What is Aikido? Is probably the most insightful question most students of the art will attempt to answer. Conseuqently, what follows is caveated by the inevitability that our perception of Aikido has the potential to alter quite unexpectedly.
Aikido, is a relatively modern marshal art (first publicly disseminated in the mid twenth century); although the origins come from the ancient Japanese traditions of Bushido. The art was developed by Morihei Ueshiba (1883 – 1969) after a lifetime of study of the traditional arts. And, today is estimated to be practiced worldwide by over a million people.
As the art originates from the Japan’s cultural heritage, there is emphasis placed on etiquette and mutual respect, with classes conducted in a similair way to those in Japan, i.e., following the Budō tradition. All Aikidoka wear the keikogi (white practice suit) while the more senior students also wear the hakama (over trousers).
Aikido, initially appears to the novice as collection of highly technical movements, many of which can also be witnessed in other disciplines; the founder was known to have mastered many Budō forms. However, as time passes the dedicated student begins to appreciate that the practiced form is analogous to an alphabet, i.e., of no intrinsic value on its own (but key to the understanding of any spoken or written language), and therefore essential for exploring together the concept of self-actualisation.
As the student progresses beyond an avid compliance to form and begins to explores more natural movement, they become aware of the endless possibilities within their practice. They are able to move a little more harmoniously and spontaneously, and without attachment to a potential aggressors harmful intention.
To realise this deeper concepts of O’Sensei’s art ( Ai ( harmonise ), Ki ( breath or life-force ), do ( the way ) ), requires a commitment to relaxed, collaborative and generous training. Consequently, as the practice enviroment is non-competitive it can be studied by persons of all ages, gender or physical incapacities.
After a number of years of committed practice, the Aikidoka may recognise a stability within their movements which was not previously present, alongside the ability to maintain a stillness of mind whilst enjoying vigorous practice. This maybe due to our ability to focus on the ‘now’ and being less distracted or judgmental of our own practice. Nevertheless, as the true ‘beginners’ mind manifests then every practice becomes unique and ultimately fulfilling, and we truly become appreciative and grateful for the legacy left us by Morihei Ueshiba (O’Sensei).
To study the way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.
To be enlightened by all things is to remove the barriers between one’s self and others.
Zen Master Dōgen (1200 – 1253)