Monday, February 19, 2001


What is the origin of the term "aikido?" by Stanley A. Pranin, Aikido Journal

What is the origin of the term "aikido?" This is a question we are often asked and the answer turns out to be rather complex and surprising to many. People usually assume that aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba chose this term to embody the spiritual essence of the art he created. Thus, the literal translation of "aikido" being "the Way of harmonizing ki (=universal energy)," would represent an attempt by Morihei to communicate his concept of aikido as a tool for fostering peace and harmony at all levels of human existence. At first blush this explanation sounds perfectly plausible because the term "aikido" does indeed do justice to his interpretation of the purpose of the art.

What is the truth? Actually, the use of the term "aiki" in the context of aikido history first occurs about 1922 when entries in the eimeiroku (enrollment books) of Sokaku Takeda begin to appear as "Daito-ryu aikijujutsu" instead of "Daito-ryu jujutsu" which Sokaku used formerly.

How and why was "aiki" inserted into the name of Sokaku's art? At the period of time in question, Sokaku was staying in the Ayabe home of Morihei within the heart of the Omoto religious community. Sokaku had come with his entire family in tow to help Morihei teach Daito-ryu to Omoto believers engaged in the study of jujutsu. The story handed down on the aikido side is that Sokaku found that Morihei had begun to change the techniques of Daito-ryu and was upset over this fact. In an effort to distinguish between what he, Sokaku, and Morihei were teaching, it was agreed that Morihei would begin to employ the term "aiki." This is also speculation that Onisaburo Deguchi, the co-founder of the Omoto Sect, also had a hand in choosing the term.

Unfortunately this explanation of events doesn't withstand scrutiny as Sokaku, too, began to use the term "Daito-ryu aikijujutsu" thereafter to describe his art. Sokaku's son Tokimune explained that his father made a distinction in what he taught to his students based on their character and ability and that those engaged in physical training were taught "jujutsu" while those of a more advanced level were taught the more highly-refined "aiki." This explanation, too, is problematic because Sokaku seems not to have used the term "Daito-ryu aikijujutsu" prior to 1922. The truth of the matter may never be known although a carefuly analysis of Sokaku's records may yield further information.

In any event, Morihei continued teaching Daito-ryu as an instructor certified by Sokaku for several years until he gradually distanced himself from his jujutsu master. The name used popularly to describe Morihei's budo began to change around the time he became active in Tokyo about 1925. Such terms as "Ueshiba-ryu jujutsu," "aikijujutsu," "Daito-ryu Aikibujutsu," "Asahi-ryu jujutsu" and "aiki budo" were employed. The later term was the most frequently used and was employed from the mid-1930s through 1942. It seems that Morihei did not concern himself with the name used for his art and it was others that selected a name depending on the occasion. What happened in 1942?

It was in this year in the midst of World War II that the Dai Nihon Butokukai--a fifty-year old umbrella organization for the martial arts coopted by the military government of Japan during wartime--began a movement to standardize the nomenclature used to refer to modern Japanese martial arts. The names of judo, kendo, naginata, iaido, karatedo, etc., had already been set, but the word "aiki budo" presented a problem as it contained the generic term "budo" (martial art). It was thus during a series of meetings held in Kyoto by members of the board of the Butokukai, which included Minoru Hirai, General Affairs manager of Morihei's Kobukan Dojo, that the decision was made to remove bu from the term leaving "aikido."

Morihei at that time had retired to Iwama in Ibaragi Prefecture and was recuperating from a serious intestinal illness. He thus had no direct hand in the Butokukai decision-making process and did not select the name of his art. The name "aikido" was actually chosen by a group of bureaucrats!