“The Science of Interception” by Nev Sagiba

Pat Hendricks Sensei of Aikido of San Leandro executes iriminage

“Aikido is all about attack. But it is about correct attack:
Attack by interception.”

The whole of Aikido is interception and the follow up of interception. The forms and flow follow the intercept. Certainly, in order to teach beginners we strive to inculcate some forms, but without understanding the principle of interception and its function there can be no Aikido, or anything meaningful. Form without interception is but a dance.

I recall the magnificent Saito Sensei poking fun at “the dancers” and constantly referring to what Ueshiba Morihei taught him with a gentle urgency that suggested the importance of never forgetting the vital principles of Aikido he would expound.

The very few times I met Mr. Saito I was measurably impressed by the quiet depth of precision in his teaching.

Interception relies on the proper understanding of maai and deai.

There are identifiable steps in the process of intercepting an attack.

The desire to attack itself and to cause harm, comes from a predatorial warp of consciousness, an imbalance that believes the so called “silver rule” as some call it, is to “get them before they get you, just in case they might want to.” It is a left-over from the less than mythical bygone ages of ancestral cannibalism based on paranoia. It is most often in error, and by initiating aggression preemptively, in fact crosses the line that determines criminal activity.

The jails are full of people unskilled in timing for authentic defense. In short, that of pre-emptive aggression. The rest often find their way into politics or other positions where they can abuse the illusion of power they like to imagine they have. Either way, this is the path of the sociopath who leaves a swathe of suffering in the world.

Not so long ago such sociopaths in positions of responsibility following the cruelest of torture then burnt their victims alive, usually the most defenseless, these being old ladies, in the superstitious dread of witchcraft. And also to silence them about the atrocities committed to their person. Somebody’s harmless, cranky grandmother unjustly disposed of because of a mental disease which includes irrational fear of the not understood or the misunderstood and the natural aging process which produces wrinkles. Or because they learnt to read, thought the world was round instead of flat, and used herbal remedies. The world has been full of such unbelievably insane injustices.

Initiation of violence, attacking because of an unfounded fear based “belief” is not defence. It is the mental illness that initiates offense and criminal activity that invites reprisals.

Sitting back and accepting a criminal act, or witnessing it silently and flaccidly, is equally as culpable as conducting it. We are familiar with the saying: ”All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)

Doing nothing in the face of attack is not useful. That’s simply commonsense.

What can be done?

There are natural laws as old as the universe that dictate and overrule all of human laws and yet support the just ones. These are well understood by animals when it comes to the morality of defense. An imagination about others is not sufficient reason to do harm. It may be OK for predators in the natural world to occasionally so err, but is below human behaviour.

What is appropriate?

The ascertainment of real intent to attack by the attacker, determines right action in the defender. The instant real intent is determined, you can attack. Let me disillusion you. Aikido is all about attack. But it is about correct attack: Attack by interception.

Why so? Because standing waiting is suicide and you will be overwhelmed.

Irimi-tenkan or taisabaki is as old as battle. That’s what clashing galaxies do, water over rocks, lava flows, wind through trees, waves crashing on the shore and everything in the universe is a spiral preceded by a direct penetrating attack, Even sperm attack, fight wars against invading sperm, as in the case of infidelity. When one succeeds to penetrate the ovum, the ovum shell immediately becomes hard as the ovum begins to revolve as a result of the action of the other sperm. Without that revolving action no conception will occur! Irimi followed by tenkan is everywhere.

Everything in nature’s creative and protective processes is based on the principle of correct interception, irimitenkan. If you don’t believe me, do your own research then report back.

The vital factor in interception is range, distance or spacing. Maai. Timing, deai is the natural result of aware action.

Proper timing comes from repetition, be this as daily in training drills, or as in nature and necessity over millions of years.

Fire safety related to forests is similar to that of war invasion. It is based on either leaving VERY early, weeks before. Or staying there and bunking down into a PROPERLY CONSTRUCTED edifice. This is followed by minimal essential actions after the fire has passed. It is not possible to in fact “fight” such fires, but it is very possible to manage them; especially prior to the event. To properly construct, manage and control, you have to understand how fire works. So also to properly defend, you must know how violence works. This relies on practice in training and experience in the field. Not fanciful theories, myths or superstitious thinking, but hard science.

Ballet is nice, but it is not Budo of any kind, shape or form.

The other essential element is energy. Good, efficient combat is economical. For example, a true shooter waits until the enemy with the ascertained intent is in range. This way he does not waste limited resources and also does not reveal his position.

In principle, close quarters combat is no different to that of the marksman. There is a line. Until the line is crossed with intent of attacking by the attacker, there is nothing to do, indeed nothing useful that can be done without exposing your position, thereby undermining your advantage. Indeed this can cost your life.

Once the line is crossed by the intending attacker, your attack will be an interception, but only if you know how to follow it up and finish correctly.

Simplicity which requires serious practice.

To be successful in intercepting anything, you must understand the best mode of operation to bring the clash of energies to a close quickly following initial contact.

To achieve this you must overcome irrational, instinctive fears, which could cause incorrect action, such as stepping backwards, or a desire to leave in the midst of engagement. Such errors lead to the rout, which is inevitably suicidal.

Proper skill can only arise through experience in regular drills, researching and refining best practice technique.

Once engagement with an attacker becomes inevitable as a result of closed distance, it is then too late to run with any measure of safety.

You must enter in order to survive. Other alternatives are extremely risky and carry very low chances of success.

There is a correct way to enter and various unsafe ways. Randomly entering unconsciously, too eagerly or too late, with unfavorable timing, or with an attitude that it’s just a contest, is mostly fatal.

You must know and control the timing.

Best time for entering is determined by the attack. When the attacker’s mind and action is fully committed, he can no longer change his mind. He is also tracked into a predictable path. The instant he enters your maai is the time to intercept.

Of course, regarding details, you will have to adapt to the uniqueness of each individual circumstance.

This can be best tested with kendo armor and shinai, and is applicable in Aikijutsu training as well as Riai.

Whether to deal with fire, floods, tsunamis, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes or any other natural or man made disaster, it is a paramount requirement to understand the prevailing predispositions, to know what can be done, to know what cannot be done, to understand the difference; and to be enabled to act decisively, immediately it becomes expedient to do so with maximized relative safety.

Every second lost is increased risk.

Regular scenario based training drills simulating the real experience, provide predictability. Predicatively provides the edge, often ever so fine, yet vital to make the difference between survival and failure.

Every second counts.

Above all, interception requires Zanshin, a sharpened, relaxed awareness and a connected (ki no musubi) understanding in the NOW.

Not merely thoughts about ideas about NOW, but fully present in the moment as it happens. BEING TOTALLY NOW.

This too comes from practice and will augment fine-tuned interception that restores harmony and protects life.

Regular training drills enable you to notice in-between the frames, the little things the average person will miss, but which speak volumes to the properly trained mind with lucid perception.

Fire danger, natural emergencies and violence have many commonalities. Not in the least that they have a beginning, an escalation and a decline. And a limited fuel or energy that supports the transpiring of the event. No truly professional firefighter attempts to evaluate a situation based on remote information from a call received. It is the duty of the responsible and competent true professional, to duly turn out and take a first hand measure of a situation, assessing the real risks correctly prior to determining action. A report is merely gossip until evidence to the contrary is proven first hand. Until the time that is clear, the true professional will err on the side of caution and thereby prevent serious consequences, instead of remotely making comfortably unfounded, sight-unseen guesses either away. Even the least call is treated as a high risk until found to be otherwise by knowing all the factors involved first hand. This carries the unavoidable requirement of being present at the scene of the event. Until proven a false alarm or otherwise, you leave the fire station prepared for action.

So also other methods of interception. Assume nothing. Notice the predispositions as revealed by the actual indicators of imminent emergency or violence. Immediately ascertain the real facts. Act accordingly as required by being mentally ahead of the game.

The power of interception resides in it being effected as early as it is possible to do so, which is immediately before the actual threat is clear and evident.

“How can you tell that is the case”?” is a question raised by the incompetent, the untrained and the lazy.

The true warrior, because of training: KNOWS. And this without error because he understands clearly defined, identifiable markers or indicators and their sequences.

Ki no musubi. At all times there is a relationship in place. Accepting this fact empowers you. Once the opponent arms with intent, the relationship of appeasement can no longer take root. It has died and the relationship of engagement having ignited, can only be honored with immediate entry. Interception followed by ki no nagare, harmonized by way of takemusubi aiki.

The best interceptions are: a) Upon arming by the attacker prior to launch; b) At the moment of launch; c) In the immediate close moments following the launch of the attack when the attacker is irreversibly committed to the attack. After that it is difficult to call it either a real interception, or aiki of any kind. Rather, merely catch-up.

In Aikido practice you must make it your business to know where the line exists, to be clear about maai and deai and understand clearly if and when to enter and intercept the imminent attack.

If you don’t, you are merely doing ballet.

Nev Sagiba


  1. Would never want to speak badly of ballet. I love the choreographed fencing in Romeo and Juliet, for that matter.

    And we are so fortunate that Saito Sensei had the humility to teach basics. There are a myriad of short techniques in each of the named or numbered forms. If you don’t learn the forms correctly, though, they won’t come to you or work for you.

  2. Ballet is great, as ballet, since the purpose of ballet is – Ballet.
    Aikido, Aikijustu, Aikibudo or any other Budo, by definition, has the purpose of stopping arms, or violence.
    The distinction?
    Ballet is cooperative to the nth degree of skill because all participants intend it to be so.
    Attackers don’t cooperate, they seek contention, the very opposite.
    You can’t do ballet with an attacker.
    You must intercept in order to be able to harmonize effectively.
    Before you can harmonize conflict you must understand how to capture the advantage.
    Otherwise you will likely get pulped.
    Interception captures the advantage.
    You must therefore train to intercept and not as balletic confluences.
    In other words Ai-kido and not ballet-kido
    That’s the difference between highly skilled eye candy and the viable functionality which makes budo Budo.

  3. The distinction that separates Odori from Budo is intent and the capturing of a few fractions of a second.

    We have to decide which we are practicing, aiki odori or Aiki Budo.

    This leaves sincere trainees no alternative than to awaken perception and further fine tune skill.

    Otherwise we dance on blindly not knowing what we do.

  4. It’s clearly the attacker’s intention that is the cause of his downfall as in aikido. We do not attack but purely change the moment.

  5. Phil,
    Which movement? Nice simplistic theory, now put into practice with a boxer, fencer, MMA, wrestler, muay tai, whatever. You will not be able to change “the movement” because you will not see it coming. Then feedback honestly. When you recover, re-evaluate and see what you come up with. That’s the whole point. Fighters do not TELEGRAPH IN SLOW MOTION as do dance-kidoists. Aikido is attack. Talk’s cheap. Put your theory into practice and find out some facts the hard way. Try not to get hurt on the way. Then watch videos by Ueshiba Morihei, Saito Morihiro, Shioda Gozo, Nishio Shoji and watch their FEET.
    Good Luck.

    • Alex Rusinko says:

      I call the dance-kidoists. Aiki – aerobics, totally agree with you in a way. I believe aikido is the most offensive defensive martial art out there. We move in that slight gap before the intention becomes physical action.

  6. Change the “moment.” YES!

  7. Interception is just walking and keep walking. The process is communication even though we call it an attack & like a handshake you move forward to greet the hand without conflict. The key is to change the angle and not come straight into the force because then the strongest person wins or in the case of the handshake the hands will not line up properly. There is a story of O’sensei walking home after teaching a class of soldiers. They decided to test him by ambushing him on the way. They jumped out of the bushes and attacked with wooden weapons. He moved through them and went on his way. Years later one of the then ex-soldiers met up with O’sensei and apologized for the incident. O’sensei said something to the effect of “It’s okay I was just walking and kept on walking.”

  8. Did he cover up, or block with his face or something? Given that it can sometimes be possible to walk through a mildly irritated crowd and that they will entangle with each other and you can indeed “walk through them,” SOMETIMES.
    But is this yet another out of context tale half told? What I heard is that he gave them a well deserved thrashing, albeit with due restraint when they backed off. Which tale is true?
    Ever tried “just walking” through rugby league footballers brawling? I certainly would not if given the choice. Horses for courses, you have to adapt to each situation appropriately and with immediate context.
    It is really important for Aikido trainees to get out of fantasyland.
    Although we strive to avoid conflict where possible, sometimes life will throw up unavoidable circumstances where real defence may become necessary. Each such event is entirely unique, different and most often entirely unpredictable.
    In these cases opinions could get you killed or seriously hurt. We have to discover by training honestly and explore possibilities and variables using basic kihon as a foundation, because real attackers will NOT cooperate. They never do. No matter what you think.
    Aikido is a path of FACTUAL DISCOVERY, not resting on laurels or wishful thinking.
    It brings the ACTUAL SKILL OF RESTORING HARMONY not possible when tripping off on faint ideas about something not experienced.
    Real violence is dangerous and can be deadly.
    Sen no sen and go no sen are relatively straightforward to learn.
    Sen can be refined to become Ai no sen which can be refined forever.
    You will need your basics, atemiwaza, buki and all other skills you can muster and practice well to understand the application of tai no henka as taisabaki to achieve results.
    A split second is life and death.
    There is immense responsibility involved.

  9. Bruce Baker says:

    Again and again I hear how people who have practiced Aikido diffuse a physical attack or confrontation with either the physical lessons of practice of aikido or the mental lessons of aikido practice. I expect I hear many more people tell me their personal EXPERIENCES that came from and are related to …the “practice” of aikido. Therein lies the lesson.

    Be it INTERCEPTION by the physical body, or by the words, or by the mind … you need to have practiced and experienced these things in some way, some shape, some form. There may be times you have some spirit guide you to do things you never thought you could do… and indeed it will be a miracle you can without hurting yourself or others, but even that is incident is discovery of self and the world around us.

    The last four lines in Nev Sagiba’s post say it all.

    “You will need your basics, atemiwaza, buki and all other skills you can muster….. ” and so on.

    Remember these words the next time someone tells you a story about how Aikido saved them or helped them out of some kind of trouble..

  10. Jeff Dowdy says:

    I absolutely trust that the author would be a great person to have at your side in a dark alley and he certainly describes a budo of great effectiveness. I mean no disrespect to his experience or skill in what he does or the survivalist mentality in this article but I do not hear the voice of O’sensei, Saito Sensei, or others in his words.

    Aikido is hard……It is hard because instead of being the guy who draws his gun and shoots some guy in the name of survival we are choosing to “stop the spear” without becoming warped psychopaths ourselves. It is hard to create situations where uke genuinely attacks you for authentic practice and it is true that the fun and good feeling of aikido can make for some bad technique. It is even harder to turn off the innate response to the possibility of death in order to choose to still use aikido (effectively) instead of relying on methods appropriate to kill first budo. It is hardest to develop your aikido to the point where your aikido is proficient enough to effectively make peace with someone trying to kill you. I certainly am still struggling with the second. I hope to develop far enough to have to tackle the last step, but I draw strength from that being my goal

    Hagakure (18th cent samurai philosophy) speaks better than I to the choice we make as aikidoist.

    “We all want to live. And in large part we make our logic according to what we like. But not having attained our aim and continuing to live is cowardice. This is a thin dangerous line. ”

    The evolution that aikido represents is (I think) well illustrated in the comparison between stories of O’sensei and Takeda Sensei. After a conflict the other characters would ask O’sensei something like …Are you the famous Takeda of Daito-Ryu or I am sorry that we tested you. In stories of Takeda sensei there was no one left to ask that question.

    While joining the living dead is not very 21st century, O’sensei’s “aim” prioritized neutralizing violence over “kill or be killed” I believe that Saito sensei criticized those who practiced without heart and authenticity. It was not whether a style is hard or soft, linear or circular, kihon or nagare, but whether or not it worked when done correctly. Saito Sensei was possibly most focused on distinctions; The characterization of aikido, bad aikidoists, inmates, etc was lacking in distinctions. Without those, the article feels fearful and reactionary. We have a different aim as aikidoist.

  11. I think by in large and an overall picture that Yin and Yang pretty much sums it up.

  12. What is or should be the focus of a beginning Aikidoist? How do I perfect my art, even without the greatest of dojos. What basics should I focus on for growth?

  13. Morihei Ueshiba defined Aikido as loving attack and peaceful reconciliation in caring, nurturing and protecting all life through Ki no Musubi; in other words, realizing that all existence is interconnected, simply get in early with what you know to be right.

    Early maintenance is equivalent to loving attack and peaceful reconciliation in generating conditions where extreme energy such as aggression will dissipate naturally.
    The focus of a beginning Aikidoka should be to, by analogy, get wet, get into the water and lean to swim, explore and carefully study and practice the basics, basics, basics!

  14. Anthony James Whitbread says:

    Hello nev, fantastic, really fantastic, if only all!!!! The instructors in the uk thought like you the standard of teaching would be so much better. Thank you for helping me understand a little bit more.

    Kind regards

    Anthony Whitbread

Speak Your Mind