Aikikai Hombu Dojo
Aikido and other Budo
By Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Second Doshu
Editor’s Note: This discussion appears in the appendix of the book Aikido by the Second Doshu. We thank the Third Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba for giving us permission to reprint it. For those who may not be familiar with the writings of the Second Doshu, when he uses the term “centrum” it has the same meaning as “center” or the physiological center of the body located about two inches below the navel. Photos courtesy Aikikai Foundation.
“What is the difference between Aikido and judo?” “And how about karate?” These questions are always asked during Aikido demonstrations. When you read the section on techniques you will learn the details.
Generally speaking, however, we can say that judo employs techniques of holding at the sleeves or collar, and takes advantage of a chance to throw the opponent. On the contrary, in Aikido the moment of contact is the decisive time for action. At first we stand apart, spacing ourselves and responding supplely to the opponent's movements with Aikido techniques. Here there is no grappling or jostling with each other. It is possible to see a greater difference when compared with karate. The movements of karate, in general, can be resolved to thrusting and kicking. Hence most of the movements seem to be in straight lines, although some circular movements are included. Aikido has thrusting and kicking also, but its movements vary. The essence of Aikido techniques lies in complete circular and spherical motion. Straight movements in Aikido are rare.
Movements which are common to those of Aikido are more easily found in Japanese swordsmanship rather than in judo or karate. Although Aikido appears very different from sword work, its movements are all based on those of the sword. It will be easier to explain the techniques of Aikido from the rationale of swordsmanship than from that of other arts. The Founder always stated:
"Those who study Aikido, if holding a sword, must maneuver according to the techniques of Aikido sword work, and if holding a stick, according to the techniques of Aiki stick action. A sword or a staff is an extension of the body. So unless you can handle it as if it were alive, you have not studied true Aikido."
The way of training in Aikido shares something in common with sword work. In sword use, from the beginning of the fight to the end, there is always a distance of about two meters between the opponents. In Aikido, although you are not holding swords, you check the opponent at the moment the spacing becomes advantageous for you. Handling the sword in Aikido is based on the technique of advancing the whole body in an oblique form; this is somewhat different from the techniques of modem Japanese sport kendo.
As explained before, the Founder studied various kinds of budo; it is natural that they were adapted into the techniques of Aikido. But because the Founder acquired something beyond them, the essence of Aikido differs from that of other arts.
Occasionally the training of Aikido is misunderstood as simply being the training of forms (kata). Bu the variations of Aikido techniques are too numerous to be considered as such. If Aikido is practiced as mere form the essence of Aikido - "the movement of Nature is the movement of our self" - cannot be reached.
The Founder therefore said: "There is no form and no style in Aikido. The movement of Aikido is the movement of Nature - whose secret is profound and infinite."
Dynamic Survey of Aikido
The techniques of Aikido are rationally structured from a dynamic viewpoint. They may be outlined as follows.
The human body, in motion, becomes like a spinning top. When not in motion the body is in the stable posture of an equilateral tetrahedron. This triangle-stance is the ideal posture from which to start the techniques of Aikido. When the movement begins the body becomes like a spinning top. In this sense the techniques of Aikido should reach a state in which you can change the opponent's CENTRUM by your own spherical motion which revolves around your CENTRUM. Thus you maneuver and spin off your opponent with your motion.
There is an old saying preserving a secret of jujutsu, "Push when pulled, and pull when pushed." It is clear from the following odes how the founders of the old jujutsu ryu taxed their ingenuity:
Softness is the mind of a willow
Which turns the force of the wind against itself.
If suppleness and strength were the essence of force,
Instruction would be much easier.
Suppleness is the way to be strong;
Learn, thus, its exquisite utility.
These odes illustrate the principle of suppleness. Jujutsu literally means "the techniques of suppleness," while judo means "the Way of suppleness".
When the same concepts are explained by the principle of Aikido, it is, "TURN when pushed, and ENTER when pulled." (See section on techniques.) This circular motion is different from the straight movements of jujutsu. It has more variety. When it is fully utilized in budo it leads to another more effective area. This is the development of spherical motions which consist of centrifugal and centripetal forces.
For this reason you and the opponent are not in dualistic opposition in Aikido but are one unit in which both are under your control. Both are completely controlled by the centrifugal force away from you and the centripetal force toward you. When such a spherical motion is continued as a systematic unity, the graceful rhythm and circular movement unique to Aikido appear.
For example, the force which is used in the ENTERING THROW checks the opponent's right hand with your HANDBLADE from a RIGHT -OBLIQUE POSTURE, flowing off his KI as you enter on your left foot to his right side. You continue turning your body rightward on your left foot in a sweeping motion to unbalance his body, and then, changing your body leftward, you enter again on the right foot. When this kind of powerful, continuous and spherical motion is carried out by every part of the body, the force of individual parts is joined together and executed systematically in natural, circular, spherical, and spiral-like ways. The rotation must be flexible and accurate, with a stable rock-like balance serving as the center. It is like a windmill which responds to a slight wind -- even one which normally could not be felt by a human body -- and keeps rotating. Or it is like a top whose force of rotation extends to every part yet simultaneously concentrates and stabilizes its mass around the axis, supporting it - the top therefore maintains its balance.
By this action it spins off or draws in everything it touches. Similar examples in natural phenomena are powerful whirlwinds and whirlpools.
For these reasons it can be more easily understood why Aiki techniques of leading and throwing are based on movement from the hips. The opponent is involved in this action of centrifugal and centripetal forces which you execute and is therefore placed in an unstable situation. He finds himself turning around the outer circle of your top-like movement. This puts her into a "state of having an unstable body position."
For example, in the CORNER DROP, as soon as you have your left wrist grasped by the opponent's right hand, you stretch out your left hand powerfully to his right rear corner and stop his right foot with your right hand. This prevents the movement of the opponent's CENTRUM. When his right hand is pulled to his right rear while his CENTRUM is stopped, his form becomes unstable and he falls. The opponent, in actuality, is moving around the outer circle of your CENTRUM, and hence is unstable.
When we analyze this motion and observe body positions and relationships of force, we know that the forces of the techniques are delicately worked out and related. Another example is seen in the WRIST IN-TURN or NIKYO. You hold the opponent's wrist while you are constantly turning around your center, Consequently he moves around your outer circle with his body unbalanced.
His wrist is bent toward the "direction of natural bending," thus he moves in the same direction. Most of the joint techniques of Aikido employ the moving of joints in the direction in which they bend naturally. It is different from ordinary reversal techniques, which hurt the joints by turning them in a direction counter to natural bending.
These "natural bending" techniques are used because the principles of circular and spherical motion are rationally utilized in Aikido. When we observed the Founder in action and considered these force relationships, we saw that the movement of his hands and feet traced spherical shapes as his motion accelerated around his stable hips. When holding a stick, his body and the stick took on the appearance of a spherical body. The stick looked almost as if it were alive.
Thus when we train ourselves in Aikido we must study technique in order to be like a pyramid (equilateral tetrahedron) when not in motion, and to become like a spherical body when moving. The spherical body must be versatile, keeping its power contained, harmonizing the centrifugal and centripetal forces, just as a rubber ball rolls down a slope, lively bouncing no matter how bumpy the slope may be. These kinds of force relationships are worth studying further from the standpoint of Aiki Dynamics, but in training ourselves we should learn the state of "no-mind," and not be shackled with the analysis of theories.