The Philosophy of Aikido: Unlocking Its Wisdom (Simply Explained)

Last Updated on February 14, 2024 by Lifevif Team and JC Franco

Japanese martial arts practitioners outside, monochrome aikido
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When you first set out to get involved in Aikido, you probably were not completely aware that Aikido is a lifestyle, not just a practice. There are many moves, theories, and techniques taught in this particular martial art. To better understand the teachings of Aikido, it helps if you have a deeper understanding of the philosophy of Aikido. 

Aikido practitioners manifest the philosophy of the martial art in their every day practices as well as on the mat. Many first time students want to get elbows deep in the philosophy before they get started, but the true learning of Aikido’s philosophy is through physically learning and practicing the martial art.

The philosophy of Aikido is centered on harmony (Ai), spiritual strength (Ki), peace, and following the Aikido way (Do). The art’s philosophy is to meet a physical attack with the avoidance of violence by seizing control of the situation and neutralizing the attack with an outcome where no one is hurt. 

As you can tell, Aikido is quite different from other forms of self-defense in that it is an entirely non-violent form of martial art. It calls on students to choose a harmonious outcome and reactions over-aggressive or violent reactions. This expectation of students is fully supported by the art’s philosophy.  

While non-violence is the way of Aikido, students should still know that Aikido, in extreme situations, can be absolutely deadly too. Aikido can be lethal, and it is important not to overlook or underestimate that. It all comes down to how you choose to use the skills and techniques that you are taught. For many, the philosophy of Aikido is in the name which is fairly simple to understand: Ai, Ki, and Do.

With a bit of reading, you will find that there are numerous conflicting sources of information on the philosophy of Aikido, but for many, it is all about the main aspects of the martial art. For those who want to know how the Ai, Ki, and Do play into the philosophy of Aikido, read on below.

The History of Aikido and the Role it Plays in its Philosophy

Wooden training jo aikido
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One can only assume that the philosophy of Aikido was formed by the very creator of the martial art, Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei (1883-1969). Ueshiba based the focus of his Aikido teaching on his experience in various martial arts which also included training with a sword, spear, and staff. In addition to his expertise in martial arts, 

Ueshiba was also known to be a profoundly spiritual person. Many have said that he viewed Aikido as a form of spiritual training and personal purification. 

Some say that the reason Aikido is a non-violent form of martial arts is because of the period on which Ueshiba created it in. He created Aikido during the 20th Century just before the outbreak of the Pacific war. This is said to be one of the most violent times of conflict for Japan in history. Ueshiba wanted a way to join people in peace and harmony. Many believe that this is the very reason why Aikido is a martial way and not simply a martial technique. 

The philosophy of Aikido stems from the belief and teaching of Ueshiba that Aikido is a way of refining and perfecting oneself and a way of conquering another by working with them instead of against them. He is famous for his quote:

“True victory is victory over the self.”

Morihei Ueshiba

Many believe that Ueshiba’s personal philosophies act as spiritual food to a multitude of people across various cultures. In fact, during his lifetime, Ueshiba was highly esteemed by people of great power including members of government and military personnel too.

This little titbit of history gives us a great insight into where the philosophy of Aikido comes from and what it is based on.

The Elements of Aikido Philosophy | The Philosophy of Ai, Ki, and Do of Aikido Explained

Japanese Dojo aikido
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One of the most profound elements of the philosophy of Aikido is that the practitioner does not focus on being stronger than the attacker, but rather on using the attacker’s movements against him to come to a resolution where nobody gets hurt. 

Practitioners of Aikido are taught to deal with confrontational and aggressive situations in a manner that is utterly different from the norm. Instead, students must be completely present in the moment, in total self-control and with the intention to defend oneself or loved ones without inflicting injury on the opponent. Aikido is a peaceful art

Aikido is all about harmony, spiritual strength, peace, and following the Aikido way. In order to do this, students must learn more about the Aikido philosophy and the elements of Ai, Ki, and Do in the process. 

Ai – Harmony (blending)

At the very center of Aikido is harmony, which is the seamless blending of two individuals to create one harmonious being. Harmony is the ultimate outcome in every Aikido “attack”. Students are taught to meet violence with defense that results in harmonious outcomes. The Aikido techniques applied to violence and conflict ultimately leads to the blending of opponents and resulting in harmony. 

As part of Aikido’s philosophy of harmony, students are taught the art of awareness. Awareness is one of the first focuses of Aikido training. Awareness is essential for students to be alert to possible attacks at all times. By being aware, practitioners can predict a potential attack before it happens and already start behaving in a manner that minimizes the potential for injury. 

As part of awareness practice, students are taught to read individuals’ emotional states, body language, and verbal language as well as keep in mind environmental and historical considerations. Being aware is about being mindful of the world around you. It does not require judgment, but just general awareness of your surroundings and the people in it. 

When awareness is in place, students are taught blending, which is considered a fine art. Blending aligns a practitioner’s energy, spirit, and movements to bring harmony to a potentially violent situation. Blending is a way of working with the opponent and not particularly against them.

Ki – Spiritual strength and energy (breathing)

aikido meditation energy awareness breathing
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Ki is an individual’s inner energy, and in the philosophy of Aikido, energy is representative of a practitioner’s ability to influence not only himself but also the world around him. A person’s energy is what drives the force and effectiveness of Aikido techniques. 

The energy is a large part of Aikido’s philosophy. It can be acquired and applied as part of Aikido’s techniques, but first students are taught to breathe and focus their energy in order to draw enough of it for swift and effective Aikido movements. Breathing is deep and abdominal and released forcefully. This is to help students visualize the movement of Ki.

The Ki of a practitioner is the force that makes Aikido techniques effective as Aikido is not based on physical strength but on energy and blending. In an aggressive situation, a small-built Aikido practitioner can very well overcome a much bigger opponent, and it has nothing to do with physical strength. 

The philosophy of Ki is to teach students that the only way they can bring about harmony in an opponent is to have complete self-control while meticulously carrying out the Aikido techniques. In terms of spirit, the philosophy places emphasis on inner strength, attitude, self-discipline, and personal beliefs and how these aspects of an individual fit in with Aikido.  

Do – The way of Aikido (practice)

Following the Aikido way is a large part of the philosophy of the art. Many believe that this particular martial art is a spiritual experience that leads people to enlightenment. Some believe that it is a continuous journey that never really ends. 

The student is expected to encounter a variety of personal physical, emotional, spiritual, and motivational challenges on their journey and to learn new and more effective ways of dealing with them than they did in the past. By applying the techniques and principles of Aikido, these challenges can be overcome with a greater and more focused in-depth understanding.  

All in all

The philosophy of Aikido can be as complicated or as simple as each practitioner makes it. The main takeaway is to have a non-violent approach where you work with your opponent or attacker instead of against him. By doing so, you can defend yourself while coming to a desirable harmonious outcome. After all, Aikido is the art of peace, not war

peace aikido
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If you follow the teachings of your instructor or Sensei, you will slowly but surely learn the philosophy of Aikido as you go. As you learn to implement the teachings of Aikido in your everyday life, the true philosophy of the martial art will become plainly evident to you. May you use the art of Aikido to help you prosper and grow as a person and positively influence the world around you! 

This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who share their experiences and knowledge about the "Seven F's of Life".

JC Franco
Editor

JC Franco is a New York-based editor for Lifevif. He mainly focuses on content about faith, spirituality, personal growth, finance, and sports. He graduated from Mercyhurst University with a Bachelor’s degree in Business, majoring in Marketing. He is a certified tennis instructor who teaches in the New York City Metropolitan area. In terms of finance, he has passed the Level I exam of the CFA program.