The Truth about Aikido in MMA
I’ve heard it all.
“Aikido is too dangerous, so therefore it isn’t allowed in MMA.”
“Aikido doesn’t work on trained fighters or resisting opponents.”
“Aikido masters are bound to a philosophy of gentleness and non-fighting; therefore no true Aikido master can compete legally anyway.”
“Aikido is sucks in MMA, therefore Aikido sucks.”
“Steven Seagal knows Aikido, and he’s killed like 300 people. It must be awesome.”
I’m sure you can dig up your own “nuggets of wisdom” on a Sherdog or Youtube – these sites being the epitome of truth, balance and logic. ( Personally, I love the way information and error is rolled into one comical thread of flaming, poor grammar and misrepresentation)
Aikido isn’t the only disputed martial art in MMA; I’ve heard similar jaw-jacking about Karate, Judo, Dog Brother’s stick fighting, etc. There are always fanboys and haters, no matter what you choose. I’ve recently had some people ask me about this, so I’ve decided to post my thoughts.
Anyway, there is some sorting out to do.
In the next few pages, I’d like to see if I can shine some light on Aikido and it’s relation to MMA.
The Truth about Aikido
The truth about Aikido is that it is not Mixed Martial Arts. While this might seem explicitly obvious, this often gets lost in the noise of the internet.
Every discipline, MMA and Aikido included, has a set of generally accepted rules, ideals, and goals. Just like a culture (or discourse community if you want to get technical), these disciplines “share common social space and history, a common system of standards for perceiving, believing, evaluating and acting.” (Kramsch, p 127). On these grounds, MMA and Aikido are almost unrelated.
I think this is an important line of reasoning because Aikido in particular is the victim of a multitude of unfair comparisons, evaluations and straw man arguments. Aikido and MMA expect different things from their students, and their students should expect different things from their respective arts.
Analyzing MMA and Aikido
When evaluating how “good” Aikido is, we must ask, how good at what? How good are Aikido techniques in a MMA competition fight? Or how good is Aikido, as a martial art, in acheiveing the goals it sets out for itself? How good is Aikido training in preparing a fighter mentally, physically and technically for a MMA bout?
It’s generally accepted that Aikido is a defensive art; its techniques emanate from the philosophy of gentleness, control, and flowing with an attackers power. Many techniques are designed to address weapons (Japanese sword arts) and multiple attackers; techniques involve wrist locks, joint manipulation and throws but never strikes or kicks. I know a couple of policemen and bouncers who have used Aikido effectively. Aikido is non-competitive art. Aikido also has a large spiritual component as well.
Now consider the rules and goals of MMA. The general goal of MMA training is prepare a person to be able to win MMA fights. The fighter can win fights by knocking his or her opponent out, submitting them via chokes/joint locks, or scoring well on judges score cards. Generally, competitions are made up of 3 five-minute rounds; fighters wear 4-ounce fingerless gloves, no shirt and fight-shorts; eye-poking, biting and neck/groin strikes are prohibited; judges score rounds on a 10 point system based on aggressiveness, ring control, strikes landed, etc; timidness or avoiding the fight in the ring can cause a reduction in points; small joint manipulation is illegal; You get the idea.
From this, its easy to see that Aikido diverges from MMA and creates a product to suit its framework.
The Crossover of Aikido and MMA
From what I’ve said above, you probably get the idea that Aikido has a little, but some, overlap with MMA. Still, you’re probably asking, “Okay, but can Aikido techniques be useful in MMA?”
Yes, absolutely. If you choose the right ones.
Also remember that , Morihei Ueshiba created Aikido from a collection and fusion of Japanese Jujitsu, sword fighting and spear fighting arts. (BTW, the take down Lyoto Machida uses in the vid can also found in Russia) While attending a seminar given by my Sensei’s Sensei he instructed the kimura, armbar and the fireman’s carry throw, among many other things *. In fact, the fireman’s carry is one of his favorite throws – one that a bunch of guys down at Fusion BJJ use – and at 80 plus years old and 110 lbs, he threw me better than a lot of guys I train with now.
There is a fighter named Rik Ellis , an MMA fighter who has an extensive Aikido background (but obviously trains MMA now) and he’s said some interesting remarks. He has said that the Aikido-in-action in MMA is very different than that which is typically trained. The typical stance and hand movements are left behind, but body movement is applicable. When asked, he mentioned a few specific techniques like, “Irimi Tenkan which I use to put my opponent either into or out of the cage wall.” I believe he’s also mentioned using Irimi nague from the clinch, as well.
Also, John H, one of the instructors down at Fusion (who has had a half dozen or so years of Aikido training in addition to his brownbelt in BJJ) told me that the notions of distancing and angles could also be useful in a MMA setting.
The Problem with Aikido as component of MMA training
With that said, there are several major problems in justifying Aikido as an appropriate component of MMA training. Like I said earlier, Aikido isn’t a good match in terms of goals and ideals, so right off the bat it’s like cross-training in snowboarding to get better at water polo.
In no particular order, here are some other things to consider:
Outside of the subset of potentially transferable techniques, Aikdio spends a good deal of time developing things that are of no use or negative impact to your MMA game (stance work and hand position, for example). In contrast, a discipline like collegiate wrestling spends a majority of time giving you tools and attitudes that easily adapt to MMA, and furthermore these tools make up about 1/3 of the MMA game (striking, wrestling and submissions).
Aikido has a lack of attention to defense of fast, linear strikes, striking combinations and leg kicks. Perhaps I’m wrong, but 70-80% of the techniques are geared towards circular strikes, wrist locks, grab counters, gi-manipulation, self-defense applications and throws. (Please, Aikido students correct me if I’m wrong!)
Aikido doesn’t teach you how to punch and kick.
The Aikido stance isn’t really that good for MMA. The lower base and front leg forward seems like it could be taken advantage of easily by a good kicker or double leg take down. I heard a story of a Muay Thai student abusing an Aikido guy in a dojo match up with low kicks. The extended front leg got beat up to the point where the Thai guy just stopped out of mercy. Perhaps the tale isn’t true, but it makes sense.
Aikido doesn’t really address ground and pound, clinch fighting ( link here) and BJJ/wrestling deal with Newaza (ground work) in a fashion more true to MMA, IMO.
Aikido practitioner wear the hakama – a gi – while MMA fighters need to make sure their techniques work 100% without them. Additionally, MMA fighters wrap their hands and wear gloves. The gloves change the game considerable in terms of you ability to grip your opponent and your own hands, as well as hampering wrist locks (if they are even allowed in your MMA fight).
In the world of competitive sports, lack of aggression is a killer. (And don’t confuse yourself: MMA is a sport – not self defense) . The purely defensive mindset of Aikido may be artfully beautiful, but misplaced in MMA. The best defense is a good offense, as they say.
Aikido has a steep learning curve. It’s complex and requires a deep amount of body sensitivity and awareness. These things do not come quickly. I remember my Sensei talking to me about a wrist-lock called the 20-year technique; a move that obviously required a lot of work to become good at it. Not to say that a six-month “20-year technique” wouldn’t be useful; however, from my experience, it’s reasonable to say that a simple one year punch beats a complicated one year punch defense. To me, Aikido seems like something you have to get into it for the long haul for it to triumph other things.
MMA has an inherent element of physical fitness training built into it. Aikido can make you more flexible and relaxed, perhaps burning a modicum of energy, but Aikido in no way prepares you for the rigors of fighting. Strength-endurance, explosive power and top-notch cardio aren’t found in there.
Additionally, there is the problem with technique selection. Sure a standing kimura could be a valid technique, but wouldn’t a straight jab be more useful a greater portion of the time?
So there you have it. When someone asks, why isn’t Aikido or Tai Chi or Kung Fu used MMA, you have an answer for them. Divergent expectations, rules and goals. Apples and oranges and pineapples.
I want to remind you that I’m in not “bashing” Aikido. I think it’s a wonderful thing with a lot of fascinating philosophy, tradition, and technique. It’s just not a great fit in terms of complementing MMA performance.
Also, if you’re looking for an Aikido class, Logan Heinrichs is an excellent instructor and teaches at the University of Utah (there is a misprint in the instructor name this semester).
P.S. If I’m ignorant to the facts, inform me! If you’ve got an opinion, share it!
* Including how to defend against a seated opponents sword draw when you are facing off with him, kneeling face to face.
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