Aikido (合気道), translated as "The Way Of Harmonious Spirit", is a modern Japanese martial art (Gendai Budō) developed by Morihei Ueshiba as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs. Ueshiba's goal was to create a martial art through which a practitioner could achieve the ability to defend himself without injuring his attacker.
Aikido emphasizes joining with an attack and redirecting the attacker's energy, as opposed to meeting force with force, and consists primarily of body throws and joint-locking techniques. In addition to physical fitness and techniques, mental training, controlled relaxation, and development of "spirit" (ki) are emphasized in aikido training.
The word aikido is formed of three Japanese characters,
* 合 - ai - joining
* 気 - ki - spirit
* 道 - dō - way
Aiki is a martial arts principle or tactic. It typically describes an idea of oneness or joining together in the midst of combat. This principle finds expressions in such lethal concepts as the "mutual strike/kill" (相撃ち, ai-uchi), but in Aikido it generally describes the elevated notion of moving together rather than clashing. Emphasis is upon unifying with the rhythm and intent of the opponent in order to find the optimal position and timing with which to apply the technique.
The techniques of Aikido can, when applied judiciously, divert or immobilize rather than damage or kill. As a result, some consider Aikido to be a practical symbol of meeting aggression (physical, verbal, etc.) with an effective but merciful response, and finding harmony in conflict. Ueshiba declared, "To control aggression without inflicting injury is the Art of Peace."
Aikido was created by Morihei Ueshiba (植芝 盛平 Ueshiba Morihei, 14 December 1883 – 26 April 1969), also known by aikido practitioners as Ō-Sensei ("Great Teacher").
Ueshiba developed aikido primarily during the late 1920s through the 1930s through the synthesis of the older martial arts that he had studied. The core martial art from which Aikido derives is Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu.
The art of Daitō-ryū is the primary technical influence on Aikido. Along with empty-handed throwing and joint-locking techniques, Ueshiba incorporated training movements with weapons, such as those for the spear (yari), short staff (jō), and perhaps also the bayonet (jūken). However, Aikido derives much of its technical structure from the art of swordsmanship (kenjutsu).
Significantly, one of the primary features of Ōmoto-kyō is its emphasis on the attainment of utopia during one's life. This is the primary influence upon Ueshiba's martial philosophy of love and compassion, especially for those who seek to harm others. Aikido demonstrates this philosophy in its emphasis upon mastering martial arts so that one may receive an attack and harmlessly redirect it. In an ideal resolution, not only is the receiver unharmed, but so is the attacker.
In Aikido, as in virtually all Japanese martial arts, there are both physical and mental aspects of training, which are often interdependent and interrelated. The physical training in Aikido is diverse, covering both general physical fitness and conditioning, as well as specific techniques. Because a substantial portion of any Aikido curriculum consists of throws, the first thing most students learn is how to safely fall or roll. The specific techniques for attack include both strikes and grabs; the techniques for defense consist of throws and pins. After basic techniques are learned, students study freestyle defense against multiple opponents, and in certain styles, techniques with weapons.
In Aikido technique, pushing or extending movements are much more common than pulling or contracting movements found in other arts, and this distinction can be applied to general fitness goals for the Aikido practitioner.
Aikido-related training instead emphasizes the use of coordinated whole-body movement and balance, more similar to yoga or pilates. For example, many dojo begin each class with warm-up exercises which may include stretching and break-falls.
Aikido training is based primarily on pre-arranged forms (Kata), practiced by two persons together. The basic pattern is for the receiver of the technique (Uke) to initiate an attack against the executor of the throw (Nage), who neutralises this attack with an Aikido technique.
Both halves of the technique, that of Uke and that of Nage, are considered essential to Aikido training. Both are studying Aikido principles of blending and adaptation, applied from different sides of the technique. Nage learns to blend with and control attacking energy, while Uke learns to become calm and flexible in the disadvantageous, off-balance positions in which Nage places them. This "receiving" of the technique is called Ukemi. Uke continuously seeks to regain balance and cover vulnerabilities (e.g. an exposed side), while Nage uses position and timing to keep Uke off-balance and vulnerable. In more advanced training, Uke will sometimes apply reversal techniques (Kaeshi-Waza) to regain balance and throw (Nage).
Ukemi (受身), literally meaning "receiving-body", is the term used in Aikido for protective techniques, such as parries or safe falls. One of the first skills taught to students beginning Aikido is how to land when thrown so as to avoid injury. Familiarity with different types of break-falls allows sincere execution of techniques that could otherwise be prohibitively dangerous. In applying a technique, it is the responsibility of Nage to prevent injury to Uke by employing a speed and force of application that is commensurate with their partner's proficiency in Ukemi. Injuries (especially those to the joints), when they do occur in Aikido, are often the result of Nage misjudging the ability of Uke to receive the throw.
Many of the strikes (打ち) of Aikido are often said to resemble blows from a sword or other grasped object, which may suggest origins in techniques intended for armed combat. Other techniques which appear to explicitly be punches are also practiced as thrusts with a knife or sword. Kicks are generally reserved for upper-level variations; reasons cited include that falls from kicks are especially dangerous, and that kicks (high kicks in particular) were uncommon during the types of combat prevalent in feudal Japan.
Beginners in particular often practice techniques from grabs, both because they are safer and because it is easier to feel the energy and lines of force of a hold than a strike. Some grabs are historically derived from being held while trying to draw a weapon; a technique could then be used to free oneself and immobilize or strike the grabbing person.
Weapons training in Aikido traditionally includes the short staff (jō), wooden katana (bokken), and knife (tantō).
Both weapon-taking and weapon-retention are sometimes taught, to integrate armed and unarmed aspects. Some schools of aikido do not train with weapons at all while others spend substantial time with bokken, jō, and tantō.
Aikido training is mental as well as physical, emphasizing the ability to relax the mind and body even under the stress of dangerous situations. This is necessary in order to enable the practitioner to perform the bold enter-and-blend movements that underlie Aikido techniques, wherein an attack is met with confidence and directness.
Morihei Ueshiba once remarked that one "must be willing to receive 99% of an opponent's attack and stare death in the face" in order to execute techniques without hesitation.
As a martial art concerned not only with fighting proficiency but also with the betterment of daily life, this mental aspect is of key importance to Aikido practitioners.
The study of Ki is a critical component of Aikido, and its study defies categorization as either "physical" or "mental" training, as it encompasses both.
The character "ki" is used in everyday Japanese terms, such as "health" (元気, genki), or "shyness" (内気, uchiki). Ki is most often understood as unified physical and mental intention.
The secret to ki lies in timing and the application of the whole body's strength to a single point. In later years, Ueshiba's application of Ki in Aikido took on a softer, more gentle feel, and many of his later students teach about Ki from this perspective. Students are even ranked separately in Aikido techniques and Ki development.
UNIFORMS AND RANKING
The vast majority of Aikido styles use the system of earning coloured belts common to modern Japanese martial arts. Students generally progress by promotion through a series of "grades" (Kyu), followed by a series of "degrees" (Dan), pursuant to formal testing procedures. The majority of Aikido organisations use only white and black belts to distinguish between skill levels, but some use a progression of coloured belts for Kyū levels. It is important to note that the actual requirements for each rank, the number of levels of rank, and the exact testing procedures vary widely between styles. As such, a particular rank in one organization is not necessarily comparable or interchangeable with the rank of another.
The uniform worn for practicing Aikido (Aikidōgi) is similar to the training uniform used in most other modern martial arts; simple trousers and a wraparound jacket, usually white. Both thick ("judo-style"), and thin ("karate-style") cotton tops are used. Most Aikido systems also add a pair of wide pleated trousers called a Hakama, which is a traditional Japanese garment. In Aikido, the Hakama is usually black or indigo, and the rules governing who is allowed to wear one vary widely. In many styles it is reserved for practitioners with black belt ranks, while others allow all practitioners or female practitioners to wear a Hakama regardless of rank.
STYLES OF AIKIDO
Aikido is practiced in many different and unique styles. A number of these styles were formed by Morihei Ueshiba's major students. The proliferation of independent styles began after the Second World War and accelerated with the death of the founder in 1969. Today, the major styles of Aikido are each run by a separate governing organization, have their own headquarters in Japan, and have an international breadth. The biggest Aikido organisation is the Aikikai, which contains several technically different Aikidos among them the major part of the so called Iwama style. Other prominent aikido organisations or styles are Yoshinkan, Yoseikan, Shodokan or Tomiki Aikido, and Ki-aikido.
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