‘Hard’ vs ‘soft’ martial arts – yin and yang

The world of martial arts is enormous. There exist different classifications of MA in order to group them according to certain key criteria. Thus, martial arts can be distinguished according to the national characteristics – Japanese karate-do, Korean taekwon-do, Chinese gun-fu, etc. Another popular way of classification is based on the technical and tactical features: martial arts based on throwing techniques (ju-jutsu, judo, sumo, aikido) and those based on striking techniques (karate-do, taekwon-do, wushu, gun-fu). This second type of classification is also known as “hard vs. soft” martial arts.

I have been lucky to practice marital disciplines from both schools (taekwon-do and aikido). Although I haven’t reached a black belt yet in either of these, I’ve made several observations on the interaction between “hard and soft” which I hope will be useful to other practitioners.

To give a quick intro, taekwon-do literally means “the way of the foot and the fist”. This is a typical striking martial art using both kicks and punches while focusing on the elaborate kicks.

Aikido literally means the way of the harmony (peace) and focuses on using the opponent’s energy in the forms of throws, joint locks, grabs, etc. without using any offensive techniques such as strikes.

Mt first observation is that the ‘hard vs. soft’ distinction is quite relative. It is true that a taekwon-do yop chagi (side kick) or dwit chagi (back kick) can be devastating and even deadly. Yet there are also dozens of blocks that serve as defensive techniques without any harmful intent.

Similarly, irimi nage or kaiten nage in aikido may appear as soft harmless throws at first glance. Yet any of aikido throws can be done with sufficient energy to knock down the opponent completely. Not to mention various painful holds that are not ‘soft’ at all :). 

So both marital arts are not absolutely fixed in their boundaries – hard can become soft, and soft can become hard. My understanding is that how well one can feel this transition point is defined by how good a master he or she is.

The second observation follows from the first one. Soft does not mean weaker than hard. As already mentioned, aikido throws can be extremely powerful and even devastating if performed with that intention. “Soft and hard” refer to different types of working with energy. In taekwon-do or any other ‘hard’ martial art you give your energy (strike) in order to win over an opponent. In contrast, in aikido or any other ‘soft’ martial art you receive the energy from your opponent and turn it against himself. So in practice you don’t have to be as physically strong in aikido than in taekwon-do, for example, as you don’t need force do deliver a punch or a kick. In aikido you rather blend with the opponent using his own energy to defeat him.   

Last but not least, practicing MA of different types is potentially very beneficial as it allows you to make a synthesis of soft and hard, thus making you a more effective fighter. In this regard, I liked how one aikidoka whom I met (who also practices karate by the way) referred to the two disciplines as yin and yang, male and female (male obviously for ‘hard’ karate and female for ‘softer’ aikido’).

This makes all the more sense considering that we are entering a new epoch where synthesis becomes a key feature of the brave new world.

To make conclusion, practicing both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ MA opens up horizons, brings new technical and tactical insights, and gives much more joy and pleasure in the learning curve.

Happy trainings everyone!


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