Our Aikido

The meaning of the word "Aikido"

The Japanese word, "Aikido," is composed of three characters. "Ai" means 'to unite, to come together, or harmonize.' The second character is "Ki" which means energy, mind, or spirit. "Ki" can also mean "Spirit of the Universe" or "Universal Energy." The last character "Do"means "a Way" or a "Path." Do implies that Aikido is not just self defense techniques, but a system that includes self development as well as spiritual development. Altogether these characters mean "the Way to Harmonize with the Spirit of the Universe."

The Philosophy of Aikido

Although Aikido is primarily a self defense art, it has as one of its philosophical pillars the notion of being in Harmony with your attackers rather than being in conflict with them. The ideal of Aikido is not to think of overpowering and defeating an opponent, but to harmonize with them both spiritually and physically. This is why Aikido is sometimes called "The Art of Nonresistance" or "The Non-Fighting Martial Art."

Aikido techniques express elements of philosophy, psychology, and physics. As we learn the movements, we will, at the same time, train our minds, improve our health and develop self-confidence. Through the physical practice of the self-defense techniques, the Aikido student comes to appreciate and understand the mental and spiritual aspects of Aikido. During practice sessions, partners work in harmony with each other, learning when and how to yield, how to lead and guide another person's movements and how to control an opponent through non-resistive techniques.

Aikido Movements and Techniques

Aikido movements emphasize flexibility, balance, and circular motions. The aim of the Aikidoist is to have their mind and body unified and to maintain a calm, alert posture and spirit. Aikido movement originates at the hips and expresses itself through the arms and hands as a dance-like graceful, spherical flowing motion. The beauty of Aikido movements comes from the coordinated motion of the entire body--each part contributing to the integrated sequence of movement.

The joint locking techniques, such as those applied to the wrist or elbow, flex the joints in the direction of natural bending. They result in no permanent damage to the joint or tissues even though the techniques are effective and can be painful.

Training for Mind and Body

During an Aikido class, students practice techniques for blending with and neutralizing punches, grabs, and other assaults. This training developes balance, flexibility, and coordination, as well as concentration and self confidence in the face of an attack.

The ultimate goal of Aikido training is to master a calm, alert, and confident approach to conflict - a courageous and compassionate spirit that whole heartedly confronts the challenges and difficulties of life.

Aikido at the Iwama Dojo

Morihiro Saito Sensei demonstrating in front of the Aiki Shrine in Iwama, Japan.

Morihiro Saito Shihan and the Iwama Style

Morihiro Saito, a native of Iwama, Japan, joined the Founder's Iwama Dojo as a live-in student at age 18. He was to become one of the Founder's closest disciples, spending nearly every day with him for 23 years.

After the Founder's death in 1969, Aikido spread out into several different lineages or styles under the Founder's various disciples. Saito Sensei, however, remained in Iwama as head instructor of the Iwama Dojo. He took it as his duty to preserve aikido's roots--what he calls "the Founder's techniques"--the locks and throws the Founder taught on a daily basis at the Iwama Dojo.

Saito Shihan's own innovation was to develop a systematic method for transmitting the Founder's aikido. Saito Sensei’s teaching method was developed from studying with Morihei Ueshiba at his home dojo in Iwama. This method is a direct result of what O’Sensei showed at the Ibaraki Dojo. It stresses mental focus and coordinated body movement for the rapid development of internal energy and power. The Founder of Aikido always taught aiki-ken, aiki-jo as well as the body arts as an aid to refining distance, timing and body movements.

While Aikido's spiritual values are essential to the practice, they are nurtured non-verbally through sincere training and cooperation among dojo members.

Saito Shihan passed away on May 12, 2002 after a lengthy illness. His unselfishness and determination to pass on the Founder's Aikido will endure as an inspiration to generations of future martial artists.

The Iwama Style at Bay Marin Aikido

Hans Goto Sensei became the first foreign live-in student at the Iwama Dojo in 1973 at age 22. Training at the Iwama Dojo of that time was intensive and severe, since Saito Sensei expected all his students to become Aikido Instructors. The young Goto learned the traditional catalogue of Iwama techniques, traveled with Saito Sensei for demonstrations, and shared in the traditional rural life of the Saito family.

On returning to the US, Goto Sensei began teaching Aikido, and he opened Bay Marin Aikido in 1995, where he now teaches full-time.

Goto Sensei's own innovation has been to emphasize principles of inner power, movement, and body mechanics, avoiding unnecessary force, in teaching the Iwama Style, making it accessible to people of all ages and abilities.

The Founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba,
O-Sensei (1883 - 1969)

Morihei Ueshiba, called O-Sensei (great teacher) was the most gifted martial artist of his time. With mind, body, and soul he mastered the sword, spear, and jo (short staff) as well as the empty-handed arts. Yet, even with this mastery, he was dissatisfied with the scope and philosophy of the martial arts. Master Ueshiba felt that the physical techniques alone were not enough.

At the same time, O-Sensei developed a keen spiritual interest, and found himself profoundly inspired by the divine mystery of the universe. During the darkest days of World War II, as devastation and suffering surrounded him, O-Sensei had a vision that integrated his spiritual insights with his martial arts genius. He envisioned a martial art that would renounce destruction and instead cultivate strength through compassion. It was a radical vision that reversed thousands of years of Japanese martial arts tradition. He named his art "Aikido," or "the art of peace."

Soon after, he retreated to the country village of Iwama, in Ibaraki Prefecture where he built the Iwama Dojo. There he also constructed a shrine dedicated to the spirit of Aiki. It was in that shrine that the Master spent long hours practicing and performing purifying exercises in the hope of reaching his goal. Through this arduous period, Master Ueshiba began to evolve the principles of Aikido. Rather than focusing on discord and the constant desire to win and dominate, the ideas of harmony and peaceful reconciliation began to emerge. He came to realize that true victory is not winning over others, but winning over the discord within yourself. As a result, Aikido was born as a way to prevent harm to one's self without causing permanent injury to an aggressor.

Aikido Ranking

Aikido utilizes the Kyu and Dan system of ranking. An adult Aikidoist begins with the 5th kyu (children begin at the 10th kyu) and advances through the kyu ranks until they reach 1st kyu. After passing the black belt examination, they are awarded the rank of Sho Dan (1st degree black belt) and efter that work their way up the dan ranks.

10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1= Kyu Ranks 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10=Dan Ranks

Rank is obtained through proficiency exams. Becuase Aikido philosophy promotes harmony and non-conflict, tournaments in Aikido are non-existent. Instead, the clear presentation of the techniques, presence, and a calmness of bearing becomes the criteria for promotion. In addition, consideration is given to the Aikidoist's character and attitude as well as their seriousness and diligence in practice.

A common question is "How long will it take me to get a black belt?" It is difficult to predict accurately when a person at the outset of their training will reach the first level of black belt since what is offered is not a 'package course' but a program for continuing progress. Factors such as age, physical condition, natural ability, a modest and open attitude, and a zeal in practice all affect one's progress. However, it is common for someone who is healthy and trains regularly to reach Shodan grade in about 3-5 years.

Aikido and Other Martial Arts

How does Aikido compare with other martial arts? This question is best answered by understanding that Aikido is, among other things, a pure art form. Like music, painting, or dance, each art form has its own beauty and appeals to a different kind of person. We suggest that anyone interested in studying the martial arts visit as many of the different arts as possible, then select the one most appropriate for them.

The Founder

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