Many practitioners of aikido (from beginners to advanced students) have concerns about the practical self-defense value of aikido as a martial art. The attacks as practiced in the dojo are frequently unrealistic and may delivered without much speed or power. The concerns here are legitimate, but may, perhaps, be redressed.
In the first place, it is important to realize that aikido techniques are usually practiced against stylized and idealized attacks. This makes it easier for students to learn the general patterns of aikido movement. As students become more advanced, the speed and power of attacks should be increased, and students should learn to adapt the basic strategies of aikido movement to a broader variety of attacks.
Many aikido techniques cannot be performed effectively without the concomitant application of atemi (a strike delivered to the attacker for the purpose of facilitating the subsequent application of the technique). For safety’s sake, atemi is often omitted during practice. It is important, however, to study atemi carefully and perhaps to devote some time to practicing application of atemi so that one will be able to apply it effectively when necessary.
Aikido is sometimes held up for comparison to other martial arts, and aikido students are frequently curious about how well a person trained in aikido would stand up against someone of comparable size and strength who has trained in another martial art such as karate, judo, ju jutsu, or boxing. It is natural to hope that the martial art one has chosen to train in has effective combat applications. However, it is also important to realize that the founder of aikido deliberately chose to develop his martial art into something other than the most deadly fighting art on the planet, and it may very well be true that other martial arts are more combat effective than aikido. This is not to say that aikido techniques cannot be combat effective – there are numerous practitioners of aikido who have applied aikido techniques successfully to defend themselves in a variety of life-threatening situations. No martial art can guarantee victory in every possible circumstance. All martial arts, including aikido, consist in sets of strategies for managing conflict. The best anyone can hope for from their martial arts training is that the odds of managing the conflict successfully are improved. There are many different types of conflict, and many different parameters that may define a conflict. Some martial arts may be better suited to some types of conflict than others. Aikido may be ill-suited to conflicts involving deliberate provocation of an adversary to fight. While there are some who view this as a shortcoming or a liability, there are others who see this as demonstrating the foolhardiness of provoking fights.
Since conflicts are not restricted to situations that result in physical combat, it may be that a martial art which encodes strategies for managing other types of conflict will serve its practitioners better in their daily lives than a more combat-oriented art. Many teachers of aikido treat it as just such a martial art. One is more commonly confronted with conflicts involving coworkers, significant others, or family members than with assailants bent on all-out physical violence. Also, even where physical violence is a genuine danger, many people seek strategies for dealing with such situations which do not require doing injury. For example, someone working with mentally disturbed individuals may find it less than ideal to respond to aggression by knocking the individual to the ground and pummeling him or her into submission. Many people find that aikido is an effective martial art for dealing with situations similar to this.
In the final analysis, each person must decide individually whether or not aikido is suited to his or her needs, interests, and goals.