As with judo and kendo, aikido was originally practised by two participants with prior arrangement. Competitive aikido adds to this by including practice with rules to allow techniques to be used competitively with the free will of the participants. The format used today is with one person empty handed and the other person using a weapon (a sponge rubber knife). The knife ensures that players keep a distance that is better for aikido techniques.
The empty handed player scores points by throwing or pinning his opponent using applications and variations of the basic techniques for free practice. The person holding the sponge rubber knife scores points by valid stabs to prescribed areas of his opponent or by applying counter techniques after one of his arms has been grasped. In competitions the knife is exchanged after a fixed amount of time to ensure fairness and the winner is decided by the total number of points scored.
As a place for testing techniques, competition allows us to learn the essential elements that we cannot acquire through prearranged practice such as timing and how to change techniques depending on an opponent’s reactions. It also prevents practice from becoming too formalistic and encourages an enquiring mind which is a shortcut to learning. Tomiki established aikido as a modern martial art via its transformation to include sport. By taking aikido competition as a place of education, its value increases through the cultivation of strong qualities such as determination and perseverance as well as fairness and courtesy.
It is important to realise the balance of 99% prearranged practice and 1% free practice. The two are inseparable and the practice system of competitive aikido is for the benefit of both.