Browse Categories

Japanese Swords

Shop By Forge

Aikido – The Way of Harmonious Spirit


What is Aikido?


Aikido, which translates from Japanese to “the way of unifying with life energy” or, as above, “the way of harmonious spirit.” Aikido is a Japanese form of martial arts, and aims to combine the physical and spiritual into a single set of central techniques and forms. The goal of Aikido is not only to defend oneself in hand to hand combat, but to protect the attacker from being permanently injured. Aikido's core techniques are designed to allow the defender to use the attacker's own strength against them, and thus does not require a significant amount of physical force. This means that people of smaller stature and less brute strength can still practice Aikido effectively.


The main martial forms of Aikido make extensive use of throws and locks, focusing on joints in order to disarm and disable rather than injure the attacker. Modern interpretations of Aikido depend on the teacher, and most of the techniques practiced today can be traced back to the founder of the martial school: Morihei Ueshiba.


A Brief History of Aikido


Morihei Ueshiba is credited with founding the school of Aikido, which is derived primarily from Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu but began to move in a different direction in the early nineteenth century. Ueshiba sought to combine the martial arts techniques he had learned with his philosophy and religious beliefs (he practiced Omoto-kyo, a variant of Shinto Buddhism). Early forms of Aikido incorporated empty-handed throws and joint locks, as well as armed movements (commonly with spears or short staffs) for training purposes. Aikido owes many of its techniques to modern swordsmanship techniques, or kenjutsu.


Morihei Ueshiba met Onisaburo Deguchi, the primary figure of the Omoto-kyo religion, in 1919. Morihei had just left Hokkaido where he was studying, and began taking inspiration from Onisaburo and incorporating religious philosophy into his budding martial art school. Because of the close relationship with Onisaburo that Morihei developed, he became accepted in elite military circles, and gained recognition for his techniques and exposure for his school. After being joined by a number of students and securing financial backing, Morihei saw Aikido gain a significant amount of popularity among both professional soldiers and the public at large. His students went on to open their own schools of Aikido with varying styles, and today the art is found worldwide.


Training in Aikido


In most Japanese martial arts, the practitioner is expected to combine intense physical and mental training, and Aikido is no exception. However, because Aikido focuses on keeping both the defender and attacker safe from significant injury, and because Aikido incorporates potentially dangerous throws and joint locks, students must learn very early on how to properly fall, roll, and handle their opponent's more fragile joints (wrists, ankles, and so on). The safe practice of sparring in Aikido is known as ukemi, which more specifically refers to the way in which one receives a martial technique. A proper ukemi will prevent the person being thrown or locked from being injured in the process.


The physical training aspect of Aikido incorporates several different facets – physical relaxation, stamina, and agility. There is less of an emphasis on developing raw strength, as most of the techniques practiced in Aikido do not require the wielder to be particularly strong (provided the technique is properly executed). Many Western training regimens tend to isolate particular groups of musculature, such as core, upper body, lower body, and so on, and then focus individual exercises on developing those groups one at a time. Aikido, like other Eastern martial arts and physical training regimens, aims to develop the entire body as a whole in combination with the mind. As a martial art, Aikido is actually closer to practices such as yoga than it is to Western strength training. Balancing and stretching are common warm-up exercises for practitioners of Aikido, due to the flexibility and focus required during execution.


Tori, Nage, and Uke


Aikido incorporates techniques of jujitsu, with an emphasis on throws and locks. When one practices Aikido with a partner, the art is typically broken into pre-decided movements with each partner responsible for one half. These movements are called kata, and an exercise will move from one kata to the next until a series is completed. One partner is responsible for uke, which is the initiator of the attack (but the receiver of the Aikido technique being performed). The other partner commands the neutralization of this attack, which is known as tori or shite, depending on the style of Aikido being practiced. The defender's role may also be called nage if the defense is a throwing technique.


As mentioned previously, during a technique the uke partner will perform ukemi. The reason the term ukemi is referred to as an active verb is that ukemi itself is an active movement, rather than a passive reception. Awareness of one's environment, the movement of one's partner, and one's own body is very important in order to properly execute ukemi.


Depending on the type of movement being executed, the roles of uke and tori are responsible for different factors. During a throw technique, the partner using nage must take the forward physical momentum of the attacker and convert it into a throw, while the uke partner must be flexible and centered enough to allow that force to be converted safely into ukemi. In a lock or other non-throwing technique, the uke partner's responsibility is to maintain his or her balance, as injuries typically occur when balance is lost (thus putting unexpected weight or pressure on a locked joint).


It is interesting to note that in Aikido, the partner responsible for uke is almost always the more experienced martial artist, as it requires a good deal more practice to safely fall or cover a vulnerability than it does to execute a simple throw. Some advanced techniques allow the uke partner to reverse a nage throw into a counterattack which pins or throws the tori or nage partner. These reversal techniques are known as kaeshi-waza.


Techniques and Weapons


The techniques used in a given exercise depend on the attack that is initially used by the uke partner. Any type of attack has a predetermined counter that will disable the attack while keeping both participating members safe from injury. Depending on the type of practice and the school of Aikido being taught, strikes can be open-handed or designed to simulate an armed attack, typically that of a sword or staff strike.


The two primary types of attacks include tsuki, which are punches and other attacks with the hands (including sword or knife blows) and kicks, which are less common and tend to be reserved for more advanced techniques. The reasoning behind this is that kicks, when performed incorrectly, are much more dangerous for the uke partner – being off-balance as a result of a kick can lead to an improper ukemi, which is the main source of injury during Aikido. Kicks are also much less common in traditional Japanese martial arts, making them less common in practice.


A few of the strikes used most frequently in Aikido are a strike to the front of the head in a downward motion, a diagonal slash toward the side of the head, a thrust toward the chest (mimicking a bladed weapon), or a straight punch toward the bridge of the nose. Strikes are generally reserved for at least intermediate level practitioners. Beginners more commonly use grabs, as mistakes are less likely to result in accidental contact and injury. A few of the grabs used are a single-handed grab on one wrist, double-handed grab to a wrist, one hand grabbing each wrist, and a shoulder grab.


Techniques in Aikido are designed to counter each of these initiating attacks. For example, one classic technique that is often demonstrated has the nage participant place one hand on the uke partner's elbow, one near their wrist, and then leverage their momentum into a throw. This throw is easy to learn and has low risk of injury to the uke partner. A more advanced technique is the heaven and earth throw, which involves a simultaneous sweeping motion with each hand, one low, one high. This puts the opponent off balance and knocks them over. Another more advanced technique would be the rotary throw, in which the nage partner locks the opponent's shoulder joint by sweeping their arm, then applies forward pressure into a throw.


Aikido practitioners can also train in a number of more specialized techniques, depending on their reason for learning the martial art. One can practice throws against multiple simultaneous attackers in a more physically-oriented school, whereas one studying the mental side of the martial art will learn to relax his or her mind along with the body. Aikido can even focus on the spiritual side of the martial art, training in the focus of the ki, which is the combination of body and mind into a central source of power.