“Impersonating Aikido” by Nev Sagiba


“Impersonating a re-enactment may have some degree of
merit. But please do not mistake it for the real thing.”

If you wear a policeman’s uniform, or a firefighter’s or a soldier’s, or a nurse’s and attempt to impersonate these or other properly qualified and experienced services, you will get arrested.

In Aikido it is different. You don’t need to be able to prove you can survive any emergency or have served in any authorised capacity. Simply wear a hakama, an obsolete relic of a bygone era from another culture, quote a lineage, real or fake, it does not matter and hey-presto, you can go out and teach.

There’s people “teaching” what they claim is Aikido who don’t even know the names of the basic techniques or that they exist. Or what they are. They simply flow and there it is.

And then there are the profit making businesses that mass produce a semblance of something they label “aikido” with teachers who have never had any experience resolving real violence and don’t even know if they can. Something to be proud of.

Dilettantes like to skirt around the edges of the real thing. Others even form reenactment groups so they can reenact the safe parts but have nothing to do with the real work. Movie stars get paid big money to act a part, make believe some thing real which is fake, but look good for the cameras.

Why is it that with Aikido, personal ability is not considered a qualification?

In feudal times the teachers of budo were the battle-hardened who repeatedly and consistently gained experience and returned from the fields of battle.

The fake and the opinionated, or the unskilled, and those whose arrows missed, stayed behind fertilized these fields with their theories. Nowadays these are the ones who often “teach” and “martial arts” have become a fertile field for making money and claiming a position on a pedestal built on illusion.

What’s it all about?

The lofty claim is made that we “train to improve ourselves.” This suggests that we are becoming better at something. Exactly what? Since most dojo skills have no use in real violence.

A social club with politics where some exercises reenacting a mimicry of a distant form that resembles a dance more than something that can be applied serves what purpose? What part of ourselves exactly are we purporting to improve? Cardio? Social skills? Making eyes and smiling a lot? Spinal massage? Touching? Pushing? What?

Don’t get me wrong. There are numerous dojo who train safely and whose proponents have real budo skill they need to verify at work in real circumstances diffusing real violence.

What are the others achieving?

Skirting around the edges of anything does not improve anything more than the ability to skirt around the edges. If you have not survived an emergency, you don’t have a clue. So what exactly can you exemplify and transmit to those faithful gullible who may rely on what you impart to survive one day?

Quoting even the best “lineage” means nothing. What can YOU do? More than pass a grading and recite Japanese words with fake and poor pronunciation.

Ever noticed those schoolteachers that had never done a days real work, left University and became teachers? Their job was to impart like a parrot, not the fruit of experience because they had none, but simply quote out of somebody else’s book. A parrot, parakeet or a cockatoo would have done as good a job reciting and repeating. A tape recorder could have obviated the need to pay a wage.

What did they TEACH? Most merely provided temporally form of entertainment for unruly teenagers. Perhaps the better ones merely coached.

The inexperienced cannot teach as such. They merely recite.

In order to teach, you must have first proven yourself in the field you propose to purport. Then you must be a able to set the EXAMPLE and actually DO what you purport in real circumstances related to the subject.

Academia can be fun but it becomes positively pernicious if the theorist then “rises” to a position of authority over people on the ground who are dealing in facts not supported by the illusory theories.

That is the very reason the world of man is in the mess it is right now. Mismatched theories not supported by real fact and backed up with no meaningful ability.

I recall the best schoolteachers were mostly returned soldiers. Why this? Most likely because they carried themselves like somebody who had been there. And they were not frightened of a bunch of kids.

In those days they had no special “teaching” ability as such. Quite simply you wanted to listen and take note because, whilst they did not take any nonsense, they were simultaneously respectful. Firm and fair. Without even making mention of their past experience, the silent authority of experience carried and transmitted unspoken. You felt you were learning more than how to become another parrot.

Impersonating a re-enactment may have some degree of merit. But please do not mistake it for the real thing.

Indeed it will make changes and any regular discipline has some value. But don’t delude youself.

Aikido will transform you. But you have to address it as functional budo. To do this you have to at least make a semblance of an effort to THINK and give due consideration to function.

Archery for example is useful. In origins it was useful for catching a feed for the tribe. If one purporting himself a hunter returned empty handed but feeling all “spiritual” and posing in glossy hakama, the tribe would have likely given him a well deserved beating and assigned him more suitable, menial chores in keeping with his real status and ability. I hear there is an archery art where missing with a very “zen” attitude and a suitable pose is deemed acceptable instead of being relegated its true status.

It is really sad, how we as a species, when we no longer have to catch and grow food and are so well off someone else is doing the real work for us, how delusional to the point of psychiatric illness we can fall.

We need to determine what our Aikido is going to be. Whether an insubstantial pageant, or the cutting edge of self-correction with primordial challenge as the measure.

What you practice you become good at.

Nev Sagiba


  1. Norm Ibuki says:

    Hi Nev: Boy, you sound bitter in this article. As a school teacher I take some exception to your proclaimation that we need to be war tested to be worthy of being teachers! Do we really need to shoot guns to be ‘real men’? Experience is important but it isn’t everything. A keen intellect is as important as anything. I think that it is always important to reflect on what makes us worthy of being teachers. And, ah, what is “the real thing”? All the best, Norm

  2. Well put. The problem is that most people are more willing to pay to be entertained than to be transformed and if you want a school, the rent has to be paid. The only hope is that most people are willing to pay for an OPPORTUNITY to be entertained. On any given class only a small fraction of dojo enrollees are actually present. But they continue to pay because of the entertainment and “feel good” aspect of the class. Teachers who entertain are well regarded and attract students. I remember one who was actually very good, particularly at timing, distance and balance. I think he was a bit frustrated at the crowd he attracted. I learned a lot from him and truly appreciate his tolerance of my very different style. In all events, he and his students have a school that pays the rent. I ended up following someone who was not as entertaining and whose school closed.

    Musashi said something about how in his decadent days the flower was preferred above the fruit. So this is not a new topic. Yagyu had a patron. Musashi did not. Yagyu died in comfort. Musashi in a cave. O Sensei had patronage for much of his life. We’ll never know whether someone equally talented died in obscurity. In the absence of duels it’s pretty hard to sort out martial virtue. Nor is it necessary. But, finally, training is about training. We do what we can and follow a path we believe in.

    Sometimes, rarely we hope, we get an opportunity to really test our skill. Sometimes the result is astonishingly good. Sometimes it’s a learning opportunity. My practical lesson of the day is that whatever you were taught technically about the pinning series and extension, if you have a chance to grab your opponents gun, grab it.

  3. Charles,
    You said it better.
    Except for the part about duels.
    But then you corrected this at the end. (grab the gun)
    This is point nearly everyone, for many years, has been missing.
    Duels seldom happen on a battlefield.
    While the unskilled are trying to compete or recite poetry, the skilled or the bloody minded wipe them out. No duels. Inequality, unfairness, brutality, injustice and terror. Asymmetry at its worst, hidden behind nice , justifiable rhetoric. All that is contrary to the good, the beautiful and the true and all that is the harbinger of starvation, plague and economic crisis.
    Commonsense and strategy go hand in hand but most often disappears in the blind lust of blood drinking, pillaging and manufacturing terror where none exists.
    Commonsense is becoming less common with the advent of “labour saving devices” and “thinking saving devices” and endless devices that stop us from extending ourselves as per design.
    Dilettantes in particular miss this point.
    Sweat and facing discomfort is essential to achieve any degree enlightenment.
    The first strategy of training is: Turn Up. Every class.
    The best strategy of teaching is: First know what you are talking about.
    And second: Find a way to pay the rent without flushing your art down the loo.
    This means work, a four letter word not well understood in today’s world where a keyboard is seen as a labour device instead of the inefficient toy it is.
    Techniques per se are dead ends.
    Their purposes are as extensions to strategy.
    Grab the gun, then take it from there.
    If you live, you live and there is no debate.
    A well decked out cave and your freedom is a better deal than brown nosing for a stipend you may not get unless your crawling is of sufficient quality.
    That too is a strategic call up to the individual. perhaps Musashi like to grow chrysanthemums and visit the lake to sketch bird life in his own time instead of at the beck an call of another. Each to his own.
    Sometimes budo and farming and a shack achieves better results for the greater good of the world, than a palace and lots of tea. Ask O’Sensei.
    It depends on the results you seek.
    Good feedback, Thanks, Nev

  4. Hi Norm, Thanks for the fiery response. It’s not my intention to press any buttons. There is no bitterness at all. Simply a modest attempt at pointing out of some small measure of context and factuality. I’m not suggesting firing guns, just getting rid of self-important delusions which really hide deep insecurity poorly. I stand by my comments about real teaching being experience based and recitation being empty and often off the rails. There are literally scores of professional careers that would enable a person to put their ideas of courage and noble intent into practice. You don’t need to fire a gun. Mind you, it is easy to say that when safely ensconced in the thought that others are right now killing themselves to protect you. I agree that it is immoral, unjust and as the world has yet again discovered, expensive and stupid to invade the homes of others. One day empires will learn that lesson, we hope. Protecting your own home is everyone’s duty however. Primarily from the inside out. A long list of careers exist where healthy, able bodied young people of sound limb can get off the grass, make themselves useful and focus real skill to good purpose in all manner of emergency, serving LIFE and saving LIFE such as nurses, coast-guards, all manner of emergency services, search and rescue and more. I was fortunate to have spent ten years in the NSW Fire Brigades, a professional, paramilitary, properly disciplined body of people duly trained to place themselves at high risk to SAVE life and property in multiple situations of urban emergency.
    (The NSW Fire Brigades’ purpose is to enhance community safety, quality of life and confidence by minimizing the impact of hazards and emergency incidents on the people, environment and economy of New South Wales. As one of the world’s largest urban fire and rescue services, NSWFB manage fire emergencies in NSW’s major cities and towns. NSWFB respond to rescues, hazardous materials incidents and possible terrorism activities across the State. NSWFB work with other government agencies to minimize the impact of bushfires, storms, floods, landslides, building collapses, motor vehicle accidents and other emergencies. NSWFB also run prevention and preparedness programs to prevent these emergencies and reduce their impact on the community.) You can’t fake that kind of work because you are wearing a pretty uniform the girls get hot over! The skill has to be REAL, not intellectually scintillating to listen to. I’m sure there’s an unappreciated fire station around the corner from you which you will expect to serve you when you place yourself at risk.
    In those days I took it for granted. Live or die you do your job. In hindsight it’s something to be proud of. Also the intensity of situations and the discipline in becoming prepared to manage them, if it does not break you, improves you. You get to see the rougher side of urban life that is hidden from the weak and people who prefer to live in denial of reality, and contribute to upliftment in the nitty-gritty, not just a poetry book. This is ALL BUDO. true Budo. As for ‘real men,’ well how about real human beings prepared to let go of the bullshit and pretense and roll their sleeves up and at least take a small risk to give another human being a hand up instead of looking down upon the less fortunate? Experience IS everything. Experience is substance and parroting is empty waffle. Even half awake students who want to learn in lieu of merely becoming a follower in an insubstantial cult, can discern the difference. If you build a house or pay a professional to build it for you, you expect it to stand, not fall on you because the builder has important ideas about himself. The real thing, since you asked, is when you place yourself at risk, to save someone else as compared to spouting theories which don’t hold water whilst hiding behind skirts or hakamas. Now that the fire is up, do something useful with it. Best wishes and kind intentions, Nev

  5. Louis Gonzalez-Coca says:

    Hello Mr. Sagiba

    I truly enjoyed your article. You pointed out some interesting points therein. I “catch your drift”.

    Thank you Sir.

    Louis Gonzalez-Coca

  6. Natan Cheifetz says:

    A few points if you don’t mind…

    First of all, about grabbing the gun: This is not a good idea. Have you tried this? There are extremely few situations when one would be advised to do that.

    Secondly: Though I treat my Aikido as a budo, most instructors do not. How many of O’Sensei’s deshi actually had combat exposure? I can tell you that my time in the military did not have any parallels to Aikido training. (this brings us back to the gun thing…it’s beter to shoot the guy than to try and grab his gun).

    As for instructors: Some of the ones you learn the most from often have no combat experience at all but are very good at sabaki and unbalancing. On the other hand, my sempai that had a lot of real combat experience, is one of the worst teacher I have ever met.

    One can learn a lot from proper Aikido trainig without ever achieving martial competency. The main thing is to maintain a realistic (true) picture of what one is learning and what one is striving for…which brings us back to the gun yet again. If one is looking for combat skills perhaps an Aikido dojo is not where one should be looking.

    Respectfully submitted,


  7. bruce baker says:

    This blog is not pretty old so I don’t expect too many people will read this comment.

    My father, who is now deceased, told me a story of charging up a hill in Korea with his men, he was a sergeant in the army. One guy went berserk during a night charge up the hill and almost made the other men panic and run, so he shot him in the head and finished his mission to take the hill. There was not any anger or any hatred in the act but a simple necessity of shooting this man to save the lives of more me who would have been killed if they ran down the hill in a panic as they were shot like turkeys in a turkey-shoot.

    Some people would try to have such an act punished, and make a case for the sergeant to be jailed, but in a time of war, or combat, men have to see the bigger picture and do many things that we wouldn’t and probably shouldn’t do on a domestic front. And yet, the common sense of that situation is lost in our world of Non-violence advocates who advocate violence to those who do what they must in the name of preserving life, not causing a greater slaughter of human life. Think about it .. non-violence advocates advocate punishment for anything they object to .. how weird is that to an unbiased observer?

    Well, maybe I am off-balance with common sense as I see news report for today in June 2009 that the USA want to release prisoners from camp Guantonamo and those advocates of peace, critics of our war with terror in countries around the world refuse to let these prisoners we want to release come their nations. Where is the common sense? If you want us to release them, take them into your country.

    Well, the true picture is not always the true picture.

    I guess I grew up in a time of soldiers who survived wars, and then the off-balance of the 1960s peace movements/ contrived street riots that advocated violent overthrow of the government have now in our modern times turned to the economic overthrow by some of these radicals as they have embedded themselves in our society. Massive spending to pump up institutions that could have restructured for so much less money, and now the USA government just shrugs it’s economic shoulders and says … oh well .. made a mistake, didn’t we? No common sense there, was there.

    Some days, you have to step back, and see who is a cult follower drinking the Jones-town poisoned Kool-aid,and who is not. More often than not, it is those who have experience some type of violence that seek a common sense peace, a common sense world in which we can raise our children with the least amount of fear and violence possible.

    I think the same thing about many parts of the country as this movement of socialism and modern thinking is totally contrary to the common sense of days gone by.

    We are not all equal, sometimes we have to be kind and help those less fortunate than ourselves, but we do it by choice, not by law or by demand.

    We should be more sensible because we are the best educated society in history, at least for those of us caught up in the modern techno-society of the industrial petroleum age, but then again, we have no-education pirates robbing us blind off the coast of Africa .. what is up with that!!!

    We have dedicated terrorists who pray umpteem times a day and spout religion while they think their only goal in life is to die for their cause .. what is up with that?

    We have an education system that says you can pay for an education and get a certificate, but put these educated certificate carrying people out there in society to work a job .. it takes one or two years to retrain them to function in the job they are put at task to do .. what is up with that? (yeah I know .. I have trained dozens of kids over the years and taken college students, graduates of college and taught them how to work in the marine trades either for summer employment or for training programs sponsored by state or federal funding programs)

    Anyway … where is the common sense!

    It all comes down to … stop talking and show me.

    The valid substantial will show itself, and the application to a particular situation will show itself to be the most effective.

    No amount of talking can describe going through an event, although it is helpful … some things you just have to do for yourself to understand what it takes to get there from here.

    I hope … we stop talking when we need to act .. but we talk just enough to make the acts we do … common sense.

  8. Since the AJ has chosen to repost this article by Mr Sagiba, I would just like to share the following link to the blog of one of today’s great communicators of Buddhist teachings. On the question of of violence and human experience, I really feel that we all need a different perspective – especially when we are engaged in teaching the so-called Art of Non-Violence.

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