“Lungs, Time and Intensity” by Nev Sagiba

Lungs, time and intensity are vital considerations in a real violence event. Quite a few people over the years have made statements along the lines of, “I know I’ll never be attacked so I don’t need to train.”

Some of these have been lucky so far, and others not. Sadly denial is not a river in Egypt but a dangerous state.. of mind. Nobody really knows or can tell if, when, how or why they will find then themselves in any emergency situation. Chance indeed favours the prepared.

Whilst we don’t have to train as if we will be going into battle tomorrow, yet we do. To the extent we can. Some of us will never be invited since we are too unfit and broken down to be of any use in a real battle anyhow.

A study of Pre-Incident-Indicators and preventative mitigation measures in any field is wisdom. We do this already in many fields and this gives those so educated some degree of survivability edge. Most of us have adapted to the domain we find ourselves in, reasonably well. We learn to read, write, count, swim, eat, sleep, drive, budget, pay bills, keyboard skills, to use a phone and the other odd assortment of things we take for granted and which would have been all but useless in many other ancient cultures. But for now, these enable life navigation at a reasonable standard most of the time.

Unfortunately whilst education provides knowledge, it cannot provide wisdom. Concepts cannot supersede the fruit of experience.

Experience and adaptability are gained in regular training, practice, drills that are alive and engage and tax the complete person. And in the field.

However, training seldom matches reality. Even sportive bouts with rules and referees, etc., dangerous as they can be, seldom prepare you for the unpredictability of real events. For example, in an earthquake, flood, tsunami or sudden war, your black belt, lineages, trophies, certificates count for naught. Good sound commonsense and some measure of practice drills related to these emergencies will.

Anyhow, in a physical attack situation, often the attacker will, so to speak, go “apeshit” and unleash unbelievable and frightening ferocity. Standing in bad maai, hanmi looking important with your chin stuck out along with your fingers pointing forward where they can be broken with the first strike, or your weight fully on the forward knee where your kneecap can easy be broken with a kick, just ain’t gonna cut it. Believe me or find out the hard way. It won’t do the trick and there is nothing more demoralizing for a fluffy trainer habituated in having people “take ukemi” for him, suddenly discover hard impact.

There are several factors involved in intensifying training, impact and contact only being one. None being more important than a sound zanshin, practical understanding of Pre-Incident-Indicators so you can hopefully get out before engagement becomes unavoidable. The essence of early maai.

Once it’s on, you cannot and must not turn your back. You must deal with it, or face possible death or severe injury. Throughout history, more people have died in the rout than at any other time in the process of a battle.

The key element of rout is: a too late decision to withdraw or flee. Most people reading this will suffer this fate despite their training the next time they are attacked.

Unless they take heed and alter their modus of training to give paramount attention to forward impulsion as being the essential element prior to affecting a strategic sabaki or tainohenka, the primary element of Aikido and any true Budo, this is entirely predictable.

If you don’t choose to believe me, read up the unrevised and sparse writings on everyone from Morihei Ueshiba going back to Minamoto no Yoshimitsu. Or coming back via Julius Caesar to Napoleon. And any other battlefield strategician. But more than reading, study battle, practice, train, conduct scenario based training and make your Aikido come to life.

Training with mind wide awake will impart more than any words can.

For purposes of this discourse lets us assume that you have already been set upon and are no longer in a position to make any choice than engagement. Let us also assume that you have been training.

What would you do?

You would stop reading these mere words and ACT!

Since you are not being attacked, let us look at the reality of it.

In any battle, TIME is of the essence. The longer it drags on, the greater the risk. Once entrapped in the quagmire of violence, the guarantees of increased likelihood of success that results from training, will diminish exponentially.

Violence is chaos. Much like forest fire, it takes on a power of its own and it is a bloodthirsty devil.

Energy is limited and within seconds your lungs will begin to labour, your pulse having risen to near dangerous levels and your body will be flushed with a vast array of survival chemicals which if not used explosively, will become toxic in your system.

An example of this is that even when rescued from a fox attack some chickens simply die of fright. Other animals suffer similar biological limitation fates when hunted. And people who are unfit risk heart attack or stroke aside from the effects of various impact or cutting with objects etc.

If there is more than one attacker, the state of emergency and the heightened risk is even greater.

The only way to stop your own survival chemicals from overwhelming you is, to MOVE. And this effectively. Training enables this. Being prepared and physically and mentally fit, gives you some measure of edge.

The intensity of a real scenario requires some valid degree of physical fitness. If you are overweight or undernourished, you are your own worst enemy. The attacker won’t have to do much to overwhelm you. Maintaining a sensible, not too stressed peak of physical fitness is a personal responsibility and an essential one to any budoka.

Of course, among reasonable people, matching live levels of intensity in practice is impossible because it is unsafe, and unless trained to an elite level of skill and respect, very difficult to approach.

How can we approach such intensity levels in a safe way? It is not easy to simulate “the real thing” without it being the real thing.

There are many ways but they all should be built up to gradually over time because they require meaningful levels of cardiovascular fitness. That’s why boxers jog. They take a pounding in the ring. But their cardio enables them to continue regardless.

One way is to run ten miles then immediately do continuous practice with several attackers. Another is the practice of kendo. Build up over time, so you can conduct non-stop randori for forty minutes or so then do one person unarmed defence from continuous multiple attackers.

Such methods, and any similar you can think of, will give you some idea of what the ancients experienced in battle melee. And also an appreciation for their immense fitness levels despite meager diets and none of the softening comforts we enjoy today.

Many budo practitioners become habituated and institutionalized in their habits in a believed-to-be-safe comfort zone of denial. But lying to yourself is about the most unsafe thing you can do in anything in life. Denial is a preparation for disaster.

The most predictable factor in both life and battle is the element of unpredictability. Your training, to be of any practical use must reflect a preparation for the unexpected.

When it comes to matters of intense violence mitigation, the raison d’etre for budo, and one that goes hand in hand as the barometer of self-improvement, this must be taken into account.

There are many factors. These are dealt with elsewhere.

Primary are lungs-cardiovascular stamina. Then kime-the ability to implement effectively and immediately. Finally the ability to meet the intensity with absolute clarity and a still mind in the midst of some of the most dynamic physical exertion you will experience in your life.

Nev Sagiba


  1. Ya know, there is this theory of positive and negative forces at work, and in some ways looking at what works holistically it is true for fighting.

    If your opponent is angry, your calmness is strength. If your opponent is calm, your strength is a disorganized mind switching back and forth from calm to insanity, believe it or no. If both you and your opponent are angry there is a neutrality at work. I am sure you have noticed that two people of equal angry intensity don’t seem to injure each other as much as one who is angry and one why is calm.

    The disruption of the human body is as much the disruption of the physical aspect of the body as it is a disruption of the electrical signals of the nervous system or the magnetic balance of the vital organs in that body. If the mind is disrupted, the physical body is slowed in it’s responses also, not good, not good at all if this is you and not your opponent.

    There is a whole theory of pressure points and strikes in Aikido but to make them work effectively there is also an amplification of both subliminal signals and physical actions to truly get the results hidden in aikido techniques. It goes beyond hitting your funny bone or a doctor hitting your knee with that little rubber hammer to check your reflexes. Never mind.

    There is no protective stance in real life, but there is the illusion of an ignorant Harvey Milk-toast who seems to be helpless wanting no trouble, a most difficult thing to learn. Also, there is the book of dirty tricks, not something taught in aikido classes, so it is up to the student to do their own research and become aware of some of these feints and dirty tricks. Most good fighters choose the person they want their opponent to see when confronted with violence.

    Lastly, training is not something that begins or ends with class or mat time with your aikido buddies. It is an integrated lifestyle of techniques that find their way into your everyday life. As you grow older, and slower, and maybe your body changes in ways that cause you disabilities … you must adapt what you once knew as a young adult into what will work for you as a old disabled man/ woman. There will be decisions to not follow the rules, and to injure people who choose to attack you because that is the quickest and the way of LEAST violence. Yes … I said … WAY OF LEAST VIOLENCE.

    But as Nev says … if you can’t breath, if you can’t switch gears from being tired to being able to defend yourself, there is a greater possibility of failure, at least that is what I gather from his post.

    Young people must train to expend their boundless energy. People over 40 must stretch and train to keep that boundless energy. People who are sick and old must do whatever they can to stretch and keep moving to keep from dying. I am sure few teachers bring that last one up.

    No matter, it is the movement and adaptation of mind and body that are key elements. The human body responds to moment, proper nutrition, and proper rest. Some of the best teachers I have known are not masses of muscle or giants of men but small unassuming people who seemed to be out of shape at first glance. Little did I know they all had some regimen of movement that worked for them to keep their body in top physical condition, and that seems to be the point here also.

    I was never one for running, but give me task or an exercise I could modify to do 500 repetitions and I would do those movements getting almost as much benefit as running those ten miles. Movement, stretching, even visualization while doing movements can be as effective as lifting weights, or so I have seen in studies but I have practiced visualization long before the medical study took place. It is just a important to put your mind to the task as it is actually do the movements themselves for the task itself.

    You see, what works for that guy across the room may not work for you, so the secret really is … a positive state of mind, and movements you can use to improve what you were to what you can be tomorrow.

  2. The few real situations I’ve been lucky enough to encounter and survive seem to have a few common threads. I’ve only fairly recently read the American master strategist, John Boyd. His theory, based on his experience as a fighter pilot, was the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act cycle. The common explanation of why F86 pilots were more successful than Mig pilots in Korea was that they had better visibility, and better sights. The Migs had better speed and maneuverability. The F86 pilots could observe and orient more quickly. My much more limited experience confirms the theory. When I’ve observed and instantly oriented to the situation, even though the situation was a setup, I’ve been able to seize the initiative and prevail. Terry Dobson and I both distinguish fighting as a situation where both parties consent to a contest of power. Applied aikido does not wait to build that consent, nor to contest the power. The first is a matter of timing. Time, of course, is also distance. Some use the time awareness gives to set up in a stance or posture. That, as identified by Musashi, is purely defensive. Defense is at best indecisive. The second is a matter of technique. Aikido techniques are all aimed at the weak spots in the skeleto-muscular system. Sufficient practice allows finding the weak spot that corresponds to the strength exerted by your partner or opponent. And just because you’re in a situation does not mean that you should forget your ukemi. They are a pretty safe way to gain distance rather than getting mixed up in swapping punches and kicks. They may allow reversals in a grappling situation. In all events, they are unexpected. Also unexpected is the aikido trait of immediate re-engagement after ukemi. In an aerial combat analogy, aikido is more like an “energy fighter” that uses altitude and speed to close and extend distance, getting in a shot from a favorable range and orientation. Stall fighting mixes it up in turns and maneuvers. Life is not always like training. One of my thoughts recently has been that aikidoka don’t mind falling. Karateka don’t mind being hit. Ideally maybe we shouldn’t mind either. Nor, in my small experience, can you start with much of a preconceived notion of how to proceed. You have to accept the situation. Put yourself in the most favorable timing and distance relationship possible, keep moving and trust your training.

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