The kanji for "ai" is made of three radicals, "join", "one" and "mouth". Hence, "ai" symbolizes things coming together, merging. Aiki should not be confused with "wa" which refers to harmony. The kanji for "ki" represents a pot filled with steaming rice and a lid on it. Hence, "ki" symbolizes energy (in the body). (See the qi main article for further information).
Thus aiki's meaning is to fit, join or combine energy. However, care must be taken about the absolute meanings of words when discussing concepts derived from other cultures and expressed in different languages. This is particularly true when the words we use today have been derived from symbols, in this case Chinese and Japanese kanji, which represent ideas rather than literal translations of the components. Historical use of a term can influence meanings and be passed down by those wishing to illustrate ideas with the best word or phrase available to them. In this way, there may be a divergence of the meaning between arts or schools within the same art. The characters "ai" and "ki" have translations to many different English words.
Practitioners of Korean arts use the prefix "hapki-" which is similar to the Japanese "aiki-" since they share the same Chinese ideograph.
The use of the term would be passed on orally, as such teachings were often a closely-guarded secret. In some schools, concepts like aiki are described in logical, tangible, terms based on physics, while in other definitions of aiki tend to be vague and open-ended, or more concerned with spiritual aspects. The use of the term aiki can often be ambiguous.
Aiki lends its name to various Japanese martial arts most notably aikido and its parent art, Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu. These arts tend to use the principle of aiki as a core element underpining the bulk of their techniques. Aiki is an important principle in several other arts such as Kito-ryu and various forms of kenjutsu. It is found as a concept in arts as diverse as karate and judo. Aiki arts are generally classed as soft martial arts. The aiki arts place great emphasis on the use of qi energy. Techniques accomplished with aiki are subtle and require little mechanical force.
Aiki is a complex concept, and three aspects of it are as follows:
1) Blending not clashing
2) Dominating the assailant
3) Use of internal strength - Ki energy
The oldest book to discuss aiki was the 1899 Budo Hiketsu-Aiki no Jutsu. On the subject of aiki it was written:
|“||The most profound and mysterious art in the world is the art of aiki. This is the secret principle of all the martial arts in Japan. One who masters it can be an unparalleled martial genius.||”|
The Textbook of Jujutsu (Jujutsu Kyoju-sho Ryu no Maki) from 1913 wrote:
|“||Aiki is an impassive state of mind without a blind side, slackness, evil intention, or fear. There is no difference between aiki and ki-ai; however, if compared, when expressed dynamically aiki is called kiai, and when expressed statically, it is aiki.||”|
|“||The secret of aiki is to overpower the opponent mentally at a glance and to win without fighting.||”|
His son Tokimune Takeda had the following to say on the same:
|“||Aiki is to pull when you
are pushed, and to push when you are pulled. It is the spirit of
slowness and speed, of harmonizing your movement with your
opponent's ki. Its opposite, kiai, is to push to the limit, while
aiki never resists.
The term aiki has been used since ancient times and is not unique to Daito-ryu. The ki in aiki is go no sen, meaning to respond to an attack.
... Daito-ryu is all go no sen — you first evade your opponent's attack and then strike or control him. Likewise, Itto-ryu is primarily go no sen. You attack because an opponent attacks you. This implies not cutting your opponent. This is called katsujinken (live-giving sword). Its opposite is called setsuninken (death-dealing sword).