Aikido is one of the most well known Martial Arts in the world, with around 500,000 monthly participants across the globe.
But is Aikido any good?
In this article, I break down Aikido, from it's practise to its self-defence applications.
Welcome to the only guide to Aikido that you will ever need to read.
Let's dive in:
What is Aikido?
To the outsider, Aikido is perhaps one of the more odd-looking Martial Arts.
Participants wear 'dress like' garments and lunge at each other's wrists and throw themselves a lot.
Yes, it certainly is different from the more combative arts such as Muay Thai.
But there is method behind this approach.
Aikido is roughly translated as "the way of harmonious spirit" and was founded by Morihei Ueshiba in around 1942.
It is based around the student of Aikido using their mind and body to align with the attacker's energy in one harmonious motion that disables the attacker leaving them without serious injury.
In reality, this means that an Aikidodist takes the attackers energy and redirect the energy, so it no longer exists.
They do this using a range of techniques from Ju-Jitsu, sword fighting and fencing (among others).
The end result is a graceful and dance like Martial Art that is beautiful to watch.
What Practical Self-Defence Techniques Are Used In Aikido?
Aikido is in many ways similar to Judo, in that it uses the attacker's energy against them.
If they pull, the Aikidoist will push. (I am using the term Aikidoist because I believe Aikido people do not like the term Aikidoka, if I am wrong let me know and I will change it)
If they are pushed, the Aikidoist will pull.
But that is about all that is similar between the arts.
Aikido uses circular and spherical motions to divert the energy of the attacker, and then they often use joint locks to control/ disarm them after they are disabled.
Although covering the entirety of Aikido is beyond the scope of this article, here are some of the more effective techniques.
Shiho- Nage (Four Directions Throw)
This first throw is used to send an attacker to the ground by twisting under them and pulling them down to the floor.
It is a very powerful technique and can be used to deal with wrist grabs and strikes.
Ikkajo Osae (1st Control)
This technique is actually seen and used globally by law enforcement officers and uses a combination of breaking balance and control of the attacker's arm at the elbow joint.
This is a very powerful technique that works against any attacker.
Shomen-Irmi-Nage (Front Approach Body Throw)
This is perhaps one of the most well known and powerful Aikido techniques that could be crudely described as a 'clothesline' technique from pro wrestling.
It is an impactive technique.
Tenchi- Nage (Heaven and Earth Throw)
Tenchi- Nage is a throw that in principle is very similar to the Judo throw Osoto Gari (but without the reaping leg).
One of your hands will rise to the heavens, and the other will try and pierce the earth.
This action breaks the balance of the attacker and sends them to the floor.
Kote- Gaeshi (Outward writs twist)
This is perhaps one of the more well known and spectacular techniques in Aikido.
Essentially it is a wrist lock with a throw (or projection as Aikido practitioners call them).
The wrist is turned outward forcing the body of the attacker to follow and often this results in the attacker doing a full somersault.
Does Aikido For Self Defence Work?
Yes, Aikido is an effective system for dealing with realistic self-defence situations.
Well, that is the short answer, but I am going to have to explain this in more detail.
Aikido has for many years, been given a bad image by the MMA and Martial Arts crowd as a whole.
There are many videos out there of Aikido going up against other Martial Arts and being destroyed.
But frankly speaking, if you are using this as a yardstick for any type of self-defence system, you are seriously inexperienced.
I can make BJJ next to useless in a second by giving a BJJ student more than one attacker to deal with and handing them knives.
I can make decades of MMA training obsolete in a second by giving their opponent a knife or a gun.
And I can make a lifetime of Thai boxing a waste of time from a self-defence perspective by giving an attacker a knife or a gun.
You get the idea.....no Martial Art is perfect.
But behind Aikido is actually a lot of sense if you break it down and let your ego go to sleep for a second.
Wrist Grabs In Aikido
If you watch enough Aikido videos, you will notice how the attackers grab wrists in their training.
At first, you might scream "no one does that in real life", but you have to remember it wasn't until 1876 that the Samurai were actually banned from carrying swords in public.
As a result, only the police, high ranking officials and military were allowed to carry weapons. This ended only in 1945 when Japan was occupied by foreign forces and all Martial Arts and weapons carrying was again made illegal.
So, Aikido's use of wrist grabs is a shout out to the history of the time.
It made sense to grab the wrists of someone who might have a sword to stop them using it on you and also from a defensive ability to retain your sword; it again makes sense.
Aikido can be argued as a Martial Art that practised early weapons retention skills.
But the use of wrist grabs doesn't just stop there.
High, Mid And Low Line Attacks
Aikido is a system that has been designed to work regardless of what weapon the attacker is using
These high, mid and low line attacks are what we see in all attacks.
If an attacker strikes you with a punch or a stabbing motion, it matters not if it is a closed fist or a blade he is holding.
Hands are holding the weapon, and those hands are attached to wrists.
If you control the wrists, you control the strike or the weapon itself, and as such, regardless of how the attack is being used, you have control of the attacker and can now redistribute their energy.
One of the most common forms of self-defence in the world is evasion...or the art of moving out of the way of the attackers strikes.
Aikido has a very complex system of evasion and a major part can be simplified by calling it 'standing side by side with the attacker and facing the same way'.
I know, this sounds almost too ludicrous to be true.
However, you shouldn't knock it as it exists in numerous well regarded martial arts.
Wrestling has many throws which involve you being side by side and facing the same way, as does Judo.
In boxing, they call it a pivot step.
So, as we can see, while it sounds strange and almost as if it won't work, it is a highly effective form of evasion.
Where Aikido differs is that rather than use that turn and then throw or takedown the attacker/ opponent.
The turn is used to start the process of creating and then using centripetal and centrifugal force, or in layman's terms, it is the ability to create a force that draws people in like a whirlpool and force that throws people outward as if they were on top of a spinning top.
Think of grabbing a person by the hands and swinging them around and letting go....thats it.
Kuzushi Is The Key To Self Defence
Kuzushi or the art of breaking balance is by far the number one skill (aside from avoidance or evasion) that a person should practise when looking to become good at self-defence.
As a Judoka, I have specialised in this for years and as a former police officer, breaking balance quickly and effectively allowed me to control even the most violent and aggressive attackers for years.
It is this that Aikido uses to a high degree and where most people in what I call 'combat Martial Arts' tend not to understand very well.
If I ask you to get into a boxing stance or fighting stance, you will be in a strong position.
It will be difficult to push you or pull you, but if I move you so that your feet and now shoulder-width apart you are far weaker and can be thrown forward or backwards.
(As demonstrated by Judo legend Neil Adams MBE).
Now, Aikido doesn't really move you into that weaker position but actually redirects you so, in essence, you actually break your own balance.
And as seen in the heaven and earth throw, you can actually break an opponent's balance by merely moving one hand up and another down.
Where Aikido Falls Down Spectaluarly
OK, so all of this sounds great.
And in theory, Aikido sounds like the best self-defence system ever, so why doesn't everyone do it and all other Martial Arts are obsolete?
Aikido fails spectacularly in one area.....the people it attracts.
I mean this with no disrespect at all to anyone doing Aikido, but in general terms, the people that do Aikido tend to be individuals that are attracted to the less competitive forms of Martial Arts.
And sadly, that usually means less athletically gifted people.
Why? Because people who enjoy competiton and sport tend to go after the arts that have more of those elements.
It is only when you dig really deep into Aikido and it's sporting side do you see the more athletic people with the art and start to see its more realistic applications.
Now, I am not going to tell lies....I don't really understand the rules of sport Aikido, so it would be ridiculous to start to slate the sporting aspect of the art (BJJ players, please be quiet, have you ever seen the Donkey Guard).
But what we have seen on display is a collection of fast footwork and evasion, combined with a range of Judo like throws.
You also see a range of savage arm locks going on really fast.
But as we have seen, the competition side looks very scrappy, and that is precisely how real violence looks.
So if you are watching that and thinking that looks a mess, well that's what a real fight looks like.
Sports Martial Arts V Aikido
Another common criticism of Aikido is that it doesn't stand up against other sports Martial Arts as we can see in the following videos.
Well, of course, it doesn't.
And sorry to say, if you think judging a Martial Arts street effectiveness by comparing it with other Martial Arts is a fair comparison you are barking up the wrong tree.
One of the reasons that Aikido fails so badly against other arts (apart from a lack of athletic ability of its participants) is that they don't train to fight other Martial Arts.
I mean seriously folks, if you are paying $100 a month to learn BJJ and MMA I doubt you are walking the streets at night looking to mug people you have issues.
Martial Artists really shouldn't be out looking for fights and Aikido was never devised to deal with BJJ or MMA remember.
But let's break down what we saw in the videos of the competitive Aikido.
We saw a lot of evasion.
This evasion was followed by attempts to add takedowns using their techniques.
So let's compare this to the excellent head evasion video from fight smart Trav
In that video we Trav back peddle, duck, slip and avoid the strikes and even parry.
It wouldn't take much for Trav to sidestep and push the opponents and send them flying.
But do you have to avoid all punches?
Not really, its a fight, you are highly likely to get punched.
This next video by Aikido Flow is an excellent example of practical Aikido on show:
As for takedowns, it doesn't take long to learn how to sprawl or deal with a single leg takedown but again does it make sense for Aikido to do this when their system is geared towards weapons and strikes?
I might note that almost all sports combat arts have zero self-defence practise against weapons.
Weapons And Aikido
We all know that if someone pulls out a knife, the best form of self-defence is to run.
But they could also have a machete, sword, bat, axe or broken bottle.
And again.....you need to run or do as they say.
But what if you can't run and you can't do as they say?
And this is where Aikido might have the advantage when compared with other arts or systems of self-defence.
Because when the knives and swords come out, they do have a system that focuses on 3 critical factors.
- Not getting seriously cut
- Evading the weapons
- Controlling the weapon hand
In contrast, almost all other forms of Martial Arts don't really deal with these situations realistically.
So yet again, it doesn't take a genius to see that Aikido has the edge here.
Aikido...It's Not For Dickheads
I won't lie. I am not a fan of the current Martial Arts scene.
There are a lot of idiots amongst it. People I wouldn't buy a drink for let alone trust them with my body as their training partner.
And a lot of those idiots seem to congregate among a few Martial Arts (mentioning no names).
And again that is why Aikido attracts a lot of really lovely people. They want to learn self-defence and Martial Arts with likeminded people.
And this is a big part of Aikido.
It's not all about who is the best fighter; Aikido is part of life. It forms the practice of the mind and body to attain better health, both mentally and physically.
And at the same time, if you are attacked while walking home, you are likely to increase your chances of survival.
My Personal Experience Of Aikido
I only went to one Aikido lesson and quit.....but let me explain why.
I hated having my wrists bent; it hurts like hell and I knew in that one session that Aikido, right there and then wasn't for me.
I might return to it in the future but I have been fortunate enough to be taught by several police defensive tactics instructors who did know Aikido.
And they were able to put on standing arm locks and wrist locks at a speed I could only dream of.
In our MMA mad world, this might seem odd, but really, have you ever tried to fight in a crowded bar? Trust me, going for a double leg takedown is not smart.
And this is whereas Martial Artists we need to get out of this 'if it's not MMA, it doesn't work' mindset.
Now, even though I hated the discomfort of the Aikido class, I was actually very impressed by the instructors and their level of detail, knowledge and ability.
Sure, most were older than me by at least 20 years.
But when I saw them use the Bokken (a wooden sword) I knew they had skills that I didn't have that would be useful....and they were also cool (I mean, who doesn't want to be able to use a sword).
My experience with Aikido and some of its practitioners has always lead to a very healthy respect for the art.
Aikido presents a way of dealing with attackers that many will say 'won't work'. But I have personally worked in the Police with Aikido specialists that could rip my arm off if they liked.
And that is the thing.
I don't do Aikido, but if I did do Aikido and added my explosiveness and speed, I am sure I would scare the crap out of anyone with my Aikido skills.
But that is because, after 20 plus years of Martial Arts training, even now with a bad back and too much weight on me, I would no doubt be able to make Aikido look like the best thing since sliced bread.
But Aikido doesn't need that or me.
It's not trying to convince the world it is the best thing ever.
For many people, it provides fun, a way to meet new people, exercise, mental health improvements, focus, a past time and of course it gives self-defence skills.
And for that reason, I have no issues in recommending Aikido for self-defence and life improvement.
You're not going to winning any UFC championships by studying Aikido, but you might well avoid a knife plunged into your chest.
Thanks for reading.