The primary goal of aikido is to gain advantage by using an opponent’s energy and momentum against him. The art places emphasis on the continuous flow of a combination of movements, and combines physical action with philosophical thought. On the physical side, aikido incorporates a number of locking maneuvers aimed at injuring joints, along with throwing techniques from jujutsu. It draws technical knowledge from kenjutsu and is influenced in varying degrees by other Japanese weapon-based systems.
The moral element of aikido is equally important. The name, which translates as “the way of harmony,” describes the spirit in which training and fighting plays out. Its founder, Morehei Ueshiba, was influenced by the Omoto-kyu religion, which stresses the importance of finding Utopia, and extending compassion even to those who do harm.
Ueshiba’s early experiences played a great part in the formation of aikido. As a child he was weak and sickly, so his father, a wealthy landowner, encouraged him to take up physical sports, such as sumo wrestling and swimming. Ueshiba’s grandfather had been a noted samurai, and the young Ueshiba grew up on stories of his great-grandfather’s prowess. Tales of his heroism undoubtedly led Ueshiba to the study of Japanese martial arts. His desire to be strong and to protect himself and his family was further galvanized when he witnessed his father suffering a vicious beating at the hands of followers of an opposing politician.
Period of learning
During military service, Ueshiba received sporadic martial training, but in 1912, after moving to Hokkaido with his wife, he began to take his martial arts training to a new level. He traveled widely and studied with a number of renowned teachers, one of whom, Sokaku Takeba Sensei, opened his eyes to the budo. His short study under this master inspired him to look further into Japanese arts.
Throughout the 1920s and 30s Ueshiba taught his system under the name of aiki-jujutsu. This early version included a variety of “atemi,” or strikes, aimed at vulnerable points on the body, and its approach to attacking and defending was less circular and flowing than in the later version of the system.
As Ueshiba grew in age and experience he became more spiritual. Many experts put the date of the founding of aikido as we know it today to 1925, following an incident in which an unarmed Ueshiba defeated, yet did not harm, a naval officer armed with a wooden sword. Later, while walking in the garden, Ueshiba had a spiritual awakening. He said: “I was able to understand the whispering of birds and was clearly aware of the mind of God, the creator of the universe.” Another spiritual experience came during World War II, when Ueshiba had a vision of the Great Spirit of Peace. Of this, he said: “The way of the warrior has been misunderstood. It is not a means to kill and destroy others. Those who seek to compete and better one another are making a terrible mistake. To smash, injure, or destroy is the worst thing a human can do. The real way of a warrior is to prevent such slaughter. It is the art of peace, the power of love.”
A lasting legacy
Today, aikido is one of the most popular martial arts and is practiced all over the world. Devotees remember its founder as a profound man who transcended the limitations of the technical aspects of martial arts, instead incorporating rigid moral and philosophical elements into his art, which stressed harmony, compassion, and understanding, even in the face of aggression.
Aikido in Hollywood
Hollywood action man Steven Seagal has built his career around his prowess in aikido. Before he became a movie star Seagal was an aikido instructor and was the first foreigner to own an aikido dojo in japan. He has starred in numerous martial-arts and action movies, usually as an avenging hero with extraordinary fighting skills.
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