How Effective Is Aikido for Self Defense?


A lot of people wonder whether Aikido is worth their while. It’s not as popular as some other martial arts, and can even be seen by some as a more gentle martial art. So how effective is Aikido for self defense?

Here’s what I know having practiced it and other styles too:

Aikido can be very effective for self-defense using a combination of wrist and joint locks, throws, and ultimately being able to defend oneself with minimal risk of injury. 

But that’s just a very quick snapshot and generalization.

So to really answer the question, we need to take a closer look at Aikido, how it’s changed over the years, what the pros and cons are, and how it holds up compared to other styles of martial arts.

Let’s dive in!

Is Aikido effective in a street fight?

Aikido can be effective in a street fight, especially against an opponent not trained in martial arts. Attacks can be predictable and many attackers often telegraph punches making their movements obvious. This allows an Aikido practitioner to use an opponent’s energy against them while avoiding injury themselves.

Street fights come in all shapes and sizes.

Perhaps you had an altercation with one dude who’s about your size, a regular joe, who lacks Aikido skills; you could teach him a lesson. It could even be two guys. You might beat them.

But, street fights are never really predictable, and they can be really messy. There are cases where six guys may jump one person! So, the right answer to the question is: it depends.

If pressed, I’ll say: Aikido is effective in most street fights.

If the opponent is untrained, they’ll probably be uncoordinated and may think fighting is simply about speed and brawn. An experienced Aikido practitioner may leverage calmness and some locks and throws to overpower such.

But, if many people mob the Aikido practitioner, he’ll probably only succeed in confronting two or three, or they may simply overpower and subdue him.

There are folks who say that Aikido is ineffective because it’s largely a defensive martial art.

If what you’re looking for is an art that’ll teach you how to injure or crush an opponent, then it’s ineffective. Its purpose is not to overcome an opponent through brute force.

So, it depends on why you’ll like to learn any martial art. What’s your grand aim? It’s better to clarify what you want, and then you can find a martial art that aligns with it.

If Aikido is probably ineffective in tough, real-life situations, does this mean it’s useless?

Is Aikido absolutely useless?

Aikido is not useless at all. It’s simply misunderstood. It has many benefits, including the ability to counter almost any attack while avoiding significant injury.

Before we dive deeper, it’s good to address why some people wrongly believe it’s useless.

Many people who have not taken the time to study martial arts assume that they are a way to train yourself to beat up a lot of people at the same time.

Some movies are probably responsible for celebrating this kind of misconception.

It becomes difficult for people who have this kind of expectation to appreciate Aikido, which is a profound and holistic martial art. A self-defense art form that’s focused on doing the least harm, and only where absolutely necessary. It’s ultimately about peace.

So, now, we’ll look at the main aim of Aikido and its main benefits. Its grand aim is actually self-mastery. It’s not about fighting, per se.

It’s about living in harmony with nature.

It’s actually a spiritual practice. In most eastern traditions, there’s a holistic way of thinking of the body and the mind. It’s believed that both are integrated (and they are).

So, the techniques and practices are not merely meant to benefit the body but are meant to affect the mind and personality.

Aside from its value in self-defense. It also has benefits such as:

  1. Reduce blood pressure
  2. Improved cardiovascular functioning
  3. Better posture
  4. Greater strength and flexibility
  5. A better sense of timing
  6. Pain relief
  7. Better coordination and improved balance

(source)

From the foregoing, it’s clear that Aikido is not useless. But, if you’re thinking of a worst-case scenario, it’s not your ideal choice. Is it as good as Jiu-Jitsu or Karate? Let’s find out.

Which is better: Jiu-Jitsu, Karate, or Aikido?

For offensive combat, Karate is your best bet, but overall jiu-Jitsu is great for both offense and defense and works really well for defending against a larger or stronger opponent.

But all three can be deadly; it depends on the practitioner’s context and skill.

However, Karate allows for directly kicking and punching an opponent, while the other two are more about using the opponent’s energy and aggression against them.

Let’s learn a bit about Jiu-Jitsu and Karate to see the similarities and differences with what we have learned about Aikido. Karate can be placed in the “hard” category, while Aikido is relatively “soft.”

But to highly technical folks, who know a lot about martial arts, the fact that Aikido does not involve so much physical exertion places it in a “high” category.

They see it as more efficient. If you can subdue an opponent with one wrist-lock or a single throw, why would you want to kick and punch them several times unless you’re being sadistic? 

Jiu-Jitsu and Aikido are similar.

The second evolved from the first, and in addition to belonging to the grappling category, both are focused on redirecting an opponent’s energy, using it against them, and not directly hurting the opponent.

The former is centuries older than the latter. Aikido is more focused on pushing or extending movements while pulling and contracting movements are more used in Jiu-Jitsu. Both do not place a premium on strength training.

I bet you’re beginning to sense that there’s a lot to Aikido than meets the eye, right? So, let’s check out some of its best moves.

What are the best Aikido moves for self-defense?

The best Aikido moves to defend against an attacker are Ikkyo and Kote Gaeshi, which involve controlling the opponent by controlling their joints, or Koshi Nage which is a way to throw your opponent over your hip and knock them down.

Let’s take a look at all 3 in greater detail:

Ikkyo (elbow control)


The focus is on the opponent’s hand, or specifically his elbow.

This move is often referred to as the first teaching, and it’s deceptively simple. Assume that you are about to be choked. It’s a good time to use Ikkyo. How? You rotate the hand or the elbow while applying a brutal degree of pressure to it.

The person either surrenders or they have to contend with a broken elbow!

Kote Gaeshi (wrist reversal)


You twist or reverse the opponent’s wrist! It’s highly painful, and it may take weeks before the wrist can heal. So, use only when absolutely necessary.

Koshi Nage (hip throw)


This is a move you’ve probably seen in movies or on TV shows.

You stand firm, knees slightly bent, grab the attacker, and throw them over your hip. You are not really carrying the attacker but channeling their energy to throw them. While executing the move, you move slightly to the side.

What is the most effective martial art for self-defense?

Krav Maga is the best type of martial art for self-defense. Unlike some of the Eastern practices such as Aikido, Jiu-Jitsu, and Karate, that have elements of spirituality and foster peace and harmony. Krav Maga (contact combat) is about what it says, combat. It’s about how to protect yourself and your loved ones. 

In an ideal world, you would never need to attack or defend yourself in a violent way.

But there may be times where your life and those of your loved ones may be at stake. In those cases, peace and harmony are the last things you need. You need to know how to crush an opponent.

You need to know how to bring them to their knees; quickly, effectively, and with the least amount of damage to you in the process.

Krav Maga is a blend of wrestling, boxing, and gymnastics, and it was developed by Imi Lichtenfeld, who, at one point, was the chief instructor, physical fitness for the Israeli Defence Front.

Krav Maga is about simultaneous defense and attack, focusing on soft and weak spots in the opponent (such as the groin and throat), using anything that could serve as a weapon in one’s environment.

There’s a huge emphasis on physical fitness which is why you often see Krav Maga taught at Cross-Fit gyms.

Having said all of that, I also really like the Russian martial art of Systema for self-defense. It confuses a lot of martial arts practitioners with its almost invisible movements. It also does not use any choreographed movements, so it appears much more natural and flowing.

But it can be just as deadly, if not deadlier, than Krav Maga.

Conclusion

In this article, we mostly explored Aikido and some of its concepts but also some of the most common misconceptions about it.

We looked at how effective it is for self-defense. But we also compared it to other styles of martial arts such as Jiu-Jitsu, and Karate. And we looked specifically at the best Aikido moves for self-defense.

But we also looked at what the overall best martial arts for self-defense are, which, in my opinion, are Krav Maga and Systema.

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell was Academy Director for a large martial arts school for over 7 years, and has trained extensively in a variety of martial arts including Brazilian Jiujitsu, different styles of Karate, the Russian Martial Art of Systema, Aikido, and much more.

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