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.
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; Germany and Australia in 1965. Designated “Official Delegate for Europe and Africa” by Morihei Ueshiba, Masamichi Noro arrived in France in September 1961.
Aikido makes use of body movement (tai sabaki) to blend with uke. For example, an “entering” (irimi) technique consists of movements inward towards uke, while a “turning” (tenkan) technique uses a pivoting motion. Additionally, an “inside” (uchi) technique takes place in front of uke, whereas an “outside” (soto?) technique takes place to his side; a “front” (omote?) technique is applied with motion to the front of uke, and a “rear” (ura) version is applied with motion towards the rear of uke, usually by incorporating a turning or pivoting motion. Finally, most techniques can be performed while in a seated posture (seiza). Techniques where both uke and nage are sitting are called suwari-waza, and techniques performed with uke standing and nage sitting are called hanmi handachi.
Thus, from fewer than twenty basic techniques, there are thousands of possible implementations. For instance, ikkyō can be applied to an opponent moving forward with a strike (perhaps with an ura type of movement to redirect the incoming force), or to an opponent who has already struck and is now moving back to reestablish distance (perhaps an omote-waza version). Specific aikido kata are typically referred to with the formula “attack-technique(-modifier)”. For instance, katate-dori ikkyō refers to any ikkyō technique executed when uke is holding one wrist. This could be further specified as katate-dori ikkyō omote, referring to any forward-moving ikkyō technique from that grab.
Atemi are strikes (or feints) employed during an aikido technique. Some view atemi as attacks against “vital points” meant to cause damage in and of themselves. For instance, Gōzō Shioda described using atemi in a brawl to quickly down a gang’s leader. Others consider atemi, especially to the face, to be methods of distraction meant to enable other techniques. A strike, whether or not it is blocked, can startle the target and break his or her concentration. The target may also become unbalanced in attempting to avoid the blow, for example by jerking the head back, which may allow for an easier throw. Many sayings about atemi are attributed to Morihei Ueshiba, who considered them an essential element of technique.