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Great question. Aikido is generally practiced as a “softer,” less violent style of martial art. Some would even say it’s not a martial art at all (I’m not one of them). Aikido has a lineage that can be traced back to “harder” styles, and even the founder’s earlier teachings are considerably more aggressive than what he taught at the end of his life.
One of my past teachers once asked the class “What is your greatest weapon in Aikido?” The answers came back: “Your mind! Your spirit! Your Ki”… Sensei nodded politely, but rolled his eyes until he became exasperated. “Yes, yes yes… but STOP!” He said. “You’re all missing the point! Your best weapon is THE GROUND!” :-)
During training, we often show techniques that can break bones, dislocate joints, or lead to brutal trauma caused by meeting the ground with great “enthusiasm.” Of course, we joke that we always execute our techniques “with love,” because, after all, this is Aikido.
My current teacher (who, BTW, favors the “harder” end of the Aikido spectrum), puts it this way: “In Aikido, you can often use the very same technique on the mugger in the dark alley that you would use on the drunken uncle at the party. We train for the mugger, so we’re ready for the drunken uncle.”
Aikido is NOT “non-violent.” We deal with violence. We can respond to, and with, levels of violence that span the spectrum. I think what makes Aikido unique among martial arts is that we train to have more options than most to respond to conflict with less violence. As Doran Sensei once said “Aikido is about ending the fight, not winning it.”