Aikido: What is it? Concept and techniques

aikido banniere

A must in Japanesemartial arts, aikido was created between 1925 and 1969 by Morihei Ueshiba. Combining mastery of one’s environment and energy, aikido has become an international success.

From 1950, the art made its way to Europe and settled there permanently, especially in France.

But what is the history of this art? On what concepts is it based? Let’s discover this Japanese martial art.

The concept of aikido

The foundation of aikido is above all non-violence. Everything in this art is thought out so that the practitioner can defend himself without hurting the opponent. The main goal is to control the opponent. We do not wish to defeat the enemy, but to make his attempts at aggression futile.

But what should we remember about this art?

Aikido is based on the following 3 key points:

  • The primacy of non-violence. Indeed, aikido is the embodiment of self-defense.
  • Harmony. Aikido uses energies and undertakes their harmonization in its practice.
  • The teaching of an art accessible to all. This was the will of Morihei Ueshiba.

Aikido : martial art of non-violence

Aikido can be translated as “the way of harmonization of energies”. But what are the principles behind this martial art? And what are its subdivisions?

The fundamental principles of aikido


The philosophy of aikido is first and foremost to be prepared for the possibility of any kind of attack. This preparation is done at the physical, mental, technical, but also spiritual level.

In general, aikido recognizes the following principles:

  • Promoting peace

As a martial art that promotes peace, aikido favors dodging and using the enemy’s strength against himself, rather than attacking. So it’s all about defense.

  • The union of the effort in the sense of the harmony of the energies and not in their opposition

This vision implies the harmonization of energies, one of the key points of aikido. In this perspective, the practitioner trains to turn the energy that the opponent put in his attack against him. For this, the aikidoka must understand this force and work with it.

  • Be prepared for any attack

This preparation for any possible offensive aims at training the practitioner to trivialize the aggression. He must not run away from a confrontation, but face it with an appropriate response. All this while keeping the integrity of his opponent. In other words, aikido can be seen as the realization of the concept of self-defense.

To wit: even though the techniques of this martial art do not favor attack, the use of aikido can be dangerous.

The different branches of aikido

Several currents are derived from aikido. This martial art admits 5 major styles, namely:

  1. The aikikai aikido

This is the initial style developed by Morihei Ueshiba. It is often referred to as the “Motherhouse” or the “Founder’s School”.

  1. The Yoshinkan

This branch was created in 1955 thanks to Gozo Shioda, one of Morihei Ueshiba’s disciples. This variant of aikido is inspired by the style of the founder of the martial art in the pre-war period.

  1. The aikido of the Ki society

Developed by Koichi Tohei, this variant of aikido is based on the principle of Ki or the energy that circulates in the human body. This martial art uses the nervous system to control the opponent.

  1. Tomiki Aikido

This style was created by Kenji Tomiki, a student of judo master Jigoro Kano and aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba.

  1. Yoseikan budo

This is the variant of aikido developed by Minoru Mochizuki. It is also the most practiced form in France.

Illustration: Yoseikan budo

Belts and ranks in aikido

Aikido, like karate, consists of several grades and belts. The higher the rank, the more mastery of the art is considered acquired. However, the current and the style of aikido practiced bring some differences. For example, it affects the passage from one grade to another.

Despite this, we can still remember that there are only two belt colors in aikido:

  • the white one, corresponding to the ” kyu ” grades
  • black, corresponding to the “dan” grades

The white belt in aikido: symbol of the “kyu” grades

The white belt symbolizes the student’s belonging to the student rank in aikido. The aikidoka wearing the white band is therefore in his initiation and familiarization phase with the martial art.

The wearing of this belt, contrary to other martial arts, includes several phases of learning aikido by the practitioner.

In Europe, there are generally 6 grades of kyu:

  • The 6e Kyu (this is the beginner’s rand)
  • The 5e Kyu
  • The 4e kyu
  • The 3e kyu
  • The 2e kyu
  • The 1stst kyu

Arrived at the 1st kyu, it is often assumed that the aikidoka has acquired the basics of the martial art. He can then take an exam to reach the next level of learning: the dan.

Important: The number of grades held in the white belt may differ according to the country, the style, but also the age of the participant. Nevertheless, this number does not normally exceed 10 steps. In other states, for example, 10 kyu ranks are allowed when the aikidoka starts learning from childhood.


The black belt in aikido: sign of the “dan” grades

The wearing of a black belt in any Japanese martial art generally symbolizes a certain mastery in the field. The dan rank that comes with it also signifies a certain mastery. Aikido does not escape these basic rules of budo. And this, even if the color of the belts differs.

In aikido, 10 dan grades are generally allowed under one black belt:

  • From 1st dan to 4th dan

These grades are still generally considered as learning grades for aikidoka. Beyond the 4e dan, it is often considered that the practitioner can already teach the martial art.

  • From 5th dan to 7th dan

These grades correspond to grades considered higher in aikido. Indeed, from the 5th dan, the practitioner reaches a more spiritual level of mastery of the martial art.

To know: In France, grades above the 5e dan are often granted in a symbolic way.

  • From 8th dan to 10th dan

In general, these grades were only given to direct disciples of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of the martial art. Nowadays, these grades are almost non-existent.

To know: The clothing used in aikido is called hakama. It is a traditional Japanese garment worn mainly by nobles in feudal Japan.

Aikido: what are the techniques used?

The way to learn the practice of aikido implies the mastery of certain techniques that put the aikidoka in a combat situation. These include:

Suwariwaza or kneeling practice

Hanmihandachiwaza or the practice of attacker standing, defender kneeling

Tachiwaza or standing practice on grabs and strikes

Ushirowaza or the back attack

Tandodori or the practice against knife

Jodori or the practice of projection with stick

Tachidori or practice with a wooden sword for each of the two partners

Kumitachi or exercises with wooden sword

Kumijo or exercises with stick

Futaridori or the seizure by two opponents

Randori or free practice

Thanks to these trainings, the aikidoka is prepared to face any situation. This martial art can also be practiced with or without a weapon.

Aikido without weapons

The most common form of aikido practice today is unarmed. The aikidoka learns to master his opponent by using his strength and aggressiveness against him. This form of aikido therefore focuses more on understanding the energies around us and bringing them into harmony.

The techniques of Suwariwaza, Hanmihandachiwaza, Tachiwaza, Ushirowaza, Futaridori and Randori are rather privileged here.

To know: Aikido uses circular movements in the channelling of energy and its use.

Aikido with weapon

If aikido is generally the art of self-defense, it can also be practiced with weapons. Generally, sticks, swords or katana and knives are used in this martial art.

This armed version of aikido generally uses the techniques of Tandodori, Jodori, Tachidori, Kumitachi or even Kumijo.

Important: Obviously, when practiced with a weapon, aikido is very dangerous. From the moment the aikidoka grabs a piece of combat equipment, he can potentially injure his opponent. The art of non-violence that is taught can then quickly become a deadly tool. Learning this armed martial art requires great care.