Aikidō

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Aikidō (合気道) is a Japanese martial art created by Morihei Ueshiba. It focuses on harmonising with one's attacker, redirecting his or her momentum in order to throw or pin them. Because of its emphasis on using technique and finesse to unbalance and control a person, and of avoiding causing harm where possible, it is considered to be one of the more difficult martial arts to become proficient at.

History

Main article: History of aikidō

Aikidō was created by Morihei Ueshiba in the 30s and the period following the Second World War. Ueshiba wished to synthesise his mastery of Daitō-ryū aikijūjutsu and the multiple other martial arts he was experienced in, in addition to his personal philosophy of encouraging universal peace and reconciliation. Since its creation, aikidō has continued to evolve and many different styles are practised today.

Philosophy

Main article: Philosophy of aikidō

Aikidō is principally founded upon the philosophy of harmonising with the universe. There are no blocking movements in aikidō because blocking is disharmonious, and opposing forces like these are eschewed. Instead, incoming attacks are absorbed, deflected and evaded, and the attacker sought to be unbalanced.

Aikidō seeks to be a moral art in that it does not attempt to injure more than is strictly necessary (injury is likewise disharmonious). It is considered that with mastery, injury will become redundant; that any attack launched against a person who has internalised aikidō would be futile, as if attempting to harm the universe itself. Aikidō is therefore concerned with fostering peace and harmony, and Ueshiba viewed aikidō as a method to promote these things in the world.

The philosophical thought underpinning aikidō is heavily influenced by shintō, as Ueshiba himself was a shintō priest. Buddhism may also have been an influence, as its presence in Japanese culture was well-established, and most likely influenced the bujutsu that aikidō inherited from.

Principles

Ai
Harmony, love or unity.
Aiki
Harmonising combined with internal power.
Atemi 
Strikes to the body.
Ki 
Energy; spirit.
Kokyū
Breath; controlled breathing.
Kuzushi
Unbalancing the attacker.
Ma
Timing.
Maai
Correct distance.
Musubi
Physical connection to the attacker.
Sen 
Initiative.
Zanshin 
Mindfulness; awareness.

Training

Attacks

Further information: List of attacks in aikidō

A number of different attacks are used in aikidō. The person attacking is designated uke (lit. receiver), and the person being attacked is called tori. The attacks practised are mostly strikes and grabs, but can also include chokes, kicks and various others.

Techniques

Further information: List of aikidō techniques

There are approximately fifteen widely-practised techniques (or forms) in aikidō. Each technique is an embodiment of the philosophy of aikidō and works to unbalance or control an attacker, without causing unnecessary harm or injury.

The techniques each have a significant number of variations to them and there is some disagreement between which technique should be called by what name. On this wiki I use the conventions that are used by my club.

Fundamental to the execution of all the techniques is kokyū (breathing), ma (timing), maai (distance), ai (harmony), kamae (posture) and ashisabaki (footwork).

Footwork

Further information: Ashisabaki#Ashisabaki in aikidō

Aikidō has four distinct ashisabaki (footwork) movements. These are known as irimiashi, tsugiashi, tenkan and zengoundo. In addition, there are composite movements made from two or more individual movements, such as taisabaki (irimiashi followed by a tenkan).

The purpose of footwork is to allow one to keep his or her own posture and balance during the execution of techniques or the evasion of attacks. Through practising footwork, a aikidōka can refine his or her movements to become quick, clean and automatic.

Weapons

See also: Aikiken
See also: Aikijō

Aikidō generally uses three weapons - the ken (sword), (wooden staff) and the tantō (knife). The ken is almost always a bokken (wooden katana), and likewise the tantō is also generally wooden.

The purpose of training with weapons is to teach aikidō principles as they apply to a variety of situations. Weapons training improves footwork, posture, zanshin and other fundamental skills. Weapons training generally comprises a mix of kata (performed both in pairs and individually), disarming techniques and suburi exercises.

Customs

Aikidō has many customs that are observed by aikidōka, differing according to style club tradition. Many of the customs have been culturally inherited and so can be found in other Japanese martial arts.

Etiquette

Further information: Rei

A number of matters of etiquette should generally be observed when practising aikidō or using a dōjō. The following is a list of specific etiquette points for aikidō, many of which may be applicable to other Japanese martial arts.

Bowing
A bow is performed to indicate respect and gratitude to another person or object. To perform a standing bow, called ritsurei, stand with your hands by your sides (or on your thighs for women), and bend your torso forwards at the hip, maintaining a straight back. The inclination of the bow depends on how sincerely you wish to express yourself. A bow of 35 degrees is usual, whereas kneeling and bowing your head all the way to the floor is very expressive.
Entering and leaving the dōjō 
When entering or exiting the dōjō, a standing bow should be performed towards the kamiza (usually a picture of Ōsensei, the founder of aikidō). In a strict, traditional dōjō, a kneeling bow may be expected.
Stepping onto or off of the tatami 
A bow should also be performed towards the kamiza when stepping onto or off of the tatami (training mat). Depending on the club, you may be required to perform the bow from seiza (a sitting bow is called zarei).
Walking around the dōjō 
Zori (or other footwear) should be worn to keep one's feet clean when walking around off of the tatami. When stepping onto the tatami, one should remove his or her footwear and leave them tidily at the edge of the mat.
Beginning and ending practice with a partner 
When you begin or finish training with a partner, you should bow to them. This bow is an expression of thanks and appreciation for what the person can teach you.
Beginning and ending the training session 
At the beginning and end of a training session, members will line up in grade order facing the kamiza. Senior grades should be to the right of oneself and junior grades to the left. If beginning the training, the teacher will lead the class in a bow to the kamiza, followed by the most senior student leading a bow to the teacher. At the end of class, these two bows are performed in reverse order.
Addressing the instructor 
The instructor should be addressed as sensei - a title given in Japanese culture to people who have achieved a position of learning. Depending on the teacher in question, it may or may not be expected to refer to him or her as sensei outside of the dōjō.
Attitude 
One's attitude should be one of humility and sincerity. You should avoid questioning the teacher and you should attempt to replicate what he or she has shown you. Don't ignore the teacher's instructions or practise differently than instructed without permission.
Talking 
In some dōjō, talking is not permitted during training.
Language 
Moderate your language so as not to use offensive words or phrases. The kamiza is a shintō shrine, and one ought to behave respectfully in its presence.
Taking weapons onto the tatami 
When bringing a weapon onto the mat, raise it in front of you at eye-level in the direction of the kamiza and performing a standing bow to it. This process should be repeated when taking a weapon off the mat. The bow indicates respect to the weapon and an intention to treat it seriously.
Presence of animals in the dōjō 
According to shintō tradition, animals could sometimes carry kami (deities or spirits). Thus, when an animal spontaneously visits a dōjō, it should be treated with great respect.

Clothing

Aikidō has various clothing items and accessories traditionally associated with it. I have enumerated some of them below:

Keikogi 
稽古着 ("training clothes"). The white garments worn by practitioners of Japanese martial arts. Sometimes also called dōgi (道着).
Obi 
帯 ("sash"). The belt used to tie the keikogi jacket. Often aikidō clubs use coloured belts to indicate the rank of their members, starting with white and ending with black.
Hakama 
袴. A traditional item of Japanese clothing originally only worn by men. Hakama are worn over the trousers and have a number of pleats in the front (usually five or seven). In aikidō, hakama usually have seven pleats, representative of the seven virtues of bushidō. Different clubs have different rules on who should or should not wear a hakama.
Zori 
草履. A type of Japanese sandals generally used in aikidō to allow walking from the changing rooms to the tatami without allowing one's feet to pick up dirt from the floor.
Tenugui 
手拭い ("hand towel"). A small cotton cloth used to clean up sweat during training.
Hachimaki 
鉢巻 ("helmet scarf"). A hachimaki is worn (usually across one's forehead) to indicate heartfelt sincerity during the performance of a particular task. When worn during training, it's an expression that one is taking the training very seriously.

Grading

Most aikidō clubs adopt the kyū-dan grading system. This means that students are categorised into two main groups: mudansha and yudansha. Mudansha are the junior students (holding kyū grades) and yudansha the senior ones (holding dan grades). Starting as a mudansha, a student will be assigned a kyū (級) grade number (usually 5, 6 or 7, depending on the club), and with each grade progression, their number steadily decreases. When a student has reached ikkyu (1st kyū), their next grading will award them with shodan (初段), the first dan grade. The next grade is 2nd dan (nidan), then 3rd dan (sandan), and so on, up until a hypothetical 10th dan (jūdan).

Often this system is associated with a system of coloured belts. Beginners wear a white belt, and as they progress to each new rank, they receive a new coloured belt. This practice occurs for all the kyū grades, and when one achieves his or her first dan grade, they receive a permanent black belt. At the club I train at, students begin as nanakyū (7th kyū) with a white belt, and then progress through coloured belts in the following order: yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, brown, black.

The kyū-dan grading was introduced by Jigorō Kanō, the founder of jūdō, and is now used by many Japanese traditions, including chadō (tea ceremonty), ikebana (flower arrangement), and the board game 'Go'.

See also