Aikido is a superb, but often misunderstood and criticized martial art. It is intensely formulaic and traditional, but is also a very effective and efficient form of martial art.
To understand and appreciate aikido, you have to understand its origins. Many Oriental martial arts (wing chun kung fu, for example) have a long history, and have evolved to where they are now over time. That is not the case with aikido.
Aikido History & Origins
Aikido was created by the Ōsensei (“Great Teacher”)Morihei Ueshiba in the 1900’s, when he synthesized older martial arts he had studied. Ueshiba had moved to Hokkaido in 1912, and studied Daitō-ryū aiki-jūjutsu under Takeda Sōkaku. Over time he distanced himself from Daitō-ryū, but he was heavily influenced by it. After Ueshiba left Hokkaidō in 1919, he met and was profoundly influenced by Onisaburo Deguchi, the spiritual leader of the Ōmoto-kyō religion in Ayabe. Ōmoto-kyō emphasises the attainment of utopia during one’s life. This was a great influence on Ueshiba’s martial arts philosophy of extending love and compassion especially to those who seek to harm others, and in countering aggression with peace in order to seek resolution and balance.
Deguchi also gave Ueshiba entry to elite political and military circles as a martial artist. Consequently, Ueshiba was able to attract financial and similar backing, and gained many gifted students, who would later seek to develop Aikido further. It was one of those students, Minoru Mochizuki, who in a visit to France in 1951 introduced Aikido to judo students. In 1953, Kenji Tomiki toured with a delegation of various types of martial arts through 15 continental states of the United States. Many other international tours and visits followed, prompting the emergence and spread of aikido.
By his death in 1969, Morihei Ueshiba had seen his own spiritual and martial arts curiosity and experimentation grow into an internationally recognized and respected martial art. Even though the largest Aikido organization is the Aikido Foundation, which remains under the control of the Ueshiba family. Aikido has many styles, mostly formed by Ueshiba’s major students, and is practiced globally under different national federations. Indeed, most famously, Steven Seagal exhibited aikido in his films in the 1990’s.
Philosophy of Aikido; Balance and Harmony
Aikido originated from Ueshiba taking traditional Japanese martial arts, and mixing them together. He also added his own spiritual enlightenment, and concepts of balance and harmony. He believed that the world should be in harmony, and that agrees ion needed to be balanced out and replaced with peace. That is why many movements and responses involve using the opponent’s actions against them to peacefully negate their effects, as opposed to mounting a vicious counter attack.
A major theory behind aikido styles is using controlled acts of self defence to reconcile violence and aggression. This can be traced back to Ueshiba’s concept that the world around us should be in harmony and balanced at all times, and that sometimes action needed to be taken to restore that balance when acts or aggression arose. Uesiba believed in reconciliation to bring about harmony, both external and internal.
Many people criticize aikido that is very reactive, more passive and less aggressive than other types of martial arts (e.g. karate or krav maga). That should be taken not as a criticism but rather as a reaffirmation of its founder’s beliefs. Ueshiba did not intend to bring about violence, but rather to resolve conflict.
Like most of its Oriental predecessors, aikido is very spiritual and theoretical. Uesiba was heavily influenced by the Ōmoto-kyō treligion, so it is unsurprising that those teachings would end up appearing in his martial art. The formulaic nature of aikido is also a product of Ueshiba’s spiritual leanings.
There is much that can be said about aikido- and which will be explored in subsequent posts. It does have its critics, but practitioners know that is an amazing martial art which challenges you both physically and spiritually.