“Does “Aikido” Even Exist?” by George Ledyard

“What is Aikido? One could simply say that all Aikido, regardless of style, has a certain basic set of techniques and movement principles which make the art “Aikido” as distinct from aikijutsu or jiujutsu or any other martial art. But, as any person who has trained widely in the Aikido community can tell you, there is such a wide range of interpretation with regard to how these techniques are practiced and executed that the surface similarities get outweighed by these inherent differences.

In Japan there is the traditional faction that believes that the art is the sole creation of Morihei Ueshiba and that Aikido is essentially the property of the Ueshiba family. Whereas, this might be the attitude of certain members of the Aikikai Honbu Dojo in Tokyo, I don’t think one can effectively maintain this as a point of view. Unlike the koryu, or classical martial styles of Japan, Aikido has had no set curriculum or any narrowly defined standards for the certification of its teachers. Even before the term “Aikido” came into common usage in the 1940’s, a wide gulf existed between the interpretations taken by various early instructors. The Yoseikan, Yoshinkan, Shudokan, Aikibudo (later Shin’ei Taido) systems emerged as distinct styles of what was just becoming known generally as “Aikido”.”

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  1. Dan Harden says:

    I think that is a rather accurate interpretation of events George. Some of the recent comments released by the Hombu (through the IAF) clearly suggested that there is going to be a shift in policy to keep what was referred to as the (nebulous and undefined) newly coined “Ura” of aikido in the Ueshiba families hands.
    This new model of trying to make Aikido similar to a koryu might have worked better in an earlier time; when most Western students were more ignorant of how things are done in Japan and Japan was the only source for training. It no longer being the case-it all seems a little transparently manufactured and forced. Even rather embarrassing. Unfortunately, the hombu can do the Japanese thing and make the declaration and not care how lame and amateurish they may appear in a world more conversant and aware. I am sure that in the end, they will not care at all what gets said.
    There is a clear hint that there will be no more shihan ranks given out to non Japanese and that they want ONLY shihan from Japan to spread the art and keep it pure.
    At the end of the day, I cannot help to wonder if OSensei ever came back and read some of this nonsense that he would up and leave the art himself, and start a new aikido organization away from his own family. And give THAT art to the world…yet again, till they finally get what he meant, that his Aikido is for the world.
    If he wanted a Koryu model he most certainly would not have said the many things he said, and he would have established it to be transmitted that way.

    One final comment
    Since Ueshiba was clear on individuals doing their own aikido-why don’t more and more groups tell Japan to go to hell and just do their own thing? Has anyone seen anything so impressive in the aikido of teachers coming out of Japan, or even the Doshu himself, to establish their aikido as being on a level -a cut above? Other than them obviously just saying it is- what exactly makes anything they have ever shown worthy of being a model for the world?

  2. Hi George

    I can’t recall who O’Sensei was with when he observed a high level Aikido demonstration towards the end of his life. However, I do remember the remark he said.

    ‘What they are doing looks good, but it is not what I am doing’.

    I have said in a former article that the lineage of Aikido is Spiritual, not physical or organizational.

    The spiritual dimension gives rise to the birth of technique and this comes out of the flow of movement. You do not have to have the same philosophy as O’Sensei but you have to connect to the same place. In connecting to the same place your technique will look like his…..Effortless and graceful.



  3. Oisin Bourke says:

    Hi Dan,

    Can you provide a link to the comments you alluded to? I checked the IAF website and the Aikikai homepage and could’t find anything.


  4. nev sagiba says:

    Well said George. I don’t think O’Sensei, Morihei Ueshiba was trying to start a cult as such. He simply got very excited at discovering that the natural principle of refinement, efficiency, interactive body, mind, spirit ergonomics, so to speak, is not only extant throughout all nature, and the underlying principle back of the universe, but that it can also be embodied in the human being in a discovery without end. Provided one is prepared to THINK and DO THE WORK, that is. As we all who train as a Way of Life know, this is an addiction that, once found, can never be put down, because it vivifies the whole human being. It is very difficult to return to dull semi conscious living without challenges after experiencing progressive awakening and refinement of skill.

    As for those followers who did start cults, have some pity for them. When one has no other skills or is simply too lazy or frightened to face the pain of change in daily personal discovery and transformation, it becomes all too easy to try to sell the hoped for addiction as a sort of money spinner and this without much though for consequences.

    In the end the fine line of authenticity resides in the fruit, or results that come out of the practice as well as the attitudes fostered and which define an adherent of Aikido… or whatever you want to call it..

  5. Jakob Blomquist says:

    The same O-sensei frequently went bananas when observing training at Hombu Dojo, which was “not aikido!!”, according to any number of todays shihan, including Shimazu and Chiba. So I’m pretty positive there WAS training these people did that did NOT qualify according to the Founder, and by the same token that there WAS and is training, and way of performing techniques, that he DID consider the core of the art.
    The problem was that most of today’s shihan spent more time playing in Hombu Dojo, under other instructors, and by default was formed by this training, rather than doing endless repetitions of suwariwaza training.
    Even today, watching the existing footage of him; every time he actually taught, i.e. showing a technique or two and then having the deshi repeat it, he showed the same stuff. Nothing else. The rest of what you see was demo, not teaching.
    I truly believe there is something to be learned by this.


  6. bruce baker says:

    In a room full of students and only one teacher for all those students, how many are actually doing exactly what their teacher is doing, and how many will teach exactly what their teacher is doing?

    Answer …. NONE OF THEM! They will all SOMEWHAT teach what their teacher has taught, and they will all somewhat seem to exhibit the same classical movements their teacher has taught them, but none of them will exactly practice nor teach what they have learned.

    Therein lies both the problem and the answer.

    And yet .. as a classification for what they seem to be doing .. we will call it Aikido. Got to call it something, and until a better classification comes along .. Aikido will just have to do for now as the best description of what see before us being practiced.

  7. Dan Harden says:

    I differentiate them as the Aiki…do that Ueshiba was doing and the Aikido™ it evolved into.
    I do not consider them the same thing at all. Apparently, neither did he!

  8. nev sagiba says:

    Having said that, it is entirely natural in an expanding universe that factions form much like the seedlings that sprout under a large tree. Just like everything else each galaxy is similar yet different to the others, as with rivers, oceans, plants , animals, insects , people and everything. ‘Similar but different’ is the way of the universe. But the universal law is ruthless and unforgiving with the non functional. On that basis delusion is not an option and the requirement of applicable functionality it can’t really be defrayed with politics trading in fake techniques. Pretending to hunt and gather won’t feed a caveman and he becomes extinct. Pretending to fight may be ok in a fake construct but it won’t save you if really attacked. In the new area of expression for great potential the question is: Are the ‘similar but different’ wasting energy contending or mutually enhancing by learning from each other? On a human scale we can choose war or cultural exchange. The outcomes of these interactions between similar yet different entities will either uplift or add to protracted leaking of energy and lots of suffering. The motivation begins within. The Way to harmonizing with everything, or otherwise, depend on the conflict or harmony we have found within ourselves. This too can be changed. The risk of course is getting lost in the byways of fantasy and calling it budo. We’ve all heard the ode, “,,, as many paths as there are Buddhas…”, Applies equally to “…as many Ways as budoka/Aikidoka..” because no two individuals are exactly alike, but rather: Similar but different!

  9. Organizations tend to grow at the expense of the individual.

    If one sees aikido as an individual pursuit, having nothing much to do with organizations, or ‘styles’, the futility of chasing ‘authenticity’ in any of the mainly political groupings becomes clearer. Taking this approach can also be a bit lonely of course.

    While the secularization of the art attributed to Kisshomaru may have its downside, just imagine what a shambles we would have if it went the other way: warring sects fighting over interpretations of Osensei’s abstruse and ambiguous spiritual teachings, with the techniques being forgotten even more rapidly!

  10. As for organizations growing at the expense of the individual, I have been taught that the development of each individual belongs to the individual themselves, and not the organization. Practicing Aikido in this way to help others grow is not something I have found to be lonely, but quite the opposite.

    I agree, attachment to a “pure” style of Aikido is misplaced and an obstruction to actually finding pure Aikido. That said, last I heard there were over 6 billion people on the planet, many of whom have differing views and beliefs. Personally, I feel we should not even have it as an objective to get everyone under the same roof in terms of approaching Aikido with the same path. Different people just need different approaches. In my limited understanding, O’Sensei spread Aikido internationally to help us all get understand each other better and get along despite differing points of view. The practice of Aikido is for all of us to harmonize, even within the context of our differing points of view. Somehow, I think the people up top at most of these organizations are doing a better job harmonizing than we seem to think most of the time…

  11. Dan Harden says:

    Oisin Bourke writes:
    Jun 29th, 2009 at 12:25 am

    Hi Dan,

    Can you provide a link to the comments you alluded to? I checked the IAF website and the Aikikai homepage and could’t find anything.

    Hello Oison
    Peter Goldsbury placed a very long post on Aikiweb, highlighting some of the discussion being bandied about from a recent meeting of the IAF and some discussion (IRRC) with the hombu. George Ledyard and others went into some lengthy debates about it. Do a search. I think it was a couple of years ago.
    Hope that helps.

  12. Dan Rubin says:

    I believe that Dan Harden is referring to post #61 by Peter Goldsbury in this thread:


    It’s probably best to read post #59, by George Ledyard, first.

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