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    What is Aikido?
    Mario Forget's essay for the obtention of his first dan

    In the martial art world, aikido can be considered as a recent martial art since it was known to the western countries only after WWII. However, it has deep roots in the Japanese culture and philosophy. The result of a mixture of disciplines and martial arts, and their refinements, aikido was technically influenced by Master Sokaku Takeda's Daito-Ryu Aikijujutsu and philosophically influenced by the Omoto religion and its reverend Onisaburo Degushi who was a leader of Omotokyo.

    Aikido is more a self-defence system and a life style then a combat method. Every day, nature and life allow us to see and understand this. We only need to look and watch... to understand. For example, «the tree that bends under the wind will survive the storm.» This is how we can understand that flexibility overcomes stiffness. Based on this mentality, many pacific principles were developed such as: «Aikido is not the way of fighting and conquering an enemy by strength. It's the way to reconcile the world and make a family of all human beings.» This kind of principle is taught for the well-being of everybody in a world that strives to become better. Many aikido styles are taught around the world. The ideology of these styles though stays the same: Harmony.

    In order to better understand what aikido is, it's important to know its roots and its founder: Master Morihei Ueshiba. Of weak constitution at birth, Master Ueshiba had to work hard to strengthen his body. That is why, already at age 10, he practices many sports and martial arts: swimming, sumo, ju-jutsu and ken-jutsu. In 1903, around age 20, he learns bayonet combat (juken jutsu) while serving in the infantry during the Russia War. In 1912, he relocates to Hokkaido and sets up Shirataki (Shira=white taki=fall). This little agricultural village still exists in 1999, with 1500 inhabitants. This colonization period is very important in Master Ueshiba's life. Life is harsh and the crops scanty but it is at that period that he meets Master Sokaku Takeda. In 1919, his father passes away. Deeply affected, he leaves Hokkaido and retires for a few months in an Omotokyo temple. During that time, he opens a school for sect members: «Ueshiba Juku». Throughout the years, Master Takeda regularly visits Master Ueshiba. From 1923 and on Master Ueshiba gives different names to his art: Aiki-Bujutsu, Ueshiba Aiki-jutsu, Aiki-Budo. In 1942, AIKIDO becomes the official name of the martial art he has developed for all these years.

    In his life, Master Ueshiba teaches many students who could be grouped in 4 generations: 2 before WWII and 2 after. From these generations, some students became great teachers who in turn got recognition from Master Ueshiba. Of the prewar generations were born new styles. After the war, we can see the evolution of Master Ueshiba's style: Aikikai. The Kobukan is the Aikikai's headquarter in Japan. Aikikai is the lrgest aikido style in the world. After Master Morihei Ueshiba's death, his third son: Kisshomaru, became the master teacher. When his father passed away, he automatically inherited the Doshu title. Now that Kisshomaru died on January 4th, 1999, the new designated Doshu is the founder's grand-son: Moriteru. Of the new pre-war styles, we can find the Tomiki-ryu of Master Kenji Tomiki, the Yoseikan Budo of Master Minoru Mochizuki, the Yoshinkan of Master Gozo Shioda and the Shinshin Toitsu aikido or «Ki Society» of Master Koichi Tohei.

    Master Minoru Mochizuki began judo at age 5. In his life he practiced many martial arts. In 1926 (age 19), he joins the Kodokan under the direct teaching of Master Jigoro Kano. In 1930 (age 23), Master Kano sends him to learn under Master Ueshiba as Uchi Deshi. In November of 1931, he opens a dojo, in Shizuoka. This dojo is still today the headquarter of the Yoseikan Budo and the International Yoseikan Budo Federation. Master Mochizuki stays in contact with Master Ueshiba. Every time Master Ueshiba passes by Shizuoka to go teach in Kyoto, he stops at Master Mochizuki's dojo. Sometime, he would stay longer then he intended. His son Kisshomaru would have to come and get him to return to the Kobukan. In 1951 he departs for France and make Master Ueshiba's dream come true: Teaching aikido around the world. At the same time, he becomes the first teacher to teach aikido outside of Japan. When he returns, he concentrates his efforts on enhancing his style and refining his techniques; something he still does today. Yoseikan is a complete style which integrates techniques from many martial arts including aikido, judo, iaido and karate. The practice of karate by all students allows practitioners to hone their defensive techniques against more realistic attacks.

    Now that we understand better the roots of aikido Yoseikan Budo, we can talk about what it is technically. Aikido is taught in a way that allows students to progress at their own pace. Aikido, judo, karate and weapon combat (ex: shinai, bokken, tanto, jo, bo, ...) are taught according to the personal progression of each student. Techniques and basic moves are fundamentally very simple. One must keep in mind a ball principle: moves are circular in order to enable the defender to avoid a direct attack, to securely position oneself and use the aggressor's own energy and strength against him. Very little strength is required when executing an aikido defence. All that is needed is correct timing in order to catch the balance of the attacker and apply an appropriate technique. The choice is then to the defender to control the attacker or make sure that he is inapt for combat by using a technique, a pressure pin, strangulation or a throw.

    Aikido is more then just a series of techniques to contain an aggressor. It's a mental evolution. This psychological development is feed by aikido's prime ideology: Harmony. It's essential to use only the strength that is required in order to control an attacker. This pacific mentality is reflected in the aikidoka's daily life. The respect that we have for the people and things of our surrounding is reflected in our actions and speech. Our actions are the same in training and in daily life. We learn to respect the place we are in as if it were our own home. When we come in to the dojo, we bow in order to indicate our presence and in respect for the place that allows us to evolve in the aikido path. When training, the class always starts and ends with a formal bow to the Shomen. The Shomen is the wall on which is displayed the founder's picture and transcripts related to our style and our philosophy. In Japan, we can find a small altar on which are placed incense and flowers. During training we bow to show respect to our partner who allows us to practice our techniques. By bowing , we express our gratitude and remind him that if we hurt or injured him it would be by an unfortunate accident. Once we are finished with the exercise, we bow again to thank our partner for his patience. It is essential to remind ourselves that our partner is there to learn and help us to learn. That is how we can help each other improve. In this spirit of mutual welfare and sincerity, it is still possible for an accident to occur and it can happen fast. That is why most aikido style will not engage in competition. Adrenaline flows during competition and a deplorable accident could ruin a participant life. In order to increase the adrenaline level and make training as real as possible, after a few years of training, participants are invited to gather their knowledge in a ju randori training. During this training, the participant is circled by his partners who use different attacks: punches, kicks, weapons, etc. The defendant will strive to execute clear techniques, just as if he would have to defend himself in a real combat situation.

    I have personally found in aikido Yoseikan Budo the complement to my own philosophy. It rapidly became a part of my life and that reflects in my daily life at the office, at home, in my life style and in the way I raise my children. Aikido helps me find serenity within myself in order to stay calm in difficult times and even in during conflicts. My training is demanding physically and mentally. But to feel myself growing and knowing that directly or indirectly I can contribute to harmony in this world fully justifies the efforts I put in.

    Mario Forget

    Aikido Masters, Stanley Pranin
    The Aiki News Encyclopedia of Aikido, Stanley Pranin
    Aiki News/Aikido Journal, Stanley Pranin
    Ki Ai News Letter, FIYB
    Notes accumulated through the years

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