Cambridge Aiki Dojo

More about aikido

So what is aikido?

This is a very difficult question to answer in a few sentences!
Aikido is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba (O Sensei) in the 1930s to the 1960s. Morihei Ueshiba dedicated a large part of his life to the study of many martial arts disciplines including schools of sword, spear, knife, shuriken and empty-handed technique all of which contributed to the aikido he demonstrated. The aikido that O Sensei taught varied throughout his life and students who saw him at particular times often show very different interpretations of his teachings.

The name 'aikido' is composed of three Japanese characters: 'ai' meaning 'harmony', 'ki' meaning '(vital) energy' and 'do' meaing 'way'. So 'aikido' means The way of Aiki, or harmonising with energy, the energy of our attacker and the energy of ourselves.

There are no competitions in traditional aikido. Practioners alternate the roles of uke (attacker) and nage (defender) to practice the art of recovery and technique respectively. For more information on what aikido is or isn't, you can find a wealth of information on the web with very little googling (or see some of our links) or better still step on the mat when you're ready.

What about weapons?

There are three basic weapons we use in aikido training: tanto (the knife), jo (wooden staff), bokken (wooden sword). We practice weapons for a variety of reasons, firstly weapons are symbolic of their sharper and less beginner-friendly counterparts (!) and thereby give us an insight into the origins of the technique as well as its practical application.

Secondly, weapons extend the reach of ourselves and our training partners, helping us to develop our timing and spatial awareness. Also weapons can provide a silent commentary on the efficiency of our own movement, highlighting issues we could more easily overlook without them.


What about all the Japanese words and phrases?

There is a lot of Japanese terminology used in aikido, but don't worry about it. It is easy to pick up the basics quite quickly. It is not necessary to understand Japanese in order to train in Aikido, but it does lend insight into the art itself.

Important words and phrases (with simplified english pronunciations in brackets) to know for your first class are:
  • dojo (doh-joh) - the place of training
  • tatami (ta-ta-mee) - the mats we train on (this originally refers to the grass mats common in Japan)
  • Onegai shimasu (oh-neh-ga-shmas) - Please (... teach me or train with me). This is said by everyone at the beginning of class, and also when students pair up to train together
  • sensei (sen-say) - teacher; the person giving the class
  • O-Sensei (oh-sen-say) - "Great Teacher", how we refer to Morehei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido
  • Domo arigato gozaimashita (doh-moh arri-gateau go-zy-mash-ta) - Thank you very much (for something completed). Said by everyone to the sensei at the end of a class

We also bow in class. Bow when you enter or leave the dojo. Bow when you go onto or leave the mat (with permission from the sensei!). Bow to the picture of O-Sensei as a sign of respect. We also bow to the sensei and other students out of respect. If in doubt... bow!

You can learn more in our glossary of terms and phrases, or by having a look at the Etiquette section of this site.


For a much more in-depth look at different aspects of aikido, please read through the Aikido Primer, reproduced here by kind permission of the author, Eric Sotnak.


"Do not look upon this world with fear and loathing. Bravely face whatever the gods offer"

Morihei Ueshiba