Aikido is a relatively new self-defense art, founded in Japan by Professor Morihei Ueshiba. As a youth Ueshiba Sensei, or O Sensei (Great Teacher) as he was called, applied himself to many arduous years of training in "budo," or the Japanese martial arts. He mastered Jiu-Jitsu (the art of weaponless fighting), Sojutsu (the art of the spear), Jojutsu (the art of the jo or staff), and enjoyed a reputation as being unbeatable with the sword.
O Sensei also delved deeply into spiritual practice, studying Zen Buddhism, Omoto Kyo, and the Shinto religion. Although he became very strong and won many matches, he was troubled with the idea that winning at someone else's expense was not really winning. He came to realize that true self-defense is not winning over others, but winning over the discord within oneself. Though he was an acknowledged master, he began to practice movements, exploring them deeply, searching mentally, and sitting for long hours in meditation.
As Aikido developed, it became clear that it was not only an effective means of self-defense, but also truly a way to understand earthly life through the study of the energy flow of the universe as it manifests in ourselves and our relationships.
Meaning of the word "Aikido"
The word "Aikido" in Japanese is made up of three characters. The first and most important is "AI", which means "to meet, to come together, to harmonize". An other meaning of the word "AI" is "love". The second character is "KI", which means "energy, spirit, mind". In the larger context, "KI" means "the spirit of the Universe", and not just the spirit of mere human beings. The third and last character is "DO", which means "the way," to signify that in the study of Aikido the purpose of practicing techniques goes beyond self-defense to become a practice along the "way" or path to attaining harmony with oneself and others.
These three Japanese characters, "AI-KI-DO", therefore, can be translated as " THE WAY of HARMONIZING with the SPIRIT of the UNIVERSE".
Philosophy of Aikido
The most unusual aspect of Aikido is that although it is primarily a self-defense art, it takes as the basis of its philosophy the idea of being in HARMONY with any movement so that an intended attack never even occurs. It becomes a circular technique with the Aikido practitioner at the center of it. No attack, no attacker. No defender, no fight. This is why Aikido iis sometimes called the "Art of Non-Resistance" or the "Non-fighting Martial Art."
Aikido is not merely an art of self-defense. Into its techniques are woven elements of philosophy, psychology, and dynamics. As one learns the various skills, he will at the same time train his mind, improve his health and develop self-confidence. Through the physical practice, the student of Aikido comes to understand the mental and spiritual aspects of Aikido. During practice, partners work out in harmony with each other, learning when and how to yield, how to lead another person's movement, and how to create resolution through non-resistive techniques.
Aikido and other Martial Arts
How does Aikido compare with other martial arts? This question is often asked at demonstrations. It is best answered by understanding that Aikido is among other things a pure art form. Like the aesthetic arts, music, sculpture or dance, each form is beautiful in it's own right. So too, among the martial arts, each has it's own particular beauty and each appeals to a different kind of person.
Even in the ancient martial arts, merely defending oneself well was not as admired as was the ability to defend oneself with such control and power that the opponent was left substantially unharmed. These arts were qualified as "extremely difficult", "highly sophisticated", or "esoteric", and eventually came to be linked not so much to the martial reality of particular combat encounters as to religion, philosophy or the higher spheres of human existence.