Aikido is one of the coolest martial arts out there. It can be brutally effective, and yet one of its top philosophies is to do no harm. But how does it work? I decided to put together a complete list, for both beginners and experts, of the top Aikido techniques.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Ikkyo (elbow lock)
- Nikyo (wrist lock)
- Gokyo (elbow lock)
- Shihonage (a type of throw)
- Morote-Dori Kokyu-Ho (unbalancing an attacker)
- Tai No Henko (redirecting an attacker’s energy)
But don’t worry, I’ll get into the details of all of those further down, and step-by-step. At first glance, Aikido seems like a puzzle.
How can a martial art be “a way of peace?’’ However, when you finally get it, what appears to be a puzzle will fade away. And you will realize it is probably the most lucid, riveting, and profound martial art. Yes, it is a system of self-defense, but it is about a lot more.
In this article, we will explore Aikido techniques for beginners and experts alike. We will look at the principles underlying them and how you can apply them.
Let the fun begin…
#Shihonage, the four corner throw. Thomas’ 2nd dan grading with Andrea as uke, at #Aikido Tenshindo #Wellington end of year 2017 grading #Aikikai #AikidoNZ #AikidoWellington #Budo #nidan #blackbelt #photography #sportsphotography pic.twitter.com/g3qUcFTvhI
— Silver Duck (@SilverDuckNZ) December 27, 2017
How many techniques are there in Aikido?
Aikido has at least 10,000 techniques, or waza (the Japanese term for technique, skill, or art). However, there are 20 crucial techniques on which many other techniques are based.
If you have ever wondered why some martial arts take so long to learn, it is because they are multi-faceted systems. Naturally, to master them, there are many techniques and concepts to learn.
By multi-faceted systems, I mean that they are made up of components that span the physical, mental, spiritual, even philosophical domains. It stands to reason that these are not systems one could grasp in a couple of weeks or months.
There is actually a lot to learn about Aikido.
For a deeper understanding of its philosophy, check out a recent article of mine. Is it vital to grasp its philosophy? Yes, it is. I believe that familiarity with it would make it easier to appreciate the techniques.
One of the themes I explored in the article is that Aikido is a Japanese concept that means, way of harmonizing energy and that it is about peace and eliminating aggression. It is about making the world a better place. How can a martial art be about a goal that is that sublime?
Just click the link to read it on my site.
Now, you are probably beginning to appreciate what I shared earlier that it is a multi-faceted system. The core techniques are actually about 20, but then they can be implemented in thousands of ways. A master knows how to leverage techniques and variations of each that are suitable for the particular moment and context.
So, what is it like when these techniques are used in a training session?
To practice the techniques, there are two parties, the initiator of an attack (attacker), who’s also the recipient, and the person who applies the techniques (defender). The former is known as the uke, while the latter is the tori or shite.
Both practice kata (pre-arranged forms). The uke initiates an attack on the tori, and then the tori demonstrates the technique in their response.
Can you teach yourself Aikido? In a recent article of mine, I shared the truth about whether it’s ideal to do that. Just click the link to read it on my site.
Now we have an idea of the number of techniques. Man, they’re a lot. But, are they easy or difficult?
— Silver Duck (@SilverDuckNZ) May 6, 2017
Are Aikido techniques difficult to learn?
Aikido can be more difficult to learn than other martial arts due to its concept of redirecting an attacker’s energy. The spiritual components include learning to focusing inward instead of focusing on being aggressive towards others.
A lot of people believe it’s difficult.
In fact, it has a reputation for being difficult. But, the truth is: it depends. It depends on how you approach it. It’s a function of your mindset. Not to worry, I’ll explain.
If you’ve been involved in a couple of fights, it’s easy to think they’re solely about brawn. “The stronger, tougher, taller, heavier dude wins” mindset. When we fight, we assume that the more force we exert, the more likely it is to crush our opponent.
But it’s not always true.
Aikido is about brains, not brawn. It’s a strategic game. At first glance, it’s a tad counterintuitive. The mindset is about leveraging your opponent’s energy and momentum against them. It’s about how to unbalance your opponent while you maintain yours.
You’ve probably seen contests where the “underdog” wins. They illustrate a principle in Aikido, where the smaller (but smarter) wins by relying on technique.
Two MMA fighters come to mind as exemplars of Aikido’s core principle: Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov (a Russian) and Israel Adesanya (a Nigerian). Neither are big or muscular.
But, they often trounce bigger, more intimidating opponents. Both are guys with unimpressive physiques. What they’ve got is a mastery of some lethal techniques.
You’ve probably learned that a lot of MMA fighters employ BJJ.
Which one is better, Aikido or BJJ? I explored the issue in a recent article of mine. I explained why BJJ is better. Just click the link to read it on my site.
So, when you think of Aikido, think brains, not brawn. The expression, do not fight force with force, is at the heart of this peaceful martial art.
Whether you will find it difficult depends on your motivation and effort.
The reality is that a lot of things seem difficult at the beginning. This is the time when some people quit! They seem to miss the fact that the more devoted we are, the easier it will be. After all, knowledge compounds over time.
So, permit yourself to fumble at the beginning stage. Pretty soon, you will get it. Lastly, learn to relax (strange, right?). You will actually be more in tune with how to respond to attacks if you are not frightened and tense.
The techniques can be easy or difficult to learn; it depends on you. Now that we have got that out of the way. Let us check out some techniques.
What are the most common aikido techniques?
Below, I’ll share a list of some common techniques and explain a bit about a couple of them.
- Ikkyo – First Teaching (Elbow Control)
- Nikyo – Second Teaching (Wrist Control)
- Sankyo – Third Teaching (Wrist Control)
- Yonkyo – Fourth Teaching (Wrist Control & Pressure Point)
- Gokyo – Fifth Teaching (Elbow Control)
- Rokkyo – Sixth Teaching (Arm Control)
- Tantodori (defense against a knife)
- Kogeki (attacks in aikido)
Ikkyo – First Teaching (Elbow Control)
It’s an elbow technique combined with other different techniques and can be used in all attacks. It’s the most basic. And is an entrance move for other techniques such as nikyo, sankyo, yonkyo, gokyo and hijikime osae.
The tori holds the uke’s hand by the elbow with one hand, and the elbow with another (while applying pressure to the wrist) and throws them to the ground while sidestepping their energy and momentum.
In a quintessential Aikido fashion, the tori is not exerting much energy but is leveraging the other’s energy to overcome them.
Nikyo – Second Teaching (Wrist Control)
It’s an extremely painful technique for the uke or your opponent and can instantly give you an edge if you know how to execute it correctly. As the uke attacks you, you grab their arm and pull it down while twisting it. Your main pressure is being applied to the wrist, which you twist backward.
Trust me, having one’s wrist twisted backward exerts intense pain. It stops them in their tracks. Remember that you’re pulling them down. In fact, they’re now on their knees, and you’ve stepped in, so close to them, standing beside them, while they’re kneeling down —in great pain!
Gokyo – Fifth Teaching (Elbow Control)
The two techniques we looked at above assumed that your attacker had no weapon (which is not realistic, in some cases). What would you do if you were being attacked with a knife? That’s what Gokyo is about.
Grab their arm firmly from underneath, with both arms, rotate it so it’s bent, and lock the elbow. One of your hands is locked on their elbow, while the other turns their wrist backward. You move away slightly as you pull them to the ground.
And you kneel beside them, with your knee close to their armpit. Slide your hand underneath the elbow and apply pressure down the elbow.
The techniques we explored seem simple, but they’re actually lethal. As you read, realize that the techniques are applied firmly and swiftly.
How long does it take to learn Aikido?
It takes 1 year to learn the basics of Aikido, 3 years to master the basics, and 4 to 5 years to earn a 1st-degree black belt. Those rates are assuming a practice of 2-3 times per week minimum.
But it’s not just about mastering some physical techniques.
It’s also about self-mastery. So, before a good instructor “certifies” that you’re indeed qualified for a particular belt, they’re considering how well you’ve mastered the techniques. Still, they’re also interested in your personal growth and whether you’ll be a good ambassador of the school.
4-5 years for a black belt is quite some time. Yes, it is. But, it’s worth it. You might wonder about Aikido’s effectiveness. After all, it’s an art of peace.
Can it really be effective in a street fight?
That’s what I explored in a recent article of mine. I answered questions, such as: is Aikido absolutely useless? I shared about 7 different benefits it offers. I also shared which one is the best: Karate, Jujutsu, or Aikido.
Just click the link to read it on my site.
At the end of the day, it’s better not to focus on rankings and when you’ll get to your “destination.” Why? Serious students consider Aikido a life-long discipline. There’s really no end to one’s capacity to improve.
If you adopt a similar stance, then there’s only a journey, which can be so much fun.
— FNR | Le Tengu 👺 (@Le_Tengu_) August 24, 2020
Aikido basics for beginners
We’ll look at the following 5 techniques:
- Morote-Dori Kokyu-Ho
- Suwari-Waza Kokyu-Ho
- Tai No Henko
- Irimi Nage
- Shiho Nage
It’s a way to unbalance an opponent who’s grabbed you with both hands. How? You’ll use your elbow and hips. Say they’ve grabbed you. Go down a bit and then raise your elbow. As you do that, their hold on you is no longer as powerful.
Twist your hips slightly, then throw them off backward. The principle at play is deflection. They rushed at you and grabbed you. Instead of rushing into the attack field, you simply leverage a simple technique to neutralize the attack.
While done in the dojo, it’s safe for both parties. But if you apply Morote-Dori in a street fight on hard ground, it could be dangerous for your opponent because unless they’re a trained fighter, they won’t know how to fall. How to fall? Yes, there are techniques for that. If a person falls backward, they could hurt their elbow or head!
Say you’re seated in the classic Samurai kneeling position, and someone grabs you.
How can you defend yourself? Leverage Suwari-Waza. As soon as they grab you, swiftly raise the grabbed hands way up and part your arms (to your side, it has the effect of parting theirs, too, making them more vulnerable because their guard is now open).
Turn, bring both of their arms back and throw them sideways.
They’ll surely land with their back on the floor. A slightly more powerful variation: Once you’ve raised your hands, enter into their guard, and use one of your arms to push them backward. They’ll fall backward.
The principle is similar to the first one we looked at. You thwarted their plan by simply raising your hands (indirectly controlling theirs) and in the second variation by leaning into them after they’ve lost control of their hands.
Tai No Henko
Suppose they grab your left hand. Turn its palm inward, facing your abdomen. Twist your hip inward and pivot to the rear with your right foot while remaining upright. Now, extend the fingertips of both hands, parallel to the opponent. Ensure that you always keep your hand in front of your center.
In other words, when they grab you, curl your wrist and pull them forward.
It’s a simple and effective illustration of the core principle of redirection. There’s no big force needed. It’s about changing your direction in such a way that they lose their hold on you. Tai No Henko means “body change” or “body change direction.”
Irimi Nage means an entering throw. Say they grab your left hand with their left (cross-handed grab) while their right hand is open, ready to be used to punch you (or something). Avoid the open hand and blend with their energy by going by the side (your right) while still having your hand held.
Swiftly go to their back, and grip their neck with your right hand, and push them down a bit, to your left, and then hook your left hand, with your elbow around their neck, and swiftly push them to the ground, on your right side.
It’s a highly destabilizing technique. It’s almost dizzying for the attacker. Because in less than a minute, a skilled Aikidoka has turned them to the right and left, after losing their balance! It underscores the principle of blending with the opponent and redirecting their energy.
Some believe that this technique is the foundation of Aikido. In fact, it encapsulates all that one needs to know about the art. It means the four-direction throw or four corner throw and is based on how past fighters would bow to the North, East, West, and South.
Your hand is grabbed by an opponent. The first thing is to go offline — that’s directly from their flow, where they can easily hurt you. Move 90 degrees to the side. Lift their wrist straight up in front of you, as if you were raising a sword. Step through, turn, then cut. The cut brings them down on their back. It’s fascinating to see the technique in action.
When a sword is being used, it’s first extended outward. In a similar manner, extend out their bent arm (and twisted wrist) before you cut (pull them to the ground). It reflects the principle of sidestepping their energy, then blending with it, and unbalancing an opponent.
The above is fascinating, right? But how effective is Aikido? In a recent article of mine, I showed, among other themes, that there are locks and throws that an Aikidoka can leverage to win in street fights.
They also know how to use the attacker’s energy against them. Now, let’s check out some intermediate moves.
Aikido moves for intermediate students
You’ll recall that I wrote earlier that Aikido has just 20 main techniques. So, the intermediate and advanced moves are largely refinements of the fundamentals. The fundamentals can be applied from various angles, postures, and positions.
The intermediate and advanced students show a level of dexterity that’s only possible by practicing all techniques (no matter the level) over and over again.
Ukemi (break fall) is one of the most important techniques to master. If a person does not master how to fall when thrown or pinned, they’ll likely lose and sustain injuries. Learning how to fall properly is critical.
When you’re thrown or pushed, instead of simply losing your balance, you lower one of your legs behind you and sit down as you fall. That reduces the impact and keeps you in control as you’re falling back. Then, you raise your legs and curl them toward you. This makes it easy for you to be able to roll yourself forward and stand up.
The principle: You’ve used their attack for your own gain.
Irimi Nage (entering throw)
Say you’ve been grabbed by your arm, on the same side. Irimi Nage is an almost effortless way to get out of the grip and have your opponent on the floor. They’ve grabbed you. The first thing is to move to the side, to get out of their center of the attack. It’s dangerous to be directly in their field.
They could kick, punch…So move toward the back, which makes it difficult to reach you.
As you move, use your free hand to strike their hand that’s gripping yours. Your movement and the strike negate their hold. Turn your hand and grab them by the wrist (of the same hand that held you barely 2 seconds ago).
Grip it from below and extend their hand forward. Enter and place your hand on their further shoulder, bring them toward your shoulder. While doing that, look in the same direction as the attacker (to harmonize your energies).
Stretch your free hand in their front as if you were showing them the direction. Tilt your body inward, enter and throw. They’ll fall backward.
Kaiten Nage translates to a wheel (or rotary) throw. Say they attacked you by grabbing you. First, get out of the line of attack, extend, bring them around and drop your weight so that both of you go down.
But, they’ll be lower on the ground, stand a bit higher, and place your other hand behind their neck as you rise. They don’t. They’ve lost control. Use the web between your thumb and fingers to anchor their neck so there’s no slippage or loss of control.
With your other hand, stretch their hand a bit behind them, and they’ll fall to the ground.
An elbow lock. It’s simple and effective. As they attack you, blend with their momentum by moving slightly aside as your hand reaches under theirs placed under their armpit. Raise the attacker up on their toes by putting pressure on the elbow of the outstretched arm.
Ensure your legs are placed in a similar position; this gives you leverage. Bend to the side, so they have no choice but to follow and be thrown forward because of the pressure being applied on their elbow.
It means “wrist twist” or the” wrist turned out” throw.
When they attack, do the basic move of getting out of their line of attack by grabbing their wrist and continuing in a slightly circular motion so that they lose their balance. Then turn their wrist out and place your defensive hand on top of their secured hand.
Continue turning their hand in a downward position until they lose balance and fall.
Aikido moves for advanced students
Ushiro Waza Sankyo Nage
Fights occur in a variety of positions. This is one of the reasons there are a lot of variations on the relatively few techniques. Let’s check out an attack from the rear (Ushiro). Say they attack, enter, and blend in with their momentum.
Step in, reverse the direction and execute a Kote gaeshi. Hold their hand and pull toward the center, and they’ll fall. It’s a principle of blending with an attacker’s energy and redirection.
Note that there are many variations.
Aiki Otoshi Nage
As the person attacks you, avoid their attack line and move slightly to the rear. They’ll be expecting you to attack from a standing position. Swiftly bend down and grab one of their legs. Naturally, they’ll be caught off-guard and lose their balance. Bend your knee and lift the leg in a somewhat circular motion upward and back.
Shift your weight to further enhance their loss of balance and execute the throw. The principle is one of surprise, deflection, and that of unbalancing an opponent.
It’s a defense technique for a situation where both of your arms are held. You bring your arms, over your head, forcefully to the front. As you’re doing that, the attacker starts losing their grip. You bring it up and above your head.
While doing that, bend backward slightly. They’ve lost control. Bring your hands to the front. Now, the table’s been turned. You are now the one gripping both of their wrists.
Bend a bit, move to the side, and pull them down as you shift. Extend their arms, and apply an elbow lock, and they’ll fall to the floor. It’s a principle of using their strength and control against them by countering it.
Interesting. But is Aikido effective?
In a recent article of mine, I answered the question and explained why most Aikidokas are reluctant to fight and how they approach fights when they have to.
Just click the link to read it on my site.
In the preceding paragraphs, we looked at a host of Aikido techniques for beginners, intermediate, and advanced students.
We explored how long it takes to master, and we explored whether these techniques are difficult to master. We also looked at the essential principles on which they’re based.
Aikido is a fantastic martial art and well worth looking into!