What is Aikido?
Aikido was developed in the early 20th century by Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969), often referred to as O-Sensei (Great Teacher). He was a gifted martial artist who had trained in ju-jitsu, kenjutsu (sword arts) and sojutsu (spear arts) and then combined and modified techniques from each to reflect his personal convictions concerning self-defence, peace and harmony. Consequently, the purpose of Aikido is not the destruction of an enemy but, rather, the control of difficult human aggression. Peaceful resolution of conflict is the ultimate goal of Aikido. These aims are reflected in the name which is made up of three characters: Ai (to meet or harmonize), Ki (energy, spirit or mind) and Do (the way). Combined these become the Way of Harmonious Spirit.
Despite what is written in the previous section, a typical aikido class does not include much discussion of philosophy but instead consists largely of the paired practice of techniques that have been demonstrated by the sensei (instructor). Partners alternately take the role of uke (the attacker) and nage (the defender) who executes the aikido technique.
Techniques are classified as osae waza (locks and pins) or nage waza (throws) and are practiced from standing (tachi waza), kneeling (suwari waza), or uke standing and nage kneeling (hanmi handachi). The locking and pinning techniques are generally applied to wrists, elbows and/or shoulders, usually with, rather than against, the natural movements of the joints. Throws are based on a proper understanding of body position, balance, timing, and human dynamics. Many of these also involve locks but others depend on principles such as kokyho nage (breathing throws) or koshi nage (hip throws).
Most techniques end with nage throwing and/or pinning uke to the ground. As such, an essential part of aikido practice is learning safe ukemi: proper techniques for falling (or rather landing!) on the ground. Some of these are simple rolls and direct break-falls while others are quite spectacular, but all are intended to ensure safe and correct practice for both uke and nage.
The practice described so far is kata: uke executes a prescribed attack while nage responds with a prescribed defence. Beginning students practice kata almost exclusively in order to develop proper technique, however more advanced students also study randori: a free-style practice against a single or multiple opponents.
Apart from the open-hand techniques aikido also includes training with tanto (a wooden practice knife), jo (a 4' wooden staff), and bokken (a wooden practice sword). This includes weapons kata, paired practice (jo-jo, jo-bokken, or bokken-bokken) and weapons-taking techniques for disarming an attacker who has one of these weapons.
Aikido usually includes some training in unarmed striking, however this is not the primary focus. Similarly classical aikido does not include close grappling or groundwork (the suwari waza is viewed more as training to improve standing techniques). Those who wish to learn more of those areas are encouraged to cross-train in other martial arts.
Aikido techniques have direct self-defence application and when executed correctly are extremely effective. However the repeated practice of these techniques is also intended to teach other more fundamental ideas. From a martial point of view, as important as the techniques themselves are a proper appreciation of such things as monitoring the correct distance between uke and nage, understanding when one is open to an attack, maintaining proper stances and body posture, and applying techniques with proper timing and at the correct angle angle.
In keeping with the spirit of aikido, other principles include such ideas as: understanding how to use an opponent's intent and aggression to defeat them, not opposing force with force but instead blending with and even amplifying nage's motion, and harmonizing one's own body so as to be able to apply maximum power with minimum effort.
Though an understanding of principles such as these is the true goal of aikido, it is important to understand that this knowledge can only come from a rigorous attention to the technical details of individual techniques. As such most styles of aikido, including that practiced at MUN Aikikai, eschew competitions. The reasoning is that competition would necessarily switch the focus of practice to winning rather than understanding the fundamentals. Similarly during training the correct goal of uke and nage is to advance, rather than thwart, each others practice.
With this focus on fundamentals and technique rather than physical strength, aikido appeals to both women and men of all ages and sizes. Practice can be lifelong, with many aikidoists starting young and then continuing to train into their 60s, 70s and even 80s. Those who are physically able naturally practice more vigorously, but those who prefer to focus fundamentals and technical details (by inclination or necessity) are just as important to the progress of aikido.
Whatever the practice, regular training will increase stamina and strength as well as flexibility, stability, and balance. Along with the physical benefits aikido can also help to develop self-discipline and a sense of equilibrium - many find that the time spent on the mat is a valuable form of stress relief.