Aikido: The Art of Peace
Aikido originated in Japan in the 1930s, based on the work of Morihei Ueshiba (1883 – 1969) who had studied the ancient Japanese martial arts of Daito-Ryu and Jyu-Jitsu and combined these forms into a single defensive art. Though he lived through one of Japan’s darkest periods, he came to believe, through a series of what he viewed as divine revelations, that the Way of a Warrior is to manifest Divine Love.
He called his new art aikido, which is written as three Japanese calligraphic characters or kanji:
AI – KI – DO
So an approximate translation of aikido is something like: The way of harmonising with life/universal energy.
In the high-impact striking martial arts like karate, taekwondo and kick-boxing, or in the grappling arts like judo or jyu-jitsu, an attacker’s energy is countered with a defender’s aggressive energy. In contrast, aikido teaches that the response to aggression is to absorb and redirect an opponent’s energy, or, in Ueshiba’s words, to blend with an attack:
If your opponent strikes with fire, counter with water, becoming completely fluid and free-flowing. Water, by its nature, never collides with or breaks against anything. On the contrary, it swallows up any attack harmlessly [Morihei Ueshiba].
In essence, therefore, aikido is a defensive art: it is never used as a form of aggression:
In the Art of Peace we never attack. An attack is proof that one is out of control [Morihei Ueshiba].
Ueshiba taught that the aim of aikido as a physical self-defensive art was to neutralise an attack without causing harm to the attacker.
Ueshiba taught his Art of Peace to a circle of followers in Japan, and his principal student, Professor Kenji Tomiki, developed aikido into the modern form which we practise today – hence we teach “Tomiki Aikido”. Just as the physical practice of yoga is framed around a series of postures, and as tai chi emphasises the practice of forms (sequences) of repetitive movement to develop body and mind in harmony, Tomiki codified modern aikido into a set of kata, with progress from simple repetitions to highly complex sequences of whole-body flow or taisabaki.
Students begin by learning the basic stance (posture) required in aikido and progress to learning how to move in a balanced and strong position, sliding feet (ayumiashi) rather than “everyday” walking, and drawing on the strength of the body core to maximise the power available when carrying out a “technique” (each element of the kata). In essence, this means learning how to stand and how to walk all over again! Like yoga, it has particular benefits in terms of developing good posture and improving balance — particularly beneficial as people get older.