What is Aiki?

Where does the word "Aiki" come from?

"Aiki, a Japanese budō term, at its most basic is a principle that allows a conditioned practitioner to negate or redirect an opponent's power. When applied, the aiki practitioner controls the actions of the attacker with minimal effort and with a distinct absence of muscular tension usually associated with physical effort." (Wikipedia)

Aiki is a principle used in many martial art styles of Japanese origin: Jujitsu, Judo, Aikido, etc. Many other arts use it as a concept, too, though by other names. It is a concept that has no single commonly accepted definition. It is often associated with softness, avoidance of collision, and redirection of force. It is often considered descriptive of the practice of internal power. For some, it is instead a highly mystified or even spiritual term, maybe representing their ideal expression of their "ki".

What is Aiki in the Zen Martial Arts?

Aiki as a concept and practice was introduced to the Zen Martial Arts when James Swartwood redesigned the grappling system in 2022 to include Judo and Jujitsu exercises and techniques. The main source of this was his practice with instructors outside of the Zen Martial Arts, most notably Chris Moses. Here is what Chris has to say about the definition of Aiki:

What is "aiki" anyway? Or maybe a better way to phrase it is, "what do YOU mean by 'aiki'?" It's not my intention to tell anyone that their definition of aiki is correct or false, I'm just curious how people are using the term. My understanding of (and therefore definition of) aiki has changed a lot over the years, and I think it should be pretty obvious that there are a number of different working definitions floating around. Some of the earliest definitions I can remember are "the joining of two people's ki/energy", "joining with the ki of the universe", "coming together in harmony"...

My teacher Neil Yamamoto liked to quote one of his teachers (Don Angier) "Aiki is anything you can't do to a chair."  In typical Don Angier fashion it's flippant but deeper the more you think about it.

One of my major influences, Dan Harden, defined aiki as "the joining of opposing forces in you through heaven earth man at a contact point." Sometimes he would add, "...this is best done through dual opposing spirals."

My current working definition is "Aiki is using coordinated body structure, connection, and movement to disable or manipulate a partner or opponent in such a way that it is very hard for their nervous system to compensate for."

So what do you mean by "aiki"? I don't think there are wrong answers here, but by realizing what we each MEAN by "aiki" we have a better chance of meaningful conversation and understanding.