Aikido is a nonviolent Japanese martial art. Aikido defense techniques consist primarily of joint locks and throws and are based on going along with the power of the attack to control the attack.
Aikido offers an effective form of self-defense that aims at protecting yourself without hurting another human being.
Aiki is the core of aikido. It is a practical philosophy of harmony and cooperative action. It consists of principles and methods of self-awareness, effective body use and movement, calmness under pressure, and respectful engagement with others. Aiki is a sense of harmony or cooperativeness.
When talking about the movement structure of a typical aikido defense technique, aiki means not going against the flow/movement (direction, speed, timing) of the attack, but instead sidestepping the power of the attack, joining into its flow (blending with the attack), then gradually adding to the flow so as to unbalance the attacker (leading the attacker), and in the end controlling the attacker’s capability to move/attack with a throw or pin.
When talking about the defender’s inner functioning, aiki refers to a state of soft muscles, grounded posture, gentle breathing, fluid movement, and expansive energy. It refers to movements which are done as projections of intention (called “ki”). Further, it refers to soft and full awareness of the environment, as well as respectful, compassionate and protective receiving of the attacker. All this is called “being centered” and necessary in order for the defender to discern the attacker’s movement and defeat it in an ethical manner.
The term aiki as it is used by aikido practitioners in discussing applications off the mat has two main areas of reference. The first is physical practice and application using aikido patterns of posture and movement. For example one could teach how to hoe a garden using the same movements as a downward sword cut. Doing the movements in that way is safer, more efficient, and more effective.
The second reference is to the inner attitude and motivations for behavior in a given situation. Conflict, threat, challenge or pain evokes in us physiological fight-flight-freeze-collapse patterns, which constrain us to think and behave in narrow, oppositional, antagonistic ways. Learning to replace the narrow way of reacting with the state of aiki allows more effective and life-affirming actions.
There are two streams of off-the-mat practice of the attitude of aiki: philosophical and somatic. The philosophical approach focuses on changes to beliefs—for example thinking of the challenge as a gift. The somatic approach focuses on engineering a physiological state of calm alertness and compassionate power and using that as foundation for behavior.