Aikido is primarily practiced as an empty-handed art (tai-jutsu, meaning “body arts”). However, as a student progresses, he/she studies the principles of Aikido through the use of the bokken (wooden sword), jo (wooden staff), and tanto (wooden knife).
Weapons work reveals the importance of proper distance, timing, and precision of body movement. It also develops a student’s breathing and concentration. Techniques for responding to multiple assailants and weapons take-away are also studied.
What distinguishes Aikido from Jiu-Jitsu and other arts is it's integration of body arts (unarmed) and weapons techniques. Posture, movement, and awareness for both attacker and defender are virtually identical whether or not an actual weapon is present.
I think that instead of analyzing and comparing how each technique or movement is related to weapons work, it makes much more sense to me to see and feel the sameness in executing one’s energy by which aikido is distinguished from other martial arts. …the writer Tenryu, a famous Sumo wrestler who once challenged O-Sensei, was defeated, and became O-Sensei’s uchideshi thereafter, describes aikido by saying that it is a martial art which is the ultimate transformation of swordsmanship into a body art. I personally agree with his statement, and have been deeply inspired by this. However, it no longer matters to me nowadays to say which comes first, body arts or weapons. I see no difference.
– T.K. Chiba, April, 1994
For those who wish to deepen their study, training is also offered in Iaido / Iai Battoh-Ho (the art of traditional Japanese sword).