“A Thousand Falls,” by Nev Sagiba

In the equestrian world it used to be a common saying, “Not until you’ve had a hundred falls will you become a rider.”

Falling successfully is part of riding. Horses are more deadly than any “mushal art.” Many times over.

The ancients were horse men. Those warriors were real, not imaginary. Death happens only once in a lifetime.

You get one chance to get it wrong.

It’s all become a surface thing. Riders, budoka, and other arts. The majority merely want to show off. A fantasy.

As Budoka, there is no place for fear of failure. This fear will precipitate the very failure. In training however, failure is the beginning of the real treasure, the learning curve.

The learning curve is the key to the universe and its secrets which are openly in and all around you. But to which we are all blind until we begin to make the measure of them by meeting possibilities front on.

Ukemi is everything. Without it, your fall, when it comes, will be a big one.

I was recently having a conversation with a world-class equestrienne. She confided that in her youth she would deliberately take a dive off her horse so she could learn to fall safely better.

My hair stood on end with admiration. I thought I was alone in this madness, but I had the previous benefit of ukemi training! She learned it that way!

The real enemy, what gets you hurt, is fear and self-doubt. Lack of zanshin, ki and kokoro, things not learned in an armchair.

I also recall many years ago, after a long period of hard, long work and of necessity, an extended break from dojo training, standing there, not on a horse, just standing and looking at the floor in fear, thinking how far it was. From my head. Where all the ideas of failure live.

The mind playing tricks.

The cure? Take ukemi. So I did and the “big monster” died the death as training resumed.

In the course of a budoka’s life, how many ukemi does one practice? What you do often you get good at.

How many times have ukemi saved you in a real and dangerous situation? There are numerous stories of trainees returning to thank a teacher for ukemi training.

A thousand ukemi are the entry fee, a mere beginning which opens the door to a vast universe of possibilities that literally do not end.

When you no longer fear falling, you stand better, ride better, fire arrows better, wield a sword better, cook better, sweep a floor better and live life better, able to look anyone in the eye with the knowledge that he will not cross the line. Not on your watch.

And if he does, it’s over before it has begun.

Life is a goldmine of experience which when embraced yields its gems. But not in the stars, not yet. For as long as our feet touch the ground they cannot be reached. To gather precious stones, indeed to dive for pearls of wisdom, we need to know that it’s OK to get down low, with the knowledge that we are able to rise again.

This enables you to take charge of life, no matter the details unique to your journey.

This is the Aikido of Morihei Ueshiba, the Aiki O’Kami and the Universe, and it can be yours too.

The secret?

Train, breathe, extend your ki, be balanced, conscious and live so as that you can be proud of your existence and walk tall.

Be yourself and proud of it.

Then a fall will be nothing you can’t get up from and resume life, battle or whatever is the dance of the moment.

Nev Sagiba


  1. I have come to love (most) horses. Most horses, like dogs, are thoroughly used to and like people. Understanding them is to gain another perspective on their life. ‘The world is a salad bar. People can come along for the ride. If you think the people is not too dumb, do what they suggest. BUT job number one is staying with the string. If they ARE too dumb, don’t do anything they want. Life is better at the barn. If they’re obnoxious, show ’em you’re bigger and just as rasty as they are: bronco up! If, though, they’re nice and you think they can handle it, maybe you can take ’em for a nice little run. It’s really upsetting when they fall off…’

  2. Nice article and excusing the pun ”hit it right on the head”.
    I like everyone that has ever stepped on a mat was fine until no longer standing and the mat was trying to hurt me. My first Aikido Sensei, Moylan said ”make friends with the mat” but I just put it down to he was a little strange and had no intention of doing anything with the mat only moving on it. The other martial arts had not prepared me for what I saw at the time was throwing myself. Asked myself many times was I mad to be even trying this.
    Before I knew and understood what ukemi was it was just something to get out of the way while waiting for the REAL AIKIDO to happen. After many many months and lots of headaches from hitting my ”friend” with my head I slowly began to work out that there was much more to Aikido than just doing things to someone. Through many more and often painful falls I began to make friends with the mat- had to as it would have killed me otherwise.
    I still struggle with ”my friend” but 1000s of falls later he no longer wants to hurt me.
    Almost 10 years since hearing ”make friends with the mat” I now pass this on to new students and see the same reaction in their eyes that I had so being ”a little strange” is ok! It will be their turn 1000s of falls later.

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