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History

Aikido was founded in an era that posed questions regarding confronting social issues and problems without the use of violence. The issue of peaceful confrontation of conflicts however is as long as human history, which continues to be of great concern to societies until today. Military conflicts and wars generally break up societal ties, causing a variety of disasters even if they may be morally justified. Some of the questions posed are, How can we solve our problems and our differences without the use of violence? Consequently, How can we survive without “disappearing” the opponent from the face of the earth?

The answers to the above posed questions are difficult and complex. These form however the context in which Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido lived and worked in Japan. Ueshiba earned the title O’-Sensei, meaning “the teacher of all teachers”. It is a title that shows that he earned wider recognition, respect and esteem outside the borders of the aikido community.

Morihei Ueshiba (14/12/1883 – 26/4/1969), was small built, and often sick when he was a child. It is argued that a reason to develop his martial arts was an incidence that he experienced, when he was still a child. His father was fiercely attacked by his political opponents with disastrous effects. From his childhood onwards he was taught martial arts, which he became very competent. Especially important for his development has been Sokaku Kateba Sensei, teacher of Daito-ryu Jujutsu. Kateba was very well known is his era, but today we know little about him. Ueshiba was not pleased with the existing martial arts, he wanted something more natural and more effective; he wanted techniques that do not require the use of physical power and on top of this techniques that surprise the opponent, putting him off guard. The basic principle of aikido has been conceived: a martial arts that does not make use of violence as a defense mechanism.

Ueshiba after having a religious experience on his way to his father sick bed he understood the meaning of “love” as he said in martial arts: by this concept, he meant  showing understanding, having feelings of empathy and anticipate the movements of the “opponent”. He designed a series of techniques based on existing martial arts, such as Daito-ryu-Aikijujutsu, swordsmanship (Kenjutsu) and the art of fighting with spear (Yarijutsu). Some of these preexisting techniques (Kata) formed the basis of his new martial arts that Ueshiba initially named AIKI BUDO and later AIKIDO.

AIKI as a principle is well known in martial arts and denotes among other things the merging of the defender with the mind of the opponent, anticipation and the ability to foresee the behaviour and the movement of the attacker. The word DO means the path, the way that a person follows in his or her life. Several martial arts include the word DO in their names, such as Karate-do and Ju-do.

According to an opinion the noble form of aikido draws from the long history of martial arts. Some of them were designed for the members of the higher social classes, women and men. These arts were meant to form an effective means of defense in case of an attack very close to the body, as it is the case in the interior of a house; this is the reason that several martial arts techniques were suitable for such conditions of battle, without in addition the use of weapons.

Ueshiba was very keen and competent in the martial arts taught in his era. What new could he himself offer and contribute to further development? The "teacher of all teachers" described aikido as the “art of non resistance” and this principle differentiate it in an important aspect from his contemporaries. In addition, as he was saying in an interview in his characteristic way, aikido comprises 3,000 self defense techniques, and along the way, while exercising, a teacher could continuously design more techniques. Aikido is thus a resourceful martial arts.

At the same time, aikido is a peaceful arts that does not depend on the use of physical power and violence, but it uses the power, the speed and thrust of the opponent. This necessitates that the student of aikido learns to react with certain timing and speed avoiding “the line” of attack bringing his/her opponent on a different “line”, where the defender’s own power is; in this way the defender “empties” the thrust and the power of the opponent. These ideas are further developed by pupils of Ueshiba, as for example Christian Tissier, the French Sensei and his pupil Wilko Vriesman the Dutch Sensei (see also ).

Many Ueshiba’s contemporaries, among them students of police and military academies at which he taught, attempted to challenge the principles of this new martial arts. Therefore they provoked Ueshiba in an ambush or in his own school (dojo). According to some testimonies, when Ueshiba defended himself they (students and other militaries) felt that a power was lifting them off the ground ‘as a wind’ that they could not resist that made them land on the ground several meters further away. They wondered how it was possible that such a small built person to combat so many and well-trained opponents. Ueshiba himself answered that he just avoided their attacks by moving his body efficiently and competently without getting tired, while his opponents were exhausting themselves, because after every fruitless attack they used more power to launch the next equally fruitless attack. At the end, his opponents fell exhausted on the ground, while Ueshiba was leaving the place calm and tireless.

His religious faith and his teaching were further influenced by peaceful principles. He left peacefully and calm in 1969, while he kept practicing aikido until the end. Witnesses say that when he trained on the tatami (a special floor for training) he was transformed to a young and powerful man. Ueshiba left behind an important work of martial arts and philosophy that are being acclaimed all over the world. His teaching is being further developed by students, women and men, internationally. Several hundreds thousands of aikidoka’s (students of aikido) all over the world practice the same techniques with the same spirit. Lack of competition in this arts is obvious as it does not participate or organize competitive games The different schools and style of aikido practice do not fragment as it appears, but on the contrary show the complex nature of aikido. But this is another story that we will tell another time.

Many people today wonder, whether it is the techniques, so simple but complex to the untrained eye, its peaceful principles or its philosophy that can be applied in every day life outside the school (dojo), that make aikido so well known and appealing all over the world. Answers vary, but it is a fact that each aikidoka (the student of aikido) finds in aikido different aspects that make him or her to love this martial arts that at the same time is a sport. It comprises a fully developed system of techniques to train and practice, body, and mind; to sustain our soul, teaching us endurance and methods for a peaceful confrontation of attacks and other “difficult” situations we encounter.

Contemporary life is characterized by tensions, conflicts and seemingly irreparable situations. Aikido could contribute to resolving conflicts, teaching us at the same time to preserve our balance, integrity, self-trust and good physical condition, till a very ‘old age’.

 

Athens, 12.01.08

© V. K. (Aikido School Athens)

References:

  • Kantzara V. (1999) “‘Unity of Mind, Spirit, and Body’. Aikido: a peaceful martial arts” in journal Raffia, voor vrouwenstudies en emancipatie, vol. 11, no. 1, pp.12-13 (in Dutch).
  • Pranin, St. The Encyclopedia of Aikidoστο http://www.aikidojournal.com (Ueshiba).
  • Ueshiba, M. (1991) Budo: Teachings of the Founder of Aikido, New York, Tokyo: Kodansha International
  • Ueshiba, M & K. Ueshiba “Interview with Morihei Ueshiba and Kissomaru Ueshiba” in http://www.aikidojournal.com/article?articleID=98

 

 

 @ 2018  Aikido School Athens