Aikido is a Japanese martial art that includes techniques for fighting empty handed, with weapons, or for subduing an armed opponent. The distinctive feature of aikido is characterized by a training method based on “kata” (a practice of aikido forms), while other Japanese martial arts, like judo, use two training methods, kata and randori (a free practice using the moves of kata in a more realistic and competitive setting). The kata method is well suited to younger and older people and to women because it is a safer and enjoyable way to practice a martial art. People are often impressed by aikido’s graceful movements because, as many instructors point out, aikido movements maintain a person’s stable center with an emphasis on spherical rotation characterized by flowing, circular and dance-like motions.
Aikido is largely divided into two categories: joint (wrist, elbow and shoulder, etc) techniques (kansetsu waza) and striking techniques (atemi waza). Although aikido techniques have the power to kill and injure, their fundamental purpose is to seize and control an opponent. All of the principles of Japanese swordsmanship (eye contact, proper distance, timing, and cutting methods) are incorporated into the movements of aikido.
Morihei Ueshiba (1883–1969) founded aikido and promoted it throughout Japan with his son and heir Kisshomaru Ueshiba (1921–1999). He learned several forms of martial arts, but he derived the major techniques of aikido from the Daito-ryu jujitsu style, which he learned from Sokaku Takeda (1860–1943). Jujitsu is an art of weaponless fighting that employs holds, throws, and paralyzing blows to subdue an opponent. Ueshiba also established the Aiki-kai aikido association.
As to the meaning of aiki – the core concept of aikido – “ai” means to come together or harmonize, while “ki” means energy or spirit or mind. We can trace aiki back to martial arts literature of the Edo era (1600/1603–1868). Toka Mondo (Candlelight Discussion), written by a master of Kito-ryu jujitsu in 1764, says aiki means that two fighters come to a standstill in a bout when they have focused their attention on each other’s breathing. Other interpretations exist. For example, the book Budo-hiketsu Aiki no Jutsu (Secret Keys to Martial Arts Techniques), published in 1892, says aiki is the ultimate goal in the study of martial arts and may be accomplished by “taking a step ahead of the enemy.”
There are three other major organizations that were established by Ueshiba’s leading pupils in the world of aikido. The Ki-Society (established in 1974) is regarded in second position. Its founder is Koichi Tohei (b. 1920) who started aikido in 1939 and was at one time supposed to be Ueshiba’s successor in Aiki-kai. He emphasizes the power of “Ki” in aikido, which he defines as the unification of mind and body, and became independent from Aiki-kai in 1974. Yoshinkan (established in 1955) is in third place. Its founder Gozo Shioda (1915–1994) practiced with Ueshiba beginning in 1932, and established a practical training method whilst teaching aikido at the police academy in Tokyo. The Japan Aikido Association (JAA, established in 1974) is in fourth place. Its founder Kenji Tomiki (1900–1979) originated the randori (free practice) training method of aikido in about 1961. It combines Ueshiba’s techniques with Judo, founder Jigoro Kano’s theory on the modernization of Japanese schools of Jujitsu. The JAA is the only school in the big four to promote the practice of both kata and competition. There are other smaller groups in Japan and other countries that are or were led by master instructors, among them Noriaki Inoue (Shineitaido school), Minoru Mochizuki (Youseikan), Minoru Hirai (Korindo), Kanshu Sunadomari (Manseikan), and Kenji Shimizu (Tendoryu).
Aikido Around the World
Aikido has the greatest number of schools in Japan, France, the United States, England, Germany and Italy, in that order. Minoru Mochizuki was the first person to teach aikido in France, from 1951 to 1953. Then Tadashi Abe and Nobuyoshi Tamura of Aiki-kai followed. Aiki-kai aikido in France was promoted in affiliation with the French Judo Federation, which allowed aikido instructors to more easily receive government subsidies and to rent fully equipped gymnasiums at minimal cost. Consequently, tuition costs have been reasonable, a fact that has also helped to draw followers. France has approximately fourteen hundred clubs in two large organizations.
In North America Yoshimitsu Yamada and other younger instructors contributed to the rapid popularization of Aiki-kai aikido during the late 1960s. As of 2005 tjere were six hundred and forty clubs from various schools. The United States Aikido Federation (Aiki-kai, has the most with around two hundred and twenty clubs on the mainland. The United Kingdom has around three hundred and thirty clubs under the British Aikido Board (BAB,
Three of the four main schools now have their own international organizations, the International Aikido Federation (Aiki-kai,, the International Yoshinkan Aikido Federation (Yoshinkan, and the Tomiki Aikido Network (JAA).
The Future
Aikido will likely develop on a large scale because there is significant demand from people who have tired of competitive sports and because many individuals have welcomed aikido as a unique form of physical activity that offers a combination of mental and physical stimulation not available elsewhere.
On the other hand, the increasing popularity and success of competitive martial arts such as judo and taekwondo in the Olympic Games bodes well for aikido, too. The Tomiki Aikido Network has held international competitions and contests since 1989, with widespread excitement evident among the participants, who enjoy the thrill of competition as in other athletic sports.
This enthusiasm for competition, however, is not generally shared by practitioners of other styles of aikido. Indeed, Aiki-kai strongly forbade competition after Kenji Tomiki created the free practice training method in 1961, which allows two aikido practitioners can compete. The reasoning behind the ban is that contests may produce a mindset that is more interested in competition than cooperation.
More recently, however, a contest in the format of kata, with the winner being decided by a judging panel that scores each participant’s performance, has become popular in many non-Tomiki aikido schools. Some clubs and some schools hold contests and give commendations to winning participants as an incentive, although strictly speaking this practice may result in producing a mind that wants to compete against other people. Going forward, the competitive mindset – pro and con – is likely to remain a thorny issue in the aikido world.
Fumiaki Shishida
Further Reading
Pranin, S. (1991). The Aiki News encyclopedia of aikido. Tokyo: Aiki News.
Pranin, S. (1992). Takeda Sokaku and Daito-ryu aiki jujutsu. Tokyo: Aiki News.
Pranin, S. (1993). Aikido masters: Prewar students of Morihei Ueshiba. Tokyo: Aiki News.
Shioda, G. (1985). Aikido jinsei [My aikido life]. Tokyo: Takeuchi-shoten-shinsha.
Shishida, F. (1992). Martial arts diary by Admiral Isamu Takeshita and Morihei Ueshiba in about 1926 (in Japanese with English abstract). Research Journal of Budo, 25(2), 1–12.
Shishida, F., & Nariyama, T. (1985). Aikido kyoshitsu [Aikido class]. Tokyo: Taishukan.
Tomiki, K. (1991). Budo-ron [Budo theory]. Tokyo: Taishukan.
Ueshiba, K. (1977). Aikido kaiso Ueshiba Morihei den [A biography of Morihei Ueshiba: The founder of aikido]. Tokyo: Kodansha.
Ueshiba, K. (1981). Aikido no kokoro [The spirit of aikido]. Tokyo: Kodansha.
Westbrook, A., & Ratti, O. (1979). Aikido and the dynamic sphere. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle.