If you believe Steven Segal, he will lead you to believe Aikido is the most impressive martial art. At the Sweet Science of Fighting, we value practicality and efficiency leading to better fighting, and Aikido doesn’t have much fighting in it. So, this comparison will be different than usual, as the two have nothing in common.
MMA is better in every measurable criteria and wins every time in a direct battle between against Aikido, and it does so effortlessly. Aikido is not a tested fighting system, whereas MMA is the closest we get to a real fight in a sport scenario.
There are many videos online where an Aikido master tries his art against an MMA fighter or other competitive combat athlete and every time the result is the same- a humiliation for the Aikidoka.
This does not mean Aikido does not have its merit. It’s just ineffective as a real fighting system. But what are the benefits of Aikido that could make it worth training?
Aikido is a traditional Japanese martial art created by Morihei Ueshiba in the early 20th century after a lifelong study of traditional Japanese martial disciplines and religious beliefs.
What sets Aikido apart from other martial arts is that it’s an utterly soft system using techniques to blend with the attack and redirect the energy back to the attacker. It’s a way to resolve a conflict non-violently and with as little harm as possible.
A great way to summarize the essence of Aikido is by using the words of sensei Ueshiba himself- “To injure an opponent is to injure yourself. To control aggression without inflicting injury is the Art of Peace.”
Aikido is a purely defensive martial art. What characterizes it more is not the techniques but the spiritual and philosophical aspects. It is a path to self-development, including physical and mental training aimed at perfecting the human character and treating the opponent with empathy.
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Mixed martial arts is the opposite and is about finding the best way to win an unarmed one-on-one fight. Of course, there are rules similar to any combat sport, ensuring fairness, sportsmanship, and the safety of the fighters.
It is by far the most liberal combat sport ruleset as it allows strikes with every part of the body except the head, throws, joint locks, chokeholds, and strikes on the ground.
MMA exploded in the early 1990s with the first editions of the UFC and became the fastest-growing sport on the planet. It became so big because it answered the age-old question, “Which martial art is the best?” in a practical setting.
After a few editions, it quickly became apparent that to be a complete fighter, you must possess skills in all aspects of fighting.
Styles such as Muay Thai, karate, boxing, wrestling, BJJ, and many others find their place in the cage, and no single style is enough to win at a high level.
Martial arts vary between soft and hard. On this scale, Aikido is the softest and least violent, while MMA sits at the opposite end and is the hardest and most brutal.
Key Differences Between Aikido and MMA
Aikido and MMA sit on two opposite shores in terms of competitiveness. Aikido has no competition at all. Everything is about technique training and drills with no sparring, only partner work. A significant portion of the training is devoted to the philosophy embedded in Aikido.
On the flip side, MMA is all about winning. Finding working techniques, new training methods, using the latest cutting-edge science and nutrition information, all to win titles, money, and fame.
The other main difference is the philosophy behind MMA and Aikido. MMA is a sport with a clear goal of winning competitions under a specific ruleset. Aikido is an Eastern martial art with a deep philosophy behind it.
All Japanese martial arts have been heavily influenced by spiritual practices imported from India and China, and Aikido is no different. Not just a method for fighting, Aikido aims to develop the human spirit and physical and mental integrity.
And while you can say this of most Asian martial arts, Aikido takes it a step further, and it searches for a peaceful solution to conflicts.
Unfortunately, in this pursuit, it has become too peaceful to have any practicality in actual combat. In this way, Aikido, just like tai chi and other forms of soft martial arts, has completely lost the martial part of the equation.
This does not mean MMA guys are ruthless goons. Humility, honesty, sportsmanship, and honor are qualities often found in every MMA gym. It’s just that the sport itself does not have an underlying philosophy.
It’s up to the practitioners and coaches to develop the values associated with traditional martial arts, and the gym culture can vary heavily between different schools.
The name mixed martial arts explains the aspect of the technique. Everything that works and is allowed by the rules is welcome. You can utilize punches, kicks, elbows, throws, sweeps, joint locks, and even backflips in MMA.
Aikido’s peaceful premise of besting an opponent means strikes are not the primary way of attacking.
Instead, various dynamic motions using the opponent’s momentum to throw him around are used, combined with joint locks and immobilizations. The techniques aim to subdue an attacker with as little harm as possible.
With all the different types of training and techniques present in MMA, there is quite a lot of equipment necessary for training. Here is a list of everything you will need for full-fledged MMA training:
- Rash guard or athletic t-shirt
- MMA shorts
- Boxing gloves for striking sparring
- MMA gloves for MMA sparring
- MMA cup
- MMA shin guards
- Hand wraps
In Aikido, there is no need for protective equipment, so the only thing you need is the uniform. The top of the uniform is a long-sleeved gi jacket, while the bottom is called a Hakama and is a traditional Japanese dress.
Competitions would be against the whole premise of Aikido, so they do not exist in any shape or form.
Well, this is only partially correct, and there is a style of Aikido called Tomiki Aikido, which does pressure testing and some limited competitions. Still, they represent a minuscule percentage of the people practicing Aikido.
Mixed martial arts, on the other hand, is all about competition. It started as a way to prove who is the best fighter, and its purpose remains largely unchanged.
The difference is that early on, it was style against style, while today, MMA has become a distinct style with its own character.
At the professional level, MMA has breached the mainstream barrier and is widely accepted and respected as an actual sport, with fighters earning good money and becoming famous even outside their niche.
In the past decade, MMA has even managed to shake the throne of boxing, which has been the undisputed champion of combat sports entertainment for the past century.
Aikido vs. MMA for Self Defense
On paper, Aikido claims to be effective for self-defense. In practice, this statement cannot be any further from the truth. Aikido aims to teach mental and physical preparation for conflict and situational awareness, which is very important in self-defense.
But all the practice is done with a cooperating partner, which does not get you ready for actual violence in any way.
No martial art can claim real-life applications without proper training against a fully resisting opponent.
The creator, Ueshiba, was against any form of competition and resistance to the techniques, and his philosophy is largely adhered to today.
MMA is one of the best martial arts for self-defense for multiple reasons. It teaches you both striking and grappling, hardens the body and mind, and conditions you to the harsh realities of real combat.
If you’ve never been punched in the face or put into a chokehold, you cannot expect to be able to react in any meaningful way when it happens in a real situation.
Still, remember that MMA has many rules and real altercations do not, and there are many more possible situations.
This changes things quite a bit, so don’t think for a second an MMA fighter is invincible or can’t be badly hurt in real life, even by an inexperienced person.
But it’s the best thing to prepare you for actual conflict, outside of being in real fights.
The most straightforward answer to this question is no, MMA fighters do not use Aikido. But if you dig closer into Aikido, you will find that the creator, O-sensei Morihei Ueshiba, studied extensively many armed and unarmed martial systems.
With their knowledge, he created the principles of Aikido so Aikido could be utilized by someone who already knows how to fight.
There is a great video that dissects the main principles of Aikido but with significant knowledge of other martial arts and combat sports added to them.
Suppose you are interested in the practicality of Aikido in MMA and self-defense in an honest way. In that case, this YouTube channel is probably the best place to look.
MMA Fighters With An Aikido Background
Not surprisingly, there are zero MMA fighters with an Aikido background.
This is probably not entirely true, and I am sure some fighters have trained Aikido as kids or at some time in their lives, but there hasn’t been a single fighter who credited Aikido as even partially helpful for their success in the cage.
Nor have we seen someone in a fight able to execute techniques in the way they look in Aikido.
As mentioned above, Aikido cannot work in a real fight without any real training. Yes, you may learn valuable skills that may help you in a real fight, but all the evidence shows Aikido does not work.
This would probably enrage hardcore Aikido practitioners, but in the age of MMA and the internet, countless videos of Aikido masters trying their art against others and failing miserably.
Aikido can be worth your time if you are searching for an endeavor to develop physical and mental qualities without the strains of combat sports training.
The soft nature of Aikido will take good care of your health without any risk, and the mental practices may be very beneficial as well. But if you want to learn how to fight, either competitively or for self-defense, I am sorry to say it won’t help you.
MMA is the clear winner in every single category you can imagine when you compare them to combat styles.