Differences between Aikido and Tae Kwon Do

I met yesterday a guy and our conversation drifted very quickly into martial arts (surprise!), specifically about self defence.  I was confused when he stated that he wanted to learn Tao Kwon Do for self defence because a friend of his is a high ranked student of the discipline.  My first reply was: “TDK is mostly based on high kicks, really not ideal for self defence and then, also, you are 37 years old reasonably large and heavy male, TKD is ideal with people with lot of flexibility in their legs and trying to achieve it at this age might be tricky”.  He continued with his explanation that in ideal situation he would like to be able to seize the opponent’s attack and avoid striking but simply locking his attacker in a way that would be impossible for him to hurt any further but without risks of injuring him too much.  I then added that what he was talking about was possible doing Aikido, or Ju Jitsu or other styles not primarily based on strikes… and there he came out with: “oh!, yes, Aikido, I meant Aikido, this is what my friend is an expert of…”.

To me somebody that confuses Aikido with TKD is like confusing a steak with a salad, both food but very different in content. So what are the main differences that a neophyte should look out when checking a class, of either Aikido or TKD?

Let’s list the main ones:

  • Aikido is Japanese; TKD is Korean, well no easy to spot by observing them :-)
  • In a Aikido class you’ll see most people in white Gi, perhaps with coloured belts and the higher ranked people and the masters will wear a black hakama, a very broad pair of trousers that look like a skirt;  in a TKD class they wear white Gi, with coloured belts but their top is some times a “V” neck long sleeves shirt.
  • In Aikido you see people twirling and twisting, throwing and applying arm and wrist locks: people fall and fly around a lot; in TKD opponents are striking each other, mostly with kicks to the upper part of the body (sport rules forbid kicks below the belt).
  • Aikido is mainly defensive, e.g. it starts working when an opponent attacks you; TKD is based on attacking with strikes.
  • Aikido’s techniques can be subtle and usually require a very long time, several years, to be practiced to a level of proficiency to be useful in self defence; TKD can start to be effective with some of its techniques within a few months or a year of practice.
  • Aikido teaches, apart from the bare hand practice, the use of various weapons like sword and staff;  TKD is purely based on bare had strikes.

I have chosen and selected 2 videos to show what Aikido and TKD look like.  It was harder than I thought as many are dispersive and not representative enough.  Please keep the volume down and ignore the part of the TKD video from the boxing ring onward:

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20 thoughts on “Differences between Aikido and Tae Kwon Do

  1. I am considering either TKD or Aikido for my 8 year old son. I have watched both your videos and as a mother, I would ask, which is the safer sport? The head kicks in TKD look really scary to me. You know 8 year olds are inspired by Power Rangers and Ultraman, and he thinks he can really fight if he learns TKD. For me, I would want him to learn balance, discipline, respect, self defence but never an arrogant sense of invincibility.

  2. @Judy thanks for your comment. Unfortunately TV programmes and movies tend to exaggerate what martial arts can do and young children are usually disappointed when they first try a martial art and cannot fly or jump a 3 storeys building (!). I remember teaching to a friend of mine’s son (at that time aged 6) who was quite disappointed when he had to learn how to stand and balance properly in order to deliver a single punch. Going back to your question Judy, the answer will very much depend on where you live and the access you might have to good schools. Both Aikido and Tae Kwon Do are traditional martial arts and will teach balance, discipline, respect and some self defence. They also help your son to grow with a sense of self awareness and self esteem. Something to be kept in mind is that while for TKD I am aware of many schools for children of that age Aikido tends to be more addressed at adults or teen agers. Martial arts are a long term investment and for a growing child they might be a big challenge at the beginning.

    My suggestion would be to do a serious amount of research around where you live: it’s little point find a school many miles away from home because in the long run it will develop problems. Please check the available schools, talk to the instructors, watch a few lessons and ask a few parents who already have their children there how things are. In the end there are many, and I mean many, martial arts schools out there, ranging from very good to dead poor: the right school and the right instructor/master at the beginning are more important that the right art. Ultimately there isn’t a right or wrong art but just what is right for you (or for your son in this case). Thank you again for your comment.

  3. Thank you for your reply. Well here in Malaysia, there are numerous martial arts schools around. So I will “shop” around and talk to people, as you suggested. My boy’s just fixed on TKD because that’s what most kids do, as Aikido is lesser known here compared to TKD.

  4. @Judy TKD is very popular, full stop; many good instructors are doing a great job with children and will help developing a good strong and flexible body for your growing son. In Malaysia you should have a number of Silat schools (there are many different styles of this particular arts that originated in Indonesia but has several developments in your country of residence) and many Chinese martial arts, such has Hung Gar, Lau Gar or Wing Chun Kung Fu, given the large Chinese communities you have there. I wish you all the best for your hunting and I’d be keen to know how it goes and progresses once you find something.

  5. Thanks again, for your suggestions. Well you do know about Malaysia, then.

    Just for your information, Silat as far as I know is not practised by the Chinese-Malaysians, a cultural barrier I guess. And yes there are a number of Chinese martial arts here, but by far outshadowed by their Korean counterparts. But the dragon and lion dance troups here have a pretty strong following.

    I will definitely let you know our progress.

  6. Firstly, Taekwon-do is an art of self defense, at least ITF. The statement that TKD is an offensive art is false. TKD is not mostly high kicks, there are over 3000 techniques listed in the 15 volume encyclopedia by General Choi, the founder of TKD. The assumption that the art is only kicks comes from colour belt training techniques that are heavy in developing kicking techniques. Black belt levels develop other techniques, hands, knees, elbows,fingers, forearms, shins etc. Any study of marital arts will reveal many techniques ‘borrowed’ from other arts, TKD is no different in this respect. Yes TKD is a kicking art but the self defense techniques draw from many arts. You are correct in stating TKD is not a grappling art, however many schools have a very open application of self defence. I started TKD at age 39, 195 and and 5′-11″. I have practiced TKD for 10 years and intend to practice for many more. Yes flexibility is required but the TKD training cycle promotes flexibility, strenght training, cardio, balance. We have several large males attending our school, heavy and big. Age does have an impact but this is true of any hard style martial art. TKD does not teach weapons but does teach defense against weapons. For most students martial art training equals character development, the quality of the instructor may be more critical than the choice of martial art style. For beginners, try a number of schools and arts, if you intend to train with your children find a school that caters to families. Most importantly, find a school with an instructor that is humble and respects their students.

  7. @R Moore thanks for your comprehensive comment and for the clarifications. My article is based on my direct experience, having trained with black belts of this arts in several different countries and different backgrounds. Over the years I also welcomed in my kickboxing club at least 3 dozens of students that had experience in TKD; several of them were at black belt level and had many years of experience of TKD. I can accept that some schools borrow or adopt techniques from other styles and use wrist locks or self defence techniques and defend against weapons but I see that more as an exception than a rule. My definition of offensive is really geared around the fact that a punch or a kick is more offensive (even when used as a counter attack) than deflecting and redirecting attacks in the way that aikido does. I agree with your suggestions for beginners. Last but not least I would be curious to read the 15 volumes and understand the 3000 techniques of TKD as I would have expected no more then a couple of dozens of them unless each combination is classified as a different technique.

  8. I have 2 daugthers? one is 7 and 0ne is 3.
    I am planning to take TKD OR AIKIDO for them,what do you think,which one is suitable for my both daugthers?
    Thanks

  9. i wanna join either aikido or taekwondo when enter university. I have no experience in martial art but i want to learn some self defense.. which one would you recommend for me?

  10. @clare Personally I don’t feel I can recommend any style: I hope my post is enough to put some light on how and why you could choose one or the other. The main suggestion I can give you is about how much time you are prepared to invest in it. TKD will more likely give you you results within months while Aikido usually requires years before you can have a feeling of handling the style.

  11. I have been practicing Aikido for a very short period. From what I have learned, Aikido is not an art for children. It is very tough on the joints. It is not for joints that are still in development. An art very similar to Aikido is Judo. In away Aikido comes from Judo. My Master has advised me that a good art for my children is Judo and then when they get older they can shift to Aikido.

  12. @john thanks for your comment; what you are stating is correct. However absurd it seems for people that know, at least in principle, both martial arts is that they are very different. Nonetheless this post is the most viewed post on my site now for over 2 years and it attracts lots of readers who are searching “Tae Kwon Do vs Aikido” and similar searches.

  13. Hi
    I’m searching for some much needed advice. I have an 8 yr old son who is currently at times a very angry and aggressive character which is getting him into trouble both in and out of school. He can also be a very kind generous and helpful person.
    It has been suggested to me to try marital arts as a way of channeling some of these emotions he is displaying and introducing a dis spline that will help him in the future whilst boosting his confidence and self esteem.
    I have both TKD and AIkido classes in my area but I know very little about either and wondered from the brief description of my son and that we hope to achieve you may be able to advise me which you would chose yourself if placed in the same situation.
    Thank you

  14. @gemmamax thanks for your comment; however I have my preferences for one or the other art I will stick to facts about discussing this matter with you. I perfectly agree that for an agressive 8 years old boy a good martial school will bring discipline and at the same time self esteem and confidence. Perhaps Tae Kwon Do with lots of energetic kicks and dynamic positions will be more appropriate for your specific case unless the aikido school has a class specifically dedicated to children and they mix the rigid aikido methodology with something more appropriate for children (many aikido schools do not cater for children at all).

    Alternatively I would expect that Karate or Kung Fu or Judo might also be a good alternative for your specific case. The most important thing to assess is the quality of the master/teacher/instructor; check how well he/she explains, how he/she engages with the children, how he/she manages to challenge and motivate them and so on. It might take some time to go around and find the right teacher but the reward will be worth the effort. I hope this can help, please report back once you have managed to find a good school and perhaps, a few months later, when your son has progressed in learning some martial arts skills.

  15. Hi!
    I’m 25 years, i never practice martial arts but i always dream to practice it and i found some clubs around me about Teakwondo and Aikido. So which martial art can you adviced me to practice??
    Thanks for your Feedback

  16. Dear brillano2005@yahoo.fr,
    thanks for your comment; I think the post gives you enough information to know what is what; I cannot advise on what martial art to choose but I would suggest to go and see a few classes of both arts, perhaps try for a lesson or more if possible and see which one is more suited for your taste.

  17. Background: I am 66 and have led an active life, playing football, tennis and squash for most of those years. In my mid-40s I took up long distance running and after running my second marathon at age 50 I had a second arthroscopy on my right knee which resulted in a large part of the meniscus being removed. Consequently, my doctor recommended that I move away from impact sports (like long distance running) and do swimming, gym work or cycling. I chose mountain biking and have been doing that 1-2 times a week (with no knee pain) for the past 12 years. I also play tennis (doubles only) once a week (with occasional minor knee pain), some walking twice a week (occasional minor knee pain) and attend a Pilates equipment session once a week. I have been doing Pilates for two years and it has been beneficial in strengthening my core and legs without engaging in high impact exercise. Also, I have some arthritis developing in my wrists and fingers.
    My Question: I recently read George Leonard’s book: ‘Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment’ as a way to improve my mental approach to sport (particularly tennis) and life generally. I was captivated by the book and was wondering whether I may be too old or damaged (or both) to pursue the path of mastery through Aikido.

  18. Dear Patrik,
    thanks for sharing your life experience with us. Between Aikido and Tae Kwon Do I would definitely suggest the former because Aikido is softer in its approach, compared to TKD. However many techniques require work while kneeling and there are many falls and rolling activities that are ok for masters in their 70es but I don’t know how it would be learning them at 66. I would visit a local club and see what they do, what’s the demographic of people training there and speak to the master to see how you would fit in their school. Alternatively have you considered other internal martial arts like Tai Chi or Ba Gua?

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