Calligraphy at the Oxford Dojo What is Aikido?

This is difficult to put into a few words! It is a physical and spiritual discipline based on Japanese traditional methods of self-defence that was developed in the first half of the 20th century.

What's the difference between AIKIDO and other Martial Arts like Karate, Judo, Tae Kwon Do, etc.?

Aikido is essentially non-agressive and non-competitive. In Aikido there is no desire to injure the opponent. It is not based on hitting or kicking. There are no bouts of sparring or contests: properly speaking, Aikido is not a sport.

So how does AIKIDO work?

Aikido is based on skilful body movement. An attack is never blocked. The principle is to harmonize one's movements with those of the attacker, using the attacker's own force - turning it back on him - to bring him to the ground and control him. Locks may be applied to the wrist or arm joints; but though these can be extremely painful and result in immediate surrender, they are not aimed at inflicting permanent damage. (But don't worry: they are not taken to extremes in ordinary practice!)

Is AIKIDO really an effective means of self-defence?

Aikido was developed from techniques used on the battle fields of medieval Japan for use against swords and other weapons. Because it is based on real skill and not on physical force, it probably takes longer to become an expert. But it certainly is an effective method of self-defence. It is the basis of unarmed techniques taught to many police forces around the world. The important things you acquire from Aikido are good body-coordination and quick reaction: prime requirements for self-defence. It will also help you to develop an agile, flexible body and quiet self-confidence.

Is there anything more to AIKIDO besides the physical aspect?

In common with other Oriental philosophies and disciplines (and indeed with modern science) Aikido teaches that there is no real separation between that which is body and that which is mind. In subjecting our bodies to the precise physical discipline of Aikido we may eventually, as with Yoga, influence our minds for the good; creating an inner calm and balance and a feeling of harmony with the world around us that may be carried into our daily lives, helping us to become better and more effective people.




History of Aikido

1. The Origins of Aikido

For many centuries of Japanese medieval history the country was the scene of endless military conflict. In the absence of a strong central government, for some 700 years feudal lords fought each other, until at the beginning of the 17th century when the Tokugawa family emerged as the dominant power throughout Japan and ushered in a hitherto unknown era of peace. During the long centuries of civil conflict, the class of professional warriors known as bu-shi or samurai, perfected various branches of martial arts (bu-jutsu): combat with various weapons (sword, bow and spear, etc.), as well as horsemanship and unarmed combat. In the years following the establishment of powerful central govenment known as bakufu in 1600, when a strictly feudal class-structure was retained The samurai class was transformed from a warrior caste into one of civil servants and administrators. The martial attributes of the bushi were steadily eroded as the bakufu sought to stabilise Japanese society. With no wars to fight the samurai seemed to have lost their very raison d'etre, and a more contemplative basis of life took the place of the active, fighting existence of previous centuries. Now the term bujutsu, the art of the warrior, was replaced by budo, the way of the warrior. The disciplines of classical budo, though based on combative techniques of the battlefield, were no longer to serve a combative end - unless one were to understand by ‘combative’ the struggle with one’s own self. Classical budo aimed at higher goals than those of bujutsu. Its forms were not developed for social amusement or sport; they were rigorous disciplines that engaged and trained the mind directly through a process of dedicated and protracted training. Here were the beginnings of a system whose origins lay in the training for battle of the aristocratic few, but which was to become a training for everyday life for all people.

The do (pronounced ‘doh’) systems

Do in Japanese means ‘way’ or ‘path’; and in the context of budo one might say that it has the meaning of a path to self-improvement. Here we have martial disciplines aimed at subduing the self rather than the enemy: means by which one gains mastery of oneself through the mastery of a physical skill. Rather than being skills of self-protection, the disciplines of budo are paths towards self-perfection. Hence the use of the word dojo , which means a place where a ‘path’ is studied. A dojo of classical budo is pervaded by an atmosphere of seriousness and quiet dignity. Great importance is attached to correct attitude, etiquette and behaviour during training.

The development of Aikido

Morihei Ueshiba Morihei Ueshiba (pronounced ‘oo-ey-shiba’) was born in 1883. As a teenager he developed an interest in bujutsu, in particular in jujutsu (unarmed combat) and kenjutsu (swordsmanship). After military service Morihei was provided by his father with a dojo, where he studied under a jujutsu master. As a young man he met Sokaku Takeda, grand master of a school of jujutsu called Daito Ryu Aikijutsu, whose origins date back to the 12th century, and he spent some time studying under him. No doubt Takeda’s influence on Ueshiba’s early technique and style was considerable, but one must also take into account the technical influence of kenjutsu (swordsmanship). In 1925 Morihei Ueshiba experienced an intense spiritual experience and received some form of ‘enlightenment’. ‘Since that time I have grown to feel that the whole earth is my house... I had become free of all desire, not only for position, fame and property, but also (the desire) to be strong. I understood that budo is not felling the opponent by force, nor is it a tool to lead the world into destruction with arms. True budo is to accept the spirit of the universe, keep the peace of the world, correctly produce, protect and cultivate all beings in Nature.’ Subsequently Ueshiba changed the name of his martial art system from aikijutsu to aiki-budo. Aiki-budo attracted more and more followers, the majority highly placed inviduals in the government and the armed services, and Ueshiba moved to Tokyo to open a dojo called Kobukan. By the mid-thirties he had become famous throughout the Japanese martial arts world, not only for his mastery of various martial arts but for his conception of ‘the union of spirit, mind and body in aiki’, meaning ‘harmony with life-force’ (though written with a different Japanese character, ai means ‘love’). From all accounts, Morihei Ueshiba had developed remarkable powers. On one occasion at a public demonstration of martial arts he fought an ex-sumo wrestler and pinned him with one finger.

After World War 2 Ueshiba’s creation became known as Aikido. “True budo is the way of great harmony and great love for all beings” he wrote. That he meant Aikido to be much more than a method of self-defence is conveyed in his words “I want considerate people to listen to the voice of Aikido. It is not for correcting others; it is for correcting your own mind”. Morihei Ueshiba died in 1969. He is known in Aikido circles as ‘The Founder’ or O-Sensei (‘Great Teacher’). His successor (known as Doshu, ‘Head of the do’) was Kisshomaru Ueshiba, and his grandson, Moriteru Ueshiba is the present Doshu.

2. The Principles of Aikido

Aikido is a weaponless system designed solely for self-defence. It is essentially non-violent and, as conceived by its creator, non-competitive.

Force is never opposed by force. By means of spherical movements an attacker's force diverted and turned back upon him. In additional to throws to bring the assailant to the ground there is also a variety of joint locks for controlling the attacker; but though these can be painful and induce immediate submission, they are applied so as not to cause injury. Aikido is perhaps the most subtle and graceful of the various martial arts. Because Aikido techniques do not demand physical strength or aggressive spirit, it is practiced by people of all ages and physical make-up, by women just as well as by men.

3. The Benefits of Aikido Practice

Since Aikido is based on full and natural body movement, it exercises every limb and joint of the body. Flexibility, muscle tone, coordination, quick reactions are all developed. It does not demand unnatural body-building preparation but in an absorbing way to keep fit along natural lines and within a framework of aesthetic movement. As we get older we lose the flexibility of our joints at an alarming rate. Aikido is an excellent way of restoring and preserving a supple healthy body. Moreover, there should be enough expenditure of energy in an Aikido practice to stimulate the heart and give it plenty of exercise.

Aikido is essentially a method of self-defence, so that through regular practice one will acquire a sound basis of agile movement and speed of reaction which should prove useful if the occasion ever demanded it in real life.

In common with other oriental philosophies (and indeed with modern science) Aikido teaches that there is no real separation between that which is body and that which is mind. In subjecting our bodies to the precise discipline of aikido we may eventually influence our mind for the good: creating an inner calm and balance that may be carried into our daily lives, helping us to become better and more effective people.

4. The Aikikai Foundation

Founded in 1948 for the purpose of spreading the teaching of the Founder throughout the world, the Aikikai Foundation, with its headquarters at the Hombu Dojo in Tokyo, is the guiding body of orthodox Aikido. It is represented in over fifty countries. The Director of the Foundation is Moriteru Ueshiba, referred to as Doshu (Master of the Way), is the grandson of the Founder.

5. The British Aikido Federation

In 1968 the Aikikai of Great Britain was founded under the direction of Kazuo Chiba who had been assigned to Britain by the Aikikai Foundation, with the responsibility of developing Aikido in this country.

Kanetsuka Sensei In 1976, Minoru Kanetsuka (Shihan, 7th Dan) became the Technical Director of the organisation, which had been renamed the British Aikido Federation. The BAF is composed of affiliated clubs or dojos from all over England and Wales (in 1978 the Scottish clubs previously affiliated to the BAF formed an independent Scottish Aikido Federation which maintains the closest links with the BAF). It is the only body in England and Wales with 'Full Recognition' from the Aikido World Headquarters (the Hombu Dojo, Tokyo) and membership of the International Aikido Federation.

The British Aikido Federation remains closely linked to the Aikido World Headquarters. Its Technical Adviser is Shihan Masatake Fujita, a senior figure at the Hombu Dojo, and regular visits are made to Britain by senior Japanese instructors to conduct BAF teaching courses. All dan grades (black belt holders) within the BAF are recognised by the Hombu Dojo and registered with the International Aikido Federation, and receive certificates issued by the Head of the World Aikido Movement, the Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba.

The structure of the BAF teaching syllabus is closely based on that of the Hombu (Headquarters) Dojo, and not only proficiency of technique but also correctness of manner and attitude is greatly emphasised. Three National Instructors' Courses are held each year and the Technical Director, Kanetsuka Sensei (7th Dan), conducts weekend courses throughout the year at local centres all over the UK. The two major national courses, the Spring Course and the week-long Summer School, attract many Aikido students from abroad too.

All members of the BAF enjoy the benefits of both Public Liability Insurance and Personal Accident Insurance; and all BAF Instructors have Professional Indemnity Insurance and basic First Aid qualifications. The BAF is a member of the British Aikido Board, the governing body for Aikido in England and Wales recognised by the Sports Council.

Thanks to its wide international connections the BAF stands very much in the main stream of Aikido development, and by virtue of its close ties with the fountain-head of Aikido, the Hombu Dojo, it maintains a wholly orthodox direction in its teaching and development.

The original teaching of the Founder of Aikido excluded any form of competition in Aikido and emphasises the principles of non-aggression and harmony. The BAF strongly maintains this attitude. Every effort is made to inculcate into our members the principle of non-violence and of concern for others both inside and outside the practice room. For more information about BAF please click here.

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