Aikido was developed by Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969), often referred to by aikido students as O Sensei or "The Teacher". In aikido, O Sensei distilled the essence of years of training in a range of martial arts, including unarmed disciplines such as jujitsu, and armed disciplines such as kenjutsu (sword) and jojutsu (staff), each of which had its origins in combat.
In later life, O Sensei came to realise that to view martial arts as an end in themselves is to miss the point. In the West, various traditional Japanese non-martial arts have become familiar to us - some more than others - such as ikebana (flower arranging), shodo (calligraphy) and chado (the tea ceremony). At one level, these arts represent skills which anyone can learn, much as one might take cookery lessons or learn to ride a horse. At another level, practitioners see them as a way of achieving greater self-awareness and fulfilment of one's personal potential. That self-awareness, in Japanese terms, is often seen as an almost meditative realisation of one's place in the universe.
This was the spiritual dimension which O Sensei incorporated in aikido: aikido is different from martial arts, sports and disciplines of self defence because it offers students - if they choose - a way to explore this personal and spiritual dimension.
O Sensei's views in this area profoundly affect the way aikido works. As a physical discipline, aikido is extremely effective (showing its roots in jujitsu and the armed disciplines). It includes a range of joint locks, pins and throws which can incapacitate an opponent. And yet when applied properly, aikido's techniques do no damage to one's training partner, and when properly received they cause no pain. This was the skill O Sensei brought to the 'design' of the techniques he taught.
Aikido training is generally done in pairs, with partners taking turns to apply and receive the technique. There are no attacking techniques as such in aikido, but one partner will initiate by, say, grabbing the other's wrist or aiming a strike at them. We initiate techniques in this way because it is safe, controllable, and allows partners of any skill level to train constructively together.
As a visiting Japanese instructor put it at the beginning of one session:
"If we break our partner, we cannot go on training. So, in aikido, we do not break our partner".
For aikido to be practised fully, both partners must recognise their responsibility for each other's well-being, as well as for their own. This principle is further expressed in the Aikido Moral Code you will also see on the Aiki Kai Australia website:
Aikido is a Way
There is commitment and there is obligation
Do not abuse or misuse the art of Aikido
Study carefully, honestly and humbly
Respect your seniors and look after your juniors