What is Aikido?
Most of us probably already know some basic Aikido moves, even though we might not realize it. For example, we know that one of the most reliable ways to restrain a person is to twist their hand and push it into their back.
The Japanese martial arts were developed over many centuries and were passed down from father to son. Aikido was developed from Daitoryu Aikijutsu, a martial art developed and taught in the Takeda Clan, an aristocratic samurai family. Ancient stories tell that many of its techniques were invented as a result of observing the way a spider hunts prey that surpass itself in size and strength. The spider’s method is to first entangle its larger victim, rendering it defenseless, and then to deliver a decisive killing blow. This idea was placed at the heart of the school’s teaching. Aikido is a method by which one controls an opponent through the application of joint-locks, throws, blows and various other techniques that allow one to defeat a physically superior adversary, while exerting a minimal amount of energy.
One of the best students of Daitouryu Aikijutsu was Morihei Ueshiba. Ueshiba-sensei was a man of incredible ability who combined the techniques of Daitoryu with moves from other schools of Japanese martial arts. Ueshiba was intent on making a martial art which would bring victory not just to the young and strong, but to a diligent and persistent student. And he was successful in his endeavor. One’s mastery of Aikido does not depend on one’s height, weight, age or sex.
There is a Japanese saying that goes, “in strength there is weakness and in weakness there is strength”. The fundamental maxim of Aikido is that softness can control strength. This is done by using an adversary’s strength against themself. For example, when a person who utilizes Aikido is pushed, he moves in the direction of the attack, moving around it and adding his own energy to the energy of the attacker.
One thing that stuns most people unfamiliar with Aikido is the large number of sweeping circular movements used in it. As a result, an attacker becomes helpless, like a wood chip trapped in a whirlpool. When an opponent attacks an Aikido practitioner he comes in contact with two types of forces, the centripetal and the centrifugal. These forces either pull the attacker towards the center of the axis or fling him away from it. This is similar to what happens when we stir loose tea in a cup; the tea is either pulled into the center of the whirlpool or is thrown out to the sides.
In Aikido there are very few straight moves; almost all of its moves are curved. Aikido techniques are extremely effective because they work not only in one dimension, but in two or even three dimensions at the same time, like a rotating sphere. This disorients the attacker even more. In accordance with principals of circular movement, Aikido tries to cultivate a particular type of inner energy, “soft ki”, which is similar to a massive wave of water or gust of wind that sweeps away everything in its path.
Most people are accustomed to responding to force with force. In these situations the victor is the one who is heavier and stronger. Aikido teaches one to avoid direct confrontations of strength, to circumvent and control an attack in a way that works in one's favor.
In most styles of Aikido, sparring is forbidden because of the grave injury one can sustain from its techniques. Some masters will use real swords, knives and other types of weaponry during training. Under these circumstances the slightest mistake could end up costing the Aikido student dearly.
Aikido can be taught differently for different types of students. For example, police, military, and members of security forces place a greater emphasis on applying effective pins, and delivering decisive attacks. For others, it is a way to stay healthy, fit and be able to defend oneself, if need be. Aikido lessons do not require special physical training and are open for people of all ages, both men and women. Regular Aikido practice improves one’s health and in particular, one’s breathing and blood circulation. A key part of Aikido training is something called “joint exercises”. These exercises are aimed at developing and maintaining a high level of joint mobility and flexibility in the whole body. Eastern Medicine speaks highly of flexibility: “When a man is born he is soft and weak, and when he dies he is stiff and hard. Stiffness is a characteristic of death and softness a characteristic of life”. According to doctors of Eastern Medicine, exercising one's joints helps “to circulate energy inside one's body and flexible mobile joints lead to a longer life.”