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Aikido is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba (often referred to by his title 'O Sensei' or 'Great Teacher'). On a purely physical level it is an art involving some throws and joint locks that are derived from ju-jutsu and some throws and other techniques derived from kenjutsu. Aikido focuses not on punching or kicking opponents, but rather on using their own energy to gain control of them or to throw them away from you. It is not a static art, but places great emphasis on motion and the dynamics of movement.

Upon closer examination, practitioners will find from Aikido what they are looking for, whether it is applicable self-defense technique, spiritual enlightenment, physical health or peace of mind. O Sensei emphasized the moral and spiritual aspects of this art, placing great weight on the development of harmony and peace. "The Way of Harmony of the Spirit" is one way that "Aikido" may be translated into English. This is still true of Aikido today, although different styles emphasize the more spiritual aspects to greater or lesser degrees. Although the idea of a martial discipline striving for peace and harmony may seem paradoxical; it is the most basic tenet of the art.

We could attempt to pigeonhole Aikido into a synopsis of X number of words, but that would not do it justice, so we leave the practitioner of Aikido to find out what Aikido is for themselves without any preconceived notions.

 

The founder (Morihei Ueshiba) intended Aikido do be far more than a system of techniques for self-defense. His intention was to fuse his martial art to a set of ethical, social, and dispositional ideals. Ueshiba hoped that by training in Aikido, people would better themselves spiritually as well as physically. It is not immediately obvious, however, just how practicing Aikido is supposed to result in any spiritual (= psychophysical) transformation. Furthermore, many other arts have claimed to be vehicles for carrying their practitioners to enlightenment or psychophysical transformation. We may legitimately wonder, then, whether, or how, Aikido differs from other arts in respect of transformative effect.

It should be clear that any transformative power of Aikido, if such exists at all, must not reside in the performance of physical techniques alone. Rather, if Aikido is to provide a vehicle for self-improvement and psychophysical transformation along the lines envisioned by the founder, the practitioner of Aikido must adopt certain attitudes toward Aikido training and must strive to cultivate certain sorts of cognitive dispositions.

 

Classically, those arts, which claim to provide a transformative framework for their practitioners, are rooted in religious and philosophical traditions such as Buddhism and Taoism (the influence of Shinto on Japanese arts is usually comparatively small). In Japan, Zen Buddhism exercised the strongest influence on the development of transformative arts. Although Morihei Ueshiba was far less influenced by Taoism and Zen than by the "new religion," Omoto-kyo, it is certainly possible to incorporate aspects of Zen and Taoist philosophy and practice into Aikido. Moreover, Omoto-kyo is largely rooted in a complex structure of Neo-Shinto mystical concepts and beliefs. It would be wildly implausible to suppose that adoption of this structure is a necessary condition for psychophysical transformation through Aikido.

So far as the incorporation of Zen and Taoist practices and philosophies into Aikido is concerned, psychophysical transformation through the practice of Aikido will be little different from psychophysical transformation through the practice of arts such as Karate, Kyudo, and tea ceremony. All these arts have in common the goal of instilling in their practitioner’s cognitive equanimity, spontaneity of action/response, and receptivity to the character of things just as they are (shinnyo). The primary means for producing these sorts of dispositions in trainees is a two-fold focus on repetition of the fundamental movement and positions of the art, and on preserving mindfulness in practice.

The fact that Aikido training is always cooperative provides another locus for construing personal transformation through Aikido. Cooperative training facilitates the abandonment of a competitive mind-set that reinforces the perception of self-other dichotomies. Cooperative training also instills a regard for the safety and well being of one's partner. This attitude of concern for others is then to be extended to other situations than the practice of Aikido. In other words, the cooperative framework for Aikido practice is supposed to translate directly into a framework for ethical behavior is one's daily life.

Aikido development and history

Aikido's founder, Morihei Ueshiba, was born in Japan on December 14, 1883. As a boy, he often saw local thugs beat up his father for political reasons. He set out to make himself strong so that he could take revenge. He devoted himself to hard physical conditioning and eventually to the practice of martial arts, receiving certificates of mastery in several styles of jujutsu, fencing, and spear fighting. In spite of his impressive physical and martial capabilities, however, he felt very dissatisfied. He began delving into religions in hopes of finding a deeper significance to life, all the while continuing to pursue his studies of Budo, or the martial arts. By combining his martial training with his religious and political ideologies, he created the modern martial art of Aikido. Ueshiba decided on the name "Aikido" in 1942 (before that he called his martial art "Aikibudo" and "Ueshiba Ryu Jujutsu").

On the technical side, Aikido is rooted in several styles of jujitsu (from which modern judo is also derived), in particular Daitoryu - (Aiki) jujutsu, as well as sword and spear fighting arts. Oversimplifying somewhat, we may say that Aikido takes the joint locks and throws from jujitsu and combines them with the body movements of sword and spear fighting. However, we must also realize that many Aikido techniques are the result of Master Ueshiba's own innovation.

On the religious side, Ueshiba was a devotee of one of Japan's so-called "new religions," Omoto-kyo. Omoto-kyo was (and is) part Neo-Shintoism, and part socio-political idealism. One goal of omoto-kyo has been the unification of all humanity in a single "heavenly kingdom on earth" where all religions would be united under the banner of omoto-kyo. It is impossible sufficiently to understand many of O Sensei's writings and sayings without keeping the influence of Omoto-kyo firmly in mind.

Despite what many people think or claim, there is no unified philosophy of Aikido. What there is, instead, is a disorganized and only partially coherent collection of religious, ethical, and metaphysical beliefs which are only more or less shared by aikidoists, and which are either transmitted by word of mouth or found in scattered publications about Aikido.

Some examples: "Aikido is not a way to fight with or defeat enemies; it is a way to reconcile the world and make all human beings one family." "The essence of Aikido is the cultivation of ki [a vital force, internal power, mental/spiritual energy]." "The secret of Aikido is to become one with the universe." "Aikido is primarily a way to achieve physical and psychological self- mastery." "The body is the concrete unification of the physical and spiritual created by the universe." And so forth.

At the core of almost all philosophical interpretations of Aikido, however, we may identify at least two fundamental threads: (1) A commitment to peaceful resolution of conflict whenever possible. (2) A commitment to self-improvement through Aikido training.

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