Is Aikido a true Martial Art?

Is Aikido a true Martial Art?

by -
8 1979

A recently posted article by Henry Ellis published at Mooshin has reopened the old debate about how the martial arts world views Aikido as a martial art.  I have been a long time fan of Rik Ellis (see his blog here) who is a trained and successful MMA fighter who has trained Aikido extensively (sorry folks, but I am a fan of the UFC).  His father, Henry Ellis a famous early pioneer of Aikido in Britain has always been quite critical of the modern version of Aikido and prefers to continue the practice of his version of Aikido with extreme directness.

As a Aikido practitioner myself, I have enjoyed the benefits of commencing by learning within the Yoseikan Aikido system (Mochizuki Sensei).  The beauty of the Yoseikan system is that it incorporates elements of Karate, Judo, aikijujutsu and Aikido.  Significantly we train with the use of many strikes, particularly punches and kicks and also practice break-falling to an extensive degree.

I have also studied Aikiki at various times throughout my career (I go to Bali every year and train Aikiki there) and while you always have an affinity for the style you learned first, I have learned a significant amount from this change in style.  Firstly, It has allowed me to begin experimenting with a softening of my hands, which provokes better posture and some of the taisabaki practice significantly helped me understand how to move better.  I am not saying I wouldn’t have achieved this through normal practice but it certainly helped me focus on it.

Back to the argument.  In the article Henry mentions how he sees Aikido as being significantly watered down with soft attacks and compliant ukes.  And I have to agree with him. Much of what I see practiced in a dojo is going to get you in serious trouble in a real scenario.  However, whilst the Aikijujutsu side of the equation provides a great framework for learning a good martial art, the strong level of training might not be for everyone.

I think the softer styles of Aikido allow more (shall we say, less agile, less aggressive) people the opportunity to practice a martial art form.  And with significant training, they begin to metamorphosize into better martial artists.  And lets be honest, I cant see many Aikidoka getting into any type of trouble given the art attracts a person with a certain type of disposition.

Aikido as Exercise

What I believe is the true strength of Aikido is the type of training that it provides.  Non many martial arts require falling (ukemi) to quite the degree that Aikido does.  And learning to fall correctly requires a high degree of agility and balance.  It is certainly not the workout that boxing or grappling would give but the benefit of spatial awareness of large areas is significant.

I guess the true strength of Aikido comes into play with weapons.  Aikidoists are train to move (enter) when being attacked.  It really is the only option when faced with a weapon.  For most other martial arts, covering up just isn’t going to cut it when a weapon is involved (krav marga has some really cool weapons defense).

So I feel that if people want to get involved in Aikido with any style they should, it’s great for the spirit, you meet like minded people and it is something you can practice well into later life.  But if your looking for an effective martial system, I would look to some form of cross training in other martial art.  Most of the founding fathers of Aikido had many belts in many arts (Judo, Karate, Kendo, iaido etc.)

Speaking of cross training, when I was training boxing, some time ago, I found that that my timing in Aikido really improved.  So the benefits of cross training in other arts will transition into your Aikido.

Don’t just take your Aikido for granted, train many things and have many teachers but please just never tell me you can do a technique without touching someone as we all no the outcome of that when tested.

What are your thougths? Comment below…


  • Almostcertain2

    I love the all-harmony philosophy of O-Sensei Ueshiba, I enjoy the plasticity of Aikido it is beautiful to look at. But the reality is that it is more a mental attitude, a philosophical perspective rather than a martial art . For starters there is no sparring in Aikido, randori, while a spirited exercise will not stress a practitioner like MMA, Karate , Judo , Wing Chun etc. YOU NEED A RESISTING PARTNER to use your techniques.NO-one will be able to apply Ikkajo 100% of the time for an overhead strike-that somen uchi could have been a faint to get close and get you to the ground -and once on the ground an MMA practitioner of average skill & conditioning will have better than average chances to become victorious over an aikidoist.
    With resisting opponents you will experience what is like to get hit and keep on engaging the opponent bruised and tired.
    A BJJ practitioner can go into a MMA type fight and is expected to hold his or her own, I can’t say the same for an Aikidoist.
    I see videos on the web of some magical “powers” like the use of KI to maneuver opponents with ease, that mythical thing is nonsense.
    In the other hand I’ve seen videos of Mifune Sensei not being thrown by a younger opponet by the use of body mechanics.
    That said the “blending’ with an opponent incoming attack is a valuable skill, but more tools are needed nowadays.
    Judo has been validated in MMA, as well as Karate , Muay Thai, and of course BJJ . Yet Aikido shines by its absence-why?- It lacks or it has been to far removed from its combative component, the dilution ratio is too soft.

  • lifestylemanoz

    Sorry for the late reply. Am still in bali. Ki???

  • lifestylemanoz

    Thanks for chiming in. Got to be careful with my headings eh? Probably just trying to break up the paragraphs by using “Aikido as Exercise”. Funny how people interpret things differently. Of course with any movement you will exercise despite you bodies protestations. I don’t think I have met many people who have commenced Aikido or any martial art as a form of exercise. But I do enjoy the exercise component of it. Interesting sharing Nadeau thought’s on Aikido. With many years practice is is difficult to articulate meaning. In the end it is physical training and if you don’t believe that it holds some martial component then why bother. Better to try dance or something. I don’t agree with using metaphoric descriptions about Aikido and prefer to stick to the biomechanics. I am not trying to achieve some greater meaning in my training, just trying to perfect conservation of energy and I will despise myself the day “Just project your ki” comes out of my mouth…My thoughts on your comment Luke in the interest of spirited debate. Of course I can only offer a humble opinion here:)

  • Luke

    Sensei Nadeau would certainly cringe if he heard you mention Aikido as exercise in his presence. In fact he regularly mentions how people who train this way don’t really understand the art and can never truly develop. O’sensei had intended for us to train in a manner that would lead to universal harmony. If ever achieved, as O’sensei demonstrated, this individual can never be attacked as they are defeated before any attack began. I interpret this as there is no attack and there is no individual, there is energy moving between two systems and they become one. There is no defeat nor is there a victor. I assure you, once he surpassed the rest of us, Aikido was not about a Martial System and it certainly was never about exercise.

  • Konstantinus Darwin

    how’s your ki training? Is it really it? How long did you stay? Why go so far away to attend that class? Please tell me more 🙂

  • lifestylemanoz Robinsar Sibiarni is the sensei. Will be there in 2 weeks myself. Close to beach kuta-legian region.

  • Konstantinus Darwin

    Aikiki in Bali? Where exactly?

  • Colm Harney

    That is the most balanced article I have read on the subject.
    The whole ‘you are not a real martial artist unless you are throwing people through walls or kicking people in the head when they are down’ is bullshit. The world has changed – most people have lives outside of their martial arts training, which often includes jobs and responsibilities eg. paying mortgages, family duties etc etc. So it is a rare average/everyday person that could nowadays commit to the level of intensity/punishment of that type of training from ‘back in the day’.
    On the other hand some of the dance style or even worse, so-called ki/ no-touch styles really discredit Aikido, especially in the eyes of the layperson – however if you understand Aikido, it is possible to see the merit to the soft dance style techniques knowing that they can be applied in a more martial way.
    Regardless of style, I reckon the development of movement, awareness and distance that Aikido practice drills, eventually into your subconscious, would help when in any physical confrontation. Throw in some well executed atemi (learned either in your harder aikido style, or by training in other arts) and you are well on your way to handling most situations – that is even before you have applied an Aikido technique.
    In my opinion most Aikido has merit as a martial art (I draw the line at the no-touch stuff) – it’s ‘horses for courses’ to choose the style that suits your age, physique, abilities and temperament.
    But to imply that all modern Aikido is rubbish because we don’t train as hard as they did back in the mists of time is certainly a discussion worth having but ultimately is an academic point that has minimal relevance to the realities of modern life.