The History of Aikido
Nidan Application Essay
By Alison Lincoln
Jikishinkan Dojo, Brooklyn, NY
In relation to most martial arts, Aikido is new to the world. When exactly Aikido was officially started is a grey area, but I see it as being born in 1925, when a middle-aged martial arts master overcame an armed attacker without force or harm. This experience brought this master to an enlightened, philosophical realization: budo is protection of all things, and ultimately, budo is love.
This master was Morihei Ueshiba, otherwise known as O-Sensei (Great Teacher). He lived from 1883 to 1969, and was a master in many martial arts before aikido came to be. These arts included Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu, Kenjutsu, Judo, and Tenjin Shin’yo-ryu, among others. Many of Aikido’s techniques are strongly rooted in these facets of expertise, the strongest being Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu.
Despite this fusion of various traditional arts of the time, Aikido migrated into more innovative territory as O-Sensei matured. Where Aikido started off as linear and atemi-based in its pre-WWII phase, it grew to be more round, dynamic, and kokyu-based towards the end O-Sensei’s path. Various major students peeled off at different times and started their own Aikido schools—all different in their own way, and all relative to the specific time in which they trained under O-Sensei. For instance, there is a big difference between the style passed down to us from Tomiki Kenji (1900-1979), who began training in Aikido in 1925, and the style passed down from Koichi Tohei (1920-2011), who began training in 1940. Tomiki Kenji created Tomiki-Aikido, which places heavy emphasis on atemi and joint locks, and is the only Aikido style that allows for competitions to occur. Koichi Tohei created Ki-Society, which is heavily rooted in Zen philosophy, and places emphasis on the unification of mind and body, competition being non-existent.
Morihei Ueshiba was deeply philosophical and spiritual. Omotokyo, a shinto movement founded in 1892 and engrained with the idea of world peace, was a major focus for the second portion of O-Sensei’s life. It was a wellspring to the philosophy that constructed Aikido—the harmony of all things. O-Sensei’s constant exploration, active intellect, and awakened spirit infused aikido with many layers of definition as it developed throughout his life. Those who practice continue to discover intriguing paths for this reason—each layer opens us in some way.
Since Morihei Ueshiba’s passing in 1969, Aikido has seen his family take second Doshu by his son, Kisshomaru Ueshiba (1921-1999), third Doshu by his grandson, Moriteru Ueshiba (1951-present), and the fourth doshu is in training, his great-grandson, Mitsuteru Ueshiba (1980-present), Each doshu is slightly different than the next. Aikido has changed, and will continue to change, throughout history.