In Japanese, the word Aikido is made up of three kanji. The first kanji is “AI”, meaning to meet, to come together, or to harmonize. The second kanji is “KI”, meaning breath, energy, mind/spirit, and (in a larger context) the spirit of the universe. The third kanji is “DO”, meaning path or the way. All together, AI-KI-DO means “the way of harmonizing with the spirit of the universe”. This expresses how aikido not only teaches self-defense, but also fosters a strategy for positive character-building.
Movements & Techniques
Aikido, as a traditionally non-competitive Japanese martial art, emphasizes blending with and redirecting of the attacker(s). Movements in aikido center on a fluid flexibility and an ability to maintain a stable and balanced center. The aim of the aikido practitioner is to be in complete control of mind and body, and to maintain a calm yet alert posture. Techniques in aikido can be grouped in two types: katame waza and nage waza. Katame waza consists of joint locks and pins applied through various grabs and holds. Nage waza consists of throws applied by deflecting the attackers’ motion and energy back into them. Atemi can be used during the application of any of the above techniques, though generally speaking they are not the main focus of the technique. The strikes may be either hard to cause damage or soft to distract attention.
Training & Ukemi
Partner practice consists of an uke and a nage, or in weapons an uchi and an uke. Proper training involves learning both to apply techniques and to safely receive ukemi, a method of falling designed to protect the body from injury. There are two basic types of ukemi. The first consists of forward and backward rolls similar to somersaults but going over the shoulder instead of the head/neck. The second is a highfall or breakfall where the roll is cut short and the energy of a throw is dissipated by “slapping out” onto the mat. For specific exercises, see the Undo & Taiso section of the Glossary.
Aikido of Arlington practices in Iwama-style or traditional aikido as developed by O’Sensei. Iwama-ryu aikido gets its name from the Japanese town of Iwama, where O’Sensei operated a farm and dojo during the latter half of his life. O’Sensei's student Morihiro Saito Sensei continued the founder’s teachings at the Iwama dojo until passing in 2002. His son Hitohiro Saito continues teaching aikido according to the system and principles handed down from O’Sensei in Iwama. Today, there are many high level instructors preserving this training method around the world.
Iwama-ryu is based on the union of ken, jo and taijutsu. It is notable for its extensive use of kihon training in the early stages. Students begin with holds from a non-moving position to learn the mechanics of techniques: angles of movements, kokyu, balance and stability. With a solid foundation, students can then move on to the flowing ki no nagare techniques often associated with aikido.
Weapons training in aiki-ken and aiki-jo is an essential part of Iwama style aikido. Practice is done with a bokken and a jo. Aiki-weapons helps students understand weight distribution, hip movement, grounded stance, and proper distance. Students also learn to extend their range of control beyond the confines of their own body, an important concept in redirecting the energy of an attacker.
A distinct aspect of aikido is that, although it is primarily a method of self-defense, its philosophy is based on being in harmony with rather than fighting against the opponent. The idea is not to think of defeating the enemy, but rather to synchronize with his/her actions to defuse the conflict. Through training, aikido students incorporate these principles into their minds and bodies.
Aikido utilizes the kyu and dan systems of ranking. Aikidoka begin at the level of roku-kyu (6th kyu) and eventually progress to i-kyu (1st kyu). Iwama schools traditionally wear a white belt throughout the kyu ranks. After 1st kyu, students move on to the yudansha ranks beginning with shodan. At present, the highest rank in aikido is judan (10th dan).