Aikido originally included strikes, but they were later eliminated to maintain the art’s philosophies of compassion and peace. Its knife defenses, however, remain and are as elegant and effective as they ever were. Learn FIVE of them from this in-depth technique article!

Few people, martial artists included, understand the real dangers of a knife attack. Only those who have faced cold steel in hand-to-hand combat know the emotions that emerge when a person is assaulted by stabs and slashes. The intensity of the situation demands that the defender prepare himself to the best of his ability if he is to survive. Unfortunately, with the exception of the Filipino martial arts, very few schools of self-defense teach effective hand-to-hand combat methods for countering blade attacks. If you believe some gaps exist in your training, this article will help you fill them in. The Advantage of Aikido Moves Aikido is a nonviolent, noncompetitive Japanese martial art that has gained popularity around the world. Morihei Ueshiba created it after a lifetime of training in other arts. Aikido moves originally included strikes, but they were later eliminated to keep it congruent with the art’s philosophies of compassion and peace. Its knife defenses, which have been part of the aikido moves curriculum from the get-go, have escaped those reductionist efforts and are as elegant and effective as they ever were.

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Awareness and good manners are the first line of self-defense when executing aikido moves. Violence is progressive, and signs of it can often be picked up early in a confrontation in the form of probing verbal contact, posturing or positioning. Therefore, it’s taught that one way to forestall an attack is through politeness. It’s amazing what kind words can do. When it comes time to get physical, aikido moves generally follow a four-step process: Aikido Moves — Step 1 First, you enter with the simple footwork of shuffling (tsugi-ashi) or walking (ayumi-ashi). Then you blend by performing a step-and-turn movement (tenkan-ashi),) which repositions your body off the line of attack and often leaves you facing the same direction as your attacker. The blending establishes a unity or oneness between the body, mind and spirit of both parties. This action, unique to aikido, is the physical basis for its philosophical emphasis on harmony and peace. Dang Thong Phong, an aikido master based in Westminster, California, emphasizes the directness of entering and blending by matching his attacker’s pace and momentum. He says you can accompany your entering and blending action with an inhalation, creating a breath vacuum to further pull your opponent into your sphere of influence. Aikido Moves — Step 2 Second, you redirect and off-balance him using full-body circular motions such as pivoting or turning (tenkan-ashi). It’s important not to engage in a strength contest but to apply the power of your whole body in a circular, screwing-type motion. Aikido Moves — Step 3 Third, you either throw the attacker or control him by pinning his body to the ground with a joint lock. You extend your ki (internal energy) through his center toward his balance point while you exhale. Phong believes that the elusive and controversial ki is developed naturally through technical proficiency and training. Since the attacker is already off-balance, it’s easy to accomplish. Finally, you let go and move on without inflicting undue harm on the other person. Phong advises making sure your adversary is no longer an immediate threat by quickly moving out of range of any further attack. Knife-Attack Angles Aikido contains numerous techniques derived from sword movements. Consequently, its practitioners are used to practicing aikido moves to defend against knife attacks delivered along comparatively larger angles. The three most common of these are the downward strike (shomen-uchi), the oblique-angled attack to the neck (yokomen-uchi) and the straight thrust (mune-tsuki).) For the purposes of this article, though, we’ll focus on the five angles of attack taught in most Filipino martial arts because they have a wider acceptance and appeal. Angle No. 1 is a downward diagonal slash from the right shoulder to the left hip. Angle No. 2 is a downward diagonal slash from the left shoulder to the right hip. Combining them produces a downward figure-8 or, if reversed, an upward figure-8. Note that slashes on angles No. 1 and No. 2 also can travel down and back up along the same line of attack. Angle No. 3 is a horizontal slash from the right hip to the left hip. Angle No. 4 is a horizontal slash from the left hip to the right hip. They can be combined into horizontal-downward and horizontal-upward figure-8s. Notice that four of the five angles are slicing or slashing movements that exploit the damage potential of the blade. Angle No. 5 is a straight-in stab at stomach height. A variation of it involves making rapid jabs to inflict multiple puncture wounds. This type of offensive, called “shanking,” is common in prisons. The opposite hand is usually active, constantly checking, countering, controlling, concealing and assisting with the movement of the blade. While there are other numbering methods and angles of attack in knife fighting, it’s easiest to begin with these five. Note that once you learn how to deal with them, you’ll be able to handle any weapon that’s used along the same paths of attack, be it a sword, stick, bat, hand or foot. The main difference in the way you respond will be the distance.

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The Three C’s of Aikido Moves for Hand-to-Hand Combat Against Edged-Weapon Attacks The three C’s of weapons defense in the realm of aikido moves are the following:
  • clear
  • control
  • counter
The first step is to clear the path of the weapon before you enter and blend. In hand-to-hand combat against knives, it’s essential to develop a “blade consciousness,” which tells you where the cutting edge is at all times. Without it, it’s all too easy to get cut. In training your aikido moves against edged weapons, it’s recommended to start with a rubber knife that has yellow tape along the edge of the blade. That bright color will aid in retinal detection and retention, and it will clearly show you where not to touch. Later on in your hand-to-hand-combat practice of these aikido moves for knife defense, you can transition to a wooden knife, a dull metal training knife and finally a training weapon that has inked edges so you and your partner can tell when you’ve failed to evade a slash. Once cleared, you control the weapon using redirecting and off-balancing techniques until the attacker cannot assault you again. Only after the knife has been cleared and controlled can you begin to counter. During the course of executing aikido moves, that counter might be a throw or a joint lock and disarm. It doesn’t have to be a counterstrike. The art teaches that it’s possible to defend yourself without hurting your adversary. Remember that your goal in using aikido moves for hand-to-hand combat is simply to stop the knife attack and help your assailant “re-evaluate” his intentions and actions. Aikido Moves vs. Knife Attacks — Angle No. 1 The opponent initiates an angle No. 1 attack. You retreat as required to maintain a safe distance from the knife as it completes its motion before launching any aikido moves. Then you immediately enter using a shuffling technique and jam the man’s knife arm while controlling his elbow. Next, you shift your center by turning your hips, after which you begin aikido moves for your counter: an aikido wrist throw known as kotogaeshi, which sends him airborne. When he lands, you turn his body, pin his arm, lock his wrist and take away the weapon.
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Aikido Moves vs. Knife Attacks — Angle No. 2 As your assailant launches an angle No. 2 attack, you maintain a neutral stance at a safe distance before any hand-to-hand combat. When the blade is close enough, you intercept the motion of the knife arm and blend with the path of attack. Then you redirect it by spinning under his arm and seizing control using a sankyo wrist lock. Maintaining the hold, you spin once again and take away the knife. Further off-balancing the attacker, you follow up with a strike to the heart or solar plexus using the butt end of the weapon. To finish, you control him by applying pressure to his elbow with the knife handle as you pin him facedown on the mat.
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Aikido Moves vs. Knife Attacks — Angle No. 3 Your foe attacks with an angle No. 3 to the stomach. As soon as possible, you blend with and intercept the strike. Then you scrape your wrist bone down his arm and pull slightly to off-balance and control him. Next, you reverse direction while controlling his elbow and applying an ikkyo wrist lock, after which you step forward and transition into an elbow lock. You finish with a disarm.
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Aikido Moves vs. Knife Attacks — Angle No. 4 When your adversary commences an angle No. 4 attack, you maintain a neutral stance at a safe distance before entering and controlling his knife arm. Your next task is to blend by stepping behind him with the angle of attack, then redirect and control his elbow. Continuing your circular footwork, you apply downward pressure on his arm and follow through with a takedown. To finish, you effect an arm lock and snatch the knife from his hand.
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Aikido Moves vs. Knife Attacks — Angle No. 5 The enemy attacks with an angle No. 5 thrust, and in response, you adopt a neutral stance out of range before countering with aikido moves for hand-to-hand combat against his attack. You then enter and redirect his knife hand before striking him in the face. Continuing your forward momentum, you disrupt his balance, then follow up with a takedown. Once he’s grounded, you control him by using your knee to apply pressure to his elbow, after which you take away the weapon.
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Final Advice Regarding Aikido Moves for Hand-to-Hand Combat Remember that the effectiveness of any knife-defense technique depends more on your proficiency than on the style you practice. The aikido moves described above are a fine place to start, but ultimately success will depend on the effort you put into your overall hand-to-hand combat training via such aikido moves. About the Author: Lynn Seiser, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist based in Long Beach, California, and the founder of AikiSolutions. A martial artist for more than 30 years, he holds a second-degree black belt in aikido. To contact him or Dang Thong Phong, write to Westminster Aikikai Dojo, 8562 Westminster Boulevard, Westminster, California 92683. Or call (714) 894-1003 or visit
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