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What is Aikido

Aikido is a modern Japanese martial art that was developed early in this century by Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969). The word consists of tree symbols (ideogrammes):

合, ai: means "harmony"
氣, ki: means "inner energy" and
道, dō: means "path"

So, in Japanese, Aikido means "the way of harmony with the force and principle of nature." Aikido is derived from Japan’s traditional budo (the way of martial arts), yet goes beyond the realm of budo; it is a path where the keen edge of martial art is used as a "Way" to spiritual growth.

The most outstanding feature of physical training found in Aikido is the repetitive practice of various motions known as kata (forms), until rational and unforced movement flows naturally throughout the body. By unifying body, mind and ki (internal energy), and by utilizing internal order together with physical balance, the hidden potential of each person may be expressed through the dynamism of technique. Using circular motions, Aikido harmonizes and neutralizes the aggressor’s force. Training involves physical, mental, spiritual and ethical disciplines. It includes empty hand techniques, sword, stick, and knife defenses. Unique among martial arts, Aikido minimizes the need to maintain control of situations.

The fact that there are no competitions in Aikido is a logical conclusion of its philosophy. Since winning and losing are never a concern, the trainees are free to dedicate their efforts to mutual goals. It is therefore possible for men, women, and children of all ages to walk together down the path of budo, the heart of Aikido. Each individual trains and progresses at his or her own pace, finding harmony through personal development. Regular practice brings a sense of well-being and self-confidence that permeates all aspects of daily life. As people with varying personalities and lifestyles come together for practice, they gain concrete experience in reconciling different points of view. In Aikido, there is no "Way" except the path of confronting "the enemy" that lies within oneself. Aikido is a path of dogged perseverance and dedication to improving both spirit and body. The recognition and acceptance of this aspect of training are the surest means of consistent personal development.

Aikido is not only a spiritual discipline but also involves physical mastery. We learn to respect others through mutual physical contact. In this way, a means of communication is established which transcends the barriers of lifestyle, language, culture, and race. Aikido, as a martial Way for all people, is like a compass which directs the completion and unification of each person’s body, mind, and spirit with the fundamental and creative spirit of the universe.

About O' Sensei

Morihei Ueshiba was born in Tanabe in the modern-day Wakayama Prefecture of Japan on 14th December 1883. His interest in martial arts stemmed from witnessing his father being beaten by ruffians, which affected him deeply. He overcame his small physical stature and poor health as a child to become an accomplished student of Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jutsu under Master Sokaku Takeda. He was also a deeply spiritual man who opposed the use of martial arts for destructive purposes. By the early 1930s, he had established his own school and style, which later came to be known as Aikido: the way of harmonising energy. On account of his great prowess as a martial artist and a teacher, he was (and still is) referred to as O-Sensei, which simply means "great teacher".

O-Sensei found all warfare abhorrent, and was particularly sickened by the senseless destruction of the Second World War. Transformed by a vision that he experienced in 1942, at the height of the fighting, he set about developing Aikido as a means to heal the illnesses of the modern world by reconnecting people with the true meaning of Bushido (the Code of the Samurai): a tireless devotion to all life, everywhere.

"The Way of the Warrior has been misunderstood as a means to kill and destroy others. Those who seek competition are making a grave mistake. To smash, injure, or destroy is the worst sin a human being can commit. The real Way of a Warrior is to prevent slaughter: it is the Art of Peace, the power of love."

Originally, Aikido had been an art taught only to a select few, usually those who were already skilled in other martial arts, and was certainly not taught to non-Japanese persons. In the years following World War II, O-Sensei opened the art to all, convinced that "everyone has a spirit that can be refined, a body that can be trained in some manner, a suitable path to follow". In due course, O-Sensei dispatched his apprentices (among them Chiba Sensei) to spread Aikido around the globe, telling them, "One day, this Art will be practiced by people all over the world!"

Even as his health grew frail with advanced age, O-Sensei continued to train and remained committed to Aikido and the vision of a better world through the practice of the Art of Peace. He passed away on 26th April 1969, and was succeeded by his son, Kisshomaru Ueshiba Sensei, who took the title Doshu: "way master", personal heir to the Founder as head of the Art. Kisshomaru Ueshiba Sensei passed away in 1999, and the founder's grandson, Moriteru Ueshiba Sensei, took the title of Doshu.

The significanse of "Dojo"

The word "dojo" has very significant meaning in Japanese.

The first character "do" means "way" or "path" but is used figuratively to mean the way to enlightenment (in Chinese "Tao" pronounced "Dao").

The second character "jo" is made up of 2 parts. The left hand part has the meaning "ground" and the right hand character means "clear" or "bright" but in this context is used for "open". So in combination the 2 parts literally mean "clear/bright/open ground" which has come to mean "place".

So "Dojo" is the "Place of the way" or the "place that one follows the path to enlightenment".

In Japanese culture a dojo is a training hall for any of the arts who have at their core the goal of personal and spiritual developement or possibly more correctly "cleansing/polishing". These arts include all the tradition martial arts, tea ceremony, calligraphy, zazen etc.

The dojo is made up of all the members and not just the teacher. It is important for all the members to be involved in the care and claening of the dojo not just for practical purposes but also as a symbolic reflection of the process going on inside ourselves. The attitude is of mutual help and support between all members of the dojo (of all ranks). The role of the teacher is to stimulate and try to generate an atmosphere in which people can meet their limits and go beyond them.

Inbedded into Japanese culture there is a strict hierarchical structure. This is expressed in Martial arts dojos but can sometimes be misunderstood when translated into a Western environment. The relationship between senior(sempai) and junior(kohai) members is a dynamic one. Seniority should not have to be spelt out but should be understood. Junior members should respect their seniors and try to learn as much as they can from them. On the other hand, seniors have a great responsibility to help, support and stimulate the juniors without abusing the trust that they have been given. A subtlety which is very difficult for Westerners to understand is that seniority is not measured just by rank. There are many other factors including age, life-experience, years of training etc. which are taken into account along with rank when understanding who is "Sempai" and who is "Kohai".

The concept of spiritual developεment is very practical and tangible in an Aikido dojo. There is no need for religion but the mere process of vigorous physical training, pushing your limits is understood in Japanese culture as a way in itself to cleanse the soul. This idea is called "misogi". Every class should be a misogi of sorts to bring out the best in each member.