while moving in complete harmony with one's partner. This requires great
faith or trust in one's self.
For example, if someone attempts to restrain your freedom of movement and you allow your mind to be drawn into
that conflict, you have already lost yourself. By allowing your mind to be drawn out from your center, you have
lost control and the opportunity to deal with conflict reasonably. You must be able to cut through your
partner's intention with the sword of judgment. The moment your opponent moves, your mind must already have him
under control. By attempting to immobilize you, he — or she — becomes caught in the net of your ki. Through
attachment to his purpose, the opponent is locked like a magnet and must conform to your movement.
Aikido is often said to be the art of using an opponent's energy against himself.
It is not, however, a matter of action and reaction, skillfulness, or technique. It is a system of self-defense,
yet, unlike other martial forms, it is not a method of destruction. Aikido is the art of becoming of one mind
and body with the opponent. This requires being firmly centered and aware of one's own existence. One's will
must be concentrated in the hara. Practiced properly, aikido enables the practitioner to bring mind and body
under the control of the will. This leads to both wisdom and control — the ability to transform difficulties
and aggression into joy and self-improvement. Based on universal order, aikido creates health in both body and
Aikido and self defense
Many people decide to learn martial arts with a purpose of obtaining
physical self defense skills. They are interested in mostly practical fighting aspects – hand to hand combat
training that is close to real street defense situations, without sophisticated philosophic aspects and rituals.
If you come to learn aikido merely for self defense, you might be badly disappointed in this martial arts
system after some period of training – because spiritual training and philosophy are integral part of
aikido, and these aspects take a plenty of time. The mastering of this fighting art requires years of
persistent training – you can’t acquire real aikido experience in a few years. Otherwise bad aikido skill
will probably fail you in some self defense case. If you want to fight like Steven Seagal, you have to devote
to aikido no less than 10 years of hard training.