The Japanese language distinguishes between several categories of what in English would be subsumed under the term “martial arts”. While the word bujutsu (武術, “martial
techniques” or “military skills”) is a fairly comprehensive term not dissimilar to the English “martial arts”, it is most often used in conjunction with the classical fighting systems of the
feudal era, i.e. kobujutsu (古武術, “old martial techniques”). Modern, competitive fighting systems like Boxing, Wrestling or Multiple Martial Arts would fall under the
heading kakutōgi (格闘技, “combat techniques”). The third term budō (武道, “martial ways”), though, signifies those modern developments from the
classical bujutsu, whose main focus lies not (only) on sportive accomplishment and success in competition, but also in equal parts on the metaphysical, spiritual development of
personality and character.
Like Jūdō and Kendō, Aikidō belongs to these latter systems. It is a modern development from several classical styles, refrains (with few exceptions) from competitions, and purports to be wholly founded on pacifistic principles. Calling it a “martial art”, rather than a “fighting sport”, classifies Aikidō therefore as one of those cultural accomplishments from Japan, which combine a complex of craftsmanship with a sound philosophical background.
While martial arts like Jūdō and Karate are easily explained and understood, though, Aikidō works on principles of movement, which are quite difficult to explain in a few words. Karate and Jūdō can succinctly be described as follows: “Karate is a system of punches, kicks and blocks, like boxing with feet. Jūdō is similar to Western wrestling, an opponent is held, thrown to the ground and wrestled there.“ And although both these descriptions do not really do their respective arts justice, they are able to convey a fairly close idea of what is actually practiced.
For Aikidō, however, a description similarly short and to the point is rather difficult. With Jūdō it shares its origins from various jūjutsu styles and its renouncement of aggressiveness. Jūdō, though, dispensed expressly with “dangerous” elements, e.g. jointlock techniques, which are prone to injure opponents in competitions. Aikidō uses typically just such techniques that are designed to bend, rotate and twist wrist, elbow and shoulder joints, a method, which can of course be very painful and in extreme cases lead to serious injuries.
But if we would try to summarize Aikidō now as just twisting an opponent's arm, we would not even get close to the matter. Even for a minimalist description we would have to include at least the following explanations. In Aikidō
an attack is first evaded;
the attack will then be diverted (often using a jointlock technique);
simultaneously the defender adds his own strength or energy to the force of the attack;
thus eventually throwing the attacker or bringing him to the ground.
Typically Aikidō uses circular or spiral movements, with which to dodge an attack and “blend“ with the attacker's movements.
This attempt to adapt one's own strength, momentum and energy to those of the attack, trying to synchronize one's own movements with the direction, speed and momentum of the attack, and to neutralize the attacker by moving in “harmony” with his body and bringing oneself on the same wavelength with him: This is precisely the original meaning of Aiki, to adapt your Ki!
This attempt at describing Aikidō results therefore in the problem of having to explain what Ki is. How can we, especially people who have not grown up in an Asian culture, translate and define Ki? (Translation of that article will soon follow.)
(Author: Max Seinsch)