What is Aikido?
by Darren Brooks of Multnomah Aikikai.
Darren was promoted to shodan December 2018
Aikido is a martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba, whom those practicing
Aikido call, O Sensei, or Great Teacher. This art integrates his martial and
philosophical studies. As I understand it, O Sensei’s martial art system was
originally referred to as Aikijitsu and Aiki-Budo, both terms focused on martial
technique and warfare. However, the name was changed to Aikido once O
Sensei immersed himself in Omoto-Kyo (A-Oomoto), a Shinto or folk religion
sect which emphasized living in harmony with the universe. This sect is still
active today (1).
O Sensei’s transformation away from a mindset of martial warfare and towards a
spiritual way is significant. It illustrates the profound effect spiritual reflection had
upon O Sensei’s view of the world - away from fighting as social conflict,
towards martial training as an internal unification of conflicting forces (1, 2).
It is this aspect of “harmony with the universe” which draws me to the martial
arts, and to Aikido.
One of the hallmarks of any art is its inherent flexibility to be many things to
many different people. For instance, painting can be a profession, a hobby, or
even therapy. Dancing or music is the same, and this is also true of the martial
Students practice Aikido for various reasons, and often these reasons can
overlap. For some the practice of Aikido is a fun exercise, for others a step on
the path to enlightenment, or even the chance to socialize with like-minded
For me, Aikido is also many things, but primarily a study and practice of
universal principles. As Aikido is one of the few martial arts where a practitioner
can perform almost all techniques full out without injury to their partner, it
provides a kind of laboratory in which to study something I think is very
awesome and profound - what I call, universal principles.
I often see the dojo as a laboratory, a kind of microcosm of the universe. In this
space I can explore the movements and principles of Aikido - the play of space,
force and energy.
In fact, the meaning of the word, dojo, is more profound than just, “the training
hall in which we practice Aikido.” The Japanese character, 道 (Do, pronounced
“dough”) is the exact same character the Chinese use for 道 (Dào, pronounced
“dow”) and has the same meaning.
Many folks, including most scholars, translate the character 道 (Dào) as road, or
path. Literally, in Chinese, the character does mean a road or path, yet when
used in a philosophical context, it means much more. In this context, it has an
ontological meaning, something related to looking into the nature of being and
existence – understanding the character of life itself and what that means
In this deeper way, Do and Dao describe a kind of experience where each day
is seen as a wisdom teaching. When the days are strung together into years and
decades, living is seen as a pathway, or journey of discovery. As understanding
deepens and perception broadens the universe reveals its secrets. Perceiving
these secrets is called a growth of consciousness, an opening of the mind,
enlightenment. Such growth changes forever one’s relationship with the world.
Thus, 道 (Do) implies a learning process about universal principles. The second
character, 場 (Jo, pronounced “jō”), means a place or hall. So, Dojo means, “a
place to learn universal principles”.
Imagine steering a sailboat. If you don't realize that the wind can be your ally
and help fill your sails, and thereby get you where you want to go with less
effort, you waste all your energy fighting against it. Lacking this understanding,
and with the force of the wind relentlessly blowing, you might raise your fist up at
the sky and cry, “why me?”
Understanding that life has some Way about it, some principles that can be
recognized, some way that the wind blows, if you will, helps us to follow these
winds of change and flow with the Way of the universe itself.
There’s a certain relationship between the sail and the wind, a kind of dance.
The wind certainly doesn’t just give up its nature and blow less forcefully, and it
doesn’t just decide to independently change its own direction to keep your boat
from capsizing. The sail too must maintain its integrity and orient itself to dance
with the wind.
Similarly, in the dojo, during the practice of Aikido, we can explore how best to
orient ourselves to work in harmony with our partners. Two practitioners orient
themselves to attack and defend and yet maintain their structural integrity so as
to stay connected in a dance of physics, a dance that teaches universal
principles of the movement of matter and energy through space and time.
Should either partner decide to independently change direction, choosing to
break away from the dance of center-to-center connection, disastrous results
It may seem strange to harmonize with nature, with the universe, with an
attacker. After all, nature can seem quite destructive and life unfair. Yet Aikido
teaches should we resist the dance, what we get are stagnation and suffering.
However, if we decide to reorient ourselves and discover how to dance with
nature, the universe becomes supportive and healing, giving us gifts in
abundance. The face of the universe can appear stern and destructive or
supportive and creative. The Buddhist say, all suffering is due to
misunderstanding. It seems how much we suffer, then, depends upon us and
the depth of our understanding. This has indeed been my experience.
This dance of relationship with the universe, with our true self, is mirrored in the
movements of Aikido. Through practice I am reminded of where I come from
and the integrity or character of the universe - its wisdom and true compassion.
Aikido offers this teaching to me simply through practice. No words are
As the ancient poet Rumi wrote, “The quieter you become the more you are able
Aikido is an art which speaks to me on many levels. One way it speaks to me is
as a wisdom teaching pushing me to reorient my way of thinking, assisting me to
understand the nature of the universe and thereby be supported by it.
1. “Frequently Asked Questions.”おほもと Oomoto, Oomoto Foundation, 20
May 2010, www.oomoto.or.jp/English/enFaq/indexfaq.html
2. Clausen, Kjartan. “The Aikido FAQ.”The Founder of Aikido, 4 Nov. 2011,