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Aikido

Aikido is a Japanese Martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba, referred to by Aikidoka as O-Sensei.

On the surface, it appears to be an art involving pins and throws that were evolved from jiu-jitsu as well as kenjutsu, jojutsu and other arts. Aikido does not focus on blocking, punching and kicking. Instead, the emphasis is on uniting your efforts with the attacker to control the situation. It is not a static art but places a great deal of emphasis on the dynamics of movement. Upon deeper examination, you may find self-dense, peace of mind, physical fitness or greater teachings.

Aikido can be translated as follows: Ai means Unite or Combine, Ki is the Energy inherent in any object or being, and Do means Way or Path, resulting in a translation of "Combine Energy Way". Some place more emphasis on different components to greater or lesser degrees. It is important to remember that Aikido is a Budo, where Bu is often translated as War but literally means Stop Spear and Do means Way resulting in a translation of "Stop Spear Way". It may seem paradoxical for a martial art to strive for peace, but it is an essential understanding to any martial art.

Aikido is rooted in several styles of jujitsu (from which modern judo is also derived), in particular Daito-ryu-(aiki)jujitsu, as well as sword and spear fighting arts. Oversimplifying somewhat, we may say that Aikido takes the joint locks and throws from jujitsu and combines them with the body movements of sword and spear fighting. However, we must also realize that many Aikido techniques are the result of O-Sensei's own innovation.

But you can't learn it by reading about it. In fact, it may do more harm than good. We could attempt to pigeonhole Aikido into a synopsis in a finite number of words, but that would not do it justice, so we leave the practitioner of Aikido to find out what Aikido is for themselves without any preconceived notions.

So practice, and remember that it is a Gentle Art (as you get thrown to the ground with a resounding thud.)

 

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Aikido makes extensive use of the concept of ki. Aikido is one of the more spiritual martial arts and has been referred to as 'moving zen'. The name Aikido can be translated as 'the way of harmony of ki'. Exactly what ki 'is' is a somewhat controversial issue.

Some believe that the physical entity ki simply does not exist. Instead, the spirit, the intention, the bio-physico-psychological coordination through relaxation and awareness are concepts being used in the teaching. These aikidoka sometimes tend to frown upon the philosophical/spiritual aspect of ki.

Other aikidoka believe that ki does exist as a physical entity and can be transmitted through space. They, on the other hand, make use of concepts such as ki of the universe, extending ki etc.

The fact of the matter is that there is a large portion of aikidoka who are still, and no doubt will continue be, on their 'quest for ki'.

Without doubt, this has been the most difficult question to write any kind of reasonably fair answer to. On the subject of the nature of ki, perhaps more than in any other area of Aikido, the aikidoka must find his or her own answer, whatever that may be. The last word on this subject will be left to the Doshu, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, the son of O Sensei:

"We may hear students say that `It is a feeling of some kind of energy coming forth from mind and body in harmony.' Or `It is a strange, vital power which appears unexpectedly at times from an unknown source.' Or `It is the sense of perfect timing and matched breathing experienced in practising aikido.' Or `It is a spontaneous, unconscious movement which refreshes mind and body after a good workout,' and so forth.

Each answer is valid in the sense that it is a true reaction gained through actual personal experience. And being a direct expression of a felt condition, it contains a certitude that cannot be denied. If this is so, the differences in responses is negligible, and the great variety attests to not only the difficulty in precisely defining ki but shows that the depth and breadth of ki defy coverage by a single definition." -- from "The Spirit of Aikido"

    

Entering (irimi)

"The difference between the living and the dead is timing."

Entering, or "irimi" is one of the basic techniques of aikido and is closely related to "blending" with an attacker. At a basic level, irimi is a movement which looks like a slidestep toward or into an opponent's attack. Aikido thinks of most movement as being circular or spiralling in nature; irimi brings a person "into" the circle of movement, so that the energy of the attack can be directed along the circular plane - much like catching a frisbee on your finger, letting the circular energy 'spin' around the finger and then sending it on its way in the same, or an alternate direction, with a minimum of effort.

The concept of entering emphasises the importance of placing oneself inside the "danger radius" of a partner's attack. Imagine a boxer's punch. The punch has gathered most of its power and effectiveness at or near the full extent of the boxer's arm. Beyond the reach of the arm there is little danger or threat. Similarly, inside the full extent of the arm the moving fist has developed very litte energy, and again poses little or no threat. Several things may be substituted for the boxer's punch: any strike with a hand, knife, sword or staff, for example.

Ukemi

Good Ukemi is moving through a technique looking for an opportunity to crunch (oops, I meant educate) your opponent (oops, I meant partner) for trying to do such a nasty thing to your arm/body.

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

Ukemi may be described as the art of receiving a technique. The practice of ukemi involves rolls and other breakfalls. Here are a few reasons why we practice ukemi in Aikido, and why it is such an important part of our Aikido training:

1. To stay safe. That is, not only to avoid injury in that confrontation, but to be aware of what is going on throughout the whole confrontation (encounter) and therefore be able to find and respond to openings and, perhaps, to escape.

2. To experience the throw. Part of the learning process must be to understand what the *other* side of the encounter is - what does it feel like to be tied up in a particular technique? Also, to observe the other person's technique, particularly if nage is a senior student or teacher. Being able to take ukemi means allowing the detachment necessary to "observe" (with the body and mind).

2.a. To learn to listen with your body. To throw well requires sensitivity to your partner. Often we are so caught up in the active role of nage that we forget to be receptive to our partner and move in a way that harmonizes with uke. By being uke we get a chance to emphasize the receptive aspects of body movement (though that is not all there is to it). Hopefully, by emphasizing receptivity half of the time you improve your receptivity the other half of the time.

3. To assist your partner to learn. Being a good uke means maintaining the connection with nage, and allowing nage to experience that connection and to really experience the technique. Being a good uke allows nage to perform the technique without worrying about uke being injured.

4. To condition the body. Taking good ukemi requires a lot of work; much emphasis is placed on staying connected, staying flexible and staying aware.

Saotome sensei says in his book "The Principles of Aikido":
"Good ukemi training will allow you to see the future truly because your vision will be based on observation and intuition, rather than an arbitrary decision made in advance of the evidence. Good ukemi represents the same wisdom as that of the fisherman who through long experience can sense what the coming weather will be."

Atemi

When I need to I hit people with the largest weapon I can find: the Earth.

Atemi, literally, means to strike the body. A simple explanation of atemi is that they are strikes. Some people insist on more rigorous definitions such as only strikes to pressure points. One purpose of atemi is to distract your partner, so that they focus on your hand, or their pain, rather than their grasp. This can make it easier to move. In this context, you could regard atemi as a "ki disturbance".

Atemi, on some interpretations, need not be an actual strike, since what matters is the effect on uke, that is, the upsetting of uke's physical and psychological balance, facilitating the application of technique. Some claim that the best way to ensure such unbalancing is to deliver a real strike, especially where there is potential for strong resistance.

Still others claim that atemi involves "projecting ki" toward uke, where this involves something above and beyond merely provoking a sort of startle reflex or response to the physical strike (or threat thereof).

Some feel atemi is important in the actual accomplishment of waza rather than being independent waza in and of itself. This is a personal feeling. This distinguishes aikido (in the opinion of some) from striking arts where the atemi is the focus.

What does it mean to 'move off the line'?

Absence of body is better than presence of mind

The energy of any attack flows from one point to another, usually from an attacker to his or her intended victim. The line that connects these two points is called the line of attack. For example, the energy in the boxer's punch flows (via his fist) outwardly from his body towards his opponent. This is the line of attack. Once an attack is committed, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to change the course of the attack. (An excellent example of this is the flying kick in Karate: once the attacker has left the ground, there is very little that can be done to change the course of the attack.) To 'move off the line' is to move off of the line of attack at or after the point at which the attack is committed, into an area or zone of safety.

Center/hara/haragei

"Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free: Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate." -Chuang-Tzu

One's center is just that - the physical and martial-arts "middle" of the body. Located in the abdomen ("hara"), it serves as the source/focus of ki/energy and as one's balance point when executing techniques. Try lifting something directly in front of you, then try lifting the same object when it's off to one side - it's much easier when it's "centered," right? Maintaining an awareness of (and "connection" to) your and your training partner's centers makes just that kind of difference in the ease and flow of aikido.

Extension

"If you hit someone with a chair and extend your ki through the chair, it's an aikido technique."

Just as it is important to "remain centered," it is important to "extend" in aikido. Many techniques are facilitated by "extending ki" or "extending energy" during their execution. Physically and psychologically, this helps counter the tendency of many people to contract and keep their arms and legs close to their bodies, because aikido is generally practiced with large, sweeping movements

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 jiu-jitsu 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. It is not a static art, but places great emphasis on motion and the dynamics of movement.

Upon closer examination, practitioners will find from Aikido what they are looking for, whether it is applicable self-defence technique, spiritual enlightenment, physical health or peace of mind. O Sensei emphasised the moral and spiritual aspects of this art, placing great weight on the development of harmony and peace. "The Way of Harmony of the Spirit" is one way that "Aikido" may be translated into English. This is still true of Aikido today, although different styles emphasise the more spiritual aspects to greater or lesser degrees. Although the idea of a martial discipline striving for peace and harmony may seem paradoxical, it is the most basic tenet of the art.

We could attempt to pigeonhole Aikido into a synopsis of X number of words, but that would not do it justice, so we leave the practitioner of Aikido to find out what Aikido is for themselves without any preconceived notions.

What are the different styles in Aikido?

There are no 'styles' of Aikido. It is like cheese cake. You can cut it in wedges or squares or just dig in with your fork but it is still cheese cake!

Aikido was originally developed by one man, O Sensei. Many students who trained under O Sensei decided to spread their knowledge of Aikido by opening their own dojos. Due, among other things, to the dynamic nature of Aikido, different students of O Sensei interpreted his Aikido in different ways. Thus different styles of Aikido were born. The more common are listed here along with a brief explanation of what is different about the style. Each style has its own strengths and weaknesses, but all are firmly rooted in the basic concepts which make Aikido the unique art that it is. None should be considered superior or inferior to any other, but rather an individual must find a style which best suits him or her. Outside factors such as geographic location may of course limit one's options.
No matter which style you choose, you are going to be taught that particular instructors interpretation of it, and you yourself are going to develop your own particular Aikido. One might say that there are as many different styles of Aikido as there are practicioners

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Can Aikido be used for self-defence?

"Those who are skilled in combat do not become angered,
those who are skilled at winning do not become afraid.
Thus the wise win before the fight, while the ignorant fight to win."

Yes, Aikido can be a very effective form of self-defence. However, it can take considerable time and effort before Aikido (or any martial art) can be used effectively in a self-defence situation. 

Does Aikido take longer time to master and apply than other martial arts?

"If you knew the time it took me to gain my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful."
Michelangelo

The simple answer is "yes". A year in Karate/Tae Kwon Do/Kempo and you can probably fight much better than before. It takes well over a year before you start feeling comfortable enought with Aikido techniques to imagine using them in "real life".

The complex answer is "no" in the sense that I don't think anyone ever feels like they have "mastered" an art. If they do then they've stopped groing, or the art is too simple. In Funakoshi's autobiography you definitely get the feeling that he doesn't feel like a "master" and is bemused to be considered one.

An old story might tell you some of the mindset you ought to apply when studying martial arts:

A young boy traveled across Japan to the school of a famous martial artist. When he arrived at the dojo he was given an audience by the sensei.
"What do you wish from me?" the master asked.
"I wish to be your student and become the finest kareteka in the land," the boy replied. "How long must I study?"
"Ten years at least," the master answered.
"Ten years is a long time," said the boy. "What if I studied twice as hard as all your other students?"
"Twenty years," replied the master.
"Twenty years! What if I practice day and night with all my effort?"
"Thirty years," was the master's reply.
"How is it that each time I say I will work harder, you tell me that it will take longer?" the boy asked.
"The answer is clear. When one eye is fixed upon your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the Way."

Is Aikido better than karate/judo/any other martial art?

Though there are many paths
At the foot of the mountain
All those who reach the top
See the same moon.

This is an extremely controversial question and has generated much heated debate in forums such as the rec.martial-arts newsgroup.

The answer to this question is very subjective - students of any particular martial art tend to favour that one over any other (otherwise they would probably be studying the other martial art).

There are many different but equally valid reasons for studying any martial art, such as for self defence, for spiritual growth or enlightenment, for general physical health, for self-confidence and more. Different martial arts, and even different styles within a particular martial art, emphasise different aspects.

Hence 'better' really depends on what it is you want out of a martial art. Even given this distinction, it is still a very subjective question so perhaps a better one would be 'Is Aikido better than any other martial art *for me*?'

This can only be answered by the individual asking the question. The rest of this FAQ may help you in some way towards finding that answer.

An alternative way to answer this question is to simply say, 'No, Aikido is not 'better' or 'worse' than any other martial art. It is simply different.'

Can I train an additional martial art while training Aikido?

Eat right, exercise regularly, die anyway.

Yes. There is no problem in training several martial arts at the same time, but there is one thing to watch out for. If you have not gotten yourself a solid base in one martial art first you are going to confuse yourself when you start your second art. The result is (very likely) that your progress in both martial arts is going to be slower than if you trained first one and then another.

What kind of martial art you choose to train in addition to Aikido is of course entirely up to what you yourself like and feel comfortable with. A suggestion is that if you start to train an additional art early, the more different from aikido the better, as you'll probably not be too much confused then.

Does Aikido have competitions?

"I like tall men. I like to turn them into small men."
A Tomiki aikido sensei

It is often said that Aikido does not have any competitions. It is true that the founder of Aikido (Morihei Ueshiba, or O Sensei) felt that competition was incompatible with Aikido, but that does not mean that everyone agrees.

One popular style, Tomiki Aikido, does have competition. It is not however considered to be a fundamental part of the style. On the other hand, the majority of Aikido schools do not have any competition.

Most Aikido training, even in schools with competitions, is of a co-operative rather than antagonistic nature, with both thrower (nage) and throwee (uke) working as partners and trying to optimise the experience of the other.

This "working partnership" is also necessary to a) minimize the chance of injury from practicing (potentially dangerous) aikido techniques, and b) to develop both partners' capacity to "take ukemi" - to be relaxed and able to take care of oneself when responding to "falling" or being thrown in a martial situation.

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Although aikido is a relatively recent innovation within the world of martial arts, it is heir to a rich cultural and philosophical background. Aikido was created in Japan by Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969).Before creating aikido, Ueshiba trained extensively in several varieties of jujitsu, as well as sword and spear fighting. Ueshiba also immersed himself in religious studies and developed an ideology devoted to universal socio-political harmony. Incorporating these principles into his martial art, Ueshiba developed many aspects of aikido in concert with his philosophical and religious ideology.

Aikido is not primarily a system of combat, but rather a means of self-cultivation and improvement. Aikido has no tournaments, competitions, contests, or ``sparring.'' Instead, all aikido techniques are learned cooperatively at a pace commensurate with the abilities of each trainee. According to the founder, the goal of aikido is not the defeat of others, but the defeat of the negative characteristics which inhabit one's own mind and inhibit its functioning.

At the same time, the potential of aikido as a means of self-defense should not be ignored. One reason for the prohibition of competition in aikido is that many aikido techniques would have to be excluded because of their potential to cause serious injury. By training cooperatively, even potentially lethal techniques can be practiced without substantial risk.

It must be emphasized that there are no shortcuts to proficiency in aikido (or in anything else, for that matter). Consequently, attaining proficiency in aikido is simply a matter of sustained and dedicated training. No one becomes an expert in just a few months or years.

History

Aikido's founder, Morihei Ueshiba, was born in Japan on December 14, 1883. As a boy, he often saw local thugs beat up his father for political reasons. He set out to make himself strong so that he could take revenge. He devoted himself to hard physical conditioning and eventually to the practice of martial arts, receiving certificates of mastery in several styles of jujitsu, fencing, and spear fighting. In spite of his impressive physical and martial capabilities, however, he felt very dissatisfied. He began delving into religions in hopes of finding a deeper significance to life, all the while continuing to pursue his studies of budo, or the martial arts. By combining his martial training with his religious and political ideologies, he created the modern martial art of aikido. Ueshiba decided on the name ``aikido'' in 1942 (before that he called his martial art ``aikibudo'' and ``aikinomichi'').

On the technical side, aikido is rooted in several styles of jujitsu (from which modern judo is also derived), in particular daitoryu-(aiki)jujitsu, as well as sword and spear fighting arts. Oversimplifying somewhat, we may say that aikido takes the joint locks and throws from jujitsu and combines them with the body movements of sword and spear fighting. However, we must also realize that many aikido techniques are the result of Master Ueshiba's own innovation.

On the religious side, Ueshiba was a devotee of one of Japan's so-called ``new religions,'' Omotokyo. Omotokyo was (and is) part neo-Shintoism, and part socio-political idealism. One goal of Omotokyo has been the unification of all humanity in a single ``heavenly kingdom on earth'' where all religions would be united under the banner of Omotokyo. It is impossible sufficiently to understand many of O-sensei's writings and sayings without keeping the influence of Omotokyo firmly in mind.

Despite what many people think or claim, there is no unified philosophy of aikido. What there is, instead, is a disorganized and only partially coherent collection of religious, ethical, and metaphysical beliefs which are only more or less shared by aikidoka, and which are either transmitted by word of mouth or found in scattered publications about aikido.

Some examples: ``Aikido is not a way to fight with or defeat enemies; it is a way to reconcile the world and make all human beings one family.'' ``The essence of aikido is the cultivation of ki [a vital force, internal power, mental/spiritual energy].'' ``The secret of aikido is to become one with the universe.'' ``Aikido is primarily a way to achieve physical and psychological self-mastery.'' ``The body is the concrete unification of the physical and spiritual created by the universe.'' And so forth.

At the core of almost all philosophical interpretations of aikido, however, we may identify at least two fundamental threads: (1) A commitment to peaceful resolution of conflict whenever possible. (2) A commitment to self-improvement through aikido training. Training

Aikido practice begins the moment you enter the dojo! Trainees ought to endeavor to observe proper etiquette at all times. It is proper to bow when entering and leaving the dojo, and when coming onto and leaving the mat. Approximately 3-5 minutes before the official start of class, trainees should line up and sit quietly in seiza (kneeling).

The only way to advance in aikido is through regular and continued training. Attendance is not mandatory, but keep in mind that in order to improve in aikido, one probably needs to practice at least twice a week. In addition, insofar as aikido provides a way of cultivating self-discipline, such self-discipline begins with regular attendance.

Your training is your own responsibility. No one is going to take you by the hand and lead you to proficiency in aikido. In particular, it is not the responsibility of the instructor or senior students to see to it that you learn anything. Part of aikido training is learning to observe effectively. Before asking for help, therefore, you should first try to figure the technique out for yourself by watching others.

Aikido training encompasses more than techniques. Training in aikido includes observation and modification of both physical and psychological patterns of thought and behavior. In particular, you must pay attention to the way you react to various sorts of circumstances. Thus part of aikido training is the cultivation of (self-)awareness.

The following point is very important: Aikido training is a cooperative, not competitive, enterprise. Techniques are learned through training with a partner, not an opponent. You must always be careful to practice in such a way that you temper the speed and power of your technique in accordance with the abilities of your partner. Your partner is lending his/her body to you for you to practice on - it is not unreasonable to expect you to take good care of what has been lent you.

Aikido training may sometimes be very frustrating. Learning to cope with this frustration is also a part of aikido training. Practitioners need to observe themselves in order to determine the root of their frustration and dissatisfaction with their progress. Sometimes the cause is a tendency to compare oneself too closely with other trainees. Notice, however, that this is itself a form of competition. It is a fine thing to admire the talents of others and to strive to emulate them, but care should be taken not to allow comparisons with others to foster resentment, or excessive self-criticism.

If at any time during aikido training you become too tired to continue or if an injury prevents you from performing some aikido movement or technique, it is permissible to bow out of practice temporarily until you feel able to continue. If you must leave the mat, ask the instructor for permission.

Answers to Some Common Questions

1. Q: How do ranks and promotions work in aikido, and how come there are no colored belts?

A: According to the standard set by the International Aikido Federation (IAF) and the United States Aikido Federation (USAF), there are 6 ranks below black belt. These ranks are called kyu ranks. In the IAF and USAF, kyu ranks are not usually distinguished by colored belts. Other organizations (and some individual dojo) may use some system of colored belts to signify kyu ranks, however.

Eligibility for testing depends primarily (though not exclusively) upon accumulation of practice hours. Other relevant factors may include a trainee's attitude with respect to others, regularity of attendance, and, in some organizations, contribution to the maintenance of the dojo or dissemination of aikido.

2. Q: What if I can't throw my partner?

A: This is a common question in aikido. There are several answers. First, ask the instructor. Perhaps there is something you are doing incorrectly.

Second, aikido techniques, as we practice them in the dojo, are idealizations. No aikido technique works all the time. Rather, aikido techniques are meant to be sensitive to the specific conditions of an attack. However, since it is often too difficult to cover all the possible condition-dependent variations for a technique, we adopt a general type of attack and learn to respond to it. At more advanced levels of training we may try to see how generalized strategies may be applied to more specific cases.

Third, aikido techniques often take a while to learn to perform correctly. Ask your partner to offer less resistance until you have learned to perform the technique a little better.

Fourth, many aikido techniques cannot be performed effectively without the concomitant application of atemi (a strike delivered to the attacker for the purpose of facilitating the subsequent application of the technique). For safety's sake, atemi is often omitted during practice. Again, ask your partner's cooperation.

3.Q: How would an aikidoka fare against someone trained in karate/-100judo/-100tae kwon do/-100ninjutsu/-100kickboxing/...?

A1: It depends on the specific capabilities of the individuals involved.

A2: Who cares? The purpose of aikido isn't to learn to defeat other martial artists.

A3 (slightly cryptic - think about it): Offense calls for offensive strategies. Defense calls for defensive strategies.

4. Q: How often should I practice?

A: As often or as seldom as you wish. However, a mimimum of two practices per week is advised.

5. Q: How can I practice by myself?

A: Naturally, aikido is best learned with a partner. However, there are a number of ways to pursue solo training in aikido. First, one can practice solo forms (kata) with a jo or bokken. Second, one can ``shadow'' techniques by simply performing the movements of aikido techniques with an imaginary partner. Even purely mental rehearsal of aikido techniques can serve as an effective form of solo training.

Weapons Training

Some dojo hold classes which are devoted almost exclusively to training with to jo (staff), tanto (knife), and bokken (sword); the three principal weapons used in aikido. However, since the goal of aikido is not primarily to learn how to use weapons, trainees are advised to attend a minimum of two non-weapons classes per week if they plan to attend weapons classes.

There are several reasons for weapons training in aikido. First, many aikido movements are derived from classical weapons arts. There is thus a historical rationale for learning weapons movements.

Second, weapons training is helpful for learning proper ma ai, or distancing.

Third, many advanced aikido techniques involve defenses against weapons. In order to ensure that such techniques can be practiced safely, it is important for students to know how to attack properly with weapons, and to defend against such attacks.

Fourth, there are often important principles of aikido movement and technique that may be more easily demonstrated by the use of weapons than without.

Fifth, training in weapons kata is a way of facilitating understanding of general principles of aikido movement.

Sixth, weapons training can add an element of intensity to aikido practice, especially in practicing defenses against weapons attacks.

Seventh, training with weapons provides aikidoka with an opportunity to develop a kind of responsiveness and sensitivity to the movements and actions of others within a format that is usually highly structured. In addition, it is often easier to discard competitive mindsets when engaged in weapons training, making it easier to focus on cognitive development.

Finally, weapons training is an excellent way to learn principles governing lines of attack and defense. All aikido techniques begin with the defender moving off the line of attack and then creating a new line (often a non-straight line) for application of an aikido technique.

About Bowing

 

It is common for people to ask about the practice of bowing in aikido. In particular, many people are concerned that bowing may have some religious significance. It does not. In Western culture, it is considered proper to shake hands when greeting someone for the first time, to say ``please'' when making a request, and to say ``thank you'' to express gratitude. In Japanese culture, bowing (at least partly) may fulfill all these functions.

Incorporating this particular aspect of Japanese culture into our aikido practice serves several purposes:

It inculcates a familiarity with an important aspect of Japanese culture in aikido practitioners. This is especially important for anyone who may wish, at some time, to travel to Japan to practice aikido. There is also a case to be made for simply broadening one's cultural horizons.

Bowing may be an expression of respect. As such, it indicates an open-minded attitude and a willingness to learn from one's teachers and fellow students.

Bowing to a partner may serve to remind you that your partner is a person - not a practice dummy. Always train within the limits of your partner's abilities.

The initial bow, which signifies the beginning of formal practice, is much like a ``ready, begin'' uttered at the beginning of an examination. So long as class is in session, you should behave in accordance with certain standards of deportment. Aikido class should be somewhat like a world unto itself. While in this ``world,'' your attention should be focussed on the practice of aikido. Bowing out is like signaling a return to the ``ordinary'' world.

When bowing either to the instructor at the beginning of practice or to one's partner at the beginning of a technique it is considered proper to say ``onegai shimasu'' (lit. ``I request a favor'') and when bowing either to the instructor at the end of class or to one's partner at the end of a technique it is considered proper to say ``domo arigato gozaimashita'' (``thank you'').

Training the Mind in Aikido

 

The founder (Morihei Ueshiba) intended aikido to be far more than a system of techniques for self-defense. His intention was to fuse his martial art to a set of ethical, social, and dispositional ideals. Ueshiba hoped that by training in aikido, people would perfect themselves spiritually as well as physically. It is not immediately obvious, however, just how practicing aikido is supposed to result in any spiritual (= psycho-physical) transformation. Furthermore, many other arts have claimed to be vehicles for carrying their practitioners to enlightenment or psycho-physical transformation. We may legitimately wonder, then, whether, or how, aikido differs from other arts in respect of transformative effect.

It should be clear that any transformative power of aikido, if such exists at all, must not reside in the performance of physical techniques alone. Rather, if aikido is to provide a vehicle for self-improvement and psycho-physical transformation along the lines envisioned by the founder, the practitioner of aikido must adopt certain attitudes toward aikido training and must strive to cultivate certain sorts of cognitive dispositions.

Classically, those arts which claim to provide a transformative framework for their practitioners are rooted in religious and philosophical traditions such as Buddhism and Taoism (the influence of Shinto on Japanese arts is usually comparatively small). In Japan, Zen Buddhism exercised the strongest influence on the development of transformative arts. Although Morihei Ueshiba was far less influenced by Taoism and Zen than by the ``new religion,'' Omotokyo, it is certainly possible to incorporate aspects of Zen and Taoist philosophy and practice into aikido. Moreover, Omotokyo is largely rooted in a complex structure of neo-Shinto mystical concepts and beliefs. It would be wildly implausible to suppose that adoption of this structure is a necessary condition for psycho-physical transformation through aikido.

So far as the incorporation of Zen and Taoist practices and philosophies into aikido is concerned, psycho-physical transformation through the practice of aikido will be little different from psycho-physical transformation through the practice of arts such as karate, kyudo, and tea ceremony. All these arts have in common the goal of instilling in their practitioners cognitive equanimity, spontaneity of action/response, and receptivity to the character of things just as they are (shinnyo). The primary means for producing these sorts of dispositions in trainees is a two-fold focus on repetition of the fundamental movements and positions of the art, and on preserving mindfulness in practice.

The fact that aikido training is always cooperative provides another locus for construing personal transformation through aikido. Cooperative training facilitates the abandonment of a competitive mind-set which reinforces the perception of self-other dichotomies. Cooperative training also instills a regard for the safety and well-being of one's partner. This attitude of concern for others is then to be extended to other situations than the practice of aikido. In other words, the cooperative framework for aikido practice is supposed to translate directly into a framework for ethical behavior in one's daily life.

A Note on ki

The concept of ki is one of the most difficult associated with the philosophy and practice of aikido. Since the word ``aikido'' means something like ``the way of harmony with ki,'' it is hardly surprising that many aikidoka are interested in understanding just what ki is supposed to be. Etymologically, the word ``ki'' derives from the Chinese ``chi.'' In Chinese philosophy, chi was originally supposed to be that which differentiated living and non-living things. But as Chinese philosophy developed, the concept of chi took on a wider and wider range of meanings and applications.

Ukemi - Break Falling

Break-falling allows you to fall without injuring yourself and especially protects your head. The three basic directions are forwards, backwards, and sideways. To begin, practice ukemi from seiza no kamae (kneeling) and ensui no kamae (squatting posture). Once simple break-falling from different heights and positions has been mastered, other applications such as silent break-falling, break-falling with a weapon, break-falling followed by a roll, picking up objects, changing your direction, being pushed, and break-falling accompanied with a punch or kick or both, may be attempted. Different Ryu-ha have different break-falls or none at all. What is described here is just one way of falling in each direction.

Zenpo Ukemi - from shizen no kamae either fall forwards or throw yourself forward by kicking one leg out to the rear. At the last instance before impact bring your arms out in front of you. Place one hand on top of the other so that they cross about a foot in front of your face. Land flat on the bottom of your forearms and palms so that the entire surface of both arms hits the ground at the same time. The only parts of your body that should be touching the ground are your forearms, palms, and toes of the feet or foot kept on the ground. The raised leg may be used to kick on the way down and acts as a shock absorber. From this position you may roll forwards or sideways by throwing the raised leg over the bottom leg. You should also be able to spring back up instantly and kick etc. The most important thing is that all parts of your forearm and palms hit the ground at the same instant and that you relax by breathing out.

Koho Ukemi - from shizen no kamae fall backwards or kick one leg straight out and bend the other knee to take you down and backwards as fast and hard as possible. To break your fall, bend your knees to lower yourself (if possible) and slightly curve your back so that your entire back does not hit at the same time - your buttocks should hit first and your shoulders last (as though you are rolling) if possible. Use your arms at 45 from your body, palms down, to help cushion your fall. The hands and arms should not be slapped onto the ground. Slightly lift your hands so that they do not make connact with the groung as the rest of the arms (elbows slightly bent) progressivly rocks onto the ground. The arms should be positioned to make your shoulderblades stick out to help lift your head off the ground. From here either roll backwards over one shoulder using your hands to push you up and back thereby creating more distance; or throw your arms up and forward to help you stand back up. As usual, position the arms at the last instant, keep your head off the ground, and relax.

Sokuho Ukemi - from Shizen no kamae fall sideways or cross one leg horizontally in front of the other whilst bending your other knee. This will take you quickly to the ground on your side. To break your impact use the entire underside of the arm closest to the ground at a 45 angle to your body and the other hand by crossing it near the grounded elbow, both palms facing down. The underside of your arm and palm must be positioned at the last instance and hit the ground simultaneously. From here roll sideways over your shoulders. Remember to keep your head up off the ground and to relax.

 

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