Updated: 2 days ago
Aikido has its roots in the martial arts of the Samurai.
The founder, Morihei Ueshiba learned a number of martial arts in his youth before studying the unarmed defenses against Samurai sword or knife attacks taught in Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu with it's founder Takeda Sōkaku.
Following his father's passing, and likely in part because of his experience as a soldier in the Russ-Japanese War, he joined the Omoto-kyo religious movement (an offspring of Shinto) that believes nature and the natural world is an embodiment of divinity, sacredness or spiritual power. Its leader encouraged Morihei to start his first Dojo and so here he began to teach a martial art in a way that could resolve violent confrontations in a peaceful way. A way that would minimise harm to the attacker so that they were not left bitter or resentful over their defeat.
In 1925 he had a profound spiritual experience, stating that, "a golden spirit sprang up from the ground, veiled my body, and changed my body into a golden one." After this experience, his martial arts skill appeared to be greatly increased. He was already a master swordsman but after this, he was able to evade Samurai sword attacks, even in the dark.
Morihei Ueshiba founded Aikido as a spiritual path for 'warriors of peace', the way being based on compassion, wisdom, fearlessness and love of nature. "It is designed for the realisation of our own nature as universal spirit" [William Gleason, The Sacred Sounds of the Kototama"]
I have heard that the name of his teaching school was originally termed by a formal convention of martial arts who asked him what he taught. He replied that he taught 'the way of Aiki', and so it was named; Aiki-do.
After the passing of Morihei Ueshiba in 1969, the Aikikai's chief instructor Koichi Tohei created the Ki Society to focus on teaching 'aikido with mind and body unified', that is applying Aikido techniques in a defensively effective way whilst remaining calm and relaxed. He developed this way inspired by exercises of unifying the mind and body he had learnt from Nakamura Tempu and his Japanese Yoga, a study of how we can realize the truths of nature and our full potential.
Koichi Tohei was the first to promote Aikido outside of Japan, in accordance with the founders belief that it could be a bridge between the East and the West. The simple ki tests that he developed to verify improvements in stability and coordination afforded by a unified mind and body enabled self defense skills to be developed without fighting, agression or competition. His success was also due to the books that he wrote, most notably 'Ki in Daily Life'.