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Japanese Name
Kanji 合気道
Hiragana あいきどう
Missing image

Aikido (合気道 Aikidō, also 合氣道 using an older style of kanji), literally meaning "harmony energy way", or with some poetic license, "way of the harmonious spirit," is a gendai budo — a modern Japanese martial art. Practitioners of aikido are known as aikidoka. It was developed by Morihei Ueshiba (植芝盛平) (also known by aikidoka as o-sensei (大先生)) over the period of the 1930s to the 1960s. Technically, the major parts of aikido are derived from Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu (大東流合気柔術), a form of jujutsu with many joint techniques, and kenjutsu (剣術), or Japanese sword technique (some believe especially the tactics in Aikido is influenced by Yagyū Shinkage Ryū). Aikido is also considered to contain a significant spiritual component.



The name aikido is formed of three Japanese characters, 合気道, usually romanised as ai, ki and do. These are often translated as meaning harmony, energy and way, so aikido can be translated as "the way of harmony through energy". Another common interpretation of the characters is harmony, spirit and way, so aikido can also mean "the way of spiritual harmony". Both interpretations draw attention to the fact that aikido's techniques are designed to control an attacker by controlling and redirecting their energy instead of blocking it. An analogy is often made of the way a flexible willow bends with the storm whereas the stout oak will break if the wind blows too hard. (The Korean martial art commonly known as hapkido uses the same three characters: some suggest a historical link through Daito Ryu, the main origin of aikido).

Morihei Ueshiba developed aikido mainly from Daito Ryu aikijutsu, incorporating training movements such as those for the yari (spear), jo (a short quarterstaff), and perhaps also juken (bayonet). But arguably the strongest influence is that of the katana (sword). In many ways, an aikido practitioner moves as an empty handed swordsman. The aikido strikes shomenuchi and yokomenuchi originate from weapon attacks, and resultant techniques likewise from weapon take-aways. Some schools of aikido do no weapons training at all; others, such as Iwama Ryu usually spend substantial time with bokken (wooden sword), jo, and tanto (knife). In some lines of aikido, all techniques can be performed with a sword as well as unarmed.

Aikido was brought to the West in 1951 to France by Minoru Mochizuki. It was introduced to the United Kingdom in 1955, the United States in the 1960s, to Australia in 1965 and to many other countries. Today there are many aikido dojos available to train at throughout the world.


Aikido incorporates a wide range of techniques which use principles of energy and motion to redirect, neutralize and control attackers. Because aikido techniques allow practitioners to move considerably during their execution, as well as for other reasons, some believe aikido is particularly suited to multiple-attacker circumstances. However, like all martial arts claims, this is debated. At its highest level, aikido can be used to defend oneself without causing serious injury to either the aggressor or the defender. If performed correctly, size and strength are not important for efficiency in the techniques. Aikido is considered one of the most difficult of the Japanese martial arts to gain proficiency in.


The methods of training vary from organization to organization and indeed even between different dojo in a single organization but typically, a class basically means that the teacher shows techniques or principles and the students imitate. Training is done through mutual technique, not by sparring. Uke, the receiver of the technique, usually initiates an attack against nage or tori, who neutralizes it with an aikido technique. The uke and the nage have equally important roles. Students must practice both positions in order to learn to defend against an attack and to safely receive the defense. When o-sensei taught, all his students were uke until he deemed them knowledgeable enough of the technique to be nage. Movement, awareness, precision and timing are all important to the execution of techniques as students progress from rigidly defined exercises to more fluid and adaptable applications. Eventually, students take part in jiyu-waza and/or randori, where the attacks are less predictable. Most schools employ training methods wherein uke actively attempts to employ counter-techniques, or kaeshi-waza.

O-Sensei didn't allow competition in training because some techniques are considered too dangerous and because he believed that competition didn't develop good character in students. Most styles of aikido continue this tradition although Shodokan Aikido (see #Styles) started with competitions early on. In the Ki Society there are forms (taigi) competitions held from time to time.


Aikido techniques are mostly based on keeping the attacker out of balance and locking joints. Much of aikido's repertoire of defenses can be performed either as throwing techniques (nage-waza) or as controls (katame-waza), depending on the situation. Entering, irimi, and turning, tenkan, are widely used Aikido concepts, as is striking, atemi. The use of striking techniques is dependent on the organization and, to some extent, the individual dojo. Some dojo teach the strikes that are integral to all Aikido techniques as mere distractions, used to make the application of Aikido technique easier to apply, while others teach that strikes are to be used for more destructive reasons. O-Sensei himself wrote, while describing the Aikido technique Ikkyo, "...first smash the eyes." (This might well refer to the fact that the classic opener for Ikkyo is a knife-hand thrust towards the face, to make uke block and thus expose his or her arm to the joint control - thus, as though moving to smash uke's eyes.) Manipulation of uke's balance by entering is often referred to as "taking uke's center". It is sometimes said that aikido contains only defense, and the attacks that are performed are not really aikido. From a historical perspective this claim is questionable, but many if not most aikidoka have the defense techniques as the focus of their training.


Although attacks seldom are studied to the same extent as in arts of more aggressive nature, good attacks are needed to study correct and effective application of technique. "Honest" attacks are considered important, although the opinions of how an honest attack looks varies in different schools.

Aikido attacks used in normal training include various stylized strikes and grabs such as shomenuchi (a vertical strike to the head), yokomenuchi (a lateral strike to the side of the head and/or neck), munetsuki (a straight punch), ryotedori (a two handed grab) or katadori (a shoulder grab). Many of the -uchi strikes resemble blows from a sword or other weapon. Kicks are sometimes used, but are not usually part of basic curricula. Most aikido techniques can also be applied to a response to an attack, e.g. to a block, and some schools use this as the "basic" form of a given class of technique. Beginners also tend to work with techniques executed in response to a grab. Grabs are considered good for basic practice because the connection with uke is very clear and strong, and it is easier to "feel out" body mechanics and lines of force.

There is also the matter of atemi, or strikes employed during an aikido technique. The role and importance of atemi is a matter of some debate in aikido. Some view atemi as strikes to "vital points" that can be delivered during the course of a technique's application, to increase effectiveness. Others consider atemi to be methods of distraction, particularly when aimed at the face. For instance, if a movement would expose the aikido practitioner to a counter-blow, he or she may deliver a quick strike to distract the attacker or occupy the threatening limb. Atemi can be interpreted as not only punches or kicks but also, for instance, striking with a shoulder or a large part of the arm. Some throws are arguably effected through an unbalancing or abrupt application of atemi. Many sayings about atemi ( are attributed to Morihei Ueshiba, although their precise content varies considerably based on the one doing the telling.


Weapons training in aikido usually consists of jo (short-staff) and bokken (sword) and/or tanto (knife). Both weapons-taking and weapons-retention are sometimes taught, to integrate the armed and unarmed aspects of aikido. For example, a technique done with a straight punch may be done with a tanto or jo thrust instead, or a grab technique may be illustrated as a way to draw/strike with a weapon while being grabbed.

Many schools, also others than those who are his students in lineage, train versions of Morihiro Saito's weapons system: aiki-jo and aiki-ken. It contains solo kata with jo, and paired exercises with jo and bokken. In other lines of aikido, paired training with bokken in kata derived from old sword schools is common. Quite a few aikido teachers have also developed weapons systems on their own, such as Mitsugi Saotome's "two sword aikido."


Aikido uses a keikogi similar to most other modern budo arts; simple trousers and a wraparound jacket, usually white. In some places a keikogi of karate cut is preferred, in others most people use judo keikogis. Keikogi made specially for aikido exist, but usually not in the lower price ranges.

To the keikogi adds the traditional garment hakama, wide pleated trousers. The hakama is usually black or dark blue. In most dojos around the world, the hakama is reserved for practitioners with dan (black belt) ranks, but some dojos ask everyone to wear a hakama. Systems also exist where hakama is never worn, worn from a specific kyu rank, and others where women are allowed to wear it earlier than the men.

The belt, obi is wrapped twice around the body similar to in karate or judo. Although some systems use many belt colours similar to the system in judo, the most common version is that dan ranks wear black belt, and kyu ranks white - sometimes with an additional brown belt for the highest kyu ranks. In some dojos it is common to have the same color belt at two different levels.


The ending "do" in the word aikido indicates a spiritual path, unlike the ending "jitsu" in the word aikijujitsu, which indicates an art of war. Many people see this difference as important as well as regarding iaijutsu and iaido, jujutsu and judo, and kenjutsu and kendo. Others see this distinction as a historically incorrect and somewhat unnatural division. For example, literally, do refers to a path and jitsu to a technique: therefore, some argue, aikido involves both a way (do) and technical study (jutsu).

Ueshiba taught that, while it was important to become proficient in physical technique, this is not the ultimate purpose of training. He taught that the principles learned through training in physical technique are universal and are to be applied to all aspects of one's life. He once commented that he was teaching students not how to move their feet but, rather, how to move their minds.

Many agree that Ueshiba's style became softer, more fluid, and effortless as he grew older. Some suggest this was due to a shift in focus to the spiritual aspects of the art, while others suggest that this was simply a natural result of Ueshiba becoming more proficient in physical technique. Various interpretations have arisen since Ueshiba's death.

A range of aikido schools can be found, each placing a different emphasis on physical techniques, underlying principles, and spiritual concepts. This is largely a result of at what point the founder of each of these schools trained with Ueshiba--earlier or later in Ueshiba's life. The former tend to focus more on physical technique, while the latter tend to focus more on spiritual concepts. However, this should not be overstated, especially since there is considerable variance from sensei to sensei, and an "aikido continuum" is quite problematic to actually construct. Some aikidoka view "physical vs. spiritual" as a false separation, or a failed attempt to stereotype branches of aikido.

Ki Society is an example of a school that focuses heavily on the spiritual concepts of aikido, rather than physical technique.


Ki kanji

The ability to harness one's Ki is an essential part of mastering Aikido techniques. Ki is often translated by aikidoka as 'breath power', 'power', 'energy', or sometimes even as 'soul'. This 'ki' is the same as the 'qi' in qi-gong, but not the same as the 'chi' in t'ai chi. When aikidoka say that someone (usually a high ranking teacher) is training with a lot of ki, they usually want to express that the person in question has developed a high level of harmony in the execution of his technique. Timing, a sense for the correct distance and a centered (undisturbed) mind and body are particularly important. Most teachers claim to locate ki in the hara, which might be loosely defined as the body's center of gravity, situated in the lower abdomen, about two inches below and behind the navel. In training it is constantly emphasized that one should keep one's hara — that is, remain centered — in order not to lose the ki. Very high ranking teachers sometimes reach a level of coordination that enables them to execute techniques with very little apparent movement, sometimes even without seeming to touch their opponent's body.

Essentially, ki corresponds to the physical concepts of center of gravity, center of momentum, and center of force. However, these centers are not necessarily the same, so Ki also encompasses the biological and mental aspect of training oneself to have exquisite control over motion. Finally, there is a spiritual aspect of how exactly to achieve harmony over these centers.

Of course, the spiritual interpretation of ki depends very much on what school of aikido you study, as some emphasize it more than others. Aikikai dojos, for example, tend to spend much more time on ki-related training activities than do, for example, Yoshinkan dojos. The importance of ki in Aikido cannot be denied -- the name of the martial art, after all, can be loosely translated as "The way of cooperation with the ki", or "The way of harmony with the ki". But what ki is is debated by many within the discipline. O-Sensei himself appears to have changed his views over time -- for example, Yoshinkan Aikido, which largely follows O-Sensei's teachings from before the war, is considerably more martial in nature, reflecting a younger, more violent and less spiritual O-Sensei. Within this school, ki perhaps could be better thought of as having its original Chinese meaning of breath, and aikido as coordination of movement with breath to maximize power. As O-Sensei evolved and his views changed, his teachings took on a much more spiritual feel, and many of his later students (almost all now high ranking senseis within the Aikikai) teach about ki from a much more spiritual perspective.

Obsolete form of the ki kanji

Regardless, this quote (from the Aikido FAQ) puts it plainly: "you may not believe in Ki, but you sure as hell cultivate it." Whether you think of ki as breath, spirit, or simply refrain from analyzing it too much, it is clear to any student of Aikido that the martial art makes extensive use of ki. Because of this, and because ki is often associated with spirituality, aikido is considered one of the more spiritual martial arts and has been referred to as "moving zen".

Some believe that the physical entity ki does not exist, but rather is a concept used to teach spirit, intention, and coordination of the physical and psychological through relaxation and control. These aikidoka tend to frown on the overemphasis of the philosophical and spiritual aspects of ki. On the other side of the spectrum, some spiritually oriented aikidoka believe that ki does exist as a physical entity and can be transmitted through space. These tend to make use of concepts like "the ki of the universe", "extending ki", and so on. While the zealous in each group find the existence of interpretations other than their own frustrating, most middle-of-the-road aikidoka consider the disagreement to be a productive one for the greater Aikido community. Some people are turned off by spirituality, but nonetheless appreciate the martial art's beauty; the existence of non-spiritually minded schools allows these types of people to enjoy Aikido and benefit from it. Similarly, some people are not at all attracted by the physical/martial nature of Aikido, and consider its spirituality to be its most important quality -- these definitely benefit from dojos emphasizing spirituality.

Regardless, aikidoka will no doubt continue their 'quest for ki'. O-sensei famously said that he was just an aikidoka like all of his students, and that he was only beginning to learn.

See also: Qi, Qigong


Aikido training is for all-around physical fitness, flexibility, and relaxation. The human body in general can exert power in two ways: contractive and expansive ( Many fitness activities, for example weight-lifting, emphasize the former, which means that specific muscles or muscle groups are isolated and worked to improve tone, mass, and power. The disadvantage of this, however, is that whole body movement and coordination are rarely stressed. Thus, while muscle size and power may increase, there is no emphasis on the ways in which those muscles can work together most efficiently. Also, this sort of training tends to increase tension, decrease flexibility, and stress the joints. The result may be aesthetically pleasing, but when done to excess may actually be detrimental to overall health.

The second type of power, expansive, is mostly stressed in activities such as dance or gymnastics. In these activities, the body must learn to move in a coordinated manner and with relaxation. Aikido also mostly stresses this sort of training. While both types of power are important, it is interesting to note that a person who masters the second type of power can, in a martial context, often overcome a person who is much bigger or stronger. The reason for this is that the contractive power, which most people (in the Western world) know, is only as great as the mass and power of your individual muscles. Expansive power, however, as used in Aikido, can be much greater than your size may lead you to believe. This is because you move with your whole body. Rather than stressing and tensing only a few muscles, you learn to relax and move from the center of your body, where you are most powerful. Power is then extended out naturally through the relaxed limbs, which become almost whip-like in their motion.

Hence, Aikido develops the body in a unique manner. Aerobic fitness is obtained through vigorous training. Flexibility of the joints and connective tissues is developed through various stretching exercises and through the techniques themselves. Relaxation is learned automatically, since without it the techniques will not function. A balanced use of contractive and expansive power is mastered, enabling even a small person to generate enormous energy and self-defense skill.

With this, different masters stress different aspects of training. Some masters stress importance of body posture while executing the technique in order to cooridinate different parts of the body, while others deal with the physical aspects of it. With each way, comes a different means of interpretation of the same basic principals of the art which is discussed in more detail above.


Aikido training does not view the body and mind as separate. The condition of one will affect the other. For this reason, the physical relaxation learned in Aikido naturally becomes mental relaxation. Likewise, the perseverance and confidence that develop mentally are manifested in a body that moves and holds itself confidently and strongly. Any psychological or spiritual insight must be reflected in the body, or else it tends to be little more than intellectualization; under pressure, such insights disappear, and the person reverts to previously ingrained habits and patterns ( Aikido training requires the student to squarely face conflict, not to run away from it. Through this very concrete, physical experience, an Aikido practitioner learns to face the situations of life in a proactive, constructive manner. Patterns of avoidance and fear are broken. The tense, defensive reactions to pressure and conflict that so often only create more violence are recognized and deconstructed. A new person - straightforward, brave yet humble, able to be both strong and yielding as circumstances require - can emerge from this training. Today, Aikido has become known in psychological and business circles as highly useful in extending and applying conflict resolution strategies. People everywhere are using Aikido philosophy to improve the quality of their lives (


The major styles of aikido each have their own Hombu Dojo in Japan; these define their various syllabi. The following is an incomplete list:

  • Aikikai is the largest aikido organization, and is lead by family of the founder. Numerous sub-organisations and teachers affiliate themselves with this umbrella organisation, which therefore encompasses a wide variety of aikido training methods and technical differences. Prominent sub-organisations include numeral national Aikikai, as well as several US based including United States Aikido Federation (USAF) and Aikido Schools of Ueshiba (ASU).
  • Yoshinkan Founded by Gozo Shioda, has a reputation for being the most rigidly precise. Students of Yoshinkan aikido practise basic movements as solo kata, and this style has been popular among the Japanese police. The international organization associated with the Yoshinkan style of aikido is known as the Yoshinkai, and has active branches in many parts of the world. In recent years, there have been a number of offshoots of this style, usually developing for political reasons.
  • Yoseikan founded by Minoru Mochizuki This form was developed by Minoru Mochizuki, who was an early student of O Sensei and also of Jigoro Kano at the Kodokan. This style includes elements of aiki-budo together with aspects of karate, judo and other arts. It is now carried on by his son, Hiroo Mochizuki, the creator of Yoseikan Budo.
  • Shodokan Aikido (often called Tomiki aikido, after its founder) use sparring and rule based competition in training as opposed to most others. People tend to compete to train rather than to train to compete. Believes that introducing an element of competition would serve to sharpen and focus the practice since it was no longer tested in real combat. This latter view was the cause of a split with O Sensei's familly who firmly believed that there was no place for competition in aikido training. Tomiki said that at no point did O Sensei actually cast him out.
  • The Ki Society, founded by former head-instructor of the Hombu dojo 10th dan Koichi Tohei, emphasizes very soft flowing techniques and has a special program for the development of ki. It also has a special system of ki-ranks alongside the traditional kyu and dan system. This style is called Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido (or Ki-Aikido).
  • Yoshokai aikido, begun by then-hachidan Takashi Kushida-sensei of Yoshinkan aikido, is a remarkably centralized style of aikido, with test techniques yearly passed down with explanations from the home dojo. The syllabus contains a considerable amount of weapons study, and like Yoshinkan, Yoshokai includes many solo movements and exercises.
  • Iwama Ryu emphasizes the relation between weapon techniques and barehand techniques, and a great deal of emphasis is placed on weapons training. Since the death of its founder Morihiro Saito, the Iwama style has been practiced by clubs within the Aikikai and an independent organization headed by Hitohiro Saito. Saito sensei was a long time uchideshi of O Sensei, beginning in 1946 and staying with him through his death. Many consider that Saito sensei was the student who spent most time directly studying with O Sensei. Saito sensei said he was trying to preserve and teach the art exactly as the founder of aikido taught it to him. Technically, Iwama-ryu seems to resemble the aikido O Sensei was teaching in the early 50s mainly in the Iwama dojo. The technical repertoire is fairly large.
Iwama Ryu Aikido, currently headed by Saito Hitohiro, is a separate organization from the Aikikai. The Iwama Dojo is currently affiliated to the Aikikai and is not considered a separate style. Many instructors who were deeply influenced by Saito Morihiro consider themselved Iwama Style, however.
  • Kokikai aikido, founded by Shuji Maruyama in 1986, focuses on minimalist but effective technique. It emphasizes natural stances and ukemi that do not require high breakfalls, and deemphasizes atemi and techniques that cause pain or undue discomfort to uke. As such, it is considered by some to be a "soft" style of aikido.
  • Seidokan Headed by Rod Kobayashi. Tends to utilize movements which are very small and economical. Encourages students to discover an aikido which is truly their own, stresses the importance of doing away with the extraneous and focusing on that which works
  • Tenshin Headed by Luis Santos. The style of Steven Seagal. It is considered a "hard" style of aikido, focusessing on the practical side of aikido and using techniques that in real world situations would be effective and sometimes brutal. Though there are few dojos in the United States, the number is growing.
  • Nihon Goshin Aikido Headed by Richard Bowe. It is considered a "hard" style of aikido, combinding techniques from Karate, Judo and Daito-Ryu Aikijutsu. There are roughly a dozen dojos in the United States and none left in Japan. Founded by Shoto Morita in Japan circa 1950. Derivative styles include Nihon Goshin Aikijutsu founded by Walter Kopitov in 2000. For more information see "The Black Belt Master Course in Nihon Goshin Aikido".


It is sometimes said that in Japan the term aikidoka (合気道家) mainly refers to a professional while in the west, any one who practices may call themselves an aikidoka. The term aikidoist is also used as a more general term, especially by those who prefer to maintain the more restricted, Japanese, meaning of the term aikidoka.

See List of famous Aikidoka

External links

bg:Айкидо ca:Aikido cs:Aikido da:Aikido de:Aikidō es:Aikidō eo:Aikido fr:Akido he:אייקידו hu:Aikido id:Aikido it:Aikidō lt:Aikido nl:Aikido ja:合気道 pl:Aikido pt:Aikido ro:Aikido ru:Айкидо sr:Аикидо fi:Aikido sv:Aikido


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