Aikido is a modern martial art with roots that stretch far back into Japan’s history. The creator of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969), synthesized the art out of the knowledge he had acquired from his extensive practice of a wide variety of Japanese martial arts, such as the Tenjin Shinyo-ryu, Yagyu-ryu, and Daito-ryu schools of jujitsu, as well as various martial systems of sword and staff. Morihei Ueshiba, who is usually referred to as "O’Sensei" ("Great Teacher"), developed Aikido specifically as a non-competitive martial art, hoping to create a system based on bushido (the traditional samurai code of honor) that would enable practitioners to compete with themselves rather than with each other, discourage an atmosphere of competition, and encourage all members of the dojo (school) to support each other in developing as martial artists and human beings. He continued to refine Aikido over the course of his life, creating a martial art that is accessible to beginners but still a continual source of insight for those with many years of training.
On a purely technical level, Aikido utilizes a wide range of joint locks, hip throws, and pins in response to the attacks of one’s opponent. Aikido consists of much more than just these, however; timing, balance, and breathing are all crucial elements in the practice of the art and the execution of any given technique. Rather than meeting force with force head on, through proper posture, balance, motion, and breathing, one learns to blend one’s force with that of the would-be attacker, thereby taking control of the force and direction of the attack, and making these a part of the unfolding technique. This idea of blending rather than clashing, of moving with the attacker rather than against him or her, lies at the very heart of the art, and is apparent even in its name--"Aikido"--which can be loosely translated as the "Way of harmonizing with the universe."
This emphasis on blending rather than clashing is also reflected in the way one learns and practices Aikido. Although it is possible to speak of an "attacker" and a "defender" in regard to any given technique, in the dojo, all students are partners. Such cooperative spirit in training allows students to learn Aikido without trying to defeat their partner. Approaching practice as a competition not only impedes one’s progress in learning Aikido, but also can be dangerous. Cooperative spirit in practice creates a friendly, welcoming atmosphere, in which people of different genders, ages, and physical capacities can come together to learn Aikido and help each other along the path to a greater understanding of its principles.
The health benefits of Aikido are numerous. Aikido’s emphasis on proper breathing, balance, and posture results in the steady improvement of physical and mental conditioning in one's daily life, and provides a sense of being energized and centered. Although each Aikidoist practices at a pace that is consistent with their rank and physical and mental ability, and beginners must gradually build endurance, Aikido practices soon becomes aerobic workouts.
It is difficult to offer a general description of the psychological benefits to be gained through practicing Aikido, since these are no doubt as numerous and varied as the personalities of those practicing it. On the most mundane level, perhaps, the level of concentration that a person gradually learns to bring to their practice of Aikido techniques, focusing on various aspects of their own bodies and movements, as well as those of their partner, has the effect of increasing one’s bodily awareness and power of concentration. The lack of competition in the dojo, as well as the emphasis on blending with an attack rather than meeting force with force, gradually helps one adopt a less antagonistic attitude towards situations of conflict, whether physical or emotional. Furthermore, the sense of well-being and contentment one finds in working out with close friends in a lively dojo is one of the many benefits of practicing Aikido.
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