Aikido (合気道, aikidō?) is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs. Aikido is often translated as “the Way of unifying (with) life energy” or as “the Way of harmonious spirit.” Ueshiba’s goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury.
Aikido is performed by blending with the motion of the attacker and redirecting the force of the attack rather than opposing it head-on. This requires very little physical strength, as the aikidōka (aikido practitioner) “leads” the attacker’s momentum using entering and turning movements. The techniques are completed with various throws or joint locks. Aikido can be categorized under the general umbrella of grappling arts.
Aikido derives mainly from the martial art of Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu, but began to diverge from it in the late 1920s, partly due to Ueshiba’s involvement with the Ōmoto-kyō religion. Ueshiba’s early students’ documents bear the term aiki-jūjutsu. Many of Ueshiba’s senior students have different approaches to aikido, depending on when they studied with him. Today aikido is found all over the world in a number of styles, with broad ranges of interpretation and emphasis. However, they all share techniques learned from Ueshiba and most have concern for the well-being of the attacker.
Aikido was created by Morihei Ueshiba (植芝 盛平 Ueshiba Morihei, 14 December 1883–26 April 1969), referred to by some aikido practitioners as Ōsensei (“Great Teacher”). Ueshiba envisioned aikido not only as the synthesis of his martial training, but also an expression of his personal philosophy of universal peace and reconciliation. During Ueshiba’s lifetime and continuing today, aikido has evolved from the Aiki that Ueshiba studied into a wide variety of expressions by martial artists throughout the world.
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, which Ueshiba studied directly with Takeda Sokaku, the reviver of that art. Additionally, Ueshiba is known to have studied Tenjin Shin’yō-ryū with Tozawa Tokusaburō in Tokyo in 1901, Gotōha Yagyū Shingan-ryū under Nakai Masakatsu in Sakai from 1903 to 1908, and judo with Kiyoichi Takagi (高木 喜代子 Takagi Kiyoichi, 1894–1972) in Tanabe in 1911.
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 the bayonet (銃剣, jūken?). However, aikido derives much of its technical structure from the art of swordsmanship (kenjutsu).
Ueshiba moved to Hokkaidō in 1912, and began studying under Takeda Sokaku in 1915. His official association with Daitō-ryū continued until 1937. However, during the latter part of that period, Ueshiba had already begun to distance himself from Takeda and the Daitō-ryū. At that time Ueshiba was referring to his martial art as “Aiki Budō”. It is unclear exactly when Ueshiba began using the name “aikido”, but it became the official name of the art in 1942 when the Greater Japan Martial Virtue Society (Dai Nippon Butoku Kai) was engaged in a government sponsored reorganization and centralization of Japanese martial arts.
After Ueshiba left Hokkaidō in 1919, he met and was profoundly influenced by Onisaburo Deguchi, the spiritual leader of the Ōmoto-kyō religion (a neo-Shinto movement) in Ayabe. One of the primary features of Ōmoto-kyō is its emphasis on the attainment of utopia during one’s life. This was a great influence on Ueshiba’s martial arts philosophy of extending love and compassion especially to those who seek to harm others. Aikido demonstrates this philosophy in its emphasis on 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 addition to the effect on his spiritual growth, the connection with Deguchi gave Ueshiba entry to elite political and military circles as a martial artist. As a result of this exposure, he was able to attract not only financial backing but also gifted students. Several of these students would found their own styles of aikido.
Aikido was first brought to the rest of the world in 1951 by Minoru Mochizuki with a visit to France where he introduced aikido techniques to judo students. He was followed by Tadashi Abe in 1952 who came as the official Aikikai Hombu representative, remaining in France for seven years. Kenji Tomiki toured with a delegation of various martial arts through fifteen continental states of the United States in 1953. Later in that year, Koichi Tohei was sent by Aikikai Hombu to Hawaii, for a full year, where he set up several dojo. This was followed up by several further visits and is considered the formal introduction of aikido to the United States. The United Kingdom followed in 1955; Italy in 1964; and Germany 1965. Designated “Official Delegate for Europe and Africa” by Morihei Ueshiba, Masamichi Noro arrived in France in September 1961. Sugano was appointed to introduce aikido to Australia in 1965. Today there are aikido dojo available throughout the world. Aikido was exhibited in Hollywood films by Steven Seagal in the 1990s.