Posted by: yoko | July 9, 2003

On Aikido

Aikido is difficult to explain in a few words. Even its literal translation is complicated. In Japanese, the word is written in three characters: Ai, meaning something like “to fit” or “to match,” Ki, usually meaning “energy,” related to the Chinese word chi, and dou, meaning “the path” or “the way.” A common translation is “The Way of Harmony of the Spirit,” but that doesn’t begin to describe what aikido is.

Aikido is a martial art, created by Morihei Ueshiba in the early 20th century. Its physical training techniques involve using the energy of the attacker to divert it away from you, or to use it against the attacker. Many of the techniques involve timing, fluidity of movement, and stability of self. Shuji Maruyama, the founder of the school of aikido where I practice, loves to say “minimum effort for maximum effect,” meaning that it doesn’t take muscle or brute force to defend yourself– just simple movements.

There is a philosophical and spiritual element to aikido as well. Ueshiba believed very strongly in peace and harmony in the world, and thought that this could be achieved with aikido. All energy (ki) was created from One Source, and all beings have a part of this energy. Therefore, all should seek in blending energies together, instead of using them against each other, for to use this power against someone is to do so against yourself.

In my weekly practice, however, much of the focus is on physical training– blending the intent of the mind with the intent of the body. I didn’t realize how disjunct the two were in myself. Many a practice went by in the beginning where I would forget which foot was the left and which was the right, or I would execute a 180-degree turn and forget how to spin back to my original point. The body has a memory of its own, and the more I practiced, the less my mind tried to control everything I did, and the more I trusted my body to know the movements. It’s been challenging, to say the least, but with the encouragement and support of my fellow dojo members, it’s been fun to learn and I keep coming back for more.

I hope that eventually, what I learn in aikido becomes integrated in my life– not only for self-defense should it come to that, but in my daily interactions with people in everyday situations.

More discussion to come in the future, but for now, take a look at these:
basic ideas about aikido
has good mini-videos on some exercises
Nick’s guide on how to choose a good school
the Philadelphia Kokikai Aikido dojo

And read these:
Dobson, Terry It’s a Lot Like Dancing
Saotome, Mitsugi Aikido and the Harmony of Nature
Ueshiba, Morihei The Art of Peace

If you’re interested in seeing it in action, you’re invited to sit in on a class. Let me know if you’d like to.



  1. hey i was thinking the description in paragraph 4 up there sounds a lot like learning salsa for me. or any dancing really. body has to learn it and then it just flows. and then i saw that one of the books you mention alludes to the same. neat.


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