Aikido is a traditional Japanese martial arts discipline that is very popular worldwide. Aikido roughly means ‘the path of harmoniously coordinated energy’. The special creed of Aikido is the nonviolent and humanistic philosophy towards the attacker. Aikido was developed from classic, unarmed melee techniques of feudal Japan and the movements of sword fighting in the early 20th century by Morihei Ueshiba. But how street-worthy is this peaceful martial art really in a realistic self-defense situation?
Aikido was and is Morihei Ueshiba’s great vision to teach combat techniques that were originally intended to seriously injure or kill the opponent in a very controlled and responsible manner in order to develop the character and personality of the practitioner positively. Jigoro Kano followed the same approach with his judo at the same time. But judo developed into a sport. Aikido remained a martial art with a very philosophical and ethical basis. That is why there was lively exchange between the Aikido and Judoka in their pioneering days in Japan.
Aikido, which is now widespread worldwide, is popular, but far from being as widespread as the more well-known Japanese martial arts and martial arts disciplines, judo or karate. This is probably the reason why the teaching process and the teaching programs are still very traditional and in some cases internationally standardized. This means, for example, that there is a (clear) number of basic techniques that have to be performed against a standardized attack catalog with precisely distributed roles between (cooperative) attackers (Uke) and defenders (Nage).
Advanced aikidoka (= aikido-drivers) also learn to defend themselves against armed attacks and to use armed attackers with the weapons jo (stick), (wooden) sword (bokken) and knife (tanto). These standard techniques and attacks are called elementary school. Upon reaching the 1st Dan (= 1st level) the Aikidoka dominates the elementary school and (is NOT a master! … but) learns next to new techniques above all to use his techniques more and more freely to neutralize the now less discussed attacks. It usually takes 5 to 10 years until then; depending on training diligence and opportunity to train.
The basic techniques and movement principles are relatively simple, so that each individual technique can be used against a variety of attacks. The standard attacks sometimes seem unrealistic, because hardly an attacker who is not armed would strike from above on the head of his standing victim or simply grasp his wrist … unless perhaps as a kind of advances on a woman , I see such attacks as a kind of example to learn to deal with different directions of movement and pressure of the attacker. Attacks with the sword nowadays only occur very, very, very rarely on the street … Thank God! Working with the sword is primarily valuable for the aikidoka to understand the origin of the unarmed aikido movements. The yo techniques can be transferred to an umbrella, broom style, Nordic walking stick or walking stick for defense, for example. The advanced, traditional forms of exercise Suwari-waza (from the knee) and Hamni-hantachi (attacker is standing, defender on the knee) are mainly old training forms that are almost meaningless in practical self-defense application. Only Hamni-hantachi trains the transferable situation when the defender is sitting or is much smaller than the attacker. There is no official ground fight in aikido, but many advanced aikidoka usually know how to help each other (see my note: the exchange between aikido and judo at the time).
The exchange between Aikido and Judo created the Shodenkan Aikido by Kenji Tomiki Sensei. The Tomeiki Aikido is optically closer to Judo, direct & simple structure, easy to learn and quite effective. Techniques of Tomiki Aikido flowed into the Goshin-Jitsu-no-kata of judo and with these techniques represent modern judo self-defense. There are also competitions in Tomiki Aikido.
If you see aikido primarily as a form of philosophy and harmony in motion and only as a subordinate method of self-defense, the overall picture of aikido will appear more rounded to you. Aikido is also seen as the only inner martial art (philosophy, spirituality and principles are far in the foreground compared to physical techniques) of Japan. For me, Aikido is a large, universal whole.
Typical street attacks such as swinging, hooking, wrestling or kicking are completely missing in the repertoire of the standard aikido attacks! Realistic self-defense therefore remains work for advanced learners or a marginal facility in training with the permission of the teacher.
Steven Seagal, 7th Dan Aikido (as of 2015), made Aikido popular on screen in his numerous films. Steven Seagal studied Aikido in Japan for many years until he was appointed master. His aikido (Tenshin Ryu) is very direct and uncompromising and therefore well suited for self-defense. I find it very commendable that kicks are also taken into account here in the standard attacks, which unfortunately you will not find in the traditional attack catalog. This is how Steven Seagal aka Take Sensei was trained. But in order to let such energy flow into your own defense technique, it takes many years of hard-working training. The following video shows him at a sporting event in Russia:
Aikido Teacher Lenny Sly showing his realistic concept of applying traditional Aikido techniques in the left video.
For comparison on the right: this is what a sporty full contact sparring looks like between an Aikidoka and a Taekwondoka. Cooperative training partner, as is traditional in the Aikido standard = no report! Aikidoka seriously interested in self-defense should be prepared for such situations:
The so-called REAL AIKIDO attempts to transform traditional aikido into modern, contemporary self-defense. To me, the real (as a hint at realistic and not real) aikido looks more like a Ju-Jutsu style; So rather a development back to the progenitor of Aikido, the Daito-Ryu-Jiu-Jitsu, which was still designed for the battlefield and not for personal development and peace building. Real Aikido is based on the humanistic, peaceful approach as the special feature of the system! Convince yourself in the following, very dynamic video:
The moral principle of aikido, to protect the attacker as much as possible and give him a chance to see his wrongdoing, is certainly very noble and worth striving for. But this includes a very clear, technical superiority over the attacker, which you will only achieve after many years of intensive training!
For the time when the beginner becomes advanced, there should be a (non-traditional) self-defense program that a newcomer who wants to learn aikido seriously primarily for self-defense can be defended against all common attacks within a year with a maximum of a handful of techniques makes. All movements must be simple, direct and versatile. Here, the principle of ‘self-protection against attacker protection’ must take priority, taking into account the proportionality of attack and defense. It would also be important to have behavior training in the pre-fight phase in non-verbal and verbal conflict situations, because 95% of attacks don’t even happen! (… as unfortunately it is almost only practiced in traditional systems.)
Depending on the style of aikido, (above all) punching and (less) kicking techniques (= Atemi) are more or less used in aikido to prepare or distract the attacker for a throwing or levering technique or to disable them. Aikido founder O-Sensei (= great teacher) Morihei Ueshiba saw the use of breathing techniques as follows: in training up to 30% work with (usually indicated) Atemis, in emergencies with over 70% work with Atemis to use the aikido techniques support. A very courageous going into an aikido technique with the whole body can quickly develop a breath-like effect. Depending on how hard the aikidoka throws his attacker to the ground, an aikido throw can knock out the attacker.
Still on the fence of whether you should try Aikido or not? Read my brief opinion of Aikido vs other martial arts:
Aikido vs Judo
Judo teaches you to take the fight to the ground and submit them using basic submission moves. Comparing Judo to Aikido is not fair because Judo is superior.
Hapkido vs Aikido
Hapkido is supposed to be a type of Korean “MMA” but we all know the truth that there has not been any MMA world champions with background in Hapkido. Same can be said for Aikido. But if you are going to put a gun to my head then i will choose Hapkido 100% of the time.
Aikido vs Karate
If i can only choose between Aikido or Karate then i will choose to go to the gym and become Phil Heath.
Aikido vs MMA
Seriously? You need an opinion about this?
Aikido vs Jiu Jitsu
Since we are talking about traditional jiu jitsu it becomes interesting. But at its core jiu jitsu is more complete than Aikido.
Aikido vs BJJ
BJJ beats everything excepts MMA (or wrestling if you ask Dan Gable)
Aikido vs Taekwondo
Taekwond emphasizes kicks and they are famous of being one of the best kickers in MMA. So go for Taekwondo if you are limited in options.
Aikido vs Krav Maga
Besides the dick kicking and ear biting, Krav Maga is actually pretty useful for self defense if you are in immediate danger.
Aikido vs Tai Chi
Same as my answer for Karate
Aikido vs Wing Chun
Wing Chun seems to be the more effective martial arts in any way shape of form (It is not the best obviously)