Arts such as sumo, judo, karate, and wrestling, are often called “fighting arts.” While it is not our purpose here to argue whether or not this term is appropriate for these budo and sports, we can state definitively that Daito-ryu aiki jujutsu is not at all a “fighting art” in the sense that these others might be considered to be. A look at the history of Daito-ryu shows clearly that it was developed in large part as a means of self-defense, particularly one to be used by warriors while inside the palace. This may be seen in the inclusion and emphasis on oshikiuchi. In short, Daito-ryu was developed as a way to effectively and efficiently neutralize violence, not cause it. This is in perfect agreement with the Chinese character for the “bu” in budo, one interpretation of which is “to stop halberds.” This is why that although we have forms used to demonstrate aikijutsu, there are no competitive matches.
One distinctive feature of Daito-ryu is that it has incorporated many of the essential elements and principles of other schools of budo, most notably the Ono-ha Itto-ryu. This was done to better allow the student to capture the essence of budo and to transform the art into a comprehensive one.
Daito-ryu goes beyond being a simple means of self-defense, and aims at putting mind and body in balance with the spirit that pervades the universe, developing oneself as a person, and contributing to society. One might recall that while Shinra Saburo Yoshimitsu, the distant founder of Daito-ryu, was skilled in martial techniques and the arts of war, he was also a skillful player of the sho. One story tells that while accompanying the shirabyoshi dancers on this instrument, he came to understand that despite the dancers’ elegant, fluid and ever-changing movement, they admitted no openings (suki). From this he perceived the principle of non-form (mukei) and mastered the deepest essence of aiki. It is in this anecdote, perhaps, that we find a hint of the true essence of Daito-ryu.