“If your opponent strikes with fire, counter with water, becoming completely fluid and free-flowing. Water, by its nature, never collides with or breaks against anything. On the contrary, it swallows up any attack harmlessly.”
—Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei, Aikido Founder
Rooted in samurai culture, Aikido is a modern synthesis of various historical martial art systems involving both weapons and empty-hand techniques. It was created in Japan over a period of decades in the mid-20th century by Morihei Ueshiba, whom Aikido practitioners refer to as O-Sensei, (“great teacher”) or the Founder.
Aikido can be translated to mean “the path of harmony with universal energy.” What does this mean? It can be interpreted in many different ways. Each person will express his or her Aikido in an individual way, but it is all Aikido. Aikido is budo: the Way of the Warrior. It is a journey. This implies that there is a destination, but really, the path is a destination in and of itself.
Aikido is a path of harmony. This does not mean that an Aikidoka (practitioner of Aikido) becomes a doormat, simply taking anything that comes his or her way. Aikidoka learn to protect themselves first and foremost and then, to redirect the energy of the attacker to a harmonious conclusion. Sometimes this results in a joint lock or pin, sometimes in a throw. The result is that the conflict has been resolved.
Aikido is non-competitive; there are no tournaments or trophies. The goal is “victory over the self.” In the dojo, we train in the spirit of cooperation. We are not competing with each other, but working together to discover what needs attention. In this spirit, we refer to each other as training partners. We challenge each other to learn and be better, but we do not compete or needlessly goad our partners.
We train in the dojo, but we practice Aikido in our daily lives. We see that challenges can be opportunities to learn and to grow, that falling safely and getting up quickly are important skills, and that everyone has something to teach us. We learn how to protect ourselves while remaining flexible and aware.
On a physical level, Aikido techniques represent deeper principles such as compassion, sensitivity, connection, stability, timing, relaxation, efficiency, and power that transcends brute force. Aikido training develops heightened awareness and increased ability to focus. If a situation could potentially become violent, we are able to recognize that much sooner. We train not to become paralyzed when threatened, but to relax and focus so that we can act appropriately. Perhaps most importantly, this heightened awareness allows us to generally avoid situations that could become dangerous.
Aikido is a path of harmony, not just between ourselves and others, but within ourselves. People of all ages, sizes, and levels of physical fitness and athletic ability can benefit from Aikido. Our mind and body are one. Sometimes, if you train the mind, the body will follow. But more often, if you train the body, the mind will follow. When you train your body to move in healthy ways, to relax in stressful situations, and to blend with the forces that you encounter, then you also train your mind to do this. The result is a more peaceful, conscious state of mind.
So Aikido is a path of harmony within ourselves, and between ourselves and others. But what about universal energy? This too can be interpreted in many ways. One way of seeing it is in the concept of “centering”.
Each person has his or her own source of power (or ki), which is their center. If you connect with your center, you feel rooted to the earth. This doesn’t mean that you can’t move, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. By remaining connected with your center, you can move quickly without losing your balance. You can also move very effectively without using up too much energy. There are many ways of looking at this, all of which are best explored by getting on the mat and doing some training!
The ultimate goal of Aikido is the step-by-step improvement of one’s character. Some of the short-term benefits of Aikido training are physical fitness, self-defense, and a sense of community.
The long-term benefits of Aikido transcend the physical and extend into all aspects of life. Aikido training takes place in the dojo but Aikido practice occurs in daily life.