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Aikido, which was founded by “O Sensei Morihei Ueshiba” (1883 - 1969) is above all Budo, a martial art. The basic difference between a martial art and a game or a sport is that the player has to continually face the possibility and meaning of life and death.
The three ideograms that form the term "Aikido" are:
Thus, the literal meaning is the "Way to become one with theSpirit".
In Japan, Aikido is considered the most highly-evolved form of martial art and even though it derives from traditional combat arts (ju-jutsu, ken-jutsu, etc) its techniques have been developed and designed so as to be extraordinarily effective yet intrinsically non-violent.
The study of this art is aimed at neutralizing any sort of armed (with a knife, stick, sword) or unarmed attack and at breaking free from any grasp on the body or clothes from the front or from behind. All this occurs without ever using physical force but by carrying out a series of techniques which destabilize, immobilize and distance the attacker by applying pressure to the joints or by means of a throw. These techniques are complex and require discipline and concentration.
Although a certain physical effort is necessary to do Aikido, it is suitable for anybody, regardless of sex or age.
Lessons are held in a training room (dojo) which has special mats (tatami) for breaking the impact of falls. All members of the group taught by the instructor, regardless of level, age, sex or weight, take part in the lesson. Beginners wear a white keikogi, which is a pair of trousers and a very hard-wearing jacket. Black-belt experts also wear a black hatama (a divided skirt), which is a traditional item of Japanese clothing.
Aikido is a slow and progressive study which starts with simple holds and progresses to warding off more than one attacker at a time. Constant pair-work between students allows for reciprocal learning as the role of defender (tori) and attacker subjected to the technique (uke) is alternated. With time, ability is distinguished by a series of levels which are assigned after passing exams.
There is nothing to prove in Aikido so there is no room for aggression and violence; there is no rivalry but only reciprocal learning. The person being attacked learns to use his energies whereas the attacker learns how not to be injured, as any injury would be the inevitable result of obstinate resistance.
Although Aikido could be seen as a scientific form of personal defence, it is above all a method for harmoniously developing the coordination of body, mind and spirit and physical training is merely a symbolism that is aimed at a much higher moral objective.
AI also means union, blend, “love”; harmony with the laws of nature. Learning Aikido means understanding the natural laws of movement. Aikido players are required to work intensely in order to harmonize (awase) with their partner’s movements (uke). Aikido techniques are therefore inspired by principles of natural philosophy (whirlwind, sea wave, etc) without any contrast or clash with the power of the attack It follows that the attacking force can be overcome by adapting to it and not contrasting it. By adjusting one’s movements to those of the attacker, the latter’s negative energy can be appropriately re-directed and neutralised without causing any physical damage.
KI means “vital energy” therefore not only physical energy but also psychic and mental energy. The aim of Aikido is to be conscious of one’s energy and to learn how to control it. This is the same energy that fills the Universe and is the measure of each person’s vitality: immobility and death arrive in the absence of “KI”. Thanks to Aikido techniques not only can physical health be improved but a special form of self-control, together with an extraordinary inner energy, can also be acquired whilst preserving youthful agility and inner serenity.
DO means “way” in the sense of a route to or quest for spirituality.
Aikido is the spiritual path that enable us to unite our internal energy in connection with the universal source and then to spread out on the earth with the goal to become ONE with everything around us.
In Aikido this process goes through four levels of awareness:
The aim of the first level (KO-TAI which corresponds to “solid body”) is to effectively control one’s body and entails mastering practical techniques through a step-by-step study of weak balance points and concentrating on the precision of movements.
At the second level (JU-TAI which corresponds to “flexible body”) techniques start to be more flexible: the body begins to move with more confidence and without any hesitation. A certain alliance between attacker and defender is perceivable in the use of techniques.
At the third level (RYU-TAI which corresponds to “fluid body”) the moment of fusion between attack and defence is studied. Techniques become fluid and are in harmony with the attacking force. There is no more uncertainty, action is continuous and the opponent’s energy is smoothly re-directed in the appropriate way.
At the fourth level (KI-TAI which corresponds to “spiritual level”) awareness of the start of an attack is acquired. This is the highest level that an Aikido player can reach and only after a long process of constant practice. This peak is almost perfection since there is not only perfect physical and mental harmony but above all a spiritual harmony between “tori” and”uke”. The body is no longer slow-moving and being mentally in tune with the adversary allows the spirit to act completely freely.
Aikido is a step forward compared to other martial arts since it becomes a Spiritual Art without losing any of its effectiveness. Defence techniques are indeed a “means of getting to know oneself and of understanding how to live: winning or losing is not the right Way to knowledge since a person who wants to be unbeatable maintains a battling spirit and aggressiveness. Real victory means defeating the spirit of discord within our soul because what we are seeking or what we are trying to escape from is deep inside of us. Real strength means acquiring inner strength, preserving the right level of spiritual calmness and serenity without seeming weak but resolute and determined in our actions, sure of our decisions and always ready to face any new situation with appropriate courage.
With time, Aikido players acquire a determined physical and mental attitude which is reflected in everyday life, especially out of the “dojo”. Respect for nature and fellow human beings is enhanced thanks to the routing procedure of greeting, thanking, alternately repeating exercises and carrying out techniques with a partner whose physical integrity is of prime importance. The ability to carry out techniques perfectly leads to precision and accuracy in all other sectors of life. The search for harmonization, which is possible only through self-correction, develops a sense of self-criticism. Accepting advice from elders (sempai) leads to a right amount of humility. These are all significant factors in radically improving one’s personality. When the practice of Aikido is based not only on a search for harmonization, and the relevant technique in a given situation but also on respect for your partner, it allows the right road to a specific target to be identified. This model can also be applied in social life: here too, it is sometimes necessary to know how to move with discretion and look for the right way to your objective whilst respecting fellow human beings.
Aikido is therefore not only a physical activity, as it may first appear, but a marvellous way to “live” our life.
Nowadays there are still many “masters” throughout the world who, even if elderly, were taught by the Founder himself. Each of them has learned this art depending on the amount of time spent together and according to their ability to interpret the techniques demonstrated by “O Sensei Morihei Ueshiba”. It should be remembered that the pedagogy of that period compelled students to be very careful and attentive to what the Master demonstrated and said without expecting explanations or being able to ask any questions. They had to understand by drawing on their own experience. The result is that there are now many Masters who have their own personal style of teaching and that is why there are different ways of doing Aikido.
Iwama is the name of a small Japanese town in Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo. The Founder moved there during the Second World War and stayed until he died on 26th April, 1969. “O Sensei” (the “Great Master”) built his “Aiki Shuren Dojo” here (literally: “the infernal dojo of the aiki” where infernal means hard, harsh) next to his home. A very short distance away, he built the Aiki Jinjia, the Shintoist sanctuary dedicated to Aikido which is a reference point and destination for all lovers of this art. It is in this peaceful place surrounded by nature that the Founder, in between farm-work and spiritual studies, discovered the ideal conditions for developing his “art” which he called “Takemusu Aiki”, now known worldwide as “Aikido”.
“Take” means “martial technique”, “musu” means “to spring, arise spontaneously”, “ai” means “harmony” and “ki” is “spirit”. When you are in harmony with yourself and others (aiki) the martial technique (take) arises spontaneously (musu)”.
In 1946, the young Morihiro Saito entered the Iwama dojo as a uchi-deshi (a boarder). He was just 18 years old and stayed with the Founder for the next 23 years, helping in the dojo and in the fields.
During this time, Master Morihiro Saito was able to see and learn Aikido. He observed “O Sensei” daily elaborating this art and memorised the same teaching method based on demonstrating the various moves and explaining them with “kuden” (literally “verbal teachings”) which metaphorically expressed the essence and meaning of the technique.
Upon the Founder’s death in 1969, Morihiro Saito Shihan became Head of the Iwama Dojo (Ibaraki Dojo, known as Aiki Shuren Dojo), Guardian of the Founder’s home and of the Aiki Jinjia (the sanctuary where there is a monthly ceremony and where once a year, on 29th April, all Japanese Aikidoka gather for a long commemorative service. He regularly taught both uchi-deshi and soto-deshi at the Aiki Shuren Dojo in Iwama and held “Aikido Iwama Ryu” Seminars all over the world, thus making a huge contribution to the diffusion of the Founder’s traditional Aikido.
“Ryu” means school and so “Iwama Ryu” is the “school of Iwama” which is used to highlight the Founder’s original form of Aikido so as to distinguish it from any other “personal style”.
When Morihito Saito Soke died on 13th May, 2002, his son Hitohiro Saito Soke took over.
As official successor and head-of-school, Master Hitohiro Saito is handing down his father’s tradition by regularly teaching in Iwama and holding “Aikido Iwama Ryu” seminars throughout the world. To confirm this intent, Hitohiro Saito Soke decided to leave the Aikikai Foundation in October 2003 and become independent under the name of "IWAMA SHINSHIN AIKI SHURENKAI".
The aim of “SHIN SHIN AIKIDO” (synonyms are "SHIN SHIN AIKI JUKU" and "DENTOO IWAMA RYU") is to understand the ultimate principles of the founder, Morihei Ueshiba, O-Sensei, His spirit and technique and to protect and spread the way of His teaching through the doctrine and method of Saito Morihiro Sensei. Anybody who wants to seriously study Japanese traditions and Budo can join the IWAMA SHIN SHIN AIKI SHURENKAI, to train the spirit, technique and body in a cooperative and friendly manner, to share Aikido for world peace.
M° Alessandro Tittarelli