“It is the martial atmosphere of the dojo setting that allows students to develop real-world skills and elevates the level of training beyond that of a mere health system.”
The virtues of aikido
The popularity of aikido both in Japan and abroad is a post-World War II phenomenon. Early students of Founder Morihei Ueshiba such as Koichi Tohei, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Gozo Shioda, Kenji Tomiki and others, followed by their students in turn, were mainly responsible for the growth of the art on an international scale.
What factors are responsible for aikido’s broad appeal? Many people observing the art for the first time comment on the beauty and gracefulness of aikido techniques. The attacker is thrown in a seemingly effortless manner yet suffers no apparent harm from the encounter. The promise of a self-defense art that protects the individual while sparing the aggressor is an attractive concept in philosophical and moral terms in a world where the specter of warfare seems ever present. Aikido’s ethical basis appeals to man’s deep-seated instinct for survival. At the same time, the art provides a unique alternative to the violent techniques of other martial arts—techniques that elicit moral repugnance in many.
On a physical level, aikido has much to offer for the health conscious. The accumulated benefits produced by warm-up, stretching, throwing and falling exercises are considerable. Many practitioners have undergone dramatic physical transformations through aikido training on their way to a fitness lifestyle.
The social milieu that develops in aikido dojos is an important part, too, of the training experience for many practitioners. Aikido tends to draw from a wide age range and students continue longer than practitioners of arts centered on competition, primarily the domain of young people. Also, I think it would be accurate to say that, as a percentage, aikido has a higher ratio of female participants than any other martial art. All of this contributes to a strong sense of community. For many students of aikido, the dojo is an extension of or even a substitute for their family.
Aikido: the non-martial art
For all of the positive benefits of aikido training, the art has not yet realized its great potential as a social force for promoting harmony among peoples. Although the relationship may not appear obvious, I think this is due in large part to the art’s distancing itself from its martial roots. It is the martial atmosphere of the dojo setting that allows students to develop real-world skills and elevates the level of training beyond that of a mere health system. The neglect of the martial side of aikido can be explained in part by historical circumstances.