If you believe Steven Segal, he will lead you to believe Aikido is the most impressive martial art in existence. At the Sweet Science of Fighting, we value practicality and efficiency that lead to better fighting, and Aikido doesn’t have much fighting in it. So this comparison will be a bit different than usual as the two are entirely different.
MMA wins every time in a direct battle between MMA and Aikido, and it does so effortlessly. Aikido is not a tested fighting system whereas MMA is the closest life or death combat you’ll get.
There are many videos online where an aikido master tries his art against an MMA fighter or other competitive combat athlete. Every time, the result is a humiliation for the aikido practitioner.
This does not mean that Aikido does not have merit. It’s just ineffective as a real fighting system. But what are the benefits of Aikido that could make it potentially beneficial?
Aikido is a traditional Japanese martial art created by Morihei Ueshiba in the early 20th century due to his lifelong study of traditional Japanese martial disciplines and religious beliefs.
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What sets Aikido apart from other martial arts is an utterly soft system that uses techniques to blend with the attack and redirect the energy back to the attacker. It’s a way to resolve a conflict nonviolently and with as little harm as possible.
A great way to summarize this 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. But what characterizes it more are not the techniques but the spiritual and philosophical aspects. It is a path to self-development, including physical and mental training aimed a perfecting the human character and treating the opponent with empathy.
Mixed martial arts is the complete opposite of finding the best way to win an unarmed one-on-one fight. Of course, there are rules similar to any combat sport, ensuring the safety of the fighters and “fairness and sportsmanship.”
It is by far the freest 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 was famous because it answered the age-old question “which martial art is the best” in a very practical setting.
And after a few editions, it quickly became apparent that to be a complete fighter, he has to acquire skills in many different arts. Such as Muay Thai, karate, boxing, wrestling, BJJ, and any other skill that works inside the cage.
Suppose Aikido is the softest and least violent martial art. In that case, MMA has to be on the opposite end for its brutality and violence.
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. And of course, a significant portion of the training is devoted to the philosophy embedded in Aikido.
On the flipside, MMA is all about winning. Finding working techniques, new training methods, using the most 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 inside a 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 the same. 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. It searches for a peaceful solution to conflicts. I find it 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 that MMA guys are ruthless goons. Humility, honesty, sportsmanship, and honor are qualities very often found in every MMA gym. It’s just that the art itself does not have an underlining philosophy. Still, it’s somewhat up to the practitioners and coaches to develop the values associated with traditional martial arts.
The name mixed martial arts pretty much 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 even backflips in MMA.
Aikido’s peaceful premise to besting an opponent means that strikes are not the primary way of attacking. Instead, various dynamic motions that try to throw the opponent forward and backward are combined with joint locks and immobilizations. The opponent’s energy is used against him to subdue him with as little harm as possible.
Aikido vs. MMA for Self Defense
On paper, Aikido claims to be very effective for self-defense. In practice, this statement is very far from the truth. Aikido teaches 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 any real-life application without proper training against a fully resisting opponent.
MMA is one of the best martial arts for self-defense for multiple reasons. It teaches you both striking and grappling. It 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 on the street. Still, remember that MMA has many rules and real altercations do not.
This changes things quite a bit, so don’t think for a second that an MMA fighter is invincible or can’t be badly hurt in real life, even by an inexperienced person.
The most straightforward answer to this question is no, MMA fighters do not use Aikido. But if you dig closer in Aikido, you will find that the creator O-sensei Morihei Ueshiba studied extensively many armed and unarmed martial systems.
And with the knowledge from them, he created the principles of Aikido, so perhaps Aikido can 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.
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 that 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 other people 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 as martial arts.