Aikido was created in Japan by Morihei Ueshiba (called by Aikidoists by the respectful title "O Sensei" or "great teacher") over the period of the 1930s to the 1960s. It is a defensive art, in which the defender redirects the attacker's motion and energy back into the attacker. It is practiced by men and women of any size or age. It is one of the more difficult of the martial arts and it takes about 10 years of practice to really be able to defend oneself.
The name Aikido is formed of 3 Japanese characters, 合氣道, often translated as meaning Harmony, Energy and Way (or Method), so Aikido can be translated as meaning 'The Way of Harmony with Energy', and draws attention to the fact that Aikido's techniques are designed to control an attacker by controlling their energy and not by blocking it. An analogy is often made of the way a flexible willow bends with the storm whereas the stout oak will break if the wind force is too high.
Mr. Ueshiba developed Aikido from daito ryu aikijutsu, incorporating the training movements of Yari (spear), Jo (a short staff), and Juken (Bayonet). Daito ryu had strong influence from sword schools, as result, many of the flowing movements of the Bokken, a wooden Katana or "samurai sword" have been translated into unarmed aikido defense. Traditional Aikido training is mainly unarmed practice, but the three weapons, sword, staff and knife (usually wooden training weapons) often play an important part. Some styles place less importance on weapons training than others.
The roots of Aikido as a sword art play an important role in the development of the techniques. Most aikido techniques can be performed equally well either unarmed or armed with a sword. This also bears on the fact that aikido techniques rarely involve blocking an opponents strike, as if the opponent were armed with a weapon the blocking limb would be severed.
The major styles of aikido each have their own Hombu Dojo in Japan these define their various syllabi. Aikido was brought to the United States in the 1960s, to Australia in 1965 and to many other countries. Today there are many aikido dojos available to train at throughout the world, including Japan, France, Britain, Ireland, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Switzerland and many other places.
Aikido as formulated by O Sensei is not a sport and competition is not allowed in traditional aikido. Partners work together so each can perfect their technique and progress in rank is made by demonstrating techniques with a partner who is not an opponent in the sense of sporting opponents. However, there are a number of styles of sports Aikido. Aikido training can be a very vigorous cardiovascular workout and improves flexibility.
Aikido tends to place more emphasis on kata training than more competetive or sports orientated martial arts. In kata training. the objective of the student is to perfectly copy the style demonstrated by their teacher during a series of formal set movements. In aikido training the student's object is still to copy the teacher but the teacher has great liberty to decide what techniques to teach and how to teach them, so no two aikido classes will be the same. There are competitive aikido styles (principally Shodokan) but even these tend to compete to train rather than train to compete. So kata still dominate their syllabi though to a lesser extent.
Aikidoists (Aikidoka) train together as partners. The "attacker" (uke) initiates an attack against the "defender" (nage), who neutralizes it with an aikido technique. In practice, uke generally attacks nage 4 times and then the roles are reversed and uke becomes nage for 4 times. In a 1 hour training session, 5 or 6 techniques may be practiced.
Aikdo practice attacks include various standardized strikes and grabs. There are generally 3 parts to an aikido defensive technique. First nage avoids the attack by either moving away from uke ("tenkan", turning), or moving inside the attack, close to uke ("irimi", entering). Second, nage takes uke's balance away from him. Third, nage either throws uke or uses a wrist arm or leg lock to bring uke down to the mat.
Aikido emphasizes that while nage executes the aikido defense and theoretically "wins" each encounter, uke is also gaining valuable experience in coping gracefully with being repeatedly "thrown" or subjected to locks. In a real-life encounter an experienced Aikidoka should instantly return to a poised and ready standing position automatically upon being thrown.
As with most martial arts, Aikido is not without differences of opinion. Over time instructors have split off from mainstream hombu Aikido to go their own way, and this has resulted in a great diversity of Aikido styles. For example, at one extreme of training is the approach followed by the Ki Society, which emphasises very soft flowing techniques with very few blows. At another extreme are styles of Aikido with very martial and physical techniques -- "Aiki Jujutsu" is often used to describe this style of Aikido. Most Aikido schools are somewhere in between.
"Ki" in Aikido
No article about Aikido can be complete without a discussion of the concept of Ki.
(From Aikido FAQ): "you may not believe in Ki, but you sure as hell cultivate it" 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'.