History of Aikido

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 jujitsu, 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 “aikinomichi”).

On the technical side, aikido is rooted in several styles of jujitsu (from which modern judo is also derived), in particular daitoryu-(aiki)jujitsu, 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,” Omotokyo. Omotokyo was (and is) part neo-shintoism, and part socio-political idealism. One goal of omotokyo has been the unification of all humanity in a single “heavenly kingdom on earth” where all religions would be united under the banner of omotokyo. It is impossible sufficiently to understand many of O Sensei’s writings and sayings without keeping the influence of Omotokyo 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. Psycho Aikido, a japanese martial art developed by master Mohirei Ueshiba earlier this century makes heavy use of the concept of ki. Aikido is one of the more spiritual martial arts and has been considered as ‘moving zen’. The name Aikido means ‘the way of harmony of ki’. Just exactly what is this ki that one supposes to harmonize with is a controversial topic among aikidoka’s. Some believes that the physical entity ki simply does not exist. Instead, the spirit, the intention, the bio-physico-psychological coordination through relaxation and awareness are concepts being used in the teaching. These aikidoka’s sometime tend to frown upon the philosophical/spiritual aspect of ki. Other aikidoka’s 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.. By citing these two extremes, the author does not wish to imply that the ‘truth’ lies somewhere in between. But the fact of the matter is that there is a large portion of aikidoka who are still, and no doubt will continue be, on their ‘quest for ki’.

The task is not simple since many sensei’s are reluctant to talk about ki. Those who do, do it in a very oriental way: full of metaphor, image and lack of clarity. The aim of this article is surveying the writing and teaching of Kaiso, his deshi’s: Ueshiba, Tohei, Yamada, Shioda, Saito, Saotome, Nadeau, Dobson, Homa … (listed in no particular order) to find out what they did mean when they mentioned the concept ki, or to find out whether one can come up with a definite answer at all. For the sake of simplicity, let’s propose three simple definitions of ki:
1. Ki: the principle that governs the universe AND the individual, the cosmic truth.
2. Ki: the action from a particular state of mind and body that can have physical/psychological/physiological effect. This ki can be expressed, and hence, perceived through physical appearance, behavior, and body language.
3. Ki: similar to (2). However this ki can be expressed and perceived by means including but not limited to those listed in (2).
One can see that from (1) to (3) the degree of abstract decreases while the physical component increases. The meaning of ki of course is not limited by the individual or combined definitions mentioned above.


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