The evolution of Aikido
Aikido, a traditional Japanese martial art, was developed in the early part of this century by Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969), now known as O-Sensei (venerable teacher). Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei, the Aikido Kaiso (founder), was born in 1883 in Tanabe, a coastal town in southern Japan. From the time of his youth, he studied various martial arts, eventually including sumo, swordsmanship, spear technique, staff technique, and various styles of jiujutsu, particularly the Yagyu and Daito styles.
From youth, Ueshiba also appears to have been a deeply sensitive and spiritual person. Eventually influenced by the charismatic spiritual leader and artist Onisaburo Deguchi, he came to view his martial training as a means of personal purification and spiritual training.
The time of O-Sensei’s life saw Japan involved in some of the most violent conflicts of the 20th century, culminating in the Pacific war. However, it was during this time that he founded Aikido and declared it to be a way of joining the peoples of the world together in peace. In this way, Aikido is truly Budo – a martial Way – rather than simply a bujutsu (martial technique) or bugei (martial art). When martial training is undertaken not simply as a means to conquer others, but as a means to refine and perfect the self, this can be said to be Budo. The famous motto of O-Sensei, ‘Masakatsu Agatsu’, contains the essence of the spirit of Aikido: “True victory is victory over the self.”
The Kaiso’s incredible technical expertise and charisma brought him tremendous support from high-ranking military officers, government personnel, and the Imperial family during his life. Following his death in 1969, he was posthumously awarded an Imperial medal for his unique contributions. However, recognitions and honors aside, it was the universality of his insights, and his vision of the martial Way being open to all sincere persons internationally, which have led to the phenomenal growth of Aikido. The noblest philosophies and intentions of the samurai have become a part of world culture and give spiritual sustenance to millions of persons of all cultures; this is largely due to the groundbreaking influence of Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei.
Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Nidai Doshu (the second “master of the Way” of Aikido), son of Morihei Ueshiba, was born in 1922. From early youth, he trained under the guidance of his father. During the confusion of the wartime period, when allied fire-bombings reduced much of Tokyo to ruins, it was he who remained in the city and preserved the original dojo building. Following the war, as Aikido entered its golden age and began to attract public attention, he was instrumental in leading and organizing what would become the Zaidan Hojin Aikikai – the government-recognized, not-for-profit organization which exists today as the center of world Aikido. Upon the death of O-Sensei in 1969, Kisshomaru Ueshiba was named the second Doshu of Aikido.
From that time on, Doshu quietly went about the business of spreading Aikido internationally. The tremendous expansion of the art, and the now millions of practitioners, can largely be called his creation. It was he who coordinated the sending of Japanese Shihan overseas, thereby founding and developing the seeds of large organizations in other nations. He also maintained the strong support of government officials and businessmen in Japan and built new support of this kind internationally. His many publications of Aikido technique and philosophy have further spread Aikido’s influence. The high educational and professional standards of Aikido, and the respect it has gained, are a result of these efforts.
In 1999 Kisshomaru Ueshiba died in Tokyo, having successfully transformed the vision of his father into an international movement.
What makes Aikido different?
Traditional Aikido is non-competitive, and promotions do not come through besting an opponent, but through demonstrating understanding of basic exercises and techniques, which become more demanding or difficult as rank increases. In Aikido we strive to work in cooperation with a partner, still employing effective technique against an energetic and realistic attack yet doing so by blending with the attack and redirecting its energy back to the attacker. We practice techniques against a variety of attacks such as kicks, punches, strikes, single-hand or two-hand grabs from the front or rear, chokes, multiple person attacks, and attacks with weapons. In all of these we strive to resolve the conflict in a non-lethal, non-disruptive, yet effective manner. Techniques may end in joint locks or immobilizations, or in dynamic motions where the attacker is thrown forwards or backwards across the mat, or through the air into a spectacular breakfall. Rather than primarily linear motions, Aikido is comprised of blending, turning, pivoting, circling, and spiraling. We are learning to deal not only with our own energy, but with that of an attacker or another person (or people) as well. Aikido embodies concepts which are at the same time very simple, yet very complex. Because of these and other differences, Aikido can be very challenging to learn, yet at the same time can be very rewarding because it is ultimately bringing us into harmony with ourselves and with our world and helping us to become more complete and integrated human beings.
Is Aikido good for Self-defense?
Aikido is a very effective martial art for self-defense, not only because it teaches us how to defend against a variety of attacks, but because it is also training our state of mind and physical condition. Improved posture and breathing help us to fit better into our bodies; a positive state of mind affects how we move in the world and how we are perceived by others. The ability to maintain physical center and mental calm helps us in meeting stressful situations or in resolving conflict in a variety of situations in the dojo, on the street, at school, in a business meeting, or at home. Most martial arts can help us improve physical things like balance, timing, and reaction. One of the purposes of repeated training is to move these things from conscious processing to automatic reflex. Aikido also helps us develop our spirit, sense of well-being, awareness and compassion. The multi-faceted approach to Aikido training makes us stronger and more complete human beings, better able to diffuse or defend against negative situations.
The techniques of Aikido are not new. On the contrary, they are based on ancient samurai wisdom perfected on the battlefield. What distinguishes Aikido from other martial arts, however, is its unique philosophical component of compassion. Aikido’s Founder Morihei Ueshiba, known as O’ Sensei, dedicated his life to the study of Bujutsu and the practice of spiritual rituals to purify his mind. The combination of his intense physical and spiritual training ultimately gave birth to Aikido.
O’ Sensei’s dream as understood by Saotome Shihan was to create peace in the world by tempering human aggression and thereby teach people to be better human beings. Aikido’s most important principle is the preservation of life:
The strategy of Aikido is to enter (irimi) into the attack with body mind and spirit and unbalance the attacker with spiral movements. This is accomplished through the interaction of active (yang) and passive (ying) forces put into practice with precise offensive and defensive moves designed to neutralize the attack.
Immediately at the inception of conflict Aikido gives the practitioner a choice: to destroy life or to save life. Without Martial Arts training you will be a victim without choices. Please do not underestimate Aikido’s ability to be lethal. Though Aikido gives options to its practitioners, its emphasis is to stop the danger. To accomplish this task, one must develop control, confidence, courage and an ability to trust.
Central to Aikido’s philosophy is the concept of Shobu. Shobu means wisdom. Wisdom comes from understanding, trusting, and seeing yourself clearly. Without this awareness you will never be able to control others for your own protection nor for the protection of those you love.
“Aikido has but one principle: The universal reality of life. In their own nature as living human beings all possess the basic secret of Aikido. The purpose of Aikido is to better people’s lives, to make their spirit blossom and become strong and by making better people to make a better world.”
– Mitsugi Saotome Shihan