Aikido is basically an unarmed martial art. However, its roots are deeply embedded in the traditional weapons techniques of the samurai. The study of weapon technique developes a more acute sense of distance, timing and position which are more easily overlooked in unarmed practice. Also the process of training with the weapon conditions the practioner's body/mind to be co-ordinated through one focal point. The hands, feet and hips move together in a co-ordinated unit connecting the centre (tanden/hara) to the tip of the weapon. This dicipline, encourages much better use of the body in unarmed technique.
There are 4 main weapons that are used in Aikido training:
- The tanto is a wooden replica of a knife and is generally used by the attacker (uke) to heighten the defender's (tori's) awareness of the line of attack and potential dangers.
- The bokken is a wooden replica of a Japanese sword (katana) and is used in individual practice to condition the body/mind to work as a focused unit. It is a particularly powerful tool to learn to co-ordinate the hips and tanden with the arms and legs. In bokken training, a deeper understanding of Aiki kamae (the triangular posture unique to Aikido) is conditioned into the body. Partner practice takes the form of kata (set movements) which are designed to highlight the importance of distance, timing and position (including the angle or line of attack).
- The jo is a wooden staff which is used to train in spear techniques. In Chiba sensei's style the jo is mainly used in partner practice or against an unarmed opponent. The movement in jo is more circular and conditions the body in a different way. Being a long weapon, it also exadurates the mistakes made in body movement and so teaches the practitioner better economy of movement.
Since each of these weapons are of different lengths, the practioners learn to adapt to the varying distances (ma ai) needed.
- The iaito is a metal sword used for iaido (or iai-battoho) training. Iaido is a seperate martial art in its own right but it is complementary to Aikido practice. It is the art of drawing the sword from the scabbard (saya), cutting and then resheathing it. Iaido focuses on attention to the smallest detail in a meditative state of mind. Apart from developing a heightened awareness of one's own body movement, it also trains the body/mind to be more grounded, calm but also able to express explosive energy.
O'sensei sent Chiba sensei to study iaido as a young man and he has continued to teach it in parallel with his Aikido. Through the years, he adapted its training to become a conditioning for Aikido and developed a number of exercises to bring them together as one system.