I often get asked “what style of aikido do you practice?”. Good question! It’s a bit like saying “what kind of person are you?”. One of the aspect I truly love about aiki, is that every practitioner, from the newcomer to the ancient shihan, will all have their own insights as to what Aikido is to them.

However, there are recognised schools that focus on particular aspects of O Sensei’s teachings, and thereby differentiate from one another, in sometime very subtle ways. For those of you that may be interested, here (courtesy of Aiki-web, thanks guys…) is a quick run down of some of the more well recognised “styles” of Aikido.

My advice – practice with everyone and see what you can find..

The “Old” Schools

Here we’ll list the schools that developed from the pre-war teachings.

This is the name given to the art O Sensei was teaching early in his development. It is very close in style to previously existing Jutsu forms such as Daito-ryu Aiki-Jutsu. It is considered to be one of the harder forms of Aikido.Most of the early students of O Sensei began during this period and much of the early practice overseas was in this style (e.g. Abbe Sensei’s teaching in the UK in the 50s).

This form was developed by Minoru Mochizuki, who was an early student of O Sensei and also of Jigoro Kano Sensei at the Kodokan. This style includes elements of Aiki-Budo together with aspects of Karate, Judo and other arts.

This is the style taught by the late Gozo Shioda. Shioda Sensei studied with O Sensei from the mid-30s. After the war, he was invited to begin teaching and formed the organization known as the Yoshinkan. Unlike many later organizations, the Yoshinkan has always maintained friendly relations with the Aikikai both during and after O Sensei’s life. The Yoshinkan is a harder style of Aikido, generally concerned with practical efficiency and physically robust techniques. It is taught to many branches of the Japanese Police. The international organization associated with the Yoshinkan style of Aikido is known as the Yoshinkai, and has active branches in many parts of the world. In recent years, there have been a number of offshoots of this style, usually developing for political reasons.

The “Modern” SchoolsThis includes most of the variants taught today. Most of these “styles” are taught by various senior students of O Sensei, with the divergences coming after the death of the Founder. Most would claim to be teaching the art that O Sensei taught them – and this is probably true even though some have little in common with others! Taken together with O Sensei’s notorious obscurity in teaching style, the story of the elephant and the blind men may give us some clue as to how this could have come about :-). Most of us have our biases and preferences amongst the various styles but can recognize that all have their strengths and weakness and we all have something to learn from all of them.

The “Traditional” Schools

The Aikikai is the common name for the style headed by Moriteru Ueshiba, O Sensei’s grandson, as taught under the auspices of the International Aikido Federation. Most regard this school as the mainline in Aikido development. In reality, this “style” is more of an umbrella than a specific style, since it seems that many individuals within the organization teach in quite a different manner. The Aikido taught by Ueshiba Sensei is generally large and flowing, with an emphasis on a standard syllabus and little or no emphasis on weapons training. Other teachers within the auspices of the Aikikai (like Saito Sensei) place much more emphasis on weapons practice.

The style taught by Morihiro Saito, based in the Iwama dojo, is generally considered sufficiently stylistically different from mainstream Aikikai that it is named individually, even though it still is part of the Aikikai. Saito Sensei was a long time uchideshi of O Sensei, beginning in 1946 and staying with him through his death. Many consider that Saito Sensei was the student who spent most time directly studying with O Sensei Saito Sensei says he is trying to preserve and teach the art exactly as it was taught to him by the Founder. Technically, Iwama-ryu seems to resemble the Aikido O Sensei was teaching in the early 50s mainly in the Iwama dojo. The technical repertoire is larger than in most other styles and a great deal of emphasis is placed on weapons training.

The “Ki” SchoolsOne of the most noticeable splits in the Aikido world occurred in 1974 when Koichi Tohei, then the Chief Instructor at the Aikikai, resigned from that organization and founded the Ki no Kenkyukai to teach Aikido with strong emphasis on the concepts of Ki. Since that time, there has been little interaction between the traditional schools and the Ki schools. All of these arts tend to refer to themselves as Ki Aikido, even though there is little contact between some of the styles.

Shin-shin Toitsu Aikido
The style founded by Koichi Tohei – Aikido with Mind and Body Unified. Tohei Sensei places a great deal of emphasis on understanding the concept of Ki and developing this aspect independently of the Aikido training for application to general health and daily life. This style is one of the softest styles of Aikido and is characterized by soft movements that often involve the practitioner jumping or skipping during the movement. Most schools are not concerned with practical application of the techniques, considering them exercises to further develop Ki.In recent years, Tohei Sensei has been moving further and further away from Aikido and has devoted himself almost exclusively to Ki training. The latest news is that Ki no Kenkyukai has started an initiative to make Shin-shin Toitsu Aikido into an International Competitive sport.
The “Sporting” StylesOne of the other big breaks in Aikido history occurred during O Sensei’s life when Kenji Tomiki proposed “rationalizing” Aikido training using Kata and Competition. Since that time, there has been little commonality between the Tomiki schools and the mainline Aikido schools. In recent years there have been a number of offshoots of Tomiki-ryu that have abandoned the idea of competition.

Founded by Kenji Tomiki, and early student of O Sensei and of Judo founder Jigoro Kano. Tomiki Sensei believed that a “rationalization” of Aikido training, along the lines that Kano Sensei followed for Judo would make it more easily taught, particularly at the Japanese Universities. In addition, he believed that introducing an element of competition would serve to sharpen and focus the practice since it was no longer tested in real combat. This latter view was the cause of a split with O Sensei who firmly believed that there was no place for competition in Aikido training. Tomiki-ryu is characterized by using Kata (prearranged forms) in teaching and by holding competitions, both empty handed and with a rubber knife.

Aikikai Also known as Hombu (which actually means headquarters).
This is ‘classical’ Aikido as taught by the Ueshiba family. Today it is governed by the Aikikai Foundation which is run by O Sensei’s son, Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba.
There are several different organisations which teach this style of Aikido such as USAF and ASU (in the United States) and BAF (in the United Kingdom).

Iwama As taught in the town of Iwama by Morihiro Saito, a close student of O Sensei. Includes an emphasis on the relationship among taijutsu, ken and jo movements. This style of aikido reflects the art of the Founder as taught approximately between the years of 1946-1955 and the
number of techniques is more numerous than those presently taught at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo.

Ki Society Also known as Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido (Aikido with Mind & Body Coordinated), founded in 1971 by Koichi Tohei a 10th dan student of O Sensei who, at O Sensei’s request, brought Aikido to the U.S. in 1953. Ki Society stresses the use of Ki not only in technique but in daily life to remain calm & relaxed in stressful situations.

Kokikai A style founded by Shuji Maruyama Sensei. It is a particularly soft style that emphasizes ‘minimum effort for maximum effect.’

Tomiki Tomiki Ryu Aikido was founded by Kenji Tomiki, a high ranking judoka, whom Jigoro Kano (the founder of Judo) sent to Ueshiba to learn Aikido. The primary focus of Tomiki Aikido is kata (forms) that strive to teach and capture the fundamentals of Aikido. Tomiki deemphasized the concept and importance of ki, and instead decided to concentrate on the physiological side of Aikido.

Yoshinkan Places emphasis on the use of Aikido as a method of self defence and less on the more esoteric and philosophical elements.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog, and I hope it makes you want to find out more about Aikido