“Which Is Uke and Which Is Nage? Who Wins and Who Loses?” by Nev Sagiba

Let’s face it, most of you came to Aikido with ambiguity in mind about the practical efficacy of Aikido in real combat, or the allure of a mystic dream mingled with the fantasy about the idea of being invincible as a fighter.

Well you came to the wrong place!

People walk into a dojo, see what they imagine to be a “throw” and either leave or come back to train but remain entangled in the illusion they are “throwing” someone.

There are no losers in Aikido. Everyone wins or at least gains. Gains either protection or a lesson about the discourtesy of attacking.

But more than this Aikido serves to NEUTRALIZE the mind of aggression. Most situations where Aikido has prevailed, never get off the ground. Crude thinkers imagine nothing happened. But it did. At a deeper more subtle level. I’m not talking about pixies, but practicality. Applied and very real skill. Best security is unseen. It is there, but not noticed by the violent, because there are subtleties the violent mind cannot perceive.

And for those situations that do escalate there is the imminent practicality of Aikido as the most devastating protective measure. But this carries the proviso that training be honest and correct. Otherwise, the slower version of cause and effect, reciprocal causality takes place over often long periods of time. But in the end the books are balanced. They always are. No one can escape.

What people like to imagine is Aikido, is usually a very modest beginning in the direction of Aikido, at high risk of being derailed by all the things we’ve seen over the last few years.

Who wins and who loses?

In a fight or a war, everyone loses. I do not have to elaborate on this. Just observe how recent history has affected your hip pocket and I can rest my case on that.

In the Aikido paradigm, a universal and eternal principle of existence, which guides the operating systems back of sustainability and continuation of life itself; there is a relationship of energies which, no matter how disparate, become reconciled and educated into the generation of newer possibilities.

Yin and yang have been reconciling and alternately conflicting, much as lovers do, since time immemorial. And breeding prolifically as well. Hence creation.

Friction is required before reconciliation can arrive. And yes it is friction, not painkillers or sleeping at the wheel, or running away, that gives rise to the very potential that drives the Aikido spirit.

Nobody either wins or loses. Everyone learns, gains thereby and can then move forward.

In training, often the opposite of what you think you see is in fact happening. The intellectual mind, being partial, especially when deceived by the eyes, is not either rational or logical, but likes to think it is. But there are still people who think erroneously that iriminage is a push.

For practical purposes in training, it does not start to begin to become Aikido until uke wins! Every time. Ukemi is merely early training for kaeshi waza. That’s all. But because of the courtesy of training, an absolute requirement for progress and awakening, we respect each other and cooperate. Until we can train safely we cannot begin.

I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, advisedly and most emphatically: THERE ARE NO THROWS IN AIKIDO.

We train as if there are throws for purposes of mutual safety. That’s all.

You see, Aikido does not strive to defeat anyone or anything other than the mind of discord in oneself. The opponent is quite capable of defeating himself, PROVIDED YOU KNOW HOW TO DANCE TO LET HIM DO SO!

So let him. Assist him whilst retaining your centre and the rest falls into place in full accord to the natural laws of the universe. (Look up physics, biomechanics, etc.)

At the moment an attacker is most powerful, he is also most vulnerable. Napoleon cautioned his troops, on pain of severe punishment, to never celebrate a victory, but rather immediately begin to prepare for the next battle. I think one of the Caesars and some other ancients of note were not unmindful of the same principle.

Uke and nage are interchangeable and switch on a dime. These are conceptual agreements defined for purposes of enabling a training paradigm.

The resolution of conflict does not rely on a “technique” but an attitude of loving cooperation, allowance and accommodation, which is innate and which reflects an eternal universal essence. It is there all the time, always was and always will be. A great ocean of it. And we dehydrate for the want of noticing that we are swimming in it, if not drowning.

No one wins or loses, when energy is balanced. All participating energies neutralize. There is no uke and no nage except for purposes of training. But if you are stuck in the cave man mentality of “doing something to them,” you are lost.

Undoing aggression is akin to unwinding a ball of string. If you do too much you create entanglement which gets so bad it will require a cut. If you softly play and accommodate the string untangles.

You will not get the desired result and end up with usable string if you take to it with a baseball bat. But that’s exactly how most people think but pretend they don’t.

At the heart of all life resides a communion of soul. The visible manifestation of this is the desire to find ways to exchange energy and communicate. Love.

This can only be possible if the lines are kept clear. When both sides are trying to make a phone call, the line will be jammed and no mouth-frothing rage will assist. On the other hand, when there is no attempt on either side to pick up the phone, nothing fruitful happens either.

The trick is to know when to be receptive and when to engage the line to talk. Pilots, soldiers, coastguards, firefighters and some others very quickly learn the art of radio communication after being taught certain simple protocols. The rest of us become spoiled with facile technology that does all the sensitivity work for us and so we risk becoming communicationally challenged.

We interrupt too much.

Knowing when to “speak” and when to “listen” in all things, especially all things ki, is the art behind the art.

As an uke you must realise that you are nage. As nage you must realise that you are uke.

Perhaps then this mystery of Aikido will begin to make some measure of sense. And when it does, we will be able to start on the grand universal path of AIKIDO.

Nev Sagiba


  1. Dennis Rau says:

    Sensei, I bow.
    nice one, Nev.

  2. Bruce Baker says:

    Think about those words, “THERE ARE NO THROWS IN AIKIDO!”

    Alright, suppose the person is not thrown, or able to take that energy you have given them and disburse it, what happens? Yeah, think about what really actually would happen.

    You would actually be causing catastrophic injuries to that person and sometimes breaking bones, maybe even injuring yourself in process also.

    Think about this …. if the energy you are sending is sent back to you because of an immovable object, it means that you are the receiver of that energy.

    So .. yeah … there are no throws … just the disbursal of energy.

    Of course there is a theory and practice where you learn to become the opposite in thought and energy so that like two magnets of opposite poles the energy repels instead of attracting, but then ya’all will find that out in the course of training, or stumble upon it all by yourselves.

    What I find amusing is … NEV is right! It is like watching how Hollywood portrays someone getting shot and what really actually happens when some gets shot. Reality is not as showy or glamourous as people would like to imagine. So too, the real application of Aikido is not as dance-like or showy as we do in practice to disburse the energy of whatever interaction is taking place.

    Just realize, many of the techniques weren’t supposed to be throws but they were the gunshots of hand to hand combat in time long long ago designed to drop a man in his tracks.

  3. The aspect of this that is currently fascinating me is the yarn ball of nage, uke and kaeshi waza. Some little bit catches the attention and you start following it down… pretty soon you’re in the middle of the yarn ball and there are all sorts of fascinating little bits all around. Each would probably lead to another part of the yarn ball, indistinguishable morphologically, differing in detail.

    ‘The way is in training’ (Musashi). So, if we are going to train in aikido we have to learn the basic moves. It takes most of us several years to achieve some proficiency. Without the moves there is neither efficacy nor safety.

    Then there’s the wisdom part. That takes most of us a lot longer. Am very happy to see somebody, in a previous blog, has arrived. Wonder if that’s part of another yarn-ball?

  4. Another couple of interesting bits, here. First is the idea of techniques being the equivalent of gunshots. Terry Dobson showed me that one time. I didn’t get it at the moment. Ukemi is the response that best covers the vulnerability either exposed or about to be exposed. At least from our point of view. Rather than block, we distance.

    Have mentioned John Boyd before. Brings in the idea of aerial combat. There are two basic styles. One is to mix it up “dogfighting”, sometimes known as “stall fighting”. The limits are how slow can you go, still fly and maneuver for a shot. Shot opportunities are likely to be brief, thus probably inconclusive. It’s a bit like boxing or other striking arts. The other major tactic is called “energy fighting”. It involves having superior speed (energy) and alignment for one decisive shot, retaining the speed to escape. It would look a lot more like aikido randori, at least the ukemi part. From nage’s point of view, well, nage just isn’t in the sights at the critical moment. I think it was Fiessler, the German aviation pioneer, who in WWII practice eluded FW190 attacks repeatedly in a Storch of his design. The Storch looked a lot like a Piper Cub, more powerful and 3 seats, but the same sort of thing. The FW190 was a front line single seat heavy fighter with over twice the speed. Saburo Sakai, the surviving Japanese ace who wrote a biography (“Samurai”), did something similar over Iwo Jima. Observers on the ground thought he was brilliant. He couldn’t understand how he survived it.

    Every attack contains its own vulnerabilities and every posture its own imbalances. It seems to me that aikido requires nage to have an intuitive understanding of them, following that intuition to the vulnerable and unbalanced place of uke. Ukemi-waza is the mirror. Is it strange that ukes learn a lot? Perhaps surrender to the intuition and its wisdom is now keeping me going. Once upon a time I heard Bob Nadeau Sensei say something to the effect that he was just training for “those magic moments”.

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