Aikido is a unique martial arts form with a wide variety of interpretations, and as such, no single explanation of what makes aikido distinctively aikido will suffice.
We can, however, approach an answer to this question by examining three of the most common areas of uniqueness: the historical, ethical, and technical aspects of the art.
The history of the art of aikido has been undertaken on various sites, and in a variety of books with various degrees of accuracy. Fortunately, we need not delve too deeply in these murky and sometimes confusing waters in order to gain a perspective on the general history of the art.
It is enough to know that aikido is an art that was developed and founded by Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969), and that it owes a great deal of its form and substance to Daito Ryu Aikijujitsu as taught by Sokaku Takeda (1860-1943). Additionally, one of Ueshiba’s top students in aikido’s formative years was Kenji Tomiki (1900-1980), a master judo technician, who had trained directly with the founder of judo, Jigoro Kano (1860-1938).
0-SENSEI MORIHEI UESHIBA
Founder of Aikido
Tomiki was heavily influenced by Kano’s rational and analytic approach to the martial arts. And because of Tomiki’s educational background, his rational understanding of technical principle, and his exposure to Kano’s insight into the principle of ju (gentleness), which had been derived from the Kito Ryu jujitsu school, Tomiki was able to further refine and organize the aikido system of Ueshiba and create his own style, Tomiki Ryu.
The distinctiveness of Tomiki’s contribution to the art can therefore be seen as the blending of the aiki concepts derived from Daito Ryu and the off balance concepts of ju that stem from old style Kito Ryu jujitsu brought together in a logical and coherent system.
The ethical concepts embodied in the art of aikido also contribute to its uniqueness. Owing largely to the influence of the founder’s religious and philosophic bent, we find an extraordinarily high ethical standard and the view that “true budo is love” and that the real purpose of aikido is “to make the whole world one family.”
Ueshiba clearly believed that aikido principles could transform the world and put an end to violence. This was not a martial art aimed at “beating people,” but rather at achieving victory over the self and making peace in the world.
Maximum efficiency, minimum effort
Indeed, making harmony out of violence and order out of chaos are the preeminent ethical strategies of aikido, which work in accord with the fundamental values of budo (martial ways) that aim at both the development and refinement of oneself and of one’s community.
This ethic of budo, which transcends self-interest and seeks to transform the world, was perhaps best described by Jigoro Kano as the spirit of mutual welfare and benefit.
Force avoids force
In terms of technical application, aikido displays its uniqueness in at least three distinct ways:
First and foremost, technical aikido depends upon the use of avoidance (getting off the line of the attack). Fundamentally, aikido is a force-avoids-force art, whereas in other arts we see force-joins-with force (judo), or force-meets-force (karate). In other words, the initial response in aikido, made to any threat or attack, must be to evade the line of the attack and obtain a safe position.
Next in uniqueness is aikido’s use of off balance in both atemi (striking) and kansetsu (locking) techniques. These concepts of off balance owe a great deal to judo, but in application they are unique and cover a range of application that was left out of the formal judo curriculum. Additionally, we can readily find similar techniques of throwing and joint locking in many styles of classical jujitsu, but it is utilization of the principles of off balance to these techniques that shows the technical distinctiveness of aikido.
The power of momentum
Finally, we should note the technical uniqueness of aikido in its use of hazumi (power of the momentum of the whole body) over ikioi (impetus of physical strength). Because aikido attempts to work almost entirely from a hazumi mode and thus minimizes the use of strength and muscle, we find that technical aikido applications can be reliably made regardless of size and strength. With proper understanding of hazumi, the small and weak can defend effectively against the large and strong.
These points of uniqueness can all go toward helping answer the question, “what makes aikido, aikido?” But ultimately, to really understand the reality of this art you must discover for yourselves the answers to this question. As aikido becomes integrated with your life through the process of training and study, you will develop your own unique interpretation of this art, and you will discover the true heart of aikido that lies beyond history, philosophy, or technique.
If you wish to learn more about aikido, we encourage you to visit the dojo and experience it for yourself!