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Aikido Onna Kyoto
Onno Kioto (Ladies of Kyoto). Photo from the Czech website
"Stranky jsou ve vystavbe".

Русская версия

Morihei Ueshiba The wise win before they fight,
while the ignorant fight to win.

Zhuge Liang

Do not think of attack and defense as two separate things.
An attack must be a defense, and a defense must be an attack.

Kazuzo Kudo

Aikido is a modern Japanese martial art (Gendai Budo). It was developed by Morihei Ueshiba (often referred to by his title "O-Sensei" or "Great Teacher") over the period of the 1920s to the 1960s. On a purely physical level it is an art involving some throws and joint locks that are derived from Jiu-jitsu and some throws and other techniques derived from Kenjutsu. Aikido focuses on using their own energy to gain control of them or to throw them away from you. It is not a static art, but places great emphasis on motion and the dynamics of movement. Aikido contains a very significant spiritual component which is the result of O-Sensei’s interaction with the Oomoto-kyo religion, as well as Shinto and Buddhism.

Aikido can be translated as "the way to union with universal energy" or "the way of unified energy". Another common interpretation of the hieroglyphs is harmony, spirit and way, so aikido can also mean "the way of spiritual harmony" or "the art of peace". The Japanese word for "love" is also pronounced "ai", although a different hieroglyph is used (i.e. it is a homophone). In later life, O-Sensei emphasized this interpretation of "ai". O-Sensei received a divine inspiration that lead away from the violent nature of his previous martial training, and towards a "spirit of peace". O-Sensei ultimately said that the way of the warrior is the "way of divine love that nurtures and protects all things."

Arguably the strongest influence to Aikido is that of Kenjutsu and in many ways, an aikido practitioner moves as an empty handed swordsman. The aikido strikes shomenuchi and yokomenuchi originated from weapon attacks, and resultant techniques likewise from weapon disarms. Some schools of aikido do no weapons training at all; others, such as Iwama Ryu usually spend substantial time with "bokken" (wooden Japanese sword), jo (approx. 50 inch tall staff), and tanto (knife). In some lines of aikido, all techniques can be performed with a sword as well as unarmed. Some believe there is a strong influence from Yagyu Shinkage-ryu on Aikido.

Aikido was first brought to the West in 1951 by Minoru Mochizuki with a visit to France where he introduced aikido techniques to judoka. In 1952, he was followed by Tadashi Abe who came as the official Aikikai Honbu representative, remaining in France for seven years. Kenji Tomiki toured with a delegation of various martial arts through fifteen continental states of the United States in 1953. This was backed up by several further visits and is thus considered the formal introduction of aikido to the United States. The United Kingdom followed in 1955, Germany and Australia in 1965. Today there are many aikido schools (Dojos) available to train at throughout the world. Aikido incorporates a wide range of techniques which use principles of energy and motion to redirect, neutralize and control attackers.

In the west, any one who practices may call themselves an aikidoka, while in Japan the term aikidoka mainly refers to a professional while The term aikidoist is also used as a more general term, especially by those who prefer to maintain the more restricted, Japanese, meaning of the term aikidoka.

Aikido was originally developed by one man, O-Sensei. Many students who trained under O-Sensei decided to spread their knowledge of Aikido by opening their own dojos. Due, among other things, to the dynamic nature of Aikido, different students of O-Sensei interpreted his Aikido in different ways. Thus different styles of Aikido were born. Outside factors such as geographic location may of course limit one’s options. Each style has its own strengths and weaknesses, but all are firmly rooted in the basic concepts which make Aikido the unique art that it is. None should be considered superior or inferior to any other, but rather an individual must find a style which best suits him or her. No matter which style you choose, you are going to be taught that particular instructor’s interpretation of it, and you yourself are going to develop your own particular Aikido. One might say that there are as many different styles of Aikido as there are practitioners.

On Technique, O-Sensei said: "There is no set form in Aikido. There is no set form; it is the study of the spirit. One must not get caught up in set form, because in doing so, one is unable to perform the function sensitively. In Aikido, first we begin with the cleansing of the ki of one’s soul. Following this, the rebuilding of one’s spirit is essential. We must advance by harmoniously uniting the higher (haku) and lower (kon) selves. The higher self must make use of the lower self."


Aikido techniques are largely designed towards keeping the attacker off balance and leading their mind. Manipulation of balance of uke (the person who "receives" a technique) by entering is often referred to as "taking the centre". It is sometimes said that Aikido contains only defense, and the attacks that are performed are not really aikido. From a historical perspective this claim is questionable, but many if not most aikidoka have the defense techniques as the focus of their training. Much of aikido’s repertoire of defenses can be performed either as throwing techniques (nage-waza) or as grappling techniques (katame-waza), depending on the situation.

Each technique can be executed in many different ways. For example, a technique carried out in the Irimi principle (method of entering an attack), consists of movements inward, toward the uke, while those carried out in the tenkan style use outward sweeping motions, and tenshin styles involve a slight retreat from or orbit around the point of attack… Thus from less than 20 basic techniques, there are literally thousands of possible actions depending on the attack and the situation. O-Sensei said there are 2,664 techniques.

There is also the matter of atemi, or strikes employed during an aikido technique. The role and importance of atemi is a matter of some minor current debate in aikido, but it is clear that they were practiced by the founder. Some view atemi as strikes to "vital points" that can be delivered during the course of a technique’s application, to increase effectiveness. Others consider atemi to be methods of distraction, particularly when aimed at the face. Atemi can be interpreted as not only punches or kicks but also, for instance, striking with a shoulder or a large part of the arm. Some throws are arguably affected through an unbalancing or abrupt application of atemi. Many sayings about atemi are attributed to Morihei Ueshiba, although their precise content varies considerably based on the one doing the telling.

The use of atemi is dependent on the organization and, to some extent, the individual dojo. Some dojo teach the strikes that are integral to all aikido techniques as mere distractions used to make the application of an aikido technique easier, while others teach that strikes are to be used for more destructive reasons.

Kiai (short yell - audible exhalations of energy) were also used and taught by O-Sensei and are used in most traditional aikido schools.


In the early days when Ueshiba began teaching to the public, students tended to be proficient in another martial art (in which attacks were the important elements). Due to this, attacks per se are generally not focused on in contemporary aikido dojos. Students will learn the various attacks from which an aikido technique can be practiced. Although attacks seldom are studied to the same extent as some arts, good attacks are needed to study correct and effective application of technique. Honest attacks are considered important. An honest attack would be an attack with full intention or a strong grab or immobilizing hold. The speed of an attack may vary depending on the experience and ranking of nage (person executing the technique).

Aikido attacks used in normal training include various stylized strikes and grabs such as shomenuchi (a vertical strike to the head), yokomenuchi (a lateral strike to the side of the head and/or neck), munetsuki (a straight punch), ryotedori (a two handed grab) or katadori. (a shoulder grab). Many of the -uchi strikes resemble blows from a sword or other weapon.


One of the central martial philosophies of aikido is to be able to handle multiple-attacker circumstances fluidly. Randori or jiyuwaza (freestyle) is a practice against multiple opponents, is a key part of the curriculum in most aikido schools and is required for the higher level belts. Randori is mostly intended to develop, like an exercise, a person’s ability to perform without thought, with their mind and body coordinated. The continued practice of having one opponent after another coming at you without rest develops your awareness and the connection between mind and body.

Shodokan-Aikido randori differs in that it is not done with multiple persons, but between two people with both participants able to attack, defend and resist at will. As in Judo, the role of uke and nage does not exist.

Another tenet of aikido is that the aikidoka should gain control of their opponent as quickly as possible, while causing the least amount of damage possible to either party.


Weapons training in aikido usually consists of jo (approx. 50 inch tall staff), bokken (wooden sword), and wooden tanto (knife). Both weapons-taking and weapons-retention are sometimes taught, to integrate the armed and unarmed aspects of aikido.

Many schools use versions of the weapons system used by Morihiro Saito (closest follower of Ueshiba): aiki-jo and aiki-ken.


The aikidogi used in aikido is similar to the keikogi (uniform for training) used in most other modern budo arts; simple trousers and a wraparound jacket, usually white. To the keikogi, some systems add the traditional garment hakama (resemble a wide, pleated skirt or wide trousers.) The hakama is usually black or dark blue and in most dojo is reserved for practitioners with dan (black belt) ranks.

Although some systems use many belt colors similar to the system in judo, the most common version is that dan ranks wear black belt, and kyu ranks white - sometimes with an additional brown belt for the highest kyu ranks.

Body strengthening

Aikido training is for all-around physical fitness, flexibility, and relaxation. The human body in general can exert power in two ways: contractive and expansive. Many fitness activities, for example weight-lifting, emphasize the former, which means that specific muscles or muscle groups are isolated and worked to improve tone, mass, and power. The disadvantage of this, however, is that whole body movement and coordination are rarely stressed. Thus, while muscle size and power may increase, there is no emphasis on the ways in which those muscles can work together most efficiently. Also, this sort of training tends to increase tension, decrease flexibility, and stress the joints. The result may be aesthetically pleasing, but when done to excess may actually be detrimental to overall health.

The second type of power, expansive, is mostly stressed in activities such as dance or gymnastics. In these activities, the body must learn to move in a coordinated manner and with relaxation. Aikido also mostly stresses this sort of training. While both types of power are important, it is interesting to note that a person who masters the second type of power can, in a martial context, often overcome a person who is much bigger or stronger. The reason for this is that the contractive power is only as great as the mass and power of your individual muscles. Expansive power, however, as used in Aikido, can be much greater than your size may lead you to believe. This is because you move with your whole body. Rather than stressing and tensing only a few muscles, you learn to relax and move from the centre of your body, where you are most powerful. Power is then extended out naturally through the relaxed limbs, which become almost whip-like in their motion. Needless to say, the power behind an entire person’s body will be more than that of someone’s arm or leg alone.

Hence, aikido develops the body in a unique manner. Aerobic fitness is obtained through vigorous training. Flexibility of the joints and connective tissues is developed through various stretching exercises and through the techniques themselves. Relaxation is learned automatically, since without it the techniques will not function. A balanced use of contractive and expansive power is mastered, enabling even a small person to pit his entire body’s energy against their opponent.

With this, different masters stress different aspects of training. Some masters stress importance of body posture while executing the technique in order to coordinate different parts of the body, while others deal with the physical aspects of it. With each way, comes a different means of interpretation of the same basic principles of the art which is discussed in more detail above.

Mind strengthening

Aikido training does not consider the body and mind as independent entities. The condition of one affects the other. For example, the physical relaxation learned in aikido also becomes a mental relaxation. Likewise, the confidence that develops mentally is manifested in a more confident style. Psychological or spiritual insight learned during training must become reflected in the body, else it will vanish under pressure, when more basic, ingrained patterns and reflexes take over. Aikido training requires the student to squarely face conflict, not to run away from it. Through this experience, an Aikido student may learn to face other areas of life in a similarly proactive fashion, rather than with avoidance and fear.

Men and women in aikido

"Martial arts have traditionally been the domain of the strong male. Despite the stories of mythic woman warriors who rode with the men and fought alongside them as equals and even superiors, this was always the exception rather than the rule. Samurai women were taught to protect themselves and their families yet how many of us can name any of these fighting women? No, it’s pretty much a boys club and the few females who get let in are the ones able to play as the boys do."

George Ledyard American Aikido teacher and practitioner, George S. Ledyard, in his article "Women and Everyone Else in Aikido" insists that real Aikido is not a combat art but a training system being for everyone, including women and elderly. He expressed interesting thoughts about women in Aikido. Let’s give him the floor.

"There are probably more women doing Aikido on a percentage basis than any other martial art, although that would be just a guess, I have never seen figures on this. Despite their wide participation, which goes back to the early days in the 1930’s in Aikido’s development, women are notoriously absent from positions of prominence in Aikido.

Not until one leaves Japan does one encounter significant female presence in the ranks of those teaching the art. But even overseas, the leadership of virtually all Aikido organizations is almost entirely male. Woman may have significant responsibility, and in fact be indispensable to the various organizations, but their efforts are largely in support of the male leadership of these organizations.

I believe that Aikido should be different. I think that few would maintain that its raison d’etre is imparting fighting skills to the public yet we continuously use a performance standard which places, not just women, but the less athletic, and the elderly of both sexes at a disadvantage when compared with the young male practitioners of the art.

Recently a book on Aikido appeared in which the author, a senior Aikido practitioner, stated that any fourth kyu male in his dojo could take any woman in Aikido in a fight. The sheer lack of sensitivity it took to make such a statement tends to hide the fact that it also shows a complete misunderstanding of what Aikido is all about.

First of all, Aikido is not a combat art as normally taught. The problem here is, of course, that Aikido isn't primarily about overcoming one’s partner. Masakatsu Agatsu is the term the Founder used to describe the point of Aikido training. "True Victory is Self Victory" is clearly not about how to defeat some outside enemy but rather it’s about dealing with our own internal demons. When O-Sensei said Aikido is the True Budo, he didn't mean that Aikido was the most bad-assed fighting system. He meant that Aikido was, in his mind, the fullest expression of the aspect of Budo which teaches us how to live fully, to see ourselves as caretakers rather than destroyers.

I met a woman just recently who had started Aikido well after her fiftieth birthday. She has now been training for well over ten years and feels that Aikido has changed her life. In an Aikido world which only values strength of technique and difficult ukemi this person has no real status. Yet her age, while making it difficult to train as physically as the young folks do, gives such a depth to her practice that she is in a position to address in a meaningful way all sort of folks for whom instruction from someone like myself would have less relevance.

This is not to say that there aren't women who have successfully gone toe to toe with the men in their training and succeeded. Virginia Mayhew, Pat Hendricks, Mary Heiny, Lorraine Dianne, Patty Saotome, etc. all managed to get ahead in the male dominated hierarchy of Aikido. But this shouldn't be how we measure success. Women should not have to measure their worth according to their ability to be "like the guys." To insist on this is to place only secondary emphasis on the contributions which they make well in excess of what their male counter parts often make.

It has been my experience that women are generally more interested in the social/relational aspects of the art than in the martial. The community bond between dojo members is often created more through the efforts of a group of female students within a dojo than by those of the men. It has been my experience that the women within a dojo are far better at nurturing students who are emotionally damaged or are physically less confident.

I made the mistake for many years of thinking that simply training the women exactly as I did the men was the answer. But I have seen that this doesn't work for the average female student. The ones that hung in there have their own dojos now but the numbers who stayed were always small. It’s clear to me now that I can make the training far more accessible and in the long run turn out far more strong female students if I pay attention to the different requirements which men and women have."

Aikido schools

The "Traditional" Schools

Aikikai is the common name for the style (and official organization) headed by Moriteru Ueshiba, O-Sensei’s grandson, as taught under the auspices of the International Aikido Federation. Most regard this school as the mainline in Aikido development. In reality, this "style" is more of an umbrella than a specific style, since it seems that many individuals within the organization teach in quite a different manner. The Aikido taught by Ueshiba Sensei is generally large and flowing, with an emphasis on a standard syllabus and little or no emphasis on weapons training. Other teachers within the auspices of the Aikikai (like Saito Sensei) place much more emphasis on weapons practice.

Iwama-ryu is the style taught by Morihiro Saito, based in the Iwama dojo, is generally considered sufficiently stylistically different from mainstream Aikikai that it is named individually, even though it still is part of the Aikikai. Saito Sensei was a long time uchideshi of O-Sensei, beginning in 1946 and staying with him through his death. Many consider that Saito Sensei was the student who spent most time directly studying with O-Sensei. Saito Sensei says he is trying to preserve and teach the art exactly as it was taught to him by the Founder. The technical repertoire is larger than in most other styles and a great deal of emphasis is placed on weapons training.

The "Ki" Schools is one of the most noticeable splits in the Aikido world occurred in 1974 when Koichi Tohei, then the Chief Instructor at the Aikikai, resigned from that organization and founded the Ki no Kenkyukai to teach Aikido with strong emphasis on the concepts of Ki ("life force" or "spiritual energy"). Since that time, there has been little interaction between the traditional schools and the Ki schools. All of these arts tend to refer to themselves as Ki Aikido, even though there is little contact between some of the styles.

Shin-shin Toitsu is the style founded by Koichi Tohei – "Aikido with Mind" and "Body Unified". Tohei Sensei places a great deal of emphasis on understanding the concept of Ki and developing this aspect independently of the Aikido training for application to general health and daily life. This style is one of the softest styles of Aikido and is characterized by soft movements that often involve the practitioner jumping or skipping during the movement. Most schools are not concerned with practical application of the techniques, considering them exercises to further develop Ki. In recent years, Tohei Sensei has been moving further and further away from Aikido and has devoted himself almost exclusively to Ki training. The latest news is that Ki no Kenkyukai has started an initiative to make Shin-shin Toitsu Aikido into an International Competitive sport.

The "Old" Schools

Here are the list of the schools developed from the pre-war teachings.

Aiki-Budo is the art O-Sensei was teaching early in his development. It is very close in style to previously existing Jutsu forms such as Daito-ryu Aiki-Jutsu. It is considered to be one of the harder forms of Aikido.Most of the early students of O-Sensei began during this period and much of the early practice overseas was in this style (e.g. Abbe Sensei’s teaching in the UK in the 50s).

Yoseikan – the style developed by Minoru Mochizuki, who was an early student of O-Sensei and also of Jigoro Kano at the Kodokan. This style includes elements of Aiki-Budo together with aspects of Karate, Judo and other arts.

Yoshinkan – the style taught by the late Gozo Shioda. Shioda Sensei studied with O-Sensei from the mid-30s. After the war, he was invited to begin teaching and formed the organization known as Yoshinkan. Unlike many later organizations, the Yoshinkan has always maintained friendly relations with the traditional school Aikikai both during and after O-Sensei’s life. The Yoshinkan is a harder style of Aikido, generally concerned with practical efficiency and physically robust techniques. It is taught to many branches of the Japanese Police. The international organization associated with the Yoshinkan style of Aikido is known as the Yoshinkai, and has active branches in many parts of the world. In recent years, there have been a number of offshoots of this style, usually developing for political reasons.

The "Sporting" Styles

One of the other big breaks in Aikido history occurred during O-Sensei’s life when Kenji Tomiki (early student of O-Sensei and Jigoro Kano) proposed "rationalizing" Aikido training using Kata and Competition. Since that time, there has been little commonality between the Tomiki schools and the mainline Aikido schools. In recent years there have been a number of offshoots of Tomiki-ryu that have abandoned the idea of competition. Tomiki Sensei believed that a "rationalization" of Aikido training, along the lines that Kano Sensei followed for Judo would make it more easily taught, particularly at the Japanese Universities. In addition, he believed that introducing an element of competition would serve to sharpen and focus the practice since it was no longer tested in real combat. This latter view was the cause of a split with O-Sensei who firmly believed that there was no place for competition in Aikido training. Tomiki-ryu is characterized by using Kata (prearranged forms) in teaching and by holding competitions, both empty handed and with a rubber knife.

The "Modern" Schools

This includes most of the variants taught today. Most of these "styles" are taught by various senior students of O-Sensei, with the divergences coming after the death of the Founder. Most would claim to be teaching the art that O-Sensei taught them - and this is probably true even though some have little in common with others! Taken together with O-Sensei's notorious obscurity in teaching style, the story of the elephant and the blind men may give us some clue as to how this could have come about :). Most of us have our biases and preferences amongst the various styles but can recognize that all have their strengths and weakness and we all have something to learn from all of them.

Prominent female Aikido teachers and practitioners

Virginia Mayhew
Virginia Mayhew

Pat Hendricks
Pat Hendricks

Lorraine Dianne
Lorraine Dianne

Mary Heiny
Mary Heiny

Patty Saotome
Patty Saotome

Photos from the club
"Heart of San Francisco Aikido"













Training with bokken.
Photo from website
Durango Shin-Budo Kai

Aikido - bokken

Aikido - bokken

Photos from the site
Japanese Fighting Women









Aikido women: Dan Examination

Aikido Women: Tanto Dori (System of defence against a knife)

Aikido Women: Demonstrational bout. Sanja Vracarević, Black belt, 5 Dan

Sensei Penny Bernath: Aikido Women. Randori (free-style practice)

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