Aikido is a Japanese martial art that mesmerizes through its apparent simplicity and effectiveness. Most martial artists see Aikido as a martial art that solely focuses on self defense, though this is only partially true. Truth is that Aikido was born out of a philosophy, out of its founder’s desire to find peace of heart. This is why Aikido is a martial art that focuses on using the opponent’s strength while at the same time, protecting the opponent from serious injury. In some way, we could say that Aikido is a martial art that at its core focuses only on resolving the conflict in the most peaceful way possible.
The philosophy of Aikido
Aikido’s founder, Morihei Ueshiba was born in Japan in 1883. He began studying martial arts after seeing his father beat up by local thugs. This made him want to become strong enough to take revenge. So, he started practicing martial arts, learning fencing, spear fighting and several styles of jujitsu. Soon, Osensei (as Morihei Ueshiba was called throughout his life, meaning “great sensei”) became very strong and a very capable martial artist. However, this didn’t help him find the resolution he expected so, while continuing his training in martial arts, he began dwelling in religion. The mixture of Osensei’s religious, political and philosophical ideologies led to the birth of Aikido.
At its basis, Aikido is a martial art that focuses on the idea of reciprocity. When translating Aikido into English we find several meanings, one of them being “the way of combining forces”. The basic philosophy of Aikido is blending with the attacker’s movements so that the attacker’s actions can be controlled with minimal effort, effectively defending against an attack without disabling the attacker. Osensei’s personal philosophy was one of reconciliation and universal peace. He was influenced by the neo-Shinto religious movement, and hence, at its core, Aikido can be seen as a path to attaining utopia during one’s life, extending love and compassion even on those who seek to harm others.
However, do not draw the conclusion that Aikido is a martial arts form that teaches its practitioners how to “love” their attackers. After Osensei’s death, many forms of Aikido and many schools emerged, all taking more or less from the founder’s philosophy and focusing more or less on the spiritual aspect of this martial art. There is no unified philosophy and no matter the form of Aikido one practices, one thing is for sure: the practitioner learns how to use his opponent’s force to his or her advantage, being able to effectively defend against attacks.
In Aikido, practitioners are taught how to fend off one or several opponents. The first time I was exposed to multiple attacker training scenarios… I was genuinely shocked at how it could deplete your energy. To achieve this they must be mentally and physically trained. In this martial art, the physical training focuses on general fitness and conditioning but also on other techniques. The basic fitness includes flexibility, relaxation and endurance. Physical strength isn’t as important in Aikido as it is in other martial arts. Aikido uses the attacker’s strength or momentum to their disadvantage. In essence, when they push you, you pull them into a throw or move… if they pull, you push, and it is this “going with” principle that allows the Aikido practitioner to use minimal strength during the encounter.
In Aikido, we find the use of “uke” and the “nage”. The first being the attacker and the latter being the defender. Aikido practitioners are required to play both roles, to learn how to blend and adapt in fight situations. While the nage learns how to control the attacker’s energy and use it towards his or her advantage, the uke learns how to become flexible and calm in a situation that puts him or her in disadvantage. (this is also imperative to avoid injuries when you are being thrown)
Aikido uses katas rather than freestyle sparing or trianing, at least until the students learns how to control the force of the attack so that they can prevent the attacker from getting injured. Attacks are also learned in Aikido, but only as a means to study and effectively apply the techniques. The act of receiving a technique is called Ukemi. This implies paying attention to the immediate environment, to the partner and technique. In Aikido, falling is part of the technique and, as this martial art uses lots of throws, students are first taught to roll or fall safely.
There are a number of techniques in Aikido, most of them using various throws and pins. While almost all are derived from jujitsu, some were invented by Osensei., Today however, we find a variety of techniques, each school focusing on the aspects of Aikido that suit the school’s philosophies and style. No matter the technique or the school, in Aikido, body movement is used to blend in with the force of the uke (the attacker).
Aikido also has weapons training, traditionally fending against the short staff, the wooden sword and the knife. There are schools today however, that teach firearm disarming techniques. To better integrate armed and unarmed aspects, some schools teach weapon retention and weapon taking.
A very important part in any Aikido practitioner’s training is the mental training. Osensei said that one “must be willing to receive 99% of an opponent’s attack and stare death in the face” if one expects to be able to apply the techniques without any hesitation. In Aikido, the spiritual aspect cannot be undermined.
Aikido – martial art or Zen philosophy?
There are some who criticize that Aikido’s efficiency in real life situations is void, as the attacks used in training are merely “caricatures”. However, there are schools that counteract this by letting the students be less compliant to the “original” attacks as they progress so that they can become accustomed to reacting to more real fight scenarios.
At the same time, there are other schools that focus on the philosophical aspect of Aikido, especially the study of “ki” the “life energy” and how to achieve a state of balance and Zen. The Yoshinkan Aikido developed by Gozo Shioda, one of Aikido’s hardest styles states that the secret of Ki in Aikido is the focus of the whole body’s energy and strength into a single point, thus effectively being able to disable any attacker. This is certainly not a new idea in the martial arts.
Hence, whether someone will learn a more “spiritual” or a more “worldly” form of Aikido depends entirely on the school that one chooses.
Aikido, is a complex martial art, and one of the few that focuses on self defense. It can be seen as a great way of learning how to defend yourself without having to rely on physical strength, and it is also a great way of finding inner peace and balance, while working on your fitness.
One of the aspects of Aikido that I find appealing is the idea of the “use of force continuum.” A student well versed in the art of Aikido will have the option of how much pain they want to apply in any given situation, whereas someone like a boxer let’s say, is limited. Take the scenario of a family reunion, and “Uncle Bob” is now drunk and causing a scene. You are the only one there that is trained, and you have to escort him out. He is unruly. He is belligerent, and potentially violent. Although normally a nice guy… the booze got the best of him, and now it’s up to you. The boxer would knock him unconscious. The Aikido practitioner would have the option of simple “pain compliance” techniques to remove Bob from the scene. Bob will be just fine tomorrow when he sobers up. But if he had to be beat into compliance by a striker, he may not even be alive in the AM.
No matter why one chooses to study Aikido, the complexity of this martial art makes it suitable for both the ones who are looking for a more spiritual approach to martial arts, and for the ones who want to learn self defense in the truest sense of the word. To continue the study of the philosophy of Aikido I recommend picking up a book or two on the subject. Look here… Aikido Resources
Thanks for reading, and be sure to leave your comments, and experiences with Aikido.
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