Adventure in Aiki:What is Aiki in Aikido?

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This will be the last in a series that has been around for 200 years.


When I started Aikido, the first thing I was interested in was the meaning of Aiki in Aikido.


In ancient martial arts, aiki was considered to be a state of antagonism that should be avoided.


With Daitoryu’s Takeda Sokaku and the Aiki-jutsu, aiki progressed to technique of taking the “sen”.


In this article, we will consider how Morihei Ueshiba changed aiki.


I hope you enjoy it.


Religion is not a weakness of spirit.

Aiki as a technique.

Aiki as an ideology.

Religion is not a weakness of spirit.

Morihei Ueshiba is the person most associated with the word “aiki”.


He changed the name of Daito-ryu Jujutsu to Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu.
Later, he founded Aikido. The name Aiki is said to have been suggested by his religious leader, Deguchi Onizaburo. 

reference:Morihei Ueshiba and Aikido, Volume 1

People who follow the teachings of great gurus can be thought to be weak-minded or gullible, but it’s not so simple in Budo.


In Budo, no matter how much you believe in God, if you can’t defeat your opponent, it’s worthless.


For example, if you want to win many times in gambling, no matter how desperately you believe in God, it will be difficult to increase your odds of winning.


There is an economist who has won the lottery 14 times, which is too inefficient to bet on.


This person’s method was to calculate the numbers with a high probability of winning, and to hire people to buy up the numbers with a high probability of winning.

reference:The man who won the lottery 14 times


If you’re serious about things, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to do anything about it by asking God.


Of course, it depends on luck in the end, but there is a big difference between praying to God after making all the preparations and asking God without doing anything.


※Please help me because I believe in you.

Morihei Ueshiba is the type of person who does everything he can and thanks God for it.


Before World War II, his disciples were powerful in other martial arts, but they didn’t understand what the founder was saying about God.

reference:Profile of the Founder of Aikido – The Words and Images of Morihei Ueshiba, the Founder of Aikido, Spoken by 14 of His Direct Disciples(Japanese book)


Although the founder prioritized telling stories about God over Keiko, he still had many disciples who followed him.


I would say that this was because the founder had overwhelming power regardless of God.


However, there are some testimonies and evidence that the founder’s power was supported by religion.


According to a book by his disciple Koichi Toichi, Morihei Ueshiba lost to Judo player Shingo Suzuki when he was learned Daito-ryu.

But after he entered the Oomoto, Shingo became a disciple of Morihei. 

reference:Tohei Koichi, Nakamura Tenpu and Ueshiba Morihei, The Establishment of Ki 


Historically, there is a record of Sokaku coming to Oomoto in 1922, and his son Tokimune Takeda testified that Sokaku was asked by Morihei to help instruct a military official who was a follower of Oomoto at the time.
参考:Sokaku Takeda and Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, Revised Edition


In short, Morihei at the time was finding it difficult to instruct the soldiers. 


However, he later traveled to Mongolia with Onizaburo and fought to the death, and was able to detect the signs of an opponent’s attack.

It is thought that he became quite powerful after experiencing a kind of enlightenment called the Golden Body Experience in 1925 after a hand-to-hand encounter with a kendo player. 


He began to teach martial arts to the military and the upper classes in Tokyo.Around this time, he started to call himself a style of his own instead of Daito-ryu.

Attempting to become independent from Daito-ryu also meant that Sokaku would no longer be able to protect him.


At that time, Morihei seems to have instructed in a variety of places and fought many martial artists. One of the most famous stories is that of being surrounded by 30 armed military school students, but he made it through without difficulty.


Perhaps Morihei himself decided that he did not need Sokaku to protect him any longer.


The relationship with Sokaku is said to have been financially stressful. The reason he was paying for it was because he needed Sokaku’s help.


If there is much to learn from Sokaku, and if he is willing to be a bouncer, then the fee is not too high. If Morihei is able to fend for himself and learn less from Sokaku, the financial burden will only be greater.


Conflict can only occur between people on the same level.

Perhaps it was only a matter of time before Morihei launched his own Budo. And in the process of acquiring this strength, the religion of Oomoto was intimately involved.


With this premise in mind, I would like to discuss Morihei Ueshiba’s aiki as a technique and aiki as a philosophy. In fact, technique and philosophy are related to each other, but let’s divide them into two main categories.

Aiki as a technique.

In today’s aikido, there is no teaching of “using aiki” like in the days of Daito-ryu, and the only techniques that can be called aiki are Aiki-nage and Aiki-otoshi, and I don’t think they are actively teaching them either.


However, it would be premature to think that Aikido has lost its aiki. When Morihei was teaching Isamu Takeshita during the Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu era, he used the words “aiki” and “kokyu” to mean the same thing.


Considering this, it is natural to think that “aiki” as a technique in aikido has been replaced by “kokyu”.kokyu


Why would they do that?


One of the reasons for these conversions is probably the religious philosophy of Kotodama and others. Oomoto’s leader Onizaburo considered Kotodama to be the root of everything, and that through the word comes joy and prosperity, peace, the sword, the devil, and destruction.


Kotodama is the idea that everything is created from words, and words have a soul.

Reference: Yumiko Paie, Ueshiba Aikido Thought in its Early Days

It is thought that Morihei applied this idea to Budo. The following testimony by Hisao Kamada, a pre-war pupil, is proof of this.

When I was being taught, the instruction was “make sure you kill” and it was very strict, apart from the mental aspect.


But in the second half of the year, that law changed to the teachings of the Kototama such as Aha-oho-uhu.


He began his practice after worshipping in the temple every morning.


It may be presumptuous to say this, but although Daito-ryu may have been at the origin, many of the techniques must have been realized by Morihei Ueshiba through his faith.

Profile of the Founder of Aikido – 14 direct disciples speak on the words and image of the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba.


There is a definite change in the instructional content.

Since the word “kokyu” can be taken to mean the same thing as “iki” (a Japanese word synonymous with the word “breath”) that produces this kotodama, Morihei gives this explanation of breathing and kotodama as the quintessence of the technique in his book “Budo Practice”.

The breath of heaven and earth, the voice, the heart, and the timing match, it becomes a kotodama, it becomes a weapon, it jumps out.

Excerpt from Morihei Ueshiba’s book “Budo Practice”


This can be seen as simply a religious statement.

It can certainly be read in the same way as Onizaburo’s idea of kotodama, but at the same time, if you look at it through the aiki of Daito-ryu, it can be said that it is also a kiai jutsu.
It is likely that Morihei thought of religion and martial arts as one in this way.


For this reason, Morihei probably preferred “kokyu” to “aiki” in terms of technique.


A typical example is the suwari-waza “kokyuho”, which is still performed in Aikido today. The official name is “kokyuryoku training method”.

Two people are seated and face each other, and let the opponent grab his arm and collapse him.


This is the practice of how to apply what we call “sen-no-sen” or “go-no-sen” in Daito-ryu from the state of aiki (antagonism).

Sometimes the hand is done from a complete grasp (go-no-sen), and sometimes it is done from before it is caught (sen-no-sen).

※Aiki means “antagonism”.

The fact that the name of keiko in relation to aiki is kokyuho is one proof that aiki became kokyu. Normally, there is no option to eliminate aiki, which should have been the backbone of Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu as a technique.


Another example of the basis for Morihei’s idea of aiki as a method of taking “sen” is the story of “aiki-no-kurai” which he is said to have told his direct disciple, Master Mitsugu Saotome.


This is a story about how a flying eagle can catch a fish under the water or a rabbit fleeing the forest because it can see the movement from above, which is unseen on the ground, and should learn these “Aiki-no-kurai” aiki positions from nature.

Reference: Mitsugu Saotome, “Torrents of Tradition: The Teachings of Morihei Ueshiba, Founder of Aikido


This is also a story about a kind of SEN taking, and a commentary on what Morihei says in his books, such as Takemusu-aiki, about “receiving God’s teachings from all things in this world.


The story about Budo’s “sen” is that Morihei was talking about it as “kokyu” fused with Shinto religion.


It may have been more convenient to use “kokyu” in the sense that breathing has a meaning as a yin and yang and gives depth to the word, not a simple sen story.


Even before the war, many of the disciples said that they could not understand the stories of the founder’s gods, that they wanted to practice as fast as possible, and that the stories were so long that their legs hurt to sit on the floor.


And later, they say, “I wish I had listened more.
reference:Profile of the Founder of Aikido – The Words and Images of Morihei Ueshiba, the Founder of Aikido, Spoken by 14 of His Direct Disciples(Japanese book)


What we can see from these stories is that Morihei Ueshiba was talking about God in his teaching time.

However, he never recruited disciples to Omotoo or any other religion.


This means that for Morihei, talking about God was actually a part of his practice.


“The heart of aikido”, which is also a record of Morihei’s story, is also said to be a record of what he said while practicing with a group called the Byakkosinkokai aikido Youth Club.

BYKKO is a Japanese organization that promotes the “World Peace through Prayer Movement” with a focus on the World Peace Prayer for the peace of the humanity in the world.


In other words, Morihei’s idea of God is closely tied to Budo.

Aiki as an ideology.

In the Japanese version of “the heart of AIKIDO”, Morihei describes his aiki in this way.

Traditionally, Buduo has gone in the direction of constantly killing each other by mistake, but Aiki is there to save lives. In other words, the way to prevent murder is the path of Aiki.

Aikido is to not kill people, and “合” (AI: to meet and join) leads to “愛” (AI: to love), so I decided to call the unique path I have learned “Aikido”.

Therefore, the “aiki” that traditional martial arts practitioners speak of and what I call “aiki” are fundamentally different in content and essence. I hope that you will think about this.

Excerpt from “Takemusu Aiki” edited by Hideo Takahashi


Aiki, in the traditional sense of the word “aiki” for a martial artist, is aiki in the sense of taking “sen” or “antagonism”.


According to Yumiko Paye’s research on the idea of aikido, one of the things that changed in pre-war and post-war thought was the emphasis on “aiki is love”.

Reference: Yumiko Paie’s “Ueshiba’s Aikido Philosophy (since 1943) – Succession and Development


Morihei Ueshiba preached the concept of harmony before World War II as a prototype of the idea that aiki is love.


This can be found in Isamu Takeshita’s notes and in his book “Budo”. The idea of being able to work freely in harmony with one’s opponent as a unit is the ideal state of conventional aiki techniques.


This idea was still being talked about after the war. However, during the war, while speaking out of harmony, he also provided guidance to the military, and his disciples going to war needed the skills to defeat the enemy.


As the end of the war approached, Morihei reflected on his previous stance and moved to Iwama, Ibaraki Prefecture, where he left the stage.


And about his father’s change of heart after the war, his son Kissyomaru says like this in his book “Aikido Techniques”.

In 1945, after the end of World War II, he felt deeply ashamed and humbled by his daily life, and he made a great leap of faith and said, “The profundity of Aiki is a great harmony and a path that leads to the reality of the infinite universe.


The true technique is to go one step further from the pre-war harmony with the opponent and to make a bigger harmony. This may sound like a religious idea, but let’s find out what it means to be a budo.


One of the precincts of the sword is “Ainuke”. This is the essence left behind by Sekiun Harigaya, the founder of Mujyusinkenryu in the 1600s.


It is said that Ainuke is a way to get rid of the aiki of the state of antagonism, so that when they slash each other, they can get rid of each other without hurting each other, or they can put up their swords without fighting each other.


This can also be said to be an answer to a kind of aiki (antagonistic) state.



In his book Tenshindokuro, Ichiun Odagiri, a disciple of Seekun Harigaya, who came up with this idea, explains it as follows.

Any organization that trains in combat law will make it most important to take an SEN, but perhaps not rightly so.

If you try to take an SEN yourself, the enemy will try to do so too. This is Sen sen no sen (move before the other party tries to move before it moves). This is Aikino Jutsu.

Excerpts from Minoru Mochizuki’s book “Katsu to Nihon Budo, the Japanese Martial Arts that Forget the Way and the War


The book refers to Aikino Jutsu as a method of taking SEN, but says that such a battle of SEN is probably not possible. You can’t get absolute SEN by playing a relative game.


Sekiun also says that in the end, it’s not the sword that matters, but the heart that matters.


This is the same ultimate form of Budo shown in Neko-no-myojutsu (a story that alludes to the boundaries of the sword arts through the battle between the cats and the big mice) and Fudochisinmyoroku (a book that explains the common boundaries of Zen and the sword).


In short, when you are conscious (attached) to the other party (enemy), there is a limit to what you can do.



After the war, Morihei often said, “Aikido has won from the beginning”.


※I don’t fight because I’ve already won.

Shigenobu Okumura, an apprentice from before the war, described Morihei’s thoughts on SEN in this way.

Questions about Aikido techniques

――What do you mean by “go-no-sen”?

Not Exactly. But O-Sensei said, “You can’t divide sen into three groups (sen to be done first, sen from the same timing, and sen after the delay). That is no good for Aikido. In Aikido there is only one sen, and we always take the sen.”

It is difficult to explain this area. It’s just that the mental state is different.

O-sensei also said, “There is no technique in Aikido that you can attack from yourself. There is no need for it.”

So, in the form, it looks like go-no-sen, but in the mind, I think that I am taking sen from the beginning.

――I kind of understand the nuances, but… But it’s not easy.

That’s true. I’ve been practicing Kendo since I was a kid, so I couldn’t get rid of the “sen-no-sen” feeling. Once when I went to ask the Founder with Sunao Sonoda, who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs, “Shouldn’t aikido be go-no-sen after all?” he got angry at me saying, “How many years have you guys been doing this?” 

Profile of the Founder of Aikido – 14 direct disciples speak on the words and image of the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba.

Aikido is not the sen-no-sen (Kiai) or go-no-sen (Aiki) that Daito-ryu has been aiming for in Aiki. What Aikido aims for is absolute sen.


This is where “愛 ai (Love)” comes in.


In the pre-war era, Morihei thought that by becoming one with the opponent (harmony), he could take the opponent’s sen and manipulate them.
However, it can be said that Ai(愛-love) is the great harmony that further developed the idea of harmony.


The word “Ai(愛-love)” is a simple word, but the love that Morihei describes is not love or affection, but the love of the divine who created heaven and earth. It is the love of the divine which created all life.


That is the idea of Aikido: 神人合一(sin-jin-go-itsu) the unity of divine and mankind. It is to become one with divine, and being one with divine means that you have already won.


Aiki is to become one with this divine love, which leads to taking the absolute sen.


Just before his enlightenment in 1925, known as the “Golden Body Experience,” Morihei was facing off against a naval officer, a kendo master. His recollections of this experience are preserved in Saotome’s book.


According to the book, because his opponent was both powerful and capable, Morihei was unable to win in a way that would embarrass him, and that didn’t mean he could afford to lose.

At that time, Morihei stopped fighting with his opponent and simply looked at him. Then he felt a sense of unity with his opponent.


During this time, his opponent, exhausted, surrendered to Morihei and said to him, “I have seen in you the secret of swordsmanship that is more than just technique.

After the battle, Morihei was sweating in a well when he had his “golden body” experience.

Reference: Mitsugu Saotome, “Torrents of Tradition: The Teachings of Morihei Ueshiba, Founder of Aikido


Based on these experiences, there is “wagou (harmony)”. And then there is “愛 ai” as a higher dimension. On the contrary, no one would have followed Moribei without such experience.


I will attempt to explain as clearly as possible why you can get an absolute sen in harmony and love.


For example, humans in the biological world have clearly evolved differently from other animals. While many other animals have specialized in their own external abilities, humans have evolved their brains to specialize in bipedalism, which is an evolutionary process that is unmatched by other animals. This is an evolutionary process that does not compete with other animals, and as a result, humans are the dominant species.


Some Japanese entrepreneurs advocate capitalizing on everyday life by transporting things on the way to school or work, living in a store to double as a house, or cooking more food and selling the leftovers.


This is also a kind of “non-contentious” method. You can say that you are in harmony with your life. I think this is the way in which you can say that you are winning from the start, by not fighting with your opponent on the same playing field.


Reconciliation means finding the best countermeasure at the moment. In the post-war period, Morihei did not get angry when his disciples did techniques that were completely different from what he had shown them. On the contrary, he strictly instructed his disciples to adjust the thickness and temperature of the tea to suit their needs.


Perhaps he thought it was important to find the most appropriate state in the daily life. To put it more plainly, it’s like budo-ization of daily life.


Personally, I believe that Morihei Ueshiba’s “Aiki” is neither biased in terms of philosophy nor concentrated on technique, but rather is a fusion of technique and philosophy.


Aiki, which is the absolute ideal of Aiki 愛気(qi of divines love) , is the Aiki of Morihei Ueshiba.

The Spirit of Aikido

AIKI means “愛AI”.

make your own heart as Nature’s appearance.

keep the spirit of savior in your heart.

so you can complet your mission with your own heart.

this must be the way of budo.

Aiki is about conquering the self and eliminating the fighting spirit of the enemy.

No, it is the path to absolute self-perfection that vanish the enemy itself.

in this case art’s of aikido stands on law of the universe and it is a journey to unification with the universe.



Written by Founder of Aikido Morihei Ueshiba.





What did you think? The adventure of Aiki, which we have been following for 200 years, ends when we reach the “absolute sen”.


As I mentioned in a previous article, human testimonials are not very reliable. But that’s about all that’s left of the old martial arts. That’s why it is possible to summarize information with conclusions and make something completely different as if it were the truth.


But when I wrote this article, I didn’t write it in such a way that I decided on a conclusion. I am surprised even by myself.


Just because the boundary is the “absolute sen” doesn’t mean that Aikido is the highest. It’s just a boundary, so the way of aiming is different for each person, and there may be people who are not looking for that kind of boundary.


Well, I think I’ve sorted out some of the aiki, so I hope this will be of some help to you.


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