Aikido is a modern martial art (gendai budo) developed in the early 20th century by Morihei Ueshiba, known as O-Sensei (“great teacher”). The term “Aikido” consists of three Sino-Japanese characters: 合, ai, meaning “joining”, “meeting”, or “harmonising”; 氣, ki, meaning “breath”, or “energy”; and 道, dō, meaning “way” or “path”. Although the term aiki (“harmonising of energy”) was in use before the 20th century, the Art of Aikido as a martial discipline designed to control aggression and violence without inflicting destruction was the creation of O-Sensei himself. Therefore, the story of Aikido is in large part the story of O-Sensei.
Aikido is an art that uses throws, locks and pins as its principal movements. At all times, it is stressed that power does not come from raw physical strength. Instead, one makes use of the energy contained in the incoming attack, and channels it using one's centre (the abdominal region, which Eastern thought holds to be the seat of vital energy in a human being). Aikido principles hold that when the body, mind and spirit act as one, and the body is unified through a stable, energised centre (rather than the comparatively weak strength of individual limbs), it is possible to join with even the fiercest attack and redirect its power safely and effectively.
Aikido has been described as “moving Zen”. In this spirit, the ultimate aim of Aikido training is not mere effectiveness in combat: above all, training is an encounter with one's self, and the process of Aikido training is one of self-exploration, development and transformation. Traditionally, this is seen in terms of five principles:
- Taiiku (bodily achievement). The harmonious development of the body reveals us to be a microcosm of the universe while it continues to purify the body through training. Through physical mastery, we gain the power known as kokyuryoku (the power in the breath of heaven and earth). This power comes from the realisation that we are one with the universe.
- Kiiku (spiritial development). The concepts of “enemy” and “fear” are perceptions of karmic consciousness or illusion, in which the world appears separate from the self. Aikido is not an art of defeating the enemy. A state of “no fear” comes from increasing self-confidence and awareness of being at one with the universe. Our true spiritual strength can only be revealed when the barrier of self-isolation is broken down.
- Tokuiku (moral or ethical achievement). This is the development of the moral or ethical aspect of the self, placing the principle of oneness with the universe into daily life. The path of truthfulness is realised through commitment and practice.
- Chiiku (intellectual achievement). The attainment of wisdom comes from an increasing awareness of the reality of oneness with the universe.
- Jyoshiki no Kanyo (cultivation of common sense). Common sense in its most profound interpretation is the recognition of and respect for all living things. The definition of the true martial Way is therefore to be the guardian of all beings embodying the principle of reverence towards all life.