Aikido is a Japanese martial art developed relatively recently (at least when compared to ancient Asian martial arts), but it has quickly become a major player in the martial arts competitive scene both for sport and self-defense.
Developed by Morihei Ueshiba, traditional Aikido focuses on the intersection of martial arts, philosophy, and religious beliefs. The word "Aikido" can be translated as "the way of the life spirit".
Aikido's "harmonious" nature can be seen in its design: a method of self-defense that also minimizes damage to the attacker. Never intended as a method of violence, Aikido focuses on escaping dangerous situations without practitioners becoming a dangerous aggressor themselves.
As mentioned above, Ueshiba intended Aikido to be a method of self-defense but also an "expression of his personal philosophy of universal peace and reconciliation" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aikido). Aikido has since evolved from those origins as teachers and practitioners interpret the sport in their own ways, but the sport has its roots in harmony.
The core martial art that Aikido draws from is known asDaitō-ryū aiki-jūjutsu, which Ueshiba practiced extensively under his teacher Takeda Sōkaku. He then added in techniques from weapons such as the sword, short staff, and bayonet.
Like many martial arts, Aikido is decently different in its modern incarnation when compared to its roots. Today, there are multiple governing organizations that each practice different variations of the sport due to disagreements on the "right" way for the sport to be represented internationally.
Ki is a central part of Aikido, and it encompasses the idea of the collaboration between physical and mental training. The word "Ki" has many meanings in the Japanese language, but in martial arts it usually is used to refer to the idea of "life energy" — a central point that Aikido is built around.
Schools differ in the way that Ki is discussed, with some organizations emphasizing Ueshiba's earlier recommendations of the "timing and application of a whole body's strength into a single point". Other teachers emphasize his later teachings that focus on a more relaxed and harmonious relationship with the mental aspect of Ki.
Although it's difficult to pinpoint a single definition for Ki and how one develops it, one thing is clear: Ki is a central part of "the way of the life spirit", and a central part of Aikido.
Because a lot of the practical techniques in Aikido revolve around "throws", most students first learn how to safely fall or roll. General strength and conditioning exercises also play a major part, ensuring the body is physically able to endure a fight and defend itself effectively.
An emphasis is also placed on relaxation, stretching, and specific drills that get the body used to specific techniques used with the martial art.
Uke and Tori
Tori focuses around blending with and controlling attacking energy, while Uke focuses on remaining calm and flexible in the disadvantageous positions that Tori puts them in.
Training students to appreciate the flow between Uke and Tori allows them to adapt to the conditions of the fight and react dynamically with the most effective response.
The combination of these two techniques make up the majority of Aikido practice. Power balances and situations within a real fight change quite frequently, and being able to force your opponent to go on the defensive or to recover from an unfortunate scenario goes a long way into ensuring a favorable fight outcome.
Defending Against Multiple Attackers
While not necessarily unique to Aikido, a main benefit of the martial art when compared to others is the advanced training focused on responding to multiple attackers. You won't always be up against a fair fight, and knowing how to respond to attacks from multiple angles at the same time can help you escape from a bad situation.
"Randori" is a training focused on improving the fighter's ability to respond in a dynamic, unstructured environment. Advanced Aikido practitioners have the ability to adjust their techniques to defend themselves even in seemingly hopeless situations.
As mentioned above, there are multiple schools of thought about how Aikido should be practiced, and some major disagreements regarding the direction the art should go. Some organizations criticize founder Ueshiba's focus on the spiritual and religious part of the martial art, claiming that it reduces its effectiveness as a method of self-defense. Conversely, other organizations think that modern Aikido has strayed too far from its beginnings as a convergence of martial arts, philosophy, and spirituality.
Asian martial arts have a long history, and modern incarnations of these sports all draw upon systems dating back thousands of years. These methods of self-defense and self-improvement continue to evolve, and the Aikido you practice today may be far removed from its original form.
Still, there's no doubt about it: Aikido continues to be a valid method of self-defense that prioritizes a healthy mind, body, and spirit.