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Aikido is a modern martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba in the 1920s. Ueshiba was a martial art professional who had substantial experience in different modalities before deciding he was ready to create aikido. The primary reason for this was that Ueshiba was looking for a way to integrate spirituality and philosophical growth into martial arts.
Aikido was recognized as a martial art in Japan in 1941, but it was not introduced to the West until the 1950s. France was the first country to open an aikido dojo, or school in 1953, closely followed by the US and Germany. After the death of Ueshiba, his son, and eventually his grandson, took charge of the dojo.
Aikido is not intended to harm the enemy, but rather to immobilize him. While talking about aikido, Ueshiba is quoted as saying, "To control aggression without inflicting injury is the Art of Peace." Most of the techniques used in aikido are either holds or throws, and all take advantage of the opponent's movements to gain momentum and increase force. There are basically only twenty techniques used in aikido, but the combinations in which they can be used are almost endless.
Attacks in aikido are called atemi, a word meaning "blows to the body." Atemis are highly effective because they are directed to certain points of the body where nerves or pressure points are prominent, causing extreme pain if hit. Atemis are a dangerous technique that only advanced students of aikido are taught. This is because a strong hit to certain areas of the body, such as the solar plexus or the temple, can easily kill. In aikido, atemis are taught as a way to temporarily disarm or distract the enemy, and not as a way of harming.
Some practicants of aikido use weapons in their practice. The jo, a four-foot wood stick, and the bokken, a wooden sword, are often used in aikido. While weapons training is not essential to aikido, many teachers believe it's important to practice it, since many of the empty-handed hits resemble sword strikes. Aikido is one of the less violent forms of martial arts and a favorite among people who are looking for a fresh way of life along with physical training.