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Japanese name
Shinjitai: 合気
Kyūjitai: 合氣
Hiragana: あいき
Korean name
Hangul: 합기
Hanja: 合氣

Aiki is a Japanese martial arts principle or tactic. In Japanese Aiki is formed from two kanji:

  • 合 - ai - joining
  • 氣 - ki - spirit



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.[1] 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 martial arts

An aikido kokyu nage throw

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[2] and judo.[3] 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.

The principle of aiki is also present in many Korean martial arts where the principle is referred to as hapki (합기), most notably hapkido and its softer equivalent hankido.

The concept of Aiki

Aiki is a complex concept, and three aspects of it are as follows:

1) Blending not clashing

Aiki typically describes an idea of oneness or blending in the midst of combat. In aikido it generally describes the more elevated notion of blending rather than clashing. "Blending" is often described even within aikido as "awase".[4] Many definitions for "aiki" seem to be based around "awase". Emphasis is upon joining with the rhythm and intent of the opponent in order to find the optimal position and timing with which to apply force. To blend with an attack, it is usually necessary to yield to incoming forces, so aiki is closely related to the principle of ju. Aiki is about engaging an attack, not retreating from one.[5]

2) Dominating the assailant

The aiki practitioner is able to dominate the assailant and 'lead' them and their attack into advantageous positions. Body movements (tai sabaki) used for this may be large or small and subtle. Subtle weight shifting and the application of pressure to the assailant enable one to lead an assailant, keep him static, or keep him unbalanced (kuzushi) in order to employ the one’s own technique. In the same manner, through deceptive movements, the aiki practitioner may negate a defence response from the assailant or create a defence response from the assailant that puts him even further into peril. There is a strong degree of intent, will or psychology[6] to this aspect of domination. Mind and body are coordinated.

3) Use of internal strength - Ki energy

Kiai and aiki use the same kanji (transposed) and can be thought of as the inner and the outer aspect of the same principle.[7] Kiai relates to the manifestation, emission or projection of ones own energy (internal strength), while Aiki relates to the merging of one's energy with the energy emitted from an external source (blending). Thus kiai is union with our own, internal energy while aiki is union with an attacker's energy. Kiai consists of all parts of the body being unified and directed to one intent. Aiki, ultimately has to do with a very good ability to manipulate kiai upon contact so that the practitioner blends his ki with the attacker’s ki instantaneously. This use of ki will involve the use of kokyu power, i.e. breathing is coordinated with movement.[8] Kokyu Ryoku is the natural power that can be produced when body and consciousness (mind) are unified.[9] The term "kokyu" is can also be used to describe a situation in which two opponent's are moving with appropriate timing.

Thoughts on aiki

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.[10]

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.[10]

Sokaku Takeda, the founder of Daito-ryu aikijujutsu defined aiki in the following way:

The secret of aiki is to overpower the opponent mentally at a glance and to win without fighting.[10]

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). [11]

See also


  1. ^ Secret transmission
  2. ^ Aiki in karate
  3. ^ Aiki in judo
  4. ^ Blending
  5. ^ Engaging an attack
  6. ^ Psychology
  7. ^ Kiai vs aiki
  8. ^ Kokyu power
  9. ^ Kokyu ryoku
  10. ^ a b c Draeger, Donn F. Modern Bujutsu & Budo: Martial arts And Ways Of Japan, Vol III. Weatherhill, Tokyo 1974, 1996.
  11. ^ Pranin, Stanley. Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu; Conversations with Daito-ryu Masters. Interview with Tokimune Takeda from 1985-87. Aiki News Tokyo 1996.

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