“The Paradoxes of Aikido Training,” by Nev Sagiba

“If you’ve been hit, you know what it feels like. No academic theories
can infest the mind of one who knows from direct experience”

Aikido is a study in the harmonising of the discordant. This itself is not a paradox. It makes good sense.

In its implementation, however, we come across certain problems.

At a physical level, apparently good people are often incapable of simulating a serious attack. Being most often reasonable people, having grown in reasonably comfortable situations, such people lack insight into the nature of evil as would mount a real and deadly attack.

This is not to say, however, that such individuals are saints or anything like that. Merely paralyzed in the ways of interpersonal physical survival, much as that of a child who has grown up overly shielded from life in a monastery and who lacks a certain degree of street sense.

Within this naivety, sometimes a greater evil than physical attack often emerges through that of underhanded organizational politics that can destroy good structures.

Often a good dojo under the tutelage of a talented teacher, who whilst not necessarily a master, has a few years on those he teaches and thereby something useful to impart. Such a teacher will be ousted, by way of the political machinations, a tool of the weak and cowardly hubristic dunderheads, who then implement their takeover bid. This usually destroys a dojo within six months. I’ve seen it often in budo and other organisations. It is a cancer of the mind, which when combined with greed, brings about such all-lose scenarios.

Not all attacks are physical.

Some considerable years ago, such a bid was mounted upon my dojo. It was an educational experience. Fortuitously, the nature of battle being as it is, I took it as my training and let the morally weak go to the alternative that was seductively being offered. Predictably, it collapsed within half a year. Free will is such a good thing. They screened themselves and stopped wasting valuable dojo time. I would not have it any other way.

One new student arrived and we rebuilt from there. This opened up the way for a new influx of the best and most dedicated Aikido students I have had the privilege of knowing in over 40 years. Being a traditional dojo, money is not a goal and looking back, it was also one of the most educational experiences, getting this first hand. However I must add, I cheated. I had prior experience dealing with similar issues in other organizations and had also witnessed it happening in organizations I was not directly involved. This illness seems more common than the flu. Incompetent fools seeking positions of power above their station and capability seems to be everywhere. It only achieves harm.

These insignificants invariably find their level along with anyone fool enough to be hypnotized and follow them to their folly. Fools and their money, as the old saying goes, are soon parted. It does raise concern that in other cases, some people can remain deceived for long periods of time, staying on a path of self-deception. But there is nothing one can do, other than watch, observe, notice and perhaps offer a prayer for their enlightenment, which invariably comes in some form or another.

Discussions about inept, psychiatrically damaged power seeking political players who ruin good structures, however, is not the point of this discourse.

The point of this essay is that of poor or insufficient physical attacks in dojo training.

Poor attacks result in poor Aikido and a decline in the art. If not in the artistic appearance, then certainly in the understanding of it and its effective deployment at times of dire necessity.

Good people need to learn to mount a proper challenge in order to squeeze the juice out of Aikido training and actually find the AIKI latent within strong energy exchanges. If there is no attrition to harmonize there can be no real Aikido. Merely a weird and meaningless cooperative dance of some kind.

To learn to harmonize a challenge we require a meaningful challenge duly modulated within the ability of the persons practicing. This is to say, uke does nage no favours by flinging himself gratuitously when a technique has evidently failed in its substance and purpose. And uke does nage the best favours when he makes him or her WORK!

This is how we help each other learn and grow in Budo. Especially Aiki Budo. We provide a viable challenge which is then worked until it is harmonized by authentic AIKI. Not faked.

Observable is the fact that those who come to Aikido from a background of either karate, jujutsu, judo or some form of weaponry, tend to fare much better. In other words, there can be no doubt that eclectic riai will clarify your understanding and can augment your aiki skills.

Let me explain. If you’ve been hit, you know what it feels like. No academic theories can infest the mind of one who knows from direct experience. Especially regarding strong pain. If you’ve been submitted with either kansetsu or sustained a fractured bone, strangled out, or smothered within an inch of your life, you have first hand experience in getting closer to the reality of the violence that we of Aikido are striving towards harmonizing.

If you’ve been attacked with weapons and survived, you develop a deep understanding that neither Budo, nor real violence is either a game or a toy to be taken lightly.

Such potentially deadly experiences are obviously best addressed in the dojo, where you can safely tap out and which is, or should be, supervised by a facilitator whose prime motives are improvement for all concerned, with safety paramount.

Sloppy, often unsafe attacks are not part of Aikido, and yet they are far too common. Nor are disrespectfully harmful ones of any kind. In reality, in what appears a paradox, often the hardest/strongest attacks are the easiest to disarm and the sneakiest/unobtrusive by far more dangerous. Something to watch out for.

In training, an essential skill is that of modulating ki to adapt to all variables. For example, the reasonable person tones down to train with beginners, old people and children, then modulates back up to pound the mats in multiple attacks with youthful seniors in their prime.

This too, is part of a package of possibilities that make us better as individuals and help others to also improve in the ways of addressing, responding and profiting from challenges.

Eclectic variables are an essential to training. You can’t say to a real attacker: “Sorry, I can’t defend myself against you today because you are using this or that and I’m not trained in this or that, so I refuse to address the issue of my life and safety. And no surprises, please, I’m accustomed to 6 weeks notice in writing in triplicate on the proper form..” After you drop him with laughter, he will then hurt you in the way that you’ve neglected to train. On this basis Aikido is, and must be embracing of all training methodologies because it innately contains the methods and principles that can harmonize, or teach you to harmonize anything at all, even a Sherman Tank if the necessity should arise.



THIS, is what Aikido, if practiced properly should be imparting. The ABILITY TO RESPOND!

Attackers are never reasonable. If they were they would not be attacking in the first place! So attempting to appeal to reason, with the mad, has little prospect.

Aikido is a state of mind and a strategic, skillful means which whilst most useful in navigating daily life gently and with a smile, can also be unleashed in high risk situations as revealed by security operatives in the field, who adapt training to reality instead of cosy suburban office fantasy.

The other paradox in all this is that whilst striving to maintain integrity and efficaciousness in our training, it must be kept respectful and safe at all times.

This is best embodied in Aikido in that we study the flows of physics, primarily in relation to kuzushi (this for good reason) and leave out, but notice, dangerous other possibilities of survival necessity which can break, impact or cause harm.

A word of caution. Never attack harder or faster than you can absorb the recoil of a properly effected AIKI. You may injure yourself. This is probably why life-long sedentary workers do in fact practice fake-kido as they could not take a serious ukemi recoil. I suppose a little bit of something is better than nothing.

Sometimes the collusional fake dancers, masters in the ways of deception of self and others, can be most dangerous in this way in their use of underhanded, sly means wrongfully misused in training. Although such as these are useless in the street, or service in the field as protectors, they are often seen to be misusing the dojo setting to gratuitously cause harm. Such individuals are lower than common criminals, who at least admit who they are openly, whereas dojo abusers abuse a trust which would not be otherwise offered. My advice is: Refuse to train with these idiots unless you are sufficiently skilled to mete out their own medicine to them so they can start to learn from empathy. Nobody needs injuries which can chronically compromise the remainder of a life.

Finally, the endless nuances of strategic skill that regular Aikido training unlocks are most useful in all spheres of life, both to identify risk and also to deploy responses. Of course each individual’s path is unique and that must be honoured and respected as we can all learn from each other. And thereby improve our conscious awareness and navigation of life skills thereby.

The path of harmonising intention and activity is a great gift to the world, which in my opinion as a result of the proven skills arising therefrom, Aikido deserves to be noticed as a critical life navigation practice deserving of attention, development and worthy of being embraced as a global heritage of great worth. Whilst perhaps it is still a new paradigm of understanding for most of the 7 billion or so human occupants of this planet, it can and will, in the course of time, contribute to making life on earth and that of all human beings, at least that one step up or so better than things appears to be right now.

On the Do of Aiki you will meet many paradoxes.

In their reconciling, you will learn much about generating dynamic harmony in the face of conflict and its best implementation into the world. This in the best possible way that exists to do so. By whole person testing, which enables innate practical wisdom to emerge from within.

May it be a fruitful journey for you.

Nev Sagiba


  1. I’m just passing through and don’t have the time to read all of it in its entirety, but just to get off one point.

    Emphasizing the ability to respond can be attached to any – if not all – martial arts. My question to you is, in your opinion, what separates Aikido from other martial arts?

  2. Truly a great piece of writing. Thank you!

  3. Nev,

    Thanks for posting this

    I see parallels of your entry with my own experience both in training and organizational behaviour.

    Each time I/we try to experiment with better ways of conveying the purpose of training as well as improving the organization

    Ain’t easy… It’s a learning process…



  4. Such a great message with clarity..working through paradoxes is the grist for creativity and the best way to approach and mitigate the always present conflicts of life..the aesthetic consequence is a blending of mind and body that has far reaching reaching influences for one self,interpersonally, culturally and beyond!!

  5. As the years pass, perhaps many find they outgrow training methods, training partners, dojo, dojo they started, teachers and organisations. Maybe it’s the nature of a journey along the path to leave the spectators behind, farewell old friends who decide to stay put or turn back, or just take a different fork in the road as we plod along. Whatever the case it’s good to hear from fellow travellers, as in our local endeavors, it’s increasingly few that it can be shared with. To hear similar experiences is at once heartening, yet sad all the same to hear of the same troubles. Many thanks, Nev

  6. Thank you everyone for the great responses showing a commonality of experience and depth of insight in the great evolution which is Aikido.

    To JoAA, when you get time, please finish reading the article. It may help answer your question as the remainder of the article somewhat touches on this.

    In short: There is a difference between response and reaction.

    This determines the nature of outcomes sought, whether destructive, or the minimising of harm. Response is measured and patient, and strives for lucidity in understanding causes and effects as a science. Response takes the time to pay attention to details, prepare, complete what one has begun, learn from mistakes etc., all things that come out of Aikido practice.

    Reaction on the other hand tends to blind impatient, misses parts and shooting from the hip, tends to walk into escalation of discord.

    We already know how to react. That’s inbuilt in the old operating system of our genetic several million years evolution.

    Response comes from the future and is empowered by the attribute of predictability. We gain this in the mill-press of the dojo, working variables, gaining experience safely and learning from mistakes safely as well as experiencing the occasional “ideal” technique.

    As the founder proposed, Aikido is not separate but: “Leads things to completion.”

    The distinction, if there is one, is in that of maturing the attitudes beyond that of conflicting better, into transcending conflict by reconciliation of energies. It is a different type of response with a different intended outcome. Creation and healing of attitudes, instead of mere vengeance breeding more vengeance. A vital distinction in the long term consequential outcomes.

    By educating ourselves to a higher paradigm, we hopefully also enable others to rise above the vestigial Neanderthal that still dominates some people’s minds.

    So I would say in the desire to reconcile differences instead of setting them against each other into conflict, we all emerge the better for it. Once the founder tweaked this and made it possible in his living example, the aikijutsu transmogrified and became Aikido.

    It must be noted also that nothing has entirely arrived. At the end he also made the request “Please continue my research on this great Way…”

    And so we do.

    Another paradox is that the best inventions usually emerge during wars. So also conflict can bring out the best of an individual in many cases, instead of the worst. Predictability being 99% of taking charge of anything in life including combat situations; the non contending approach of Aikido has immense merit. The research and discovery method of dojo training predominant in Aikido, helps to develop foresight, therefore navigation skills.
    Armed with forward viewing clarity, we can often minimise aggression, conflict that invariably follows with degradation that the manufacturing of suffering, such as in war, always brings.
    (Look at the present global economy which is directly affecting you now because you supported, whether by tacitness or compliance, in needlessly manufactured aggression which cost trillions. The fallout of bad management is simple cause and effect. The laws of the universe in operation. This applies exactingly whether in the home, community, national or global.)

    As a humanity, it is time overdue that we start becoming cognizant of how to consciously produce all-win possibilities rather that the all-lose scenarios that are the result of blind arrogance. It behooves us to start learning from mistakes instead of repeating them. There are endless possibilities awaiting the mind open to discovery.

    Aikido helps us learn the obvious. That alleviation of suffering is better in the long term than adding to it.

    Thank you all for your participation. :)

  7. Surely, instructors have to train their students for real. In fact, we do not want to end up acting on the dojo. Unluckily, acting is very present in many dojos all over the globe. It is a martial spirit that should rein over the dojo.Let’s be real. Attack for real. Work for real.

  8. Thanks for this genuine aspect of real Aikido. This touches me deep in some aspect. One practical question: if you are training in the dojo with a hard uke partner, that does not respect your level and in the border line of causing you some injuries. And one day and another. Then, if you feel that you could be damaged, then the question is: if you trust your master, and your master is conscious of that, should you keep going on with that, respecting sensei’s decision to allow that behaviour? Or could you keep away from that partner refusing practising with him and waiting alone with respect, till there is a change of exercise and switching partners?

  9. Thank you very much for this. Paradox is a wonderful definition/explanation for “honest attack”. Some people think you’re nuts when you use this term. Dishonest attack is also a paradox when uke knows what you plan and starts moving with you as soon as you start to move to a safe position to respond from or disengage. We have such a person in the dojo now and the spirit of practice suffers greatly.

  10. Keith E. McInnis says:

    On the subject of honest attack this excerpt from an Aikido Journal article by Mr. Pranin seems quite appropriate:

    There is an incident recorded in 1941 where Morihei gave a special demonstration in front of members of the royal family. He was very ill with jaundice but nonetheless gave a lengthy exhibition of his skills. One of his uke, Tsutomu Yukawa, purposely attacked Ueshiba rather meekly in deference to his weak condition. Morihei became upset and threw him very hard right at the beginning of his performance.

  11. Such a true article distilling the spirits of life.. I hope you don’t mind me twitting it..

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