I get asked that one all of the time. People understand what Karate, Judo, and Kung Fu are, but most martial artists don’t know what to expect when they come across Aikido. I suspect that the biggest reason is that Aikido has so many expressions. I won’t even go into those people that don’t actually do Aikido, but call whatever it is that they do, Aikido. Aikido, even at it’s purest form, is still a very individual expression. I would like to start from a personal expression as well, and talk about what I think Aikido is. For this article, I will discuss some of the things that I think make up Aikido, that is to say, without these things, there is no Aikido.

Aikido is the creation of Morihel Ueshiba. Aikido is the unique creation of Morihei Ueshiba.  No matter what style of Aikido, the lineage should end up with Ueshiba at the top.  It is through his hard work and ingenuity that we have Aikido to practice today.

Aikido is a Martial Art. This may seem redundant, but there are those who would disagree.  Aikido is a severe martial that decides life or death in an instant, whether armed or unarmed, whether you are facing one attacker or many.  Aikido is popularly referred to the “art of peace.”  Since  Aikido is a martial art, it is proper to understand the violence first.  My favorite quote from the movie Redbelt: “Whoever controls the war controls the peace.”  The art of peace means that first we learn to make ourselves unassailable to attackers.  After that is learned, only then can we begin to talk about taking care of the enemy.  Aikido contains severe techniques that have bloody origins, but the goal is not to dominate others, neither the oppressor nor the victim.

Aikido is based on use of weapons. The main weapon that influences Aikido is the sword, which is referred to as the soul of Japan.  Every Aikido technique can be demonstrated with the sword, jo, short stick, or knife.  Aikido is a Japanese art, and Japan is a sword culture.  When faced with an opponent, weapons were drawn immediately.  Whipping though a crowd with a more than razor sharp sword was the easiest way to deal with multiple attackers.  When the weapon was damaged or lost, similar modes of action were required so that the warrior did not have to learn several different arts to be effective.  Aikido without serious study of weapons is a dubious practice, indeed.

Aikido is Atemi. Since Aikido is based on the use of the sword, which cuts, and the staff, which thrusts, naturally, the empty hand expression of Aikido is Atemi.  Atemi is used to stop any fight before it starts.  Atemi is used to unbalance the opponent.  Atemi can be a distraction, mere skin to skin contact, or a spearhand thrust to the eye.  Atemi is about control of space, time, and rhythm.  There is lethal Atemi in every Aikido technique, just as any slash from a sword or thrust from a staff is lethal.  Atemi teaches you to be aware of your own openings as well as your opponent’s.

Aikido is Irimi. Irimi is the method by which all other methods in Aikido are made possible.  Along with Atemi, Irimi about fierce entry into the opponent’s space.  Not merely moving off the line of attack, but dominating it, physically and spiritually.  Irimi is the method that allows the Aikidoka to effortless contend with larger and multiple attackers.  Closing in with the enemy, that’s what the warrior does, that’s what Irimi is.

Aikido is Awase. Coordination and fitting in with the movements of your partner in class, with your opponent in actual fighting.  Aikido does not contend with force.  Aikido exerts full power in a direction that is impossible to resist.  Aikido moves in a way that cannot be restrained by mere strength.  That is why Aikido works easily against stronger and multiple opponents.  The Aikidoka moves the body in a coordinated fashion, in coordination with whatever an opponent may try.

Aikido is Ukemi. While people agree that Aikido is 99% Atemi, I would go further and say that Aikido is 99% Ukemi.  The art is literally the Ukemi.  Ellis Amdur has written at length about this already.  Anyone that really wants to understand the power of Aikido should strive to be the best Uke possible.  Ukemi is not only the best way the learn Aikido, it is the best way to teach it.  If there is such a thing as a short cut to becoming great as an Aikidoka, it is through Ukemi.  Ukemi is more than taking falls.  Everything that Uke does creates Aikido.

Aikido is a tool for self perfection. If you are only trying to be an effective fighter, you will miss the point of Aikido.  Aikido teaches self-control first.  If there are rules of engagement in Aikido, I would say that the first rule is to treat people well, and the second rule is to try to understand the other person’s point of view.  After that, we are supposed to show compassion whenever possible.  The proper use of the martial techniques of Aikido is to neutralize the attacker’s aggression, rather than the attacker.  An Aikidoka would only injure someone in order to protect others from evil, never out of fear or animosity.  That’s why self perfection is key.  Bruce Lee said that “no one can ever hurt you, unless you let them.”  Miles Kessler, in an interview, said that his spiritual teacher told him “if you have spiritual protection, you don’t need martial protection.”  These two thoughts should be pondered over well.

Coming up next: What is Ikkyo?


6 Responses to WHAT IS AIKIDO? PART ONE.

  1. James says:

    You forgot one: Aikido is fun. 🙂

  2. autrelle says:

    Dang it!!!! How could that slip my mind!?

  3. Andrew B. says:

    Great post. I think as you put Aikido is very hard to describe. Other than some of the more common ones I really liked agreed with the: – Aikido is based off of weapons 2) Aikido is ukemi; I think to be a great Aikido person you need to understand how to protect yourself, so you can take harder falls and know what it feels like when it works! Keep up the great posts.

  4. Ziggy says:

    i am going to post this with a link in a note on my facebook to facilitate this hard question which i am asked, excellent explanation.

    Any objections please let me know and ill take it down.


  5. autrelle says:

    No objections at all – just be sure to add Autrelle Holland on your facebook so I can join in!

  6. daninofal says:

    Nice piece. I have some reasons in my post to study Aikido: http://wp.me/pOELs-z

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