The word “aikido” is formed of three kanji:
The term “aiki” does not readily appear in the Japanese language outside the scope of Budo. This has led to many possible interpretations of the word. 合 is mainly used in compounds to mean ‘combine, unite, join together, meet’, examples being 合同 (combined/united), 合成 (composition), 結合 (unite/combine/join together), 連合 (union/alliance/association), 統合 (combine/unify), and 合意 (mutual agreement). There is an idea of reciprocity, 知り合う (to get to know one another), 話し合い (talk/discussion/negotiation), and 待ち合わせる (meet by appointment).
気 is often used to describe a feeling, as in なになに気がする (‘I feel X’, as in terms of thinking but with less cognitive reasoning), and 気持ち (feeling/sensation); it is used to mean energy or force, as in 電気 (electricity) and 磁気 (magnetism); it can also refer to qualities or aspects of people or things, as in 気質 (spirit/trait/temperament).
Therefore, from a purely literal interpretation, aikido is the “Way of combining forces”, in that the term aiki refers to the martial arts principle or tactic of blending with an attacker’s movements for the purpose of controlling their actions with minimal effort. One applies aiki by understanding the rhythm and intent of the attacker to find the optimal position and timing to apply a counter-technique.