Aikido's Four Basic Principles


An elephant discussed by folks with vision impairment?

The four basic principles of Aikido are:

  1. Maintain one-point

  2.  Extend ki

  3.  Relax completely

  4.  Keep weight underside

What is their nature?
How should we understand them?
How can we use them in our practice?
How do we teach them?

These four phrases are in the nature of zen ‘koan’ for aikidoka to ponder and seek through their experience and struggles, both on and off the mat.


 Each of these koan is individually a directive:

  •  To put our attention at our center.

  •  To maintain a sense of ‘energy’ extension.

  •  To remain flexible, pliable and breathing normally.

  •  To remain and move naturally, and in alignment with gravity.

 The objective in teaching the four basic principles is to help ourselves and our students discover a mind-body state that empowers us to perform beautiful movement, and even better, to perform beautiful movement in synchrony with an attack, a flow of energy in real time and space, and even to do so with scrupulous care for the attacker’s safety and well-being.

The state we wish to experience and to manifest in our aikido has no single well-understood name – but let’s call it ‘aiki’. What is the state of aiki? Yes, it is ‘centered’. And yes it is ‘extended’, and it is ‘relaxed’, and yes, aligned both statically and dynamically with the universal force of gravity. But no one of those four states by itself quite captures the desired mind-body state of aiki. But by practicing these individual components, by moving our awareness from one (say ‘centered’) to another (say ‘extended’), by developing the habit of recognizing the somatic and sensory feeling of each of the four basic principles’ states by themselves, we create the opportunity for the ‘aiki’ to occur.

 So, rather like the proverbial ‘blind men’ describing an elephant, none of the four basic principles really describes the state of ‘aiki’ adequately. But each of them gives an accurate description of part of what can be felt when ‘aiki’ occurs. And in our practice, repeatedly and consciously invoking and experiencing the four basic principles creates a space wherein ‘aiki’ can become manifest, and thereby harmonize our response to our uke and empower our technique!

Joe Vaughan, Sandan
 Aikido of Moscow