Although aikido is a relatively recent innovation within the world of martial arts, it is heir to a rich cultural and philosophical background. Aikido was created in Japan by Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969). Before creating aikido, Ueshiba trained extensively in several varieties of jujitsu, and in swordsmanship. Ueshiba also immersed himself in religious studies and developed an ideology devoted to universal socio-political harmony. Incorporating these principles into his martial art, Ueshiba developed many aspects of aikido in concert with his philosophical and religious ideology.
Aikido, as Ueshiba conceived it in his mature years, is not primarily a system of combat, but rather a means of self-cultivation and improvement. Aikido has no tournaments, competitions, contests, or "sparring." Instead, all aikido techniques are learned cooperatively at a pace commensurate with the abilities of each trainee. According to the founder, the goal of aikido is not the defeat of others, but the defeat of the negative characteristics which inhabit one's own mind and inhibit its functioning.
At the same time, the potential of aikido as a means of self-defense should not be ignored. One reason for the prohibition of competition in aikido is that many aikido techniques would have to be excluded because of their potential to cause serious injury. By training cooperatively, even potentially lethal techniques can be practiced without substantial risk.
It must be emphasized that there are no shortcuts to proficiency in aikido (or in anything else, for that matter). Consequently, attaining proficiency in aikido is simply a matter of sustained and dedicated training. No one becomes an expert in just a few months or years.
(Taken from the Aikido Primer, courtesy of Eric Soknak)