A History and Style Guide of Aikido

Aikido throw technique
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The guy at the party that's been bothering you all day long finally decides to throw a punch. Without thinking, you evade the strike and use his own power to throw him to the ground. He staggers to his feet and attacks you again, this time with even more anger. You catch him in a standing wristlock, leaving him defenseless and in pain. Eventually, his grunts and grimaces tell you that the fight is over. All that aggression and you've subdued your opponent without even attacking once.

That's aikido- a defensive throwing art.

History indicates that the martial arts style of aikido was mostly formulated during the 1920's and 30's by Morihei Ueshiba in Japan. Aiki refers to the idea of becoming one with an aggressor's movements so as to control them with minimal effort. Do refers to the philosophical concept of Tao, which can also be found in the martial arts defining terms of judo, taekwondo, and kendo.

The History of Aikido

The history of aikido coincides with that of its founder, Morihei Ueshiba. Ueshiba was born in Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan on December 14, 1883. His father was a wealthy landowner that traded in lumber and fishing and was politically active. That said, Ueshiba was somewhat bookish and weak as a child. Along with this, his father encouraged him to engage in athletics at an early age and often spoke of Kichiemon, a great samurai that also so happened to be his great grandfather.

It appears that Ueshiba witnessed his father being attacked for his political beliefs and connections. This made Ueshiba want to be strong enough to defend himself and perhaps even gain revenge on those that would do his family harm. Thus, he began training in martial arts. However, his early training was somewhat sporadic because of military service. Still, Ueshiba did train in Tenjin Shin'yo-ryu jujutsu under Tozawa Tokusaburo in 1901, Goto-ha Yagyu Shingan-ryu under Nakai Masakatsu between 1903-08, and in judo under Kiyoichi Takagi in 1911. However, his training truly became serious in 1915 when he began studying Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu under Takeda Sokaku.

Ueshiba was affiliated with Daito-ryu for the next 22 years. However, before the end of this term he began to refer to the style of martial arts he practiced as "Aiki Budo," which perhaps represented a decision to distance himself from Daito-ryu. Regardless, the art that would formally become known as aikido in 1942 was most heavily influenced by two things: first, Ueshiba's training in Daito-ryu. Second, somewhere along the way Ueshiba began looking for something else in life and in training. This led him to the Omotokyo religion. The goal of omotokyo was the unification of all humanity into a "heavenly kingdom on earth." Thus, Aikido does have a philosophical backbone to it, though students of Ueshiba's seem to have seen different slants on these philosophical ideologies depending on when they trained under him.

Ueshiba is referred to by many aikido students and practitioners as Osensei (great teacher) due to his amazing contributions to the art.

In 1951, aikido was first introduced to the West by Minoru Mochizuki when he visited France to teach judo students.

Characteristics of Aikido

"To control aggression without inflicting injury is the Art of Peace," was once said by Ueshiba. This sentence seems to encompass both aikido's physical and philosophical teachings.

Along with this, aikido is primarily a defensive art. In other words, practitioners are taught to use their attacker's aggression and power against them. This is done through the use of throws, joint locks (particularly of the standing variety), and pins.

Aikido is generally learned through the practice of pre-arranged two person katas or forms. One person becomes the attacker in teaching (uke), while the other utilizes aikido techniques to subdue their attacker (nage). It should be noted that many of the pre-arranged strikes that are defended against in practice seem to resemble the possible movements of a sword, indicating that aikido had weapons defense significantly on the mind in the past.

The actual use of weapons, free sparring, and defense against multiple attackers are also sometimes practiced with higher level students.

Basic Goals of Aikido

The basic goal of Aikido is to defend oneself against an aggressor in the most peaceful and least harmful way possible.

Major Aikido Substyles

Many substyles of Aikido have emerged over the years. Below are some of the more popular.

  • Iwama Ryu
  • Ki Society
  • Kobayashi aikido
  • Manseikan Aikido
  • Shodokan Aikido
  • Suenaka-ha Tetsugaku-ho Wadokai Aikido
  • Yoseikan Aikido
  • Yoshinkan Aikido

Three Famous Aikido Figures Not Already Mentioned

  • Steven Seagal: Seagal is a 7th dan black belt in aikido and is considered the first foreigner to operate a dojo in Osaka. Later, Seagal moved back to Japan and eventually made his film debut in 1988 in Above the Law. He went on to star in other popular films like Hard to Kill, Marked for Death, and Under Siege. Seagal's movies have netted over 850 million dollars worldwide.
  • Kisshomaru Ueshiba: The third child of Morihei Ueshiba, Kisshomaru became the international leader of aikido when his father died. This made him the second doshu, or "keeper of the way" for the art. Kisshomaru played a large part in bringing aikido to the rest of the world.
  • Moriteru Ueshiba: Son of the now deceased Kisshomaru, Moriteru is the third doshu of aikikai.