Listen to the opinions of Aikido Journal readers on Aikido and weapons

Morihei Ueshiba and Morihiro Saito practicing the Aiki Ken in the fields of Iwama c. 1957

Morihei Ueshiba and Morihiro Saito practicing the Aiki Ken in the fields of Iwama c. 1957

“Use of the ken, jo, and tanto is only occasional, for example, for testing and demonstrations. No structured weapons curriculum exists within the Aikikai system.”

No matter how many times we revisit this subject, we find that readers have strong views on whether aikido training should include weapons practice, especially the Aiki Ken and Aiki Jo. The world’s largest aikido body, the Aikikai Hombu Dojo organization based in Tokyo, holds steadfastly to the position that the art consists only of empty-handed (taijutsu) techniques. Use of the ken, jo, and tanto is only occasional, for example, for testing and demonstrations. No structured weapons curriculum exists within the Aikikai system.

The inclusion of weapons training in aikido outside of Japan is much more common, perhaps due to the freer mixing of styles and the widespread success of Iwama Aikido as taught by Morihiro Saito Sensei. Here below is a sampling of comments by our readers from a thread harvested from the Aikido Journal Facebook page:

George Ledyard:

It is simply not the case that the Aikido Founder forbade the practice of weapons. The post war uchi deshi were encouraged to do weapons traiing. My teacher, Saotome Sensei, was given extensive exposure to weapons work as was Chiba Sensei, Tamura Sensei, Nichio Sensei, and other uchideshi. Instructors were brought in for the uchi deshi who got exposure to Kashima, Yagyu and Itto Ryu sword. The persons who provided this instruction have not publicly been named but it was clearly at the behest of the Founder himself. While the organization and subsequent Doshus may have not been encourgaing when it cames to weapons work, the top post war students all had quite a bit of weapons work and incorporated that work into their Aikido. Weapons work is inseparable from empty hand in the Aikido of Saotome Sensei and Nishio Sensei. Chiba Sensei created an extensive weapons system of instruction. I think the stories of the Founder discouraging weapons traiing came from folks who saw him yell at people for “bad” weapons work.

Although I agree with the latter statement, I would have to hear about specifics of the Hombu Dojo giving uchideshi  “extensive exposure to weapons work.” My research has led to believe that this was not the case and that those uchideshi who did choose to study weapons outside the headquarters did so “secretly” to quote Nobuyoshi Tamura. — Editor

Tony Pelato:

We use ken and jo in all our practice (Nishio style). I don’t see how any Aikidoka could not benefit from weapons training.

Anthony Holbrook:

The movement is exactly the same, Aikidoists who limit themselves to only karate ( empty hand ) are only limiting themselves.

Alejandro Villanueva:

Do you mean Doshu actually said YES to weapons?

George Ledyard:

Alejandro, I don’t see anywhere here where someone has said the Doshu said yes to weapons… Now, the Nidai Doshu had extensive training in weapons as did the uchideshi from that era. I do not believe this is true of the current Doshu, and I do believe that the current Doshu is actively against weapons training in Aikido, possibly because he doesn’t have much of a background…. but that’s just a guess.

Mike De Lucia:

I’ve only ever trained within the Aikikai system, and I trained weapons both under my own sensei as well as at seminars with leaders in the US Aikikai community (I don’t remember specifically who did and did not teach weapons at their seminars, but quite a few did).

David DeLong:

The Form and spirit of Aikido is informed by the weapons practice as taught by Saito Sensei, even that of those who never received weapons training. So one could deny the relevance of ken and jo until the universe collapses and still perform Aikido that has its roots in the body knowledge, the stance, the footwork, the full empowerment of the hips, the kokyu extending from the center, etc.

Daniel Larsson:

I don’t know if Doshu has said yes to weapons or not. In Hombu dojo’s main dojo there is a weapon rack though. When I first went there, there was an uchi deshi practicing the sword there (it was a bokken not a katana). So I don’t know…

Ken J. Good:

It must be the Fluoride in the water…

Warwick Kent:

How can they ignore the Founders basic fundamental teachings? Aikido is like triangle…. Taijutsu, Aiki ken and Aki jo make the 3 sides of triangle. If you remove jo and ken you do not have Aikido!

Tino Gonzalez:

I think it’s something of a can vs. should scenario. Can one learn jujutsu without also learning bukiwaza? sure. Should one make these curricula mutually exclusive? I think not. Removing weapons removes the historical context for many of the techniques which in turn removes some of the meaning of the technique.

Ken J. Good:

Stan, over a decade ago when I participated in the Aiki Expo I had a young woman walk up to me about 30 seconds before taking the mat. She looked me up and down, scrunched her face up and disdainfully told me: “I don’t like that…!” She was referring to my Body Armor, Flight Suit used in CQB at the time, pistol, and the Bonelli M1 Super 90 shotgun. My response was two-fold:

1. It’s people like me that create the necessary conditions in this country to allow events like these to occur in an atmosphere of freedom and safety.

2. I see you are perfectly comfortable watching people simulate decapitations with swords…

I then walked onto the mat with my soft-soled shoes, and as you remember, caused quite a stir in-and-of itself. Weapons are part of reality. Wish they were not, but wishing them away will not change the ever presence of them.

Luciano Estivill:

It is said that Aikido is a Martial Art, and the word “martial” has to do with weapons. There are no wars in which the soldiers are battling with empty hands (that’s boxing or wrestling). Is it “martial”?. So there are weapons. Pure and simple. It sounds logical, doesn’t it?. By the way: MOST of those who say weapons are a must in Aikido, do not really study them. I see a contradiction there…

Ernst Greiner:

Adding Bukiwaza to your training is like watching the same thing from another perspective. The more different perspectives your have, the clearer the one thing becomes.

Brian Kinghorn:

Well you have to admit it’s somewhat impractical since no one walks around with swords anymore. Still, all the movements/techniques are rooted in weapons forms. Weapons practice can still be very valuable for exercising movement, posture, balance, timing. Tenkan makes a lot more sense when you do it as a sword slash.

Michael Crow:

I don’t see why not. In fact, if weapons were more prominent, many of the techniques make perfect sense to the beginner from the outset, especially the ones carried over from the Daito-ryu.

Brett Simpson:

I’m not an Aikidoka, but I do study taijutsu along with many forms of buki. I couldn’t imagine my training any other way. There is a depth and richness to the study of traditional Japanese weaponry; a genuine beauty that only serves to enhance my study of taijutsu. I feel very grateful for that.

David DeLong:

One value of weapons training is that it’s good therapy when one is injured, and is also therapeutic for the aging. If one is unable to go to a dojo on a regular basis, it’s a good way to maintain one’s form and fitness. Finally, it’s a good way to find one’s center . It can be done as a form of meditation. It’s relaxing.

Ron Tisdale:

The Doshinkan jo kata I could remember featured prominently in my recovery from a stroke…

Sean Bledsoe:

I can’t imagine anyone suggesting that weapons training does not contribute to Aikido. Apparently, the etymological debate resides in whether weapons training can be called ‘Aikido,’ as opposed to ‘Kenjutsu,’ etc. The more interesting question, for me, is “how does Aikido training contribute to weapons training?” I knew a fencer on the U.S. National team who assured me that Aikido revolutionized his approach to fencing.


Through a simple interface, you’ll have the ability to quickly access over 500 empty-handed and weapons techniques via 1,100 links to videos and technical explanations in book format. This is the most extensive technical reference on aikido ever compiled!

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  1. Lori Golden says:

    Sugano also created his own weapons system. He told us that the day he left for Australia O’Sensei took him aside and showed him a jo kata. Sugano also said that O’Sensei never taught how to teach which may explain why there are so many different ways that Aikido is taught. I agree with Doran Sensei who has said that the principles are a good way to focus (perhaps a bit of mis-quote since I can’t remember exactly what he said). Whether weapons are used or not, the principles of aikido can be taught. My two cents.

  2. Interesting that Jo and Ken can get so much passionate debate, but Tanto isn’t – though it is given significant weight in Budo, and it gets near equal weight with the other weapons in Tomiki Aikido. Even when Tanto is taught, I have to hunt hard for any references to Tanto Nage and I have yet to see Tanto Suburi. The most easily found weapon of the three, and reletively unrepresented. Also, the foundation of handgun retention and the foundation of the use of most law enforcement tools in an Aikido manner.

    I believe the Aikikai did declare early on which weapons systems were to be officially endorsed (Saito), leaving most other styles developed by a huge number of deserving sensei to be sidelined or suppressed. This decision also maybe stops the development of any weapons system cold to have a rigid label “this is correct” applied, as any innovation no matter how valid is then wrong. By comparison, Judo continues to develop new kata and Karate didn’t discard traditional kata but rather retained a large body of forms from which most styles pick a few to focus on.

  3. “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” – Aldous Huxley
    Ignorance is no basis for authority.
    Incompetence is no basis for pontificating an opinionated stance.
    Reality dictates.

  4. Maybe we must see it as the modern and new age form. I am practicing aikido since 1980 and found the weapons very interesting because I am also a iaidoka. So we follow now Shishiya shihan, one of the pupils of Nishio shihan who made a nice weapon part into his aikido ( like Saito shihan and also Mochiziku of the Yoseikan aikido school). And we like it.

  5. I practice Yoshikai Aikido along with Yagyu Jujutsu. Although true, no one walks around with a bokken or a jo anymore, training with weapons should be a must. Just about ALL AIkido, Jujustu, Karate, etc empty hand techniques are either directly or indirectly based off of use of weapons. If you practice with weapons, you will see your empty hand techniques and vice versa. By doing both, your understanding and techniques will improve dramatically.

    Doug M

  6. Some might say it’s a shame. Some might say it’s an opportunity. I’m told the Saito family signed an agreement not to issue any certificates. Bet nobody else has.

  7. I remember Mochizuki Sensei mentioning (in the 70’s) that Kisshomaru Sensei had told him that weapons’ training would take too much space and would reduce the number of students practicing at the Hombu dojo, and that those who wanted to study weapons could go to Iwama.

    Patrick Augé

  8. I have been a student of Aikido going on 8 yrs. One of my senseis has trained in Iwama under Saito Sensei when he was alive. I feel that weapons training has been a fundamental component to the development of my empty hands techniques Not practicing or teaching weapons is a disservice to our art. Just my humble opinion.

  9. J. Mollitor says:

    One of our master instructors in karate, many years my senior, from Okinawa. And even though I had studied for 15 years in the system, said: If you only study empty hands, it’s like driving a one wheeled cart! But, I think they wanted us to study the empty hands first, then move to weapons. If you only depend on weapons, and you get it taken away, you have nothing to defend yourself with. Therefore you must learn to defend yourself with the many parts of your body, before learning to extend your spirit into weapons.

  10. It’s certainly true that they don’t teach much in the way of weapons at Aikikai Hombu. That’s fine – people are free to set whatever curriculum they like in their own dojo – it has no effect on me.

    On the other hand, there is just as certainly no prohibition on teaching weapons in the Aikikai. Many Aikikai affiliated dojo and organizations do so, often requiring weapons as part of the test requirements. The Aikikai has never, to my knowledge, expressed any kind of opposition to that practice.

    I’ve been at seminars taught by Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Moriteru Ueshiba and (just recently) Mitsuteru Ueshiba that included weapons classes. They didn’t teach the classes, but they weren’t particularly bothered by them either.

    Isn’t this somewhat of a non-issue?

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