AIKIDO | 合氣道
Founded by Morihei Ueshiba, early in the 20th century, Aikido is a martial art that focuses on bringing non-violent resolutions to situations involving conflict – it is a path that combines rigorous physical training with spiritual discipline – where the keen edge of martial art training is used as a “Way” to spiritual growth.
The Japanese word Aikido consists of three Kanji characters:
These characters are most often translated as: “the way of unifying (with) the fundamental life energy”, or as “the way of harmonious spirit.”
As a physical discipline, the techniques of Aikido comprise a comprehensive system of throwing, joint-locking, striking and pinning techniques, combined with training with traditional weapons such as the Japanese sword, staff and knife. However, Morihei Ueshiba (often referred to as O-Sensei, or “venerable teacher”) was determined that the system of Aikido he conceived would be practiced as more than simply a method of combat or fighting.
The Japanese martial arts, influenced by the internal martial arts and meditative disciplines inherited from India and China, carried with them an emphasis on the development of internal harmony, as well as physical integrity. According to the traditions of the time, the Japanese warrior aspired to be more than just a killing instrument; but to serve as a model of uprightness, courage and loyalty — and able to, when necessary, sacrifice his own life (but never his honor) in the cause of principle and duty.
Steeped in these traditions, O-Sensei conceived of Aikido not only as a means of controlling or defeating a foe, but as a means of training for people to cultivate the attributes of the ideal warrior, with the goal of ultimately transcending the dualism and disharmony of conflict. For O-Sensei, Aikido was a path of determined self-development and personal-transformation. He believed that the path of Aikido could be followed by anyone, of any nation, and that Aikido is shugyo: an intense and focused physical and spiritual training (or forging), undertaken by sincere people to perfect their own character and realize true insight and wisdom.
WHAT IS AIKIDO TRAINING LIKE?
The most outstanding feature of the method of physical training in Aikido is the non-competitive practice of various motions known as kata (forms), the develop the ability of the practitioner to move the body in a natural, flowing and unforced way. The fundamental intention of the training is toward the unification of body, mind and ki (internal energy), and by cultivating internal order together with physical balance, the full potential of each person may be discovered and expressed through the dynamism of technique.
Using a combination of direct, spiral and circular motions, the forms of Aikido serve to harmonize and neutralize the force of an aggressor. Aikido training includes physical, mental and philosophical/ethical aspects and includes the practice of empty-hand techniques, sword, stick, and knife defenses as well as concentration, meditation and breathing exercises. Unique among martial arts, Aikido enables the practitioner to be responsive, adaptable and flexible in a wide variety of situations.
There are no competitions in Aikido — this is a logical conclusion of its philosophy. Since practitioners do not focus on ‘winning’ and ‘losing’, they are able to dedicate their training efforts toward mutual improvement. It is therefore possible for men, women, and children of all ages to walk together on the path of budo, the heart Aikido.
Attention to appropriate etiquette and conduct (reigi) are essential aspects of self-discipline that are incorporated into Aikido training – and involve the nurturing of an attitude of respect (both for self and others), integrity, impeccability, gratitude, modesty, concern and compassion for others, as well as care and stewardship of the physical, social and natural environments in which we live.
In the words of the Founder – the aim of Aikido is: ”to unify the mind and body and to promote peace, harmony and cooperation among all beings”.
Although Aikido techniques are most commonly performed empty-handed, Aiki-weapons training is an integral part of the training curriculum in many dojos, including Mountain Coast Aikikai. The use of weapons is typically studied for what it reveals about correct body posture, integrated body movement, the origins of empty-handed techniques, and about the roots of Aikido as a Japanese martial art.
The weapons training curriculum comprises solo practice, two-person and multiple-person drills and encounters, and includes weapon-to-weapon encounters, as well as weapon disarming and retention techniques. We offer regular instruction in the use of bokken (wooden sword), jyo (wooden staff) and tanto (knife), usually for students at intermediate and advanced levels.
IAI BATTO-HO (Japanese Swordsmanship)
Iai Batto-ho, “sword-drawing method,” is based on elements of swordsmanship found in Iaido, Iaijutsu and Kenjutsu. The “way of sword-drawing” and other traditional forms of Japanese sword work are studied largely for the same reasons as weapons work with bokken and jyo: for what this reveals about the roots of Aikido as a martial art.
ZAZEN – Mindfulness and Meditation Practices
For contemporary martial artists, mindfulness and meditation training, such as zazen (zen meditation) offers practitioners a powerful way to augment their abilities to focus and calm the mind, improve mindfulness and deepen the training experience by bringing oneself closer to the roots of martial discipline.
Zen Buddhism and Japanese martial culture have long been closely associated, through Japan’s traditional Bushido (way of the warrior), which developed between the 9th to 12th centuries. Zen’s emphasis on the impermanence of life, non-attachment, the surrender of the ego and its emphasis on remaining focused in the present moment, suited it well for the early samurai whose life was constantly at risk and whose survival depended on the ability to act quickly, instinctively and without hesitation.
In the present day, there is mounting evidence that meditation and mindfulness practices are highly beneficial and contribute both physical and mental health benefits for individuals facing the demands and stresses of modern life.
An introduction to the basic techniques and practices of zazen meditation and mindfulness is offered as part of the training at the dojo.
All dojo members are strongly encouraged to incorporate a regular meditation, concentration, or mindfulness practice into their daily lives.
Aikido training provides concrete positive physical benefits. Aikido training is an excellent program for the cultivation of all-around physical fitness, flexibility, functional coordination, balance, and relaxation. Although Aikido does not require large amounts of physical strength, regular Aikido training includes high intensity interval training that provides improvements in cardio-respiratory and aerobic fitness, and develops all-round flexibility and strength, combined with an increased capacity to stay calm and focused, particularly in situations of crisis or stress. Through sustained practice, the body ‘remembers’ how to move naturally and the mind learns how to be focused, calm and still. Many Aikido practitioners report improvements in their self-confidence, physical fitness, ability to concentrate, sense of well-being and poise, in their daily lives.
Aikido training does not view the body and mind as separate. The condition of one will affect the other. For this reason, the physical relaxation learned through practice naturally evolves to include mental relaxation.
Aikido training requires the practitioner to squarely face conflict, not to run away from it. Through this very real and physical experience, an Aikido practitioner learns to face the situations of life in a proactive and constructive manner. The defensive reactions and tensions one often experiences in response to pressure and conflict, and which so often elicit a violent reaction, can be better recognized and de-escalated. With dedicated and diligent practice, a transformed person can be revealed – straightforward, brave, yet modest, and with the ability to be both strong and compassionate or yielding, as needed in the circumstance.
Today, in both psychological and business circles, the principles of Aikido have become known as a useful metaphor and methodology for devising strategies for de-escalation and resolution of conflict situations and people in many walks of life are finding the philosophy and training approach of Aikido useful in improving the quality of their lives.