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Aikido

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by Fumiaki Shishida

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The following article has been used with the kind permission of Seiji Tanaka Sensei of the Japan Aikido Association.

Aikido

Fumiaki Shishida Sensei

Aikido is a Japanese martial art that includes techniques for bare-handed wrestling, using weapons, and dealing with the armed enemy. It was promoted throughout Japan by Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969). Aikido is known for its joint-twisting and pinning techniques (kansetsu-waza) and its thrusting and stunning blows (atemi-waza). The advanced student is a master of techniques to break the opponent’s balance or ward off a thrust or grasp. Aikido techniques have the power to kill or injure, but fundamentally their purpose is to seize and control the opponent. All of the principles of swordsmanship (eye contact, proper distance, timing, and cutting methods) are incorporated into aikido movements. The methods of training and spiritual teachings vary from school to school. Ueshiba learned several different kinds of martial arts during his lifetime, but the major techniques of aikido were derived from the Daito-ryu Jujutsu style, which he learned from Sokaku Takeda (1860-1943) in Shirataki, Hokkaido between 1915 and 1919. Takeda stood only about four feet, nine inches (1.45 meters) all, but he had an extremely strong personality and was an outstandingly gifted jujutsu practitioner. Ueshiba developed his own techniques and named the resulting style”aikido”, since he believed his methods were different from his teacher’s both philosophically and technically. He also needed different nomenclature for his martial art to be economically independent from Takeda.

In 1919, Ueshiba moved to Ayabe, Kyoto and started to train as a live-in disciple of Onisaburo Deguchi (1871-1948), a master of a new Shintoism school called Omoto-kyo. There, Ueshiba taught Daito-ryu Jujutsu and engaged in religious services. From that point, Deguchi’s Omoto-kyo doctrines became Ueshiba’s personal spiritual basis.

In 1922, Takeda visited Ueshiba in Ayabe and coached him further in martial arts during his six-month visit. Upon leaving Ayabe, he granted Ueshiba credentials as an acting instructor of Daito-ryu Aiki Jujutsu. Takeda then changed the official name of his school from Daito-ryu Jujutsu to Daito-ryu Aiki Jujutsu, and Ueshiba followed suit, teaching his martial arts under this new name until about 1935.

At that time, the popularity of Omoto-kyo was spreading across the country, and some high-ranking Japanese naval officers who went to the school in Ayabe also came to have an interest in Ueshiba’s martial arts, which were still being taught on the sacred grounds of Omoto-kyo in Ayabe. Some of the officers passed on information about Ueshiba’s school to Isamu Takeshita (1869-1949), a retired admiral in Tokyo, the capital. In 1925, Takeshita saw a demonstration of Ueshiba’s Daito-ryu Aiki Jujutsu techniques for the first time and was so impressed that he took up the practice and continued it for the rest of his life. With Takeshita’s tremendous support and Deguchi’s approval, Ueshiba left Ayabe and moved to Tokyo.

In the capital, Takeshita introduced Ueshiba to influential people in military, financial, and political circles, as well as people connected to the imperial household, even organizing a society to support his martial arts teacher. This enabled Ueshiba to become entirely independent from Takeda and Daito-ryu Aiki Jujutsu. During this process, in 1928, Ueshiba changed the name of his martial arts school to Aioi-ryu Aiki Bujutsu. He again renamed his school Aiki-Budo or Ko-Budo, and finally settled with aikido in 1942. Aikido became an official term when it was approved at a conference of the Dai-Nippon Butoku- Kai, the association of all martial arts in Japan.

Like Takeda, Ueshiba had a strong personality and excellent technique and his genius received full attention following Takeda’s death after World War II. He and his gifted disciples are responsible for the current position of aikido as a popular Japanese martial art.

Aiki and Daito-ryu Aiki Jujutsu

Aiki, the core concept of aikido, can be traced back to martial arts literature of the Edo era. According to Toka Mondo (Candlelight Discussion), written by the master of Kito-ryu Jujutsu in 1764, aiki means that two fighters come to a standstill in a martial arts bout when they have focused their attention on each other’s breathing. Many other authors in the 1800’s gave similar definitions. However, the volume entitled Budo-hiketsu Aiki no Jutsu (Secret Keys to Martial Arts Techniques) published in 1892 gave a new definition of the term. It says that aiki is the ultimate goal in the study of martial arts and may be accomplished by “taking a step ahead of the enemy.” According to the volume, the prerequisites for such a preemptive move are to read the enemy’s mind and use a battle cry. Unfortunately, no details on specific exercises have been recorded.

It is no longer possible to reconstruct the precise definition of aiki in the Daito-ryu school of jujutsu. This is primarily because Takeda closely guarded his technical secrets, as earlier martial arts practitioners had done, and chose not to transcribe his teachings in written form. However, Nenokichi Sagawa, one of Takeda’s closest followers, mentions that it was mentioned sporadically in Takeda’s 1913 notebook, “Exercise aiki”. This suggests that Daito-ryu Jujutsu practitioners had used the term aiki and practiced techniques developed through this concept even before they changed the name of their school to Daito-ryu Aiki Jujutsu. Nevertheless, Takeda’s failure to leave a clear-cut definition of aiki led to ambiguity in Ueshiba’s interpretation, although Takeda still appointed Ueshiba to the important post of acting instructor. Later, as Ueshiba’s school grew, his disciples and followers added some new meanings to aiki to compensate for the ambiguity. Since the term is composed of a combination of two Chinese characters-ai (unification) and ki (spirit or mind: they decided that aikido is a way to become one with the universe or harmonize with the movement and rhythm of nature.

Ueshiba was only one of many Daito-ryu Jujutsu instructors who graduated from Takeda’s school. There are many outstanding practitioners who trained with him and later organized their own schools under the name Daito-ryu Aiki Jujutsu. Taiso Horikawa and his son Kodo Horikawa (1894-1980) are prime examples. Kodo organized Kodo-kai in 1950. Another school called Roppo-kai is a splinter group of Kodo- kai. Takuma Hisa (1895-1979) was the only person to whom Takeda granted menkyo kaiden (the highest- level teaching credentials) in Daito-ryu Aiki Jujutsu. This loyal student initiated Daito-ryu Aiki Jujutsu Takuma-kai in 1975. Toshimi Matsuda (1895-?) was another talented student of Takeda. Ryuho Okuyama, one of Matsuda’s students, later established Hakko- ryu. Yukiyoshi Sagawa (1902- ), another highly credited practitioner, is now teaching his martial arts techniques to followers under the name Daito-ryu Aiki Bujutsu. Tokimune Takeda (1916-1993), one of Sokaku Takeda’s sons, had started teaching Daito- ryu Aiki Budo in a combined form of Daito-ryu Aiki Jujutsu and Ono-ha Itto-ryu Kenjutsu (swordsmanship). However, after his death, the organization was split into several minor schools.

Popularization

Aiki-kai

Aiki-kai, the association founded by Morihei Ueshiba, has been promoted all over the world since World War II, and is said to have the greatest number of followers compared with other schools of aikido. This is due to the ceaseless efforts of Ueshiba’s son, Kisshomaru (1921- ), and those of Kisshomaru’s full-time disciples. Kisshomaru inherited his father’s foundation and ran it on the assumption that Morihei Ueshiba had come late in life to advocate a spiritual nobility in aikido that he believed would enable man to become one with the universe and, in contrast to what he had pursued before the war, had condemned meaningless competition. Kisshomaru has gone a step further to claim that there should not be any kind of competition in aikido-a stance in sharp contrast with judo and kendo (swordsmanship) promoters who have tried to develop their martial arts as systematic athletic events. The younger Ueshiba has demanded that his students practice aikido only for self-discipline and to seek the truth. This pacifist policy has come to be widely accepted, but some of Morihei Ueshiba’s most distinguished disciples have disagreed with Kisshomaru and left his school to establish their own. Some of these are mentioned below.

JAA (Japan Aikido Association)

Kenji Tomiki (1900-1979) founded the JAA in 1974. Tomiki, who joined Morihei Ueshiba in 1926, in 1940 became the first person to receive the eighth dan degree, the highest-level teaching credentials, from the master. Afterward, Tomiki became a professor of physical education and created a randori (training match) system of aikido. However, his new proposal caused a sharp conflict of opinions on what aikido should be.

Yoshin-kan

Gozo Shioda (1915-1994), who had trained at Kobu- kan (an old name for Ueshiba’s school) since 1932, founded his own school in Tokyo with the backup of business concerns. He developed a new practice system with an emphasis on mastery of basic techniques and a stratagem for street combat. He also made a great contribution to the promotion of aikido after World War II.

Ki no Kenkyu-kai (Ki Society)

Koichi Tohei (1920- ) joined Kobu-kan in 1940 and later became chief instructor in Aiki-kai. Consequently, he was once seriously considered to be Morihei Ueshiba’s successor. But when hewas offered the position at Ueshiba’s death, he declined and gave it up to Kisshomaru Ueshiba. Later, however, Tohei and Kisshomaru disagreed on instruction methods and began to struggle for leadership. Tohei founded the Ki Society and left Aiki Kai in 1974. He describes aikido as a way to assimilate man into the “Ki” of the universe.

Yosei-kan

Minoru Mochizuki (1907- ) started training with Morihei Ueshiba in 1930 on the recommendation of Jigoro Kano (founder of Kodo-kan Judo). He studied aikido as a live-in disciple of Ueshiba. Then he built Yosei-kan in Shizuoka, where he developed a unique system for all-around martial arts training with integrated judo and karate techniques.

Other Aikido Schools

Noriaki Inoue (1902-1994), Morihei Ueshiba’s nephew, initiated the foundation of Shinei-Taido. He and Ueshiba were both followers of Omoto-kyo, but after a 1935 police crackdown on the practice they disagreed on how to cope with religious oppression. So, he left Ueshiba and opened anew school of aikido. Kanshu Sunadomari (1923- ) founded Mansei-kan in Kumamoto. He published several books on aikido spirit and breathing power. Minoru Hirai (1903- ), who became general manager of Kobu-kan at Ueshiba’s request in 1942 and continued to support Ueshiba until after World War II, opened Korindo. Kenji Shimizu (1940- ), a live-in disciple of Ueshiba in the latter’s twilight years, established Tendo-ryu. Technically speaking, the existence of many excellent aikido instructors with varying characteristics and backgrounds has made present-day aikido much more colorful than ever before. But, unfortunately, there is virtually no communication between the different schools.

Aikido as an Athletic Event

It is worthwhile to consider why judo and kendo have established completely unified associations, while aikido, like its forerunner, Daito-ryu Jujutsu, has been divided into many small groups. Judo and kendo federations have been able to maintain solid bonds because they have both developed a”training match” system so that all practitioners, regardless of their styles and schools, can meet and compete with each other based on the same rules. By participating in the same tournaments, they are able to measure their improvement objectively. Different kendo schools have come to organize a joint committee and hold unified tournaments while preserving their individual characteristics. They do this by teaching original techniques to their followers by means of kata (a practice of basic forms in martial arts). Nationwide- and sometimes worldwide-tournamentshave brought different groups into contact. As far as judo is concerned, everyone has learned the same Kodo-kan judo, in which they practice randori and kata simultaneously. This uniformity has produced virtually no factional divergence.

On the other hand, Ueshiba, since the time of Daito-ryu Jujutsu, always encouraged his students to devote themselves to solitary, repetitive kata practice. The implication is that the absence of an objective method to measure students’ skills and strength has resulted in the phenomenal growth of different styles andschools, each of which has different philosophies and training methods. They do not try to understand eachother’s spiritual principles, causing miscommunication and mistrust among members of different organizations. It is ironic that aikido, which was originally meant tobe a “martial arts of harmony and unification”, is currently suffering this chaotic division.

As one solution to this problem, Kenji Tomiki incorporated randori practice into aikido in 1960. He advocated an integrated training process using kata and randori, claiming that aikido should be reformed as a competitive athletic event like modern judo and kendo. Tomiki proposed a system for randori aikido modeled on judo and kendo, two martial arts that were being taught in regular physical-education classes in Japanese schools. He argued that it was the only way to promote aikido. He came up with his idea when he was studying the history of kendo. In most kendo schools, kata practice had been the only way to teach or learn kendo techniques until about 1750. Then some instructors developed a training-match system with a bamboo stick and protective gear, which gained popularity with time and finally constituted the bulk of kendo training. However, although Tomiki’s proposal made good sense to teachers of other martial arts, Ueshiba and his followers rejected it. Therefore, he established the Japan Aikido Association as an entity separate from Aiki-kai.

Aikido in Other Countries

The increasing popularity of aikido is attributable to Aiki-kai and other aikido schools’ activities outside Japan. Stanley Pranin, editor of the internationally circulated aikido magazine Aiki Journal, reported that as of 1993 aikido had the greatest numbers of followers in France, the United States, Japan, Germany, and England, in that order. Miinoru Mochizuki was the first person to teach aikido in France. He coached French people in martial arts from 1951 to 1953. Then Tadashi Abe and Nobuyoshi Tamura of Aiki-kai followed in his footsteps. The promotion of aikido in France was carried out in affiliation with the French Judo Federation, making it easier for French aikido instructors to receive governmental subsidies and to rent fully equipped gymnasiums at minimal cost. Consequently, tuition is reasonable, which has also helped to draw followers. Some of the students have chosen to be professional aikido instructors, and aikido schools have sprung up everywhere. According to the membership lists of two major aikido associations in France (Pranin, 1993), there are more than 2,500 schools in that country.

Aikido was first introduced to the United States by Kenji Tomiki in 1952 when he traveled through 15 states with a team of judo instructors. In the same year, Koichi Tohei taught aikido in Hawaii for the first time. They were regarded as two of the best instructors in Aiki-kai at the time. Tohei, in particular, laid the groundwork for the further promotion of aikido in the United States by making return visits to Hawaii. Yoshimitsu Yamada and other younger instructors contributed to the rapid popularization of aikido in North America in the late 1960s. In 1993, Pranin estimated the number of U.S. aikido schools at anywhere between 1,200 and 1,500. The same year, there were 1,300 to 1,600 aikido schools in Japan, but the number of students enrolled at each school is generally smaller, making Japan come in third after France and the United States in world rankings.

Aiki-kai established the International Aikido Federation in 1976 with affiliated clubs and schools located in 29 countries. Then, Yoshin-kan founded the International Yoshin-kan Aikido Federation in 1990. In 1993, the JAA initiated the Tomiki Aikido International Network (TAIN) represented in nine countries. The TAIN has held an international aikido competition every two years since 1989. Other aikido schools have also been engaged in active promotions of their own and have been steadily expanding their territories. But in terms of membership and political influence, Aiki-kai is currently the greatest aikido organization in the world.

The most obvious reasons for Aiki-kai’s progressive popularity seems to be its instructors unsparing efforts and enthusiasm. From the very beginning, no instructors were able to make a living by teaching aikido. They all had to find outside jobs to support themselves, so most of the young wrestlers who demonstrated excellence while they were students decided to stop training and look for regular jobs when they graduated. However, there were still many people in Aiki-kai who were so dedicated that they chose to travel around the world as volunteer instructors. On the other hand, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, burning with ambition to expand his organization, kept founding new aikido clubs at Japanese universities and businesses. With their ceaseless efforts, Kisshomaru and the pioneers who taught aikido abroad have come is made up mainly of kata practice, which is well-suited for both the elderly or female trainees who learn aikido for physical fitness or self-defense. Also, people in Western countries have come to accept this type of aikido as a way of Zen meditation or as a way to gain insight into the mysticism and philosophies of the East. Such interest of a cultural nature has helped make aikido even more popular.

However, today’s aikido associations are faced with two major problems. One concerns diversification. Traditionally, the Japanese people are inclined to favor a school of great prestige and authority. But recently, even the Japanese are beginning to make their judgments based on cultural relativism-a philosophy centered on accepting different values shared by people in other parts of the world. And there is a new trend among young people to join an aikido school operated by a truly gifted teacher with a likable personality instead of choosing a large and traditionally credited school. In the long run, such a trend may present a challenge to the gigantic aikido organizations that have always enjoyed such authority.

The second problem concerns some aikido schools’ rigid policy of prohibiting competition. Now that students in general are beginning to show an interest in competitive aikido, it will be increasingly difficult for the traditional schools to justify this policy. It is true that competitive aikido has a “negative” side in that contestants have a tendency to place priority on winning. But it also offers the trainees a wonderful opportunity to develop unflinching courage, a tense and serious attitude, and practical skills for self- defense. Games and toumaments are an excellent form of socialization. Not only do competing wrestlers sometimes form friendships among themselves, they also leam to demonstrate courtesy and manners toward their opponents. Despite these benefits, the traditional ban on aikido competition presents a large obstacle to the process of making aikido an Olympic event. However, an increasing number of groups like TAIN are hard atwork to organize international tournaments.

The above article was written for a sports encyclopedia by Sensei Fumiaki Shishida, 7th Dan. Shishida Sensei is a Professor at Waseda University, Tokyo, where he instructs Tomiki Sensei’s original Aikido Club. He is Shodokan Aikido’s Shihan for the Kanto, or Western Japan. In addition to his duties as a professor and as an Aikido sensei, Shishida Shihan is also a noted martial arts historian, focusing on the first half of the 20th Century.

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