Introduction To Aikido
What is Aikido?
Whenever I move, that's Aikido.
O Sensei, Morihei Ueshiba
Aikido is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei
(often referred to by his title 'O Sensei' or 'Great Teacher'). On a
purely physical level it is an art involving some throws and joint locks
that are derived from Jujitsu and some throws and other techniques
derived from Kenjutsu. Aikido focuses not on punching or kicking
opponents, but rather on using their own energy to gain control of them
or to throw them away from you. It is not a static art, but places great
emphasis on motion and the dynamics of movement.
Upon closer examination, practitioners will find from
Aikido what they are looking for, whether it is applicable self-defense
technique, spiritual enlightenment, physical health or peace of mind. O
Sensei emphasized the moral and spiritual aspects of this art, placing
great weight on the development of harmony and peace. "The Way of
Harmony of the Spirit" is one way that "Aikido" may be translated into
English. This is still true of Aikido today, although different styles
emphasize the more spiritual aspects to greater or lesser degrees.
Although the idea of a martial discipline striving for peace and harmony
may seem paradoxical, it is the most basic tenet of the art.
We could attempt to pigeonhole Aikido into a synopsis
of X number of words, but that would not do it justice, so we leave the
practitioner of Aikido to find out what Aikido is for themselves without
any preconceived notions.
What are the different styles in Aikido?
There are no 'styles' of Aikido. It is like cheese
cake. You can cut it in wedges or squares or just dig in with your fork
but it is still cheese cake!
Aikido was originally developed by one man, O Sensei.
Many students who trained under O Sensei decided to spread their
knowledge of Aikido by opening their own dojos. Due, among other things,
to the dynamic nature of Aikido, different students of O Sensei
interpreted his Aikido in different ways. Thus different styles of
Aikido were born. The more common are listed here along with a brief
explanation of what is different about the style. Each style has its own
strengths and weaknesses, but all are firmly rooted in the basic
concepts which make Aikido the unique art that it is. None should be
considered superior or inferior to any other, but rather an individual
must find a style which best suits him or her. Outside factors such as
geographic location may of course limit one's options.
No matter which style you choose, you are going to be
taught that particular instructors interpretation of it, and you
yourself are going to develop your own particular Aikido. One might say
that there are as many different styles of Aikido as there are
Since this list is going to be challenging enough
without looking for extra work, we'll restrict our definition of Aikido
to mean styles that clearly trace their lineage to Ueshiba O Sensei. The
classification into categories is fairly arbitrary.
The "Old" Schools
Here we'll list the schools that developed from the
- This is the name given to the art O Sensei was
teaching early in his development. It is very close in style to
previously existing Jutsu forms such as Daito-ryu Aiki-Jutsu. It is
considered to be one of the harder forms of Aikido.
Most of the early students of O Sensei began during this period and
much of the early practice overseas was in this style (e.g. Abbe
Sensei's teaching in the UK in the 50s).
- This form was developed by Minoru Mochizuki, who
was an early student of O Sensei and also of Jigoro Kano Sensei at
This style includes elements of Aiki-Budo together with aspects of
Karate, Judo and other arts.
- This is the style taught by the late Gozo Shioda.
Shioda Sensei studied with O Sensei from the mid-30s. After the war,
he was invited to begin teaching and formed the organization known
as the Yoshinkan. Unlike many later organizations, the Yoshinkan has
always maintained friendly relations with the Aikikai both during
and after O Sensei's life.
The Yoshinkan is a harder style of Aikido, generally concerned with
practical efficiency and physically robust techniques. It is taught
to many branches of 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
The "Modern" Schools
This includes most of the variants taught today. Most
of these "styles" are taught by various senior students of O Sensei,
with the divergences coming after the death of the Founder. Most would
claim to be teaching the art that O Sensei taught them - and this is
probably true even though some have little in common with others! Taken
together with O Sensei's notorious obscurity in teaching style, the
story of the elephant and the blind men may give us some clue as to how
this could have come about :-).
Most of us have our biases and preferences amongst the
various styles but can recognize that all have their strengths and
weakness and we all have something to learn from all of them.
The "Traditional" Schools
- The Aikikai is the common name for the style
headed by Moriteru Ueshiba, O Sensei's grandson, as taught under the
auspices of the International Aikido Federation. Most regard this
school as the mainline in Aikido development.
In reality, this "style" is more of an umbrella than a specific
style, since it seems that many individuals within the organization
teach in quite a different manner. The Aikido taught by Ueshiba
Sensei is generally large and flowing, with an emphasis on a
standard syllabus and little or no emphasis on weapons training.
Other teachers within the auspices of the Aikikai (like Saito
Sensei) place much more emphasis on weapons practice.
- The style taught by Morihiro Saito, based in the
Iwama dojo, is generally considered sufficiently stylistically
different from mainstream Aikikai that it is named individually,
even though it still is part of the Aikikai.
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 says he is trying to preserve and teach
the art exactly as it was taught to him by the Founder. 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
larger than in most other styles and a great deal of emphasis is
placed on weapons training.
The "Ki" Schools
One of the most noticeable splits in the Aikido world
occurred in 1974 when Koichi Tohei, then the Chief Instructor at the
Aikikai, resigned from that organization and founded the Ki no Kenkyukai
to teach Aikido with strong emphasis on the concepts of Ki. Since that
time, there has been little interaction between the traditional schools
and the Ki schools.
All of these arts tend to refer to themselves as Ki Aikido, even though
there is little contact between some of the styles.
- Shin-shin Toitsu Aikido
- The style founded by Koichi Tohei - Aikido with
Mind and Body Unified. Tohei Sensei places a great deal of emphasis
on understanding the concept of Ki and developing this aspect
independently of the Aikido training for application to general
health and daily life.
This style is one of the softest styles of Aikido and is
characterized by soft movements that often involve the practitioner
jumping or skipping during the movement. Most schools are not
concerned with practical application of the techniques, considering
them exercises to further develop Ki.
In recent years, Tohei Sensei has been moving further and further
away from Aikido and has devoted himself almost exclusively to Ki
training. The latest news is that Ki no Kenkyukai has started an
initiative to make Shin-shin Toitsu Aikido into an International
The "Sporting" Styles
One of the other big breaks in Aikido history occurred
during O Sensei's life when Kenji Tomiki proposed "rationalizing" Aikido
training using Kata and Competition. Since that time, there has been
little commonality between the Tomiki schools and the mainline Aikido
In recent years there have been a number of offshoots of Tomiki-ryu that
have abandoned the idea of competition.
- Founded by Kenji Tomiki, and early student of O
Sensei and of Judo founder Jigoro Kano. Tomiki Sensei believed that
a "rationalization" of Aikido training, along the lines that Kano
Sensei followed for Judo would make it more easily taught,
particularly at the Japanese Universities. In addition, he believed
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 who firmly
believed that there was no place for competition in Aikido training.
Tomiki-ryu is characterized by using Kata (prearranged forms) in
teaching and by holding competitions, both empty handed and with a
Can Aikido be used for self-defense?
"Those who are skilled in combat do not become
those who are skilled at winning do not become afraid.
Thus the wise win before the fight, while the ignorant fight to win."
Yes, Aikido can be a very effective form of
self-defense However, it can take considerable time and effort before
Aikido (or any martial art) can be used effectively in a self-defense
Does Aikido take longer time to master and apply than
other martial arts?
"If you knew the time it took me to gain my
mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful."
The simple answer is "yes". A year in Karate/Tae Kwon
Do/Kempo and you can probably fight much better than before. It takes
well over a year before you start feeling comfortable enough with Aikido
techniques to imagine using them in "real life".
The complex answer is "no" in the sense that I don't
think anyone ever feels like they have "mastered" an art. If they do
then they've stopped growing, or the art is too simple. In Funakoshi's
autobiography you definitely get the feeling that he doesn't feel like a
"master" and is bemused to be considered one.
An old story might tell you some of the mindset you
ought to apply when studying martial arts:
A young boy traveled across Japan to the school of
a famous martial artist. When he arrived at the dojo he was given an
audience by the Sensei
"What do you wish from me?" the master asked.
"I wish to be your student and become the finest kareteka in the land,"
the boy replied. "How long must I study?"
"Ten years at least," the master answered.
"Ten years is a long time," said the boy. "What if I studied twice as
hard as all your other students?"
"Twenty years," replied the master.
"Twenty years! What if I practice day and night with all my effort?"
"Thirty years," was the master's reply.
"How is it that each time I say I will work harder, you tell me that it
will take longer?" the boy asked.
"The answer is clear. When one eye is fixed upon your destination, there
is only one eye left with which to find the Way."
Is Aikido better than karate/judo/any other martial
Though there are many paths
At the foot of the mountain
All those who reach the top
See the same moon.
This is an extremely controversial question and has
generated much heated debate in forums such as the rec.martial-arts
The answer to this question is very subjective -
students of any particular martial art tend to favor that one over any
other (otherwise they would probably be studying the other martial art).
There are many different but equally valid reasons for
studying any martial art, such as for self defense, for spiritual growth
or enlightenment, for general physical health, for self-confidence and
more. Different martial arts, and even different styles within a
particular martial art, emphasize different aspects.
Hence 'better' really depends on what it is you want
out of a martial art. Even given this distinction, it is still a very
subjective question so perhaps a better one would be 'Is Aikido better
than any other martial art *for me*?'
This can only be answered by the individual asking the
question. The rest of this FAQ may help you in some way towards finding
An alternative way to answer this question is to
simply say, 'No, Aikido is not 'better' or 'worse' than any other
martial art. It is simply different.'
Can I train an additional martial art while training
Eat right, exercise regularly, die anyway.
Yes. There is no problem in training several martial
arts at the same time, but there is one thing to watch out for. If you
have not gotten yourself a solid base in one martial art first you are
going to confuse yourself when you start your second art. The result is
(very likely) that your progress in both martial arts is going to be
slower than if you trained first one and then another.
What kind of martial art you choose to train in
addition to Aikido is of course entirely up to what you yourself like
and feel comfortable with. A suggestion is that if you start to train an
additional art early, the more different from Aikido the better, as
you'll probably not be too much confused then.
Does Aikido have competitions?
"I like tall men. I like to turn them into small
A Tomiki Aikido Sensei
It is often said that Aikido does not have any
competitions. It is true that the founder of Aikido (Morihei Ueshiba, or
O Sensei) felt that competition was incompatible with Aikido, but that
does not mean that everyone agrees.
One popular style, Tomiki Aikido, does have
competition. It is not however considered to be a fundamental part of
the style. On the other hand, the majority of Aikido schools do not have
Most Aikido training, even in schools with
competitions, is of a cooperative rather than antagonistic nature, with
both thrower (nage) and throwee (uke) working as partners and trying to
optimize the experience of the other.
This "working partnership" is also necessary to a)
minimize the chance of injury from practicing (potentially dangerous)
Aikido techniques, and b) to develop both partners' capacity to "take
ukemi" - to be relaxed and able to take care of oneself when responding
to "falling" or being thrown in a martial situation.