Aikido is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba (often referred to by his title ‘O Sensei’ or ‘Great Teacher’). On a purely physical level it is an art involving some throws and joint locks that are derived from Jujitsu and some throws and other techniques derived from Kenjutsu. Aikido focuses not on punching or kicking opponents, but rather on using their own energy to gain control of them or to throw them away from you.
Ueshiba developed aikido primarily during the late 1920s through the 1930s through the synthesis of the older martial arts that he had studied. Ueshiba is known to have initially studied with Tozawa Tokusaburo from the Kito Ryu when he was 13 who taught him ju jutsu. He soon learnt to wield the spear and sword and at 20 (1908) he was already recognised as an expert and received a diploma from his master Nakai Masakatsu. After the Russo-Japanese war he suffered from a serious attack of encephalitis and on his recovery took up judo with Kiyoichi Takagi (1894–1972) in Tanabe in 1911.
A year later, a meeting took place which was to alter the course of his life, this meeting was with Master Sokaku from the Daito-jujutsu ryu. Ueshiba studied directly with Takeda Sokaku, a man of small build, of great strength and immensly tough and severe who was the reviver of that art.
The art of Daito-ryu is the primary technical influence on aikido. Along with empty-handed throwing and joint-locking techniques, Ueshiba incorporated training movements with weapons, such as those for the spear (yari), short staff (jo), and perhaps the bayonet (juken). However, aikido derives much of its technical structure from the art of swordsmanship (kenjutsu).
Ueshiba moved to Hokkaido in 1912, and began studying under Takeda Sokaku in 1915. His official association with Daito-ryucontinued until 1937. However, during the latter part of that period, Ueshiba had already begun to distance himself from Takeda and the Daito-ryu and began referring to his martial art as "Aiki Budo". It is unclear exactly when Ueshiba began using the name "aikido", but it became the official name of the art in 1942 when the Greater Japan Martial Virtue Society (Dai Nippon Butoku Kai) was engaged in a government sponsored reorganisation and centralisation of Japanese martial arts.
In aikido, as in virtually all Japanese martial arts, there are both physical and mental aspects of training. The physical training in aikido is diverse, covering both general physical fitness and conditioning, as well as specific techniques.
Because a substantial portion of any aikido curriculum consists of throws, the first thing most students learn is how to safely fall or roll. The specific techniques for attack include both strikes and grabs; the techniques for defense consist of throws and pins. After basic techniques are learned, students study freestyle defense against multiple opponents, and in certain styles, techniques with weapons.
Aikido training is based primarily on two partners practicing pre-arranged forms (kata) rather than freestyle practice. The basic pattern is for the receiver of the technique (uke) to initiate an attack against the thrower (nage, also referred to as tori, or shite, depending on aikido style), who neutralises this attack with an aikido technique.
Both halves of the technique, that of uke and that of nage, are considered essential to aikido training. Both are studying aikido principles of blending and adaptation. Nage learns to blend with and control attacking energy, while uke learns to become calm and flexible in the disadvantageous, off-balance positions in which nage places them. This "receiving" of the technique is called ukemi. Uke continuously seeks to regain balance and cover vulnerabilities (e.g., an exposed side), while nage uses position and timing to keep uke off-balance and vulnerable. In more advanced training, uke will sometimes apply reversal techniques to regain balance and pin or throw nage.
Ukemi refers to the act of receiving a technique. Good ukemi involves a parry or breakfall that is used to avoid pain or injury, such as joint dislocations or atemi.
See Culture/Legends for more information on Morihei Ueshiba.