Different countries. Different styles. Different temperaments. Aikido and Karate have very little in common. While Aiki-do means a path of unifying spirit, Kara-te means empty hand (meaning fighting via bare hands).
The primary difference between Aikido and Karate is that while the former is a “soft” martial art, the other one is considered as a “hard” martial art form. It is because Aikido works mostly with locks and holds and turns whereas Karate uses kicks and punches and strikes.
Today, we’re going to look at the various aspects of these two martial art forms, each with their range of techniques, strategies, and philosophies, and try to compare them as objectively as possible.
Aikido was founded by Morihei Ueshiba who combined his learnings in various martial art forms with his spiritual and philosophical beliefs. While Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu was the primary influence when Ueshiba developed Aikido, there are elements of Tenjin Shin’yō-ryū, Gotōha Yagyū Shingan-ryū, judo, and kenjutsu as well.
Ueshiba was also inspired by Onisaburo Deguchi, the leader of the religion Ōmoto-kyō. This inspiration led him to develop Aikido into a religion of peace and harmony.
His relationship with Deguchi also gave him access to various reputable social circles from where he attracted finances as well as many talented students who would go on to build their styles of Aikido.
Karate has its roots in the unarmed fighting system found in the Pechon class of Ryukyuans, known as te. It was a fighting system that encompassed various fighting styles differing from region to region. It was brutal, violent, and very effective as it was used in real-life combat all the time.
These fighting styles, over time, came to China (and later to Japan) where they combined with the Chinese styles and philosophies which were much less violent. And this is primarily the reason why Karate is so bi-faceted. On one hand, it is this ruthless, violent fighting style and on the other, it is a strict discipline with an emphasis on non-violence.
Both the martial art forms emphasize moving the whole body as a single unit. Efficiency and balance are highly valued in both Aikido and Karate, and the state of the body should be in an optimal state and position during a fight. Unity with the opponent is necessary during a fight to execute the techniques seamlessly.
As Karate is a “hard” martial art form, it majorly focuses on attacking and striking the opponent to incapacitate them as soon as possible. And hence, the primary techniques in Karate involve kicks, punches, elbow strikes, knee strikes, spear hands, knife-hands, palm-heel strikes, etc.
This is not the case with Aikido which is a “soft” martial art and focuses primarily on deflecting and redirecting the opponent’s energy. Aikido seeks to cause as little harm as possible both to the defendant as well as the attacker. The primary techniques here are deflecting (or soft blocking) a move and various joint locks and holds.
The primary techniques in Karate primarily consist of various offensive strikes only. Choku Zuki or the straight punch is one of the most basic techniques which has several related punching techniques. Mae Geri or the front kick can be executed in different ways, by throwing your front or back leg or a thrusting kick (to push your opponent away) or a snapping kick (a quick and sharp strike).
There’s also Mawashi Geri or the roundhouse kick which draws power from the circular movement of the hips. These strikes are further used in various combinations to generate more complex and more effective techniques.
Aikido has lesser striking techniques relatively. There are some swaisho or relaxed arm striking techniques as well as munetsuki or fist strikes to the torso striking techniques. Striking, more or less, doesn’t align with the non-violent approach of Aikido and the reason why there are hardly any striking techniques here.
There are many blocking techniques in Karate which are used to deflect or stop any strikes. All the blocks can be categorized into four types: inward block, outward block, upper block, and lower block.
The entire concept of Aikido is based on defense, hence the majority of movements and techniques revolve around that. It doesn’t block like Karate, rather tries to redirect and use the opponent’s energy against them.
There are multiple techniques on how to defend oneself against different kinds of attacks. And not just defense against unarmed opponents, students also learn defense against staff (jodori), against knives (tanto dori), and swords (tachi dori) under Aikido.
Which is More Effective in a Street Fight?
Karate. It has multiple aggressive striking techniques that can take down any opponent with relative ease and students have regular sparring matches which give them a major advantage.
Karate is a naturally aggressive martial art form and the multitude of striking techniques strive to knock out the opponent as soon as possible. This helps in a street fight where you want to finish the fight quickly and Karate helps you achieve that.
Aikido, on the other hand, is more of a passive technique that attempts to prevent damage to both the defendant and the attacker. This is not always the best strategy to have, especially in a street fight, when your opponent is trying to cause lethal damage.
This is one area where Aikido has an edge over most of the martial art forms. While martial art forms train their students against one opponent, Aikido incorporates training against multiple attackers as well, under the randori techniques. There are also defensive techniques against weapons like staff, knives, swords, etc, something which Karate doesn’t have either.
Aikido is strictly against competitions, and hence Aikido students don’t get to practice in real matches. And in this regard, Karate has a major advantage over Aikido.
Karate was used in day to day combat in its most ancient roots, which means it already has effective and lethal techniques. Over that, several years of evolution had resulted in the techniques getting more and more effective.
And apart from that, the students get to test the techniques they’ve learned against other fighters in sparring contests that take place from time to time. This results in the fighters getting ample practice which is very effective in real life.
Which is Better for Self Defense?
Aikido. Because it was developed for self-defense in the first place and it makes sure that you are unharmed in every case.
Instincts and self-preservation
Aikido develops your instincts which helps in every walk of your life. From your relationships to your regular daily activities, you begin avoiding trouble subconsciously (and which is exactly what Aikido strives to do). This means that as you master Aikido, you rarely find yourself in an unlikely situation. Imagine that. No fights in the first place.
Now, isn’t that something you’d want? Because self-defense isn’t just about saving yourself in a fight, it’s about saving yourself at all times. Karate primarily focuses on fighting techniques and how to knock out your opponent as efficiently as possible.
Aikido trains its students to let go of destructive traits like ego and anger which is practical in real-life situations. You don’t want to pick up a fight with a group of wrestlers any day. Having control over your emotions and sensing danger is way more practical than, say, fighting aggressively.
Also, unlike Karate which trains the students against unarmed single opponents while also keeping in mind the different rules and regulations, Aikido trains students on how to defend against multiple assailants, against weapons, and without any rules whatsoever.
Which is Easier to Learn?
Karate. It requires 5 years of training on an average to obtain a black belt in Karate though students have got it in a lesser time as well. The moves in Karate are relatively simple to perform and easier to learn. The focus on mental development is not nearly as stressed upon as in Aikido.
Whereas Aikido techniques are intricate, complex, and take more time to learn. An Aikido student gets their first black belt in almost 4 to 5 years. The major reason why Aikido is more difficult is its emphasis on developing the overall character of the pupil. The trainers emphasize that their students must have the right mindset.
Which One should You Choose?
It entirely depends on your preferences. Ask yourself. What would you rather have? A self-defense principle that helps you be more receptive to other things, hone your instincts, stay away from trouble, and develop your character? Or an amalgamation of aggressive and effective fighting techniques with an underlying philosophy of humility, peace, and self-control which also gives you a shot at a career in martial arts?
While Aikido would help you discover your inner self and keep you safe from trouble, Karate would provide you an effective, aggressive fighting style and a chance to compete at various competitive games. Your priorities will determine which suits your temperament more.