Aikido is a modern Japanese martial art (gendai budo) that was developed in the early part of the 20th Century by Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969). A disciplined student of martial arts principle and philosophy, Morihei Ueshiba (known as O-Sensei or great teacher) created aikido out of his dissatisfaction with the competitive and destructive elements of earlier martial traditions. The emphasis of aikido is not directed toward the defeat, but neutralization of an attacker.
Budo has its origins in samurai principles, Bushido. Bushido is the code of moral principles which the samurai were required or instructed to observe. More frequently it is a code unuttered and unwritten. It is a personal path developed through decades and centuries of life in a military career. Budo is now carried on by many practitioners of traditional martial arts such as Aikido.
The study and usage of ki is a critical component of aikido, and its study defies categorization as either “physical” or “mental” training, as it encompasses both. The original kanji for ki was 氣, and is a symbolic representation of a lid covering a pot full of rice; the “nourishing vapors” contained within are ki (YeYoung, Bing F. “The Conceptual Scheme of Chinese Philosophical Thinking – Qi”. Literati Tradition. Retrieved 2007-02-12).
Ki is most often explained as unified physical and mental intention, however in traditional martial arts such as Aikido it is often discussed as “life energy”. Gōzō Shioda‘s Yoshinkan Aikido, considered one of the “hard styles,” largely follows Morihei Ueshiba’s (The founder of Aikido) teachings from before World War II, and surmises that the secret to ki lies in timing and the application of the whole body’s strength to a single point.
Takeda Sokaku (The founder of a school of jujutsu known as Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu) defined aiki the following way:
“The secret of aiki is to overpower the opponent mentally at a glance and to win without fighting. (Draeger, Donn F. (February 1, 1996). Modern Bujutsu & Budo: The Martial Arts and Ways of Japan, Volume Three. Boston, Massachusetts: Weatherhill.”
Tokimune Takeda (The designated successor of Daitō-ryū upon Takeda Sokaku’s death, speaking on the same subject during an interview, said:
The concept of aiki?
Aiki is to pull when you are pushed, and to push when you are pulled. It is the spirit of slowness and speed, of harmonizing your movement with your opponent’s ki. Its opposite, kiai, is to push to the limit, while aiki never resists.
The term aiki has been used since ancient times and is not unique to Daito-ryu. The ki in aiki is go no sen, meaning to respond to an attack.
… Daito-ryu is all go no sen—you first evade your opponent’s attack and then strike or control him. Likewise, Itto-ryu is primarily go no sen. You attack because an opponent attacks you. This implies not cutting your opponent. This is called katsujinken (life-giving sword). Its opposite is called setsuninken (death-dealing sword).
Aiki is different from the victory of sen sen, and is applied in situations of go no sen, such as when an opponent thrusts at you. Therein lies the essence of katsujinken and setsuninken. You block the attack when an opponent approaches; at his second attack you break his sword and spare his life. This is katsujinken. When an opponent strikes at you and your sword pierces his stomach it is setsuninken. These two concepts are the essence of the sword. “ (Pranin, Stanley (1996). Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu: Conversations with Daito-ryu Masters. Tokyo: Aiki News)
Katsuyuki Kondo Sensei, Menkyo Kaiden Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu states:
“Daito-ryu is built upon a foundation of six basic elements. These are extremely deep and complex and mastery of even any one of them requires a great deal of time and effort. One’s ability to perform Daito-ryu techniques correctly and fully will only develop through constant and strenuous efforts to take all six into account at all times.”
These six elements are critical in the expression of Aiki or Ki in Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu:
Rei -“Correct formal personal conduct”
Metsuke – “Eye contact”
Maai – “Combat distance”
Zanshin-“Remaining mind and full effort”
Budo Principles (Katsuyuki Kondo (2000). Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu Hiden Mokuroku. Sagamihara-shi, Kanagawa-ken 228-0813 Japan, p. 43)
The concept of Aiki has been viewed from many angles, and expressed differently by many masters. Great writers from many different walks of life have chosen elegant words that create beautiful pictures of Aiki. Gifted speakers have articulated its finest details with passion. Interestingly enough, with all this variation in the description of Aiki, I did find a consistency. A thread that is woven into aiki and Budo that holds true for us all. Aiki is always accessible as long as one knows where to look. As long as one knows what path to follow. Those who seek to express themselves in Aiki may want to explore my chosen path of Budo. The path that I have dedicated my life to follow. In the end, perhaps Bruce Lee said it best:
“Ultimately, martial art means honestly expressing yourself…
it is easy for me to put on a show and be cocky,
or I could show you some really fancy movement…
But to express oneself honestly, not lying to oneself,
and to express myself honestly…
Now that, my friend is very hard to do” ― Bruce Lee