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What is Aikido?

Aikido is a Japanese martial art. It is one of the youngest martial arts, having been developed in the early part of this century. "Aikido" translates to "the way of harmonizing energy". Although steeped in Japanese samurai tradition, its practice is ideally suited to today's world and to our current lifestyles. It helps us deal with stress, conflicts, and attacks from multiple directions. It differs from many other martial arts in that it doesn't meet aggression with aggression, but stresses blending with an incoming attack and redirecting the energy of that attack back to the attacker.

Morihei UeshibaMorihei Ueshiba
Perhaps history's greatest martial artist. Morihei Ueshiba, called O'Sensei (“great teacher”), the founder of modern Aikido, was born on December 14, 1883 in the Wakayama Prefecture of Japan.
O’Sensei was a man of peace who followed his spiritual and philosophical vision. He taught that the martial arts should be used as a means to live in harmony with oneself, the earth, and its inhabitants. Throughout his life he continued to refine his system to the less violent and gently flowing techniques practiced today. O’Sensei died at the age of 86 on April 26, 1969.

On one level, Aikido can be a very effective form of self-defense. It is used by a large number of law enforcement and military personnel worldwide. The techniques do not depend on size, strength, agility, or youth. Men and women, young and old, large and small - all can do Aikido. The techniques can be used against a variety of attacks and body types.

On another level, Aikido is great exercise, great people, and great fun. It's an enjoyable activity to spend time in, to do after a long day at work or at home, and it brings one into contact with a diverse and interesting group of people from many backgrounds.

On yet another level, Aikido is a well-rounded path of self-development, through which we can learn more about ourselves, improve ourselves as human beings, and become more effective at everything we do. It is applying our training to every one of our activities, to the way we live our daily life, to every breath we take.

So how is Aikido done? Most styles of Aikido have no competition or tournaments. techniques are practiced in cooperation with one or more partners; both the "throwing" role and "being thrown" role are equally important. Training is done in a dojo, or training hall. ("Dojo" literally translates to "place of enlightenment"). The dojo has padded mats, since Aikido is a throwing art. Aikido practitioners do a lot of falling - which they learn how to do in a safe manner. Forward and backward falls, forward and backward rolls, and for more advanced students, spectacular flips through the air resulting in an impressive looking (and sounding) "breakfall".

Techniques end in one of these throws, or in a joint lock or pin. Generally, in a class, the instructor will demonstrate a movement or technique, then the class will break up into partners or groups and all the students will practice, under the guidance of the instructor. Daily or weekly classes are supplemented by intensive training seminars or camps, which draw a larger number of aikidoka (aikido practitioners) from the region, country, or world. These events are generally taught by one or more high-ranked instructors.

Progress is measured through promotion tests, during which a student demonstrates certain movements and techniques, and a certain level of development in these techniques. Students start out as white belts, and work their way up through the ranks to become black belts. Some dojo utilize colored belts (i.e.. white, yellow, blue, brown) along the way, and some dojo require their students to wear white belts until they earn their brown and then black belts. In some dojo, hakama (the black split skirt, traditional samurai garb) are worn only by black belts, regardless of sex. In some, all members regardless of rank or sex wear them. In others, women of any rank wear them, and men who only are black belts. Usually the belt and hakama protocol are dictated by the organization with which the dojo is affiliated.

Some dojo are independent, but most are affiliated with a major Aikido organization. Many major Aikido organizations, in turn, are affiliated with the Aikikai World Headquarters Hombu Dojo (birthplace of Aikido) in Tokyo, Japan, black belt ranks and dojo affiliation is recognized by the International Aikido Federation. Aikido organizations provide leadership and various services to their member dojos, such as seminar instruction, test standards, membership identification, recognition of rank, instructor certification, etc... Black belt recognition for most organizations comes from IAF. There are ten black belt ranks, ranging from first degree, the lowest level, to tenth degree, which is held only by the current Aikido Doshu. Shihan (master instructors), are sixth degree and up. Most shihan are Japanese, but there are an increasing number of non-Japanese shihan around the world as the art develops.

The ultimate aim of Aikido is to integrate the mind, body, and spirit. It teaches us to bring ourselves into harmony with our own energy, and with the energy of the world around us. Aikido is a way, or path, of bringing our true self, our body, and our energy together into a powerful, cohesive, effective unit. This benefits not only us personally, but benefits society as well.

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