Aikido has its origins in the centuries-old traditions of the Japanese martial arts. It is a form of budo—a way of life that seeks to polish the self through a blend of rigorous physical training and spiritual discipline.
The term aikido was coined in 1942 by Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969), who had spent many years practicing traditional martial arts, including the techniques of the sword, spear, and staff. Master Ueshiba became known as one of the most powerful warriors in Japan, but after a while he began to have doubts concerning the apparent rationale of the martial arts and the character of most of the martial artists of the time. The arts appeared to be directed solely toward the goal of fighting and winning over others; and the martial artists wished only to gain top honors and reputations, regardless of the costs or consequences. It seemed a never-ending cycle of winning and losing, where the strongest today would be defeated tomorrow by someone even stronger.
To resolve his conflicts regarding the martial arts, Master Ueshiba studied various spiritual and philosophical disciplines of Japan with the same vast energies he had previously brought to the martial arts.
Eventually he came to believe that the true meaning of the martial arts was to protect. He concluded that every living creature has the inherent right to grow and develop without interference and that the mission of the martial arts was to safeguard this right and to forestall destructive conflicts. This spirit of protection extended even to an aggressor. The martial arts of the time were unsuitable for this. What was needed was a new martial art. The time came when Master Ueshiba was able to reconcile and synthesize his physical skills with his spiritual understanding. The result was aikido.
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Aikido offers a way to empower the human spirit by attuning us to the natural rhythms of the universe. Its movement is the movement of the universal energy forces. The motions of aikido reflect the ebbs and flows, the curves, waves, and spirals found in nature.
Of prime concern in aikido is the force of gravity. The practice of aikido trains students to relax and align their bodies so that the weight of the various parts falls or is directed to a common center in the lower abdominal area. This allows the individual to gain support from rather than oppose the force of gravity.
This centering is as much a mental process as a physical one. Practicing aikido teaches one to coordinate and unify the mind and body so that one can function unaffected by an outside negative force or influence, whether it be a physical attack or some form of mental aggravation.
The movements of aikido are designed to keep a physical attack from interfering with this unified state, and the techniques which evolve from these movements use centrifugal and centripetal forces to bring an attacker under your control.
The basic posture of aikido is triangular; its movements are spherical. Even when the direction is straight backward or forward, the bodily movement is rotational. When the spherical movements of aikido are properly executed, the forces exerted by individual parts are joined around a stable center. As a result, each individual part is supported by the whole, and the whole is able to react to the force applied to any individual part, much as a windmill responds to the slightest pressure against any one of its vanes.
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Self-understanding—Freed from the pressures which accompany all forms of competitive sports, aikido enables you to focus on your personal responses to physical challenges and your ability to relate constructively to others. In the words of aikido's founder, "The only true victory is the victory over the self." Aikido training thus provides a protected space in which to learn about your potentials for pettiness and nobility, for anxiety and calm, for distraction and concentration.
Mental relaxation—Physical tenseness breeds mental tension. Thus, when one learns to relax the body, there is a corresponding relaxation of mental tension which allows the mind to be properly centered or focused.
The techniques of aikido—avoidance, control, neutralization—are characterized by a relaxed body, calm mind, integrated breath, and extension of natural energy. When mind and body are jointly relaxed and centered, a superior form of functioning begins to manifest itself. One becomes less reactive to those everyday irritations which interfere with efficiency and enjoyment. In addition to offering an outlet which helps you recover from stress overload, aikido teaches ways to keep otherwise stressful stimuli from getting you agitated in the first place.
Physical fitness—Aikido's emphasis on an alert mind and a calm body also enhances general good health. The effect of aikido in reducing emotions like anger, enmity, and resentment strengthens the body's immune system. So does its extensive practice of rolling, which also provides deep stimulation to the inner organs and thereby regenerates them. Unlike many other physical disciplines, which cultivate special parts of the body, aikido tones the entire body. Its wide range of movements provides aerobic, flexibility, strength, and endurance conditioning.
Aesthetic enjoyment—Aikido movements are flowing and graceful. They are a pleasure to behold and, after the inevitable awkwardness of beginners, to perform. The harmonious coordination of movements among two or more individuals produces enjoyable choreographic effects.
Good company—People who train in aikido relate to one another on and off the mat in a friendly, supportive way. The training community can become an important source of social stimulation and support.
An ethical approach to self-defense—In its practical application, aikido is an art of self-defense. It is designed to relate ethically to defense against an unprovoked attack. Using aikido properly, an unjust and violent aggression can be neutralized swiftly and cleanly with demonstrable control over all the aspects of attack and defense—so that effective self-defense becomes possible without the necessity for inflicting serious injury.
Spiritual integration—Many students of aikido stress its function in promoting spiritual harmony: harmony within the individual, with our fellow human beings, and with transcending spiritual energies, however one chooses to think of them.
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