“Morihei Ueshiba Wasn’t “Doing Aikido”,” by Nev Sagiba

This may come as a surprise but Morihei Ueshiba never, “Did Aikido.” What he did “do” was to synchretise everything available, all Budo, to efficient action, the ergonomics of combat interaction, if you will. And to act appropriately for any given moment, no two moments being the same.

That he named this, “Aikido” following several other labels, takes nothing away from the sheer genius of his approach.

If we are going to do something, let’s do it well by taking away the forcing, the clumsiness and inefficient movement. This requires clarity. A great deal of it.

He found the commonality in many and varied “systems,” pared away the excrescences of form and effortful effort; and honed these in practice until noticeably efficient, primary characteristics stood out.

This work had already been begun by the exponents of the Daito-Ryu Aikijutsu and this is why the techniques revealed to him by Sokaku Takeda, “Opened his eyes to Budo.”

But this is nothing new since it is the adaptive principle of evolution itself that does this in nature and throughout the universe. Entropy forces adaptation that is more efficient than the previous expression.

When you are too tired to continue to get it wrong, you will let go, and begin to tend to get it right. This naturally follows periods of extremes and privation such as the attrition of the feudal system of Japan which saw many other jutsu’s evolve, among them the various but similar ju-jutsu’s. And I’m not talking about laying down to fight. That’s not jujutsu, but wrestling.

The “Ju” of the jutsu being the salient feature of any of the true “ju” jutsu’s. Hence ai-ki which defines “recoil” at a primordial level, but implies more at other levels.

I recall clearly when in the 60’s and 70’s, the dojo being full of young males, top heavy and strong and wasting energy, forcing things. Sensei and seniors more effortless in their practice. And much more efficacious as a result. From time to time Sensei would get us to jog to Moore Park, around it ten or so times, back to Pitt street, up several flights of stairs and then he would command: “One in the middle, five attack.” Believe me, we had to INVENT Aikido because we had nothing else left.

This is a concurrent scenario of the true battlefield where following periods of extreme privation, you are set upon and attacked, by newer, fresher, stronger and well rested opponents. Seldom less than two of them. Usually more.

You HAVE to find efficient ways, JU-jutsu, otherwise die by giving up mid fight. Or strive to use force you do not have, weakly. You have to find “soft” ways of getting result simply because you have nothing left wherewith to get in your own way.

And you can not afford to contend with the extra opponent: YOURSELF.

Getting out of your own way is what Aikido is all about. Coming to terms with yourself. At peace with yourself. In harmony with yourself.

Unless you first find all this IN YOURSELF, you can not expect to harmonize anything external. You have to HAVE the harmony before you can extend it. Hence the Way to the attaining of Aiki: Do: Regular training.

You have an opponent. Or more. Why then fight yourself as well? Let the opponent do all the work and HELP him express the intensity of his ki, but get out of the way and preserve your integrity in so doing.

Play acting is one thing but the real deal is something else altogether. Anyone can pretend to “harmonize” by colluding with a pretend opponent who then “sells” the techniques much like a conjurer’s assistant. By disingenuously jumping gratuitously. But this is not real magic. Merely deception.

Today, I see people “trying to “do” aikido.” Let me explain. “Trying” or striving will defeat you because you are using excess to get a result. Too much energy is self-defeating. By analogy, using a sledge hammer to drive in a tin-tack. Energy wasted that must be kept in centre to maintain balance in motion.

Even merely mimicking a conjurer is impossible unless you have, know and understand the props and how to work them. This is still not real but it looks good to those being deceived.

As for “do”ing. There is nothing to “do.” The opponent is doing the doing. All you need to “do” is to get out of the way in an effective manner. It is more akin to un-doing, such as in a ball of string. R-E-L-A-X! Herein the real magic and the real ki, the aiki, noticing that which is, as it is, in motion. And musubi, connectedness, essential to reconcile a dynamic accord.

“Aikido.” This is the biggest misnomer of them all. And “style.” There is no such thing as “aikido.” A mere label which imprisons the mind. Or frees it. Depending on you. And more so “style.” Your opinions about what you “think” is Aikido, count for nothing in the face of real and dynamic attack. That’s why so many people are falling into the trap of faking it. Faking it is a good method to teach beginners and warming up, but should not become a career move. Clayton’s Aikido is no Aikido at all.

(For non-pub crawlers, Clayton’s is a non alcoholic drink that looks like an alcoholic drink. I don’t know if it still exists. It was at one time advertised as, “The drink you have when you’re not having a drink.”) Clayton’s jujutsu and aikido are all too common in today’s worlds.

How many authentic fighting arts have all but disappeared and all that’s left are dances barely resembling anything but a dance. The dancers having forgotten the origins and real application.

Ueshiba’s Aikido, I refer to Morihei, was not Clayton’s, but the real thing. It was not his opinion about what he thought Aikido should be. Nor was it a collusive dance display. Rather, it was what worked best.

Why this? Because he had the courage to test in training. This entails the risk of failure and yet discovery.

He had no-one to impress and certainly was not trying to mimic anyone. Rather, ruthlessly honest research and development emerging from within, and this with a critical and questioning mind aforethought.

Such training brings forth the myriad possibilities of the real Aikido. The other stuff is just a nonsense.

Real aikido HARMONISES real conflict, real adversity and real attacks. If you can not harmonize a real attack, you do not have Aikido, merely lots of self- deception. Something Aikido exists to get rid of.

Ueshiba proposed the: “Learn and forget,” technique. What did he mean by this? He meant learn the basics well, very well. Then have the courage to throw them out. Yes, throw them out and use them as steppingstones, indeed springboards or launch pads to discovery through exploration by intuitively departing the basics. FEEL the technique! FEEL the exchange!

He did not mean go off and manufacture your own arbitrary “style.” The work had already been done for a thousand years or so. The basics already discovered and refined, he meant REFINE THEM FURTHER by training intelligently, thoughtfully, critically, diligently questioning and making them applicable to real attack and defence situations.

Come up with new challenges. AIKI THEM! Find the way to do so. Keep at it until you do. Then move on.

Then go back to basics before exploring again. If it is real, Aikido will defeat any attack from any method of fighting whatsoever, as well as random uncoordinated violence. If not, you are lost in opinions and “styles.”

Aikido could be defined as finding the effectiveness of effortless effort whilst under challenge.

The genius of Morihei Ueshiba was that, dissatisfied with the rough edges, he sought to continue to refine the techniques as well as the application.

The method was refinement. Ergonomics. Fine tuning. Clarifying. Efficiency. Economy of motion. By analogy what can take 200 pages of html can often be achieved in one line of php better. This requires firstly experience in practice, then understanding, then insight gained from lots of experimentation, trial and error, research and development. Questioning. Analysis. Critique. Healthy skepticism. Trial and testing. Editing. Evaluating and self-correcting. Repeated testing. Repeated self-correcting. Science.

The energy savings of such a method translates into immense gain. In daily life, you will need the gain of refined efficiency to handle challenges, but in the adversity of combat, or self-defence, more so. Much more so.

This way of training correctly is not “doing aikido” as such. Nor is it a mere idea you may have about what you think Aikido is, or should be, or could be, or may be.. nor is it some kind of fluffy and faked set of mimicked dance forms conducted as an end unto themselves and which go nowhere.

This IS Aikido.

Nev Sagiba


  1. I agree with most of what you are saying, but O’Sensei also said the it would be different for every person. So, yes he refined the process but it is still just his interpretation of the process. It is his personal perception, philosphy and physical interpretation of his own refinement. Therefore, why keep arguing what is and is not Aikido. Why keep trying to convince people of what it is and just know that for each person it will be a little different and because of this everyones expression of “Aikido” will always be diverse and veried and may not look the same. As AIkidoka we REALLY need to get beyond this pigeon holing of our art and just train and not worry about who thinks this or that or because so and so says its right or not Aikido is garbage. JUST TRAIN and YOUR aikido will come out.

  2. Very well explained article. I love the part about not adding YOURSELF as one of your opponents.
    This article does seem to be aimed at a higher level of aikido experience and understanding. A distinction has to be understood between “deception” or “faking it”, and “learn the basics well, very well”. Don’t think that AIKI appears in any lasting way just because you think it should. There can be years of unconnected, ineffectual moves before AIKI appears. Thats not faking it, thats just work. The article implies that you discern enough to not confuse the two.
    True AIKI is on another quantum level altogether: always there, permeating everything, but rare to exist on.
    If you’re new to this game, hang in there. Even the glimpses of it are worth the price of admission.

  3. The title of your article is the misnomer, for if Aikido is true harmonizing with one’s present realities then how could O’Sensei not have been doing Aikido?
    His “Do” was always about “Aiki”.
    From entropic forces, to Moore Park, to Clayton’s Aikido, back to Ueshiba made your article a little difficult to follow.
    If you were criticizing how far removed today’s Aikido basically is to O’Sensei’s art, then that is the dilemma that all martial arts styles face, which is that the Great Masters took “it” with them.
    It is inevitable that only the Tip of the Iceberg is all that is ever left to those that will carry on the way.
    Unfortunately there are those who believe “The Tip” to be “The Way” which is the point I believe you were making.
    Personally, I believe the rest of the Iceberg can be found in the essential message that martial arts masters in general have always made to their students which is to master one’s self.

  4. The good teacher will trick you into discovering the highest levels because he or she has experienced them. The poor teacher simply opens up a textbook and asks you to blindly recite or repeat an action.
    The good teacher can demonstrate by example and should be able to simulate elements of a battlefield safely to enable you to access the aiki that already pre-exists here and now, in and all around you, since the “far away” one does not exist and is a trick of the mind to avoid the pain of change.
    Most people nowadays do not really train. They scratch around the surface fearful to change and fearful of sweat and fearful of going through fatigue barriers and fearful of upsetting their teachers ‘page in a book’ and finding the real thing they already have and contain all along.
    Most people today are akin to the beggar who inherited they key to a treasure repository and sat outside the door begging because he did not understand what the key was for, and that he was in fact richer than the people offering him alms.
    “Aikido” is just a word.
    Talking of icebergs, it took a very small hole to sink the Titanic. The total area of the total area of the six gashes in the Titanic’s hull was about 1.1 square metres.
    By comparison, the Titanic’s dimensions were:
    Tonnage: 46,328 gross register tons (GRT)
    Displacement: 52,310 tons
    Length: 882 ft 9 in (269.1 m)
    Beam: 92 ft 0 in (28.0 m)
    Height: 175 ft (53.3 m) (Keel to top of funnels)
    Draught: 34 ft 7 in (10.5 m)
    Depth: 64 ft 6 in (19.7 m)
    All up, what sunk the Titanic? A concatenation of complacency, forgivingly relabeled “human error.” In short, cheating combined with laziness. Hubris because of the size and luxury. Laziness in prioritizing, e.g., the numerous radio iceberg warnings which were either ignored or set aside, rather the radio operator catering to the idle whims of rank and money. Also short cutting and using poor quality metal in a rushed construction. And a long list of other “errors.”
    My point?
    The iceberg was a perfect iceberg and was minding its own business, being an iceberg in full accord with all the principles of being an iceberg. It did what it was meant to do; float in the ocean.
    The Titanic was not a perfect ship, manned by less than perfect crew with a broken chain of command following or ignoring faulty procedures, built knowingly less than perfect by cheats and so and so on.
    Nowadays many lessons have been extracted from the Titanic experience and whilst many of today’s ocean liners are much larger (up to more than three times the tonnage), the mistakes of construction, procedure, prioritizing, discipline etc., have been duly corrected for fear of a repeat. It was rediscovered that profit and economy is better served by doing things properly from the outset, than by taking short cuts which will cost more later in the aftermath of disaster.
    The aiki of a small hole sinking a large ship should be obvious.
    The aiki of learning from mistakes more so.
    You cannot learn anything “conveniently.”
    Particularly Aikido which is the skill of making the inconvenient become not only accommodated, but also extracting its value.
    Aikido will always evolve and continue to do so.
    Real necessity will press out a higher quality aiki.
    In the end it is up to the individual, as you have all correctly pointed out, each in your own way.

  5. From what I see around me in some of the centers I have visited, I would agree that a lot of people don’t “train” well. Some have a true desire to train but the teacher they have found may not be the most competent and thus they are given a set movements to follow. The student does the best they can with what they are given.

    The student is a reflection of the teacher.

    I have been amazed to go to visit some centers to train and find out the sensei demonstrating the technique for us to work on really did not understand the point of what it was we were doing. This demonstrated by the comment whilst demonstrating “I think the purpose of this technique is..”

    I have found over time that I have been “forgetting” the techniques. When it comes to jiyuwaza, often times what works best comes up and new throws happen due to the necessity of the moment. Thinking stops in those moments – taking care of uke and myself are more important than some laid out set of movements. Flow happens. What may begin as an ikkyo may or may not develop into something completely different – something unrehearsed – due to the necessity of the moment, the layout, the physical space and the approximation of other ukes in my vicinity.

    Do I “really” train? I don’t know. I do want to “really” train. I sometimes “think” I’m being more serious than some of my colleagues. But these are mere thoughts and not reality necessarily.

    Whilst I wish to “really” train, my circumstances provide me what I have at hand. I can afford tuition at one dojo with an excellent teacher and it’s my responsibility to “really” train.

    “Aikido” is not so much a word as it is a phrase of three kanji characters of “Ai” “Ki” “Do” that have their own story each combined to give an idea at best of what “Aikido” is or is not. But “Aikido” isn’t even a word.

    In letting go of the ever persistent “I” into the void, “mu” (as in mushin) if you will – the word or phrase “Aikido” ceases to exist – as does much else. At this point of letting go Aikido, happens and is not “done.”

    Thank you for the thought provoking article.

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