judo aikido

Aiki is a key component of aikido and aikijujutsu, two martial arts that have very different fighting philosophies. Journey back in time and find out how that came to be.

What’s so aiki about peace, love and understanding? Aikido is one of the best-known martial arts in the world, yet the meaning of the word aiki is not well understood. Most people, including many of the 1 million who study aikido today, are probably familiar with Morihei Ueshiba’s famous interpretation — namely, universal love and harmony. In the classical Japanese martial arts, however, it has a different — and definitely more combative — meaning. Ueshiba’s own jujitsu teacher Sogaku Takeda defined aiki as “the ability to defeat an enemy with a single glance.” So which one is right? Hanza hantachi techniques performed from a seated position against a standing opponent (above) are found in daito-ryu aikijujutsu and aikido. They’re said to have originated from methods used to fight inside a palace, where much time was spent seated. Koryu Bujutsu and Aiki The concept of aiki can be found in some of Japan’s koryu bujutsu, or classical martial arts, and should not be thought of as unique to aikido. However, the interpretation of the word changed significantly by the time aikido was formed. The koryu bujutsu were the arts in use during Japan’s feudal era beginning around the 15th century and ending in the late 19th century. They were primarily systems of combat practiced by the professional military classes rather than the civilian population. They included arts such as jujitsu and kenjutsu. The modern budo — which include karate-do, judo, aikido and kendo — don’t focus on combat to the same extent. They’re considered vehicles for spiritual development and self-improvement, although great skill in fighting may certainly be achieved, as well. For a better discussion of the differences between the koryu arts and the modern systems than is possible in this article, Donn F. Draeger’s three-part series The Martial Arts and Ways of Japan is recommended. The word “aiki” literally means a fusion or meeting of energy. It’s no accident that it’s an anagram of the word kiai (focusing the spirit), and indeed the distinction between the two is blurry. In the koryu arts, the application of aiki first appeared in kenjutsu schools (see Aikido: Tradition and the Competitive Edge, by Fumiaki Shishida and Tetsuro Nariyama) and referred to a contest of wills between combatants. Some other interpretations include the ability to gain the initiative and to use physical and psychological techniques to unbalance a foe. Over time, more esoteric meanings were offered, which would make any Jedi knight proud. They included the ability to see in the dark, to bring a walking man to a stop and to read minds (see The Fighting Spirit of Japan, by E.J. Harrison). Several jujitsu and judo schools also teach the concept of aiki, but the first one to formally include it in its name was daito-ryu aikijujutsu. Two Remarkable Men Daito-ryu master Sogaku Takeda may not have looked anything like Tom Cruise, but it would be apt to describe him as the real “last samurai.” Takeda was born in 1859 in Aizu, Japan, and lived through the Meiji Restoration, the ending of the feudal age and the final days of the samurai caste. From childhood, he was trained in several of the bujutsu of the Aizu clan, including the ono-ha itto-ryu style of kenjutsu and the family art of daito-ryu aikijujutsu. According to oral legends, aikijujutsu was created around 1100 and passed down secretly within the Takeda family. It’s said to have originated from sumo wresting and unarmed sword strikes. Daito (“great east”) was the name of the area in which Yoshimitsu Minamoto, the alleged creator, lived. One of the fighting arts Sogaku Takeda learned as a child was the ono-ha itto-ryu style of kenjutsu (above). Despite standing less than 5 feet tall, Takeda was a formidable fighter and personally pressure-tested his skills in several life-or-death encounters. The most notorious incident occurred when he was in his early 20s and fought a gang of construction workers in Fukushima. Takeda killed around seven of them with his sword after they attacked him with weapons and tools. During his lifetime, Takeda taught thousands of people. His most famous pupil, however, was undoubtedly Morihei Ueshiba, founder of aikido. Ueshiba met Takeda in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan, in 1915. Ueshiba was already a strong fighter with considerable training in other jujitsu styles, but he found he was no match for Takeda. Consequently, Ueshiba abandoned all his activities to study with his superior. Contrary to the beliefs of many aikidoka, Ueshiba studied daito-ryu for a long time — Takeda’s meticulous records indicate that he trained for more than 20 years. Ueshiba would later modify the daito-ryu techniques he learned and combine them with the spiritual teachings of the Omoto-kyo religion to create what we now know as aikido. In the later stages of his remarkable life, he played on the fact that the character for love was pronounced ai, the same as the first syllable of aiki. His proclamation that “aiki is the manifestation of love” signified his conversion of aikido from its combative bujutsu roots into a budo system that could reconcile human beings and avoid conflict. This probably gave rise to the vision that many aikidoka of today are familiar with and have as their ideal. But not all aikido teachers agree that this is being pursued in the best or most realistic way today. Dave Humm, a British aikido instructor and prison officer, believes that reconciliation and conflict resolution without violence are high ideals that are overemphasized in many organizations. While he ultimately agrees with the ideology and philosophy of the art, he also believes that many aikido schools don’t fully condition their students for dealing with aggressive physical confrontation. He holds that spending many years training to control physically uncooperative aggressors is a necessary step on the path to achieving Ueshiba’s higher ideology. That doesn’t seem like such a radical doctrinal departure when one considers that even Ueshiba defined aiki in a less-than-altruistic manner in the early part of his career. In Dueling with O-Sensei, koryu and aikido teacher Ellis Amdur describes how Ueshiba reportedly said, “Aiki is a means of achieving harmony with another person so that you can make them do what you want.” In the same book, Amdur writes that Ueshiba purportedly taught combat methods at the infamous Nakano Spy School during the war. The former headmaster is said to have recounted how Ueshiba would demonstrate killing techniques, saying “This is how you finish them off.” Given the nature of the academy, the era and the activities of its members, he probably wasn’t teaching students how to love people to death. Read Part 2 of this article here. About the author: Dr. Nick Hallale has practiced the Chinese and Japanese martial arts since 1988. He has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering and taught for several years at the University of Manchester in England. He has written freelance articles about the martial arts for the past 10 years. The author is grateful to Antonino Certa and Giacomo Merello of Milan, Italy, for providing much of the technical information about daito-ryu. He also wishes to thank Dave Humm of the Higashi Kaigan Aikido Dojo in England. (Photos courtesy of Antonino Certa)

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You may not have what it takes to be a sumotori, but you can still glean much from this most ancient of Japanese martial arts.

Sometimes members of our community are surprised to hear sumo referred to as a martial art. It certainly doesn’t seem to fit in with karate, judo, aikido and the like. Sumo is still largely an unknown entity in the United States. Our exposure to it has been limited to occasional snippets on the news played to amuse audiences until they mutter, “Oh, what a bizarre sport this is, fat guys in diapers pushing each other around.” In reality, sumo is centuries older than any other fighting art in Japan, and its traditions have influenced all the combat systems from that nation. Often the practitioners of those styles are completely ignorant of where those traditions originated. Big in Japan It’s too bad more Westerners don’t have a practical knowledge of sumo's techniques and a deeper understanding of its spirit. In Japan, where sumo was until recently as popular as baseball, many young martial artists have a background in or at least some familiarity with the art. They’ve probably grappled informally or in school contests, and they know some of the techniques. That can give them a terrific advantage when they begin training in other forms of budo, or the warrior ways. Young Japanese also benefit from having sumotori (sumo competitors) as role models. Despite the allegations of bout-fixing that have surfaced in the sumo world, the manner in which the wrestlers generally conduct themselves — especially during competitions — is one from which martial artists everywhere can learn a lot. No Breaks The professional sumo calendar in Japan includes six tournaments a year. With each one lasting 15 days, athletes have 90 days of competition every year. Few professional sports demand that much from their participants. For the sumotori, competition is very much like a battle in that you can’t just stay home if you don’t feel well. If you sit out a tournament — even if you have a broken arm — you’ll be demoted. You can apply to have a board of coaches review your claim, but even if they grant an appeal, you must enter the next tournament no matter your condition, or you risk losing your professional standing. That’s why a sumotori has to be in extremely bad shape before he’ll agree to go before the injury board. There are many stories about sumotori who have competed under the most dire circumstances. For example, days before the September 1956 tournament, the 4-year-old son of then-grand champion Wakanohana Kanji I was scalded to death in an accident. Most fans expected the wrestler to sit out the competition, but he didn’t. In the opening ceremony, he wore Buddhist prayer beads in remembrance of his son and went on to have a remarkable record of 12 consecutive wins. Just before the last day of the event, however, he came down with a high fever and was forced to withdraw. Good as his record was for that tournament, the Sumo Association refused to go easy on him and decided that he hadn’t compiled enough victories to be declared a yokozuna (grand champion). He was forced to compete in two more tournaments before he would win that honor. In 1989 one of the most outstanding champions of that decade, Chiyonofuji Mitsugu, competed in and won a playoff on the last day of a tournament despite the fact that his daughter had just died of sudden infant death syndrome. Inspiration for All Stories abound in the sporting world about athletes who have persevered under similarly trying circumstances. Still, there’s something unique about the sumotori’s challenge. He must go into the ring alone in front of millions of fans. If he fails, he can’t shift the blame onto other members of the team. He must deal with not only the stresses of competition but the anxieties of combat, as well. Being distracted by a personal problem — a fight with his wife, the death of a loved one or an illness — can mean more than just a loss. It’s a good way to get seriously hurt. Like a samurai preparing for battle, the sumotori must put aside those feelings and control his natural tendency to want to crawl back into bed when he’s ill. He must tough it out. I’m not a warrior. I haven’t participated in combat, and the fighting arts in which I have competed are nowhere near the level of professional sumo. Still, there are times when I must go out and take care of my responsibilities even though I don’t really want to. Occasionally I have to perform, just as you do, under circumstances that render me far below my best level. In those situations, I try to find inspiration in the sumotori. They’ve toughed it out in tough times. So can I, and so can you. Dave Lowry who has trained extensively in the Japanese and Okinawan arts. He started writing Karate Way in 1986. His books are available for purchase here.

"[This sequence] is prearranged to show ... the versatility of the judoka to handle a person, be it armed or unarmed," says the seventh-dan judo master and president/CEO of the United States Judo Association.

"Kata means prearranged form," explains 7th-dan judo master Gary Goltz, president and CEO of the United States Judo Association. "In karate, they have lots of prearranged forms where the individual practitioner does different patterns with the hands, with the feet, in combination. In judo, our prearranged forms obviously involve an opponent." And in this video demonstration recorded in one of Black Belt's photo studios, Gary Goltz and his training opponent seamlessly carry out a sequence of self-defense moves that incorporate techniques from two arts, actually: judo and aikido

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