In boxing there are mitt drills, in judo there are uchikomi drills, in karate there are kata. In a practical sense, these all allow for the perfection of balance, timing and movement. Typically they are done with minimal or no resistance or opposition from the partner. Too much tension or resistance in this kind of practice undermines its benefits and causes unnatural movement and bad habits which make progress difficult. The partner practice done in aikido is for the most part 2-person kata practice, similar in spirit to the practices done in these other arts. The exceptions to this are taninzugake (random attacks from multiple opponent’s) and jiyuwaza (freestyle). As such, the nature of practice, especially in the beginning stages, should be done with minimal resistance in order to instill proper movement and technique.
At an intermediate and advanced level in aikido it’s good to gradually increase the force of the attack and the level of resistance from the uke. You must learn to function against a difficult opponent, but it’s important to practice proper movement first and guard against the temptation to rely on mere muscular force. When you are practicing a prescribed technique, a kata if you will, it gives uke complete foreknowledge of what’s about to happen which means that an uke with a little strength can often prevent that technique. This is true in any art. If I know in judo that my partner is practicing o-soto-gari I can absolutely hold my legs back and prevent him from that specific technique. If in karate I know that my opponent is practicing a spinning back kick I can prepare to rush his back every time he begins to turn. So in aikido, the situation of practicing 2-person kata requires a maturity and understanding on the part of both people.
In boxing, judo, karate and aikido it’s easy to see that everyone recognizes the importance of practicing basic skills in a relaxed, non-resistant manner. But in aikido, the role of “opponent” or uke is even more subtle. In aikido, the uke and nage are actually working together to create aikido. This is impossible to understand if you only think of aikido from the perspective of competition or self-defense. No serious attacker would suddenly take an interest in creating a harmonious outcome. And in a sport your opponent is actively trying to prevent you from “scoring.” So what is the goal of aikido?
O Sensei said that Takemusu Aiki is the goal of aikido. Take (the character bu) means martial. Musu means to create, produce or give birth. Aiki is spiritual harmony. Takemusu Aiki means a martial practice that creates or gives life rather than takes it. It is a generative rather than destructive martial path whose aim is spiritual harmony and compassion. This is why aikido is not a competitive martial sport, nor is it merely a self defense system. Aikido is a process of spiritual attainment through the medium of martial practice.
In judo a competitor can lose a point to their opponent by being thrown or pinned. But the original sense of Japanese martial arts was not merely to throw an opponent, but to cut down and destroy them completely. In aikido we see this kind of disregard for human life as immoral and unacceptable. In this sense aikido is the complete opposite of the old martial arts of Japan. In aikido we don’t regard being pinned or thrown as losing, but only as a means to end the conflict and restore harmony. An aikidoka who throws or pins an attacker is not acting out of retaliation or vengeance. Nor are they seen throwing up their hands to celebrate their victory. If our aikido is successful then there are no real losers. Aikido is not about creating winners and losers. It’s about creating a world of peaceful coexistence.
This doesn’t mean that our technique can be weak or ineffective as a martial art. We must absolutely train continually to strengthen our body and improve our technique. Aikidoka should be able to defend themselves to be sure, but It’s not necessary for the average aikidoka to be able to defend themselves against a professional boxer or fighter in order to legitimatize aikido. Their goals are different. At the same time, we should also not consider that sports and competition are somehow inherently wrong or that any other martial art is inferior. Aikido was created for a different purpose and naturally has a different methodology that may not make sense if the goal is to create a champion fighter. The mature martial artist respects and appreciates that aikido is both a martial art and a spiritual and philosophical ideal. As Jigaro Kano, the founder of judo exclaimed when first seeing aikido done by Morihei Ueshiba, “This is the ideal budo. True judo.”