Tanto dori

Aikido knife defense techniques

Sometimes on seminars I ask the students what they want me to teach, and mostly the answer is: "Tantodori!" It seems that defense techniques against knife attacks are not done enough in any dojo. Compared to the other aikido curriculum, I would also say that it's a particularly serious matter.

       I am not one to propagate aikido as only a self defense training. Such a goal is far too limited to keep my interest alive. But in the case of tantodori I believe we have to consider those aspects of it. Sadly, it can happen that the aikidoka is attacked by somebody armed with a knife, and then not to have some trustworthy basic training behind oneself may prove to be fatal.

Tantodori - kotegaeshi.

       If we do at all practice knife defense in the dojo, we must take it seriously, or the students might learn reflexes that put them in greater danger than if they had not trained such techniques at all.

       Still, unfortunately, the tantodori of aikido is mostly not very precise when it comes to the details of the techniques - I have seen some terrifying lack of precision and consideration in keiko, even among high grade teachers - and the functionality of what is being practiced can often be questioned.

       This is particularly true about the method with which the knife is taken away from the attacker.

Tantodori. Photo: Ulf Lundquist.

       The photo above has raised some questions. It seems to be a very risky way of dealing with the sharp blade of a knife, when snapping it from the attacker. Maybe so.

       Nevertheless, I prefer this way for two reasons:

       One is that trying to get the knife by grabbing it inside the attacker's fist, risks getting so to speak "into the hands" of the attacker - going to where the attacker is strong.

       The other reason is that one has to understand, when attacked by a knife, that one should not primarily try to protect one's hands and arms, but one's body. It is exactly when people instinctively pull their hands back, to protect them from being cut, that the knife easily reaches the body.

       To avoid this, the hands must learn to risk being cut, to move in between the blade and one's own body.

Tantodori - sankyo.

       Please have a look at the few examples of tantodori techniques on the links below, and let me know what you think of them. Maybe you have better solutions?

       On the photos I only show the actual taking of the knife from the attacker, at the end of the aikido technique. On the video above, though, I show complete techniques. Certainly, there are other ways of doing the aikido techniques. I simply show how I do it.

       In addition to this video, I have also made some video clips of tantodori ikkyo, which can be found here: tantodori ikkyo

       There is a lot of repetition in the explanatory texts, for reasons of safety: what I regard as important instructions are included in every technique, when applicable, in case some readers do not go through them all.

       The photos were taken by Charlotte Wiström, with Anders Heinonen as uke, at the Enighet dojo. We used a wooden tanto, because I do not want to encourage people to practice with sharp steel knives, unless very aware of what they are doing. On the video above, on the other hand, a steel knife is used - for clarity.

Stefan Stenudd


Sankyo on tsuki

Sankyo on yokomen uchi

Shihonage on yokomen uchi

Shihonage on tsuki



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