(This post was written by a senior student at Vermont Aikido.)
Aikdio is a Japanese martial art created by Moreihi Ueshiba in response to the ravages of World War II. While the genesis of the art began many years before, the destruction of the war spurred O-Sensei (“great teacher,” as Ueshiba would be called) to consolidate his practice into Aikido, “The Way of Harmony.” O-Sensei was an accomplished martial artist in Judo and Jujitsu, and Aikido has many forms based in these practices, but without the intent to inflict harm. The forms are greatly transformed and used only to neutralize an attack. An apocryphal story describes this transformation, and says that O-Sensei had grown weary of fighting. Being an accomplished swordsman, however, a naval officer challenged him to a duel. O-Sensei declined, but invited his challenger to attack him. His partner struck, and he moved out of the way so that the challenger struck air and lost his balance. This went on for many hours, with the man striking as hard and fast as he could and not landing a single blow. Finally, the officer gave up.
During Aikido practice you work in pairs, and rather than meeting the attack of your partner with a counter-attack or a block, you redirect the energy and use technique to create a harmonious solution to what started out as a conflict. The practice of tenkan, meaning “turn” in Japanese, embodies this redirection. During tenkan practice you are grabbed by your partner and rather than engaging with the confrontation, you turn to their other side, where they cannot see or reach you. This is what we strive for – to neutralize conflict and aggressive energy before it starts, and to foster compassion for someone who is attacking you so that you can achieve the ideals of peace and harmony. To do so you must give up all desire to win, which is very difficult.
For many practitioners, Aikido is less about technique and more about the way you live your life; the dojo becomes a training ground for life, where you train to connect to the essential goodness and common humanity within each person. Rather than violence, Aikido is about seeing things from another’s point of view, and meeting conflict with compassion.