“The Middle Way to Aikido: From the Inside Outwards” by Nev Sagiba

The paradox: It does not become Aikido until it expresses from the inside outwards. However first you need to learn forms from the outside inwards.

In action there has to be an outside influence such as an attack before the inner Aikido can come forth.

In learning you must first grasp a form before you can let it go. But only after it has acted as a key to open up natural ki no nagare.

Form is useful, but only enough to guide towards actual harmonising.

The Body Remembers Physics

In an emergency the body remembers physics not ideas. When the forebrain shuts down in intense emergency response the training will save you, but not if it is ideas based. It must be automated response or body memory. This functionality is made possible as a result of regular training.

Warriors caught in the middle between their military leaders and the enemy, face the conundrum: Return, run or desert and die in shame, or fail and die in shame. Only one possibility remains. Live or die with honour by entering fiercely and doing utmost to win. Irimi and then take it from there.

After extended periods, even a few days of battle, a particular form of exhaustion and enervation sets in. What then? You move efficiently, which is physics, truly “natural movement”, the beginning of aiki. Clumsy stuff will not work. Heady conceptual stuff is forgotten under extreme pressure. Preconditioned response follow through faster than the mind.

In today’s world we live in the erroneous belief that learning constitutes collecting intellectual clutter and we talk endlessly, read, watch videos and all manner of, in part useful, but limited practices.

TRAINING above all else that which TRANSFORMS. Training and breathing. Doing and letting go, then repeating on a regular basis.

Collecting clutter is useless. Mentally running through a long list of possibilities in emergent conditions lasting only seconds is the suicide of the frozen, stalling, waiting and becoming overwhelmed.

The relevant details will stand out as key points following protracted periods of trial and error training refining to the key, salient points that actually matter. These are few and universal.

We already contain the whole of the universe as a vessel, conduit, channel, a receiving and transmitting instrument of infinite life. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Only to find the hub.

The mission in all processes of learning is to unlearn the junk that gets in the way of letting simplicity come forth. In other words purify the mind.

Proper training does not teach. It un-teaches the garbage and clutter which needs to be swept out before the hito jinja can begin to truly start working as it was designed to.

Then we attune to infinite possibility without thought, but rather, direct perception; capturing the most salient, relevant context and discard the irrelevant, getting to the point that matters.

This is not superstitious waffle but quantum physics in action, the very fabric of existence which forms our being and our navigation in the ocean of existence.

Learn and Forget

You should forget everything that you have learned when confronted by a situation and just move naturally.

“What?” I can hear the pundits say…

To the neophyte this statement may seem a paradox and the question will tend to arise, “Why then learn in the first place? Why all the work ?”

The calcified, the habitual, the fixated will all feign shock, horror… not so much because they disbelieve it to be true, but more so because they imagine their perceived vested interest is threatened by such statements. And that effort will be required to think freely and to train some more.

Indeed it will.

And yet Master Ueshiba’s main philosophy was just this “LEARN AND FORGET, PRACTICE AND FORGET AND GET ON WITH THE NOW OF EACH MOMENT”


We hear the story of the Chinese Master who tells his student after many years of practice “You have reached the pinnacle of what I can teach you, you are my best student, yet, when you get into a real fight for your life you will forget everything I have taught you.”

The student, wishing to display fidelity to his master and the teachings berated himself and redoubled his practice…..yet indeed in the first life and death encounter he forgot everything and simply survived. Dismayed at his perceived worthlessness the student went on to punish himself unnecessarily… and on the story goes.

Perhaps he never got the message.

The master was trying to impart a natural function AS IT SHOULD BE.


The essence is not a concept, but THE ESSENCE of the universe itself, EFFICIENCY in ECONOMY OF MOTION. Vast emptiness or vast fullness, whichever way you want to see it.

You don’t survive out of your head or fixations on this or that technique, or ideas about techniques, but on the spontaneous response to the necessity of that moment, whatever it may be. This is a the literal translation of spontaneous flow indicated by the words: “TAKEMUSU AIKI.”

The basics, and regular and serious training, serve to prepare the body/mind for best spontaneous activity flow, to flex the processes that prepare the whole self to be a channel and instrument of ones own superconscious mind which is always at one with the universe and its harmony but needs an ego free, well honed, well prepared and functional vehicle through which to function and to express the free flowing, adaptive, loving essence which is ultimate KI which is the ki of the galaxies and beyond.

Middle Way to Aikido

Did Buddha Practice Aikido?

Before you laugh or throw an equipoised temper tantrum tearing up your insides, consider this.

Every serious trainee knows that to overstate or understate a technique, indeed any move or flow, will diminish it, if not entirely negate its function. (Unless your partner jumps to fake ukemi but for purposes of this discussion let’s discount fakes.)

It is well known that Siddharta Gautama of the Sakya clan went on to become “Buddha.” But sometimes it is not as well known that he was a superlative warrior, highly trained in all the warrior arts of his day including sword, swimming, equitation, spear, archery, to name a few and that he was best at, of all things, horsemanship and wrestling. Both armed and unarmed.

Balance, ki no nagare and aiki foremost, are the paramount of these arts.

On that basis it could be safely assumed that his training in “the middle way” started long before going to ascetic extremes then finally deciding that equilibrium was preferred, then eating, bathing and sitting under a Bodhi tree to commune with the Universe.

Only to discover that indeed less is better but only when it is more than nothing. In other words, moderation achieving better results than force. To do only that which is needed and no more, is not only the essence of strategy, but has been a skill and survival principle since time immemorial propounded by a string of hunter gatherers and Buddhas who preceded Sakyamuni into the distant mist of pasts long forgotten. How many of these were peaceful warriors as well? Consider carefully: All of them!

Years upon years of practicing: “Too much; too little; just right and repeat,” must have made its mark.

What implication does this have for travellers on the Way or Do? Could it be that this is why Do is considered a path to that much loved and meaninglessly boastful term “enlightenment”?

Certainly the Way of Bu discounts artificial pedants with theoretical ideologies. If you block a punch with your face, you soon learn factually that such is not a good proposition. Hopefully then one begins to search for effective action responses which are at least compassionate to oneself before graduating and evolving to seek that for the attacker too, such as Aikido strives for. Strategic direct noticing.

Of course the risk of self-deception is ever present as a snare on the Way for all its travellers. But in the Ways of combat at least, blocking a punch with one’s face soon results in seeking a more efficacious methodology of relating with energy. And if not, and our hubris enables us to “train” our co-trainees to pull their punches, and we are just lucky, good fortune may serve to prevail with real circumstances outside the dojo which will soon divest the mind of self told and group told lies. If fortunate, and one survives, then the clarity of mind which results, may then serve to inspire one to conduct the research in the dojo with increasing context and honesty. To evade impact is far wiser.

This is good. The dispelling of self-deception is the only real enlightenment there can be. I remember many good years ago during a long meditation retreat I was fortunate to obtain an interview with the monk.

“I feel disillusioned,” I complained.

“Ahh, good, good, that is good,” he replied.

“What’s so damned good about it,“ I complained further.

“Well, we are here to discard illusion!”


“If you are disillusioned, you are making a start.”


“Less illusion, more enlightenment, now piss off you upstart, go sit some more, and don’t come here bothering me with crap,” he reprimanded.

I took the point and had a wretched time while all my worst fears emerged to the surface. Since none of them eventuated, I finally realised the best place for pus is out of the boil. Get it ripe and get it out quick before you get gangrene. Same with the mind.

The principle of: Too much, too little, just right and repeat, is as old as humankind. Indeed it often forms the basis of trial and error research in many fields. Children islanders learn to spear their first fish like this by about age three or so. Timing, spacing, awareness and intention are as perennial as the grass and sky. Fine tuning it through practice or letting it turn to rot through neglect is a choice we all make. And then we bear the consequences.

CHOICE, INTENTION AND PERCEPTION/AWARENESS – Our Navigating Tools and fine-tuning them.

In Aikido, all Budo for that matter, we exercise to fine tune our Ki and Zanshin.

In life, how hard and fast or slow you drive. How early or late you leave home, or do not, makes a difference.

Everything a human does is subject to choice and an equilibrium of possibilities. Balance in action.

We chose daily, moment to moment. And then we face the consequences of our choices. We learn from the result.

To move, to increase speed or slow down or add or subtract force; choice, perception and intention is required.

But before we can implement the previous, we have to negotiate existence as we know it, as we notice it and as we believe it to be, and adjust ourselves.

We have to learn to notice and to see more clearly.

In all things, not too little, not too much but just right, or, The Middle Way to Harmony.

Nirvana, on that basis is here, now and everywhere and not somewhere we “go” or purchase a vacation ticket by quoting or dressing just right to impress the neighbours, self abnegation or grovelling before a dead statue; but can only be attained by living equilibrium through ongoing practice.

It is here and now and we either tune into it, or tune out.

Practice: Too Little – Too Much – Adjust – Try Again – Just Right – Repeat… Find the BALANCE.

Practice never ends.

Faith – The Power Of Belief

“Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones.

What a man believes upon grossly insufficient evidence is an index into his desires — desires of which he himself is often unconscious.

If a man is offered a fact, which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it.

If, on the other hand, he is offered something, which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way.”

Bertrand Russell (05/18/1872 – 02/02/1970)
Philosopher, logician, and advocate for social reform.

Nev Sagiba


  1. Nev,
    I do read your blog on a regular basis. And let me say that:
    It’s been a long, long time since I read something so essential about what we do…

  2. bruce baker says:

    Yep … herein lie some secrets that only the older human being can understand because … the old become unencumbered by the chains of youth that bind body, mind and spirit.

    Only time and experience can reach the level where words are not just words, but an actual experience.

    A person of exceptional skills may or may not be able to instruct students to achieve exceptional skills. Each of us leaves a descriptive trail of words and instructions as to how we achieve our skill level, but how others are able to follow those instructions may or may not be the way or means for the average person to achieve an exceptional skill level.

    You must train and imprint memory, both muscle memory as well as thought memory, as well as a structure of movements, but then you must also learn to improvise upon the spur of the moment to adapt those structured movements so that you are now meeting the situation micro-second by micro-second instead of minute by minute … ah .. therein lies the secret of these words and comments that Nev Sagiba has written here.

    We are animals trying to be more than animals.

    We are dunces/ idiots who are trying to be scholars/ genius level thinkers.

    On one level it is more important to survive than how you get there, but on another level it is more important how you get there than if you survive.

    Yes … it is a puzzle beyond human comprehension, so we try to simplify it all within a social interaction of a physical practice that might make our minds and body reach beyond the mundane average capability of the average human being.

    My advice is to realize the many physical levels the human body is capable of attaining, and also capable of losing over time, as well as realizing the many levels of thought and perception of the world around you that the mind will attain and lose over time.

    Then … in a burst of creativity .. don’t give a tinker’s damn … and everything for that particular moment in time, for the age you are, and the person you are … will become clear for you are at that moment .. at least until it all goes away as the years tick slowly by.

    Yep, just do the best you can … cause … eventually your brain will be full of thoughts and experiences that make sense to you, and you will have to figure out how that is similar to what makes sense to all the other human animals around you.

    You know what is really disheartening? The fact you figure out what worked for what has already passed in years …. you then realize you have moved on to the future and what you have figured out is wrong for the future person you will be. This causes a continuing modification of what you know to fit the person you become as you live more and more years.

    (Simply put, look at the person you were in the years passed, and realize the changes to the person you will be in years to come.)

    So, your skills, your knowledge, your very thought processes must adapt and change to not only the changing world, but the changing you that you become as time goes by. Suddenly … all the words left by the great teachers will make sense, and even if you can’t be them, can’t do their exceptional skills or thinking … you will begin … to understand … why they left these words for you to follow, to figure out.

  3. Fun stuff. Once upon a time I read a piece, maybe in Scientific American, on ballistic movements. All of our natural movements, like walking, are ballistic. At some level there must be discrete neuro-muscular commands, but the overall effect is smooth and effortless because the commands are below the conscious, even subconscious, level. We learn to walk pretty young, but can learn other ballistic movements throughout life: throwing a ball, throwing uke… And the same mechanism always applies – practicing kata until the kata just happens.

    Once the kata happens, the mind gets carried along for the ride. It gets impressions along the way. Trying to teach kata from those impressions… There was a good line in the old movie “Harakiri” – ‘Learning to fight in a dojo, is like learning to swim on dry land.’ The impressions left in the mind may have other validity, to inform and perfect our Faith, perhaps. Without the absorbed kata the impressions may simply be delusions.

    Ah. Geese flying and talking with each other.

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