In Japanese, the word aikido is written with three characters (合気道) which can be translated as: "the way of harmonious force", "the way to harmony with the life force" or "the way to a harmonious spirit". The techniques of aikido are based on circular movements that partly derive from the sword, and partly on the principle of never opposing an attacking force. You strive never to meet force with force, but instead to add your own force to the opponent's, and in this way achieve harmony. This is why size or physical strength is of less importance in aikido.
The techniques are mainly various throws and locks, plus weapon techniques using the bokken (wooden sword) and jo (staff). Practice is mainly conducted in pairs, where the participants take turns at performing the techniques.
People who start practicing aikido to learn how to fight rarely stay on, at least for that reason; it is much faster to learn kicking or punching than to perform effecticve aikido. Still, the principles of aikido are effective as self-defence. Even though aikido in many ways is practiced as self-defence, the adversary is not called opponent but partner.
As in most Japanese budo arts, there are examinations. These are used as a way to check your progress, and a passed examination is awarded with a grade (degree). The black belt grades are called dan, and the grades below these are called kyu. In most Swedish clubs, practitioners with kyu degrees carry the white belt all the way up to the dan grades. The point where you are allowed to wear the hakama (wide black trousers) varies, but in most styles the dividing line goes at third kyu (i.e. half-way to the black belt). Kyu degrees are counted down from 6th kyu up to 1st, while dan grades are counted up from 1st dan.