Kisshomaru Ueshiba
Second Doshu
Former Dojocho Aikikai Hombu Dojo

Aikido: Its Spirit and Technique

by Kisshomaru Ueshiba

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in The Aikido, vol. 23 no. 2 in 1986. Our thanks to Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba and Aikido World Headquarters in Tokyo for allowing us to reproduce it.

On March 16th 1986, Ueshiba Kisshomaru Doshu was invited to speak on Aikido before the 12the General Meeting of the Japan Martial Arts Society. This English-speaking, international organization holds quarterly meetings and other special events and report on them in a newsletter. The Society’s activities are dedicated to fostering a correct understanding of the goals and purposes of the Japanese martial arts and ways. The following article was adapted from part of Doshu’s two-hour address.

The Concept of Ki in Aikido

In Aikido the concept of “ki”, as it has developed over the ages here in Asia is of very great importance. We speak of “extending our ki” and by this we mean that each person trains to achieve a unity of the sprit/mind to concentrate the self in order to manifest a humanistic form of strength.

For example when we face our partner in training we are expected to be able to utilize irimi entering movements. This does not mean that we pause, wondering about doing well or not, or hesitate and lose confidence by worrying about that will happen. Rather, we move in positively with the Principle of Entering.

I am sure that you have all experienced the importance of concentrating your energies in your own training and even in everyday life. Meeting a particularly famous or powerful person can be so daunting that we find ourselves able to display only a small fraction of our talent at precisely the moment when we need to do our very best.

What does all this mean in terms of the actual movements of Aikido? We often hear people describe Aikido as being “purely defensive” or as relying exclusively on a “go no sen” form of technique in which we wait and act only in response to another’s movement. I always feel that anyone who says this sort of thing must have somehow missed the true essence of this budo. In Aikido when we stand face to face with our partner, there is no “them and us” - we are already a unit. The Aikido ideal represents a different breadth of awareness. Our feeling should be that we are already reaching out and embracing the other person. For this reason, I can say that when I move around my center the partner moves as well. Likewise, we could say that the other person is moving of their own accord and causing me to move around my center. This is the ideal way that we take hold of ki in Aikido.

A budo that is only a “go no sen budo”, or that is only a “uke no budo” is not really a budo at all. In Japanese budo history there has never been an art designed to gain victory by being backed into a corner or by putting oneself under siege. In every case the essence is to strike out and decide the issue of victory or defeat in an active way. Thus in Aikido we do not sit back and let our partner push us here and there, neither do we actually attack them. There is no winning and there is no being defeated. We do away with the distinctions of attacker and attacked. Aikido movement brings the two into a single accord.

It is clear that unless your center is firmly established, rooted to the earth, it will be impossible to achieve Aikido movements. The strict life style that has historically been associated with budo is one of the ways to establish this necessary firmness of center. To help us become able to “extend ki” in ourselves, Aikido has the concept of “kokyu ryoku” (breath power), and methods designed to enable us to learn how to send out this breath power. In the orient since the ancient past, seers or philosophers have often described the flowing powers of the universe. Lao Tzu, Mo Tzu, Mencius, and others like them often spoke of becoming “filled with ki”. In Aikido, our concept of the “Principle of Ki” is based on establishing a unity between this cosmic flow of the heavens and earth, and the flow of our own individual center, our “kokyu ryoku”. We use kokyu ryoku yosei ho (popularly called kokyu-ho) as the most basic exercise designed to develop this power and unification.

This technical ideal, in which the bodies of the two people become a single body united in harmonious movement, allows one to deal with two or three attackers should the need arise. Moreover, this kind of movement has always been considered the true movements of Aikido.

Of course, it is not easy for anyone, including myself, to move in this way when dealing with a number of attackers. Yet if the principle of unity with the other can be thoroughly understood and then realized in the body by means of shugyo training, just such an ability will develop. All of this is deeply tied in with the Aikido concept and the Principle of Ki.