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Aikido

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Aikido (合気道, also 合氣道 using an older style of kanji) is a gendai budo — a modern Japanese martial art. It was developed by Morihei Ueshiba (植芝盛平) (also known by aikidoka as o-sensei (大先生) over the period of the 1930s to the 1960s. Technically, the major parts of aikido is derived from Daito-ryu Aiki-jutsu and kenjutsu, or Japanese sword technique.

Aikido incorporates a wide range of techniques which use principles of energy and motion to redirect and neutralize the attack. At its highest level, aikido can be used to defend oneself without causing serious injury to either the aggressor or the defender. If performed correctly, size and strength are not important for efficency in the techniques. Aikido is considered one of the most difficult of the Japanese martial arts to gain proficiency in.

Most aikido schools and organizations do not hold competitions. Many aikido students would argue due to a heavy emphasis on small joint locks, competitive practice is very risky, even between skilled practitioners. An exception from the no-competition rule is Tomiki Aikido, which includes both sparring and competition in its curriculum.

The methods of training vary from organization to organization and indeed even between different dojo in a single organization but typically, a class basically means that the teacher shows techniques or principles and the students imitate. Training is done through mutual technique not by sparring. Uke, the receiver of the technique, usually initiates an attack against nage or tori, who neutralizes it with an aikido technique. The uke and the nage have equally important roles. Students must practice both positions in order to learn to defend against an attack and to safely receive the defense. When o-sensei taught, all his students were uke until he deamed them knowledgeable enough of the technique to be the nage. Movement, awareness, precision and timing are all important to the execution of techniques as students progress from rigidly defined exercises to more fluid and adaptable applications.

Aikido attacks used in normal training include various stylized strikes and grabs such as shomenuchi (a vertical strike to the head), yokomenuchi (a lateral strike to the side of the head and/or neck), munetsuki (a straight punch), ryotedori (a two handed grab) or katadori (a shoulder grab).

Aikido techniques are mostly based on keeping the attacker out of balance and locking joints. Much of Aikido's repetoire of defences can be performed as either throwing techniques (nage-waza) or as controls (katame-waza) depending on the situation. Entering, irimi, and turning, tenkan are widely used aikido concepts, as is striking, atemi, although this is mostly performed as distraction rather than to hurt. Manipulation of ukes balance by entering, is often referred to as "taking uke's center".

History and Styles

The name aikido is formed of three Japanese characters, 合気道, usually romanised as ai, ki and do. These are often translated as meaning harmony, energy and way, so aikido can be translated as "the way of harmony through energy". Another common interpretation of the characters is harmony, sprit and way, so aikido can also mean "the way of spiritual harmony". Both interpretations draw attention to the fact that aikido's techniques are designed to control an attacker by controlling and redirecting their energy instead of blocking the energy. An analogy is often made of the way a flexible willow bends with the storm whereas the stout oak will break if the wind blows too hard.(The martial art commonly known as hapkido uses the same three characters and quite possible there is a historical link through Daito Ryu, the main origin of aikido.

Morihei Ueshiba developed aikido mainly from Daito Ryu aikijutsu, incorporating the training movements of yari (spear), jo (a short quarterstaff), and maybe also juken (bayonet). The influence of the sword is strong; in many ways, an aikido practitioner moves as an empty handed swordsman. The aikido striking attacks shomenuchi and yokomenuchi originate from weapon attacks. Some schools of aikido do no weapons training at all, others spend half of their time with bokken (wooden sword), jo (staff) and tanto (knife). In some lines of aikido, all techniques can be performed with a sword as well as unarmed.

The major styles of aikido each have their own Hombu Dojo in Japan; these define their various syllabi. Aikido was brought to the United States in the 1960s, to Australia in 1965 and to many other countries. Today there are many aikido dojos available to train at throughout the world.

Shodokan Aikido the main sporting form has on a system of rule based competition. Tomiki Aikido, as it is popularily known, tends to place more emphasis on kata training than more competitive or sports oriented martial arts. People tend to compete to train rather than to train to compete.

In kata training, the objective of the student is to perfectly copy the style demonstrated by their teacher during a series of formal movements. This form of training is usually reserved for work with weapons. Its purpose is the preservation of traditional technique. The degree to which variations to this form varies between styles and teachers. Yoshinkan has a reputation for being the most rigidly precise. Yoshokai aikido, began by then-hachidan Takashi Kushida-sensei of Yoshinkan aikido, is a remarkably centralized style of aikido, with test techniques yearly passed down with explanations from the home dojo.

As with most martial arts, over time instructors have split off from the mainstream organization Aikikai to go their own way, and this has resulted in a great diversity of Aikido styles. For example, the approach followed by the Ki Society emphasizes very soft flowing techniques with very few blows. Other approaches to Aikido emphasize rigid martial and physical techniques more similar to the original "Aiki Jujutsu". Most Aikido schools are somewhere in between these two extremes.

"Ki" in Aikido

Ki kanji

No article about Aikido can be complete without a discussion of the concept of Ki.

Ki is often translated as 'breath power', 'power', 'energy', or sometimes even as 'soul'. This 'ki' is the same as the 'chi in tai-chi and the 'qi' in qi-gong. When aikidoka say that someone (usually high ranking teachers) is training with a lot of ki they usually want to express that the respective person has developed a high level of harmony in the execution of his technique. Timing, a sense for the correct distance and a centered (undisturbed) mind and body are particularly important. Most teachers locate ki in the hara (the center of gravity of the body, lower abdomen, right under the navel). In training it is constantly emphasized that one should keep one's hara in order not to lose the ki. Very high ranking teachers sometimes reach a level of coordination that enables them to execute techniques with very little apparent movement or sometimes even without touching an opponents body.

Obsolete form of the Ki kanji
(From Aikido FAQ): "you may not believe in Ki, but you sure as hell cultivate it" Aikido makes extensive use of ki. Aikido is one of the more spiritual martial arts and has been referred to as "moving zen". The name aikido can be translated as 'the way of harmony of ki'. Exactly what ki 'is' is a somewhat controversial issue.

Some believe that the physical entity ki simply does not exist. Instead, it is a concept used to teach spirit, intention, the bio-physico-psychological coordination through relaxation and awareness are concepts being used needed. These aikidoka tend to frown on the philosophical/spiritual aspect of ki. Other aikidoka believe that ki does exist as a physical entity and can be transmitted through space. They, on the other hand, make use of concepts such as ki of the universe, extending ki, etc.

Aikidoka, in the true sense of the word, will no doubt continue to be on their 'quest for ki'. O-sensei said of aikido that he was just a aikidoka like all his students and that he was only starting to learn.

See also: Qi, Qigong

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