“Who Controls the Technique, Uke or Nage?” by Nev Sagiba

“I pretend to attack you telegraphing a single movement such as never exists in combat and you pretend to bowl me over with skill that is not there because I’m taking a dive.”

In Aikido partner kata training where a single technique or set of combined techniques or counters are practiced, who controls the technique? Uke or Nage?

The word “throws” is used a lot, by many, but if this were the case it would no longer be Aikido, but a form of judo expressing the same-old-same-old bully-victim paradigm of one person “doing something” to someone else following a contest of some kind.

In such case not only is it not Aikido, but nothing has been learned of the Founder’s paradigm of transcending violence. “Throwing” someone or pushing “them” over plays into the very illness true Aikido was formulated to transcend!

In any event what would we be reenacting? I pretend to attack you telegraphing a single movement such as never exists in combat and you pretend to bowl me over with skill that is not there because I’m taking a dive. Repeat on the other side then change roles alternating until a change is called. To what end? Yoga? Cardio? Calisthenics? Dance? We are both faking something, who-knows-what, whilst drowning in false ego.

Would we be reaching deeply, or at all, into our own dark side, where violence dwells, to root it out and to reveal a better way with this kind of frottage? I think not.

The only “spin” that should exist in true Budo is a good tenkan!

The Founder called Aikido, “An Invincible Budo.” What did he mean by this? That you could get yourself into a violent situation and always win? I think not. No mortal exists, ever has or ever will, who is so immutable. As revealed by the experiences of several supposed “masters of aikido,” a best keep secret, when attacked, they became the recipients of a sound hiding, following which, in each event, they mysteriously took an extended vacation until the bruises had healed over.

Self-deception is not “victory of oneself” and neither can it be of any practical use.

This was never the case with the Founder or his teachers. So what was lost on the way?

Firstly, when referencing the word “invincible” I believe the Founder was primarily referring to the Agatsu and Masagatsu effect that results from proper and honest training. True victory being victory over oneself. The eventual estate of the human captured in one life instead of many thousands, because of facing and addressing the predispositions of violence within oneself through regular training, addressing the contamination at the various layers leading to the deeper core of our being.

Proper training means that there is not one instant that you are not in charge of yourself, body, mind and spirit, and this whether enacting the Uke or Nage role. It is this, that naturally increases your chances of survival.

You are neither throwing nor being thrown, but relating with intense energy with integrity and with mind fully conscious and present at each moment.

We train consciously. In real and deadly assaults we act pre-consciously (not un-consciously) because intense deadly action is faster than thought. The idea of “no-mind” comes from lack of lucid observation and is a mistranslation of “no thoughts getting in the way of the immediate moment.” If you are to survive, of necessity a lucid and immediate moment captured. Not an unconscious one, where you would get caught, with your proverbial hakama somewhere down around your ankles.

We practice being in charge of ourselves at all times, because being in tune with it, the universe can then be in charge of you. In other words, as nage you are refining your own body-mind connection with reference to an intense energetic encounter, WITHOUT IMPOSITION. Rather BY MAINTAINING YOUR INTEGRITY AND BALANCE AT ALL TIMES. This requires intense and full consciousness in the moment. More focused than say for ordinary daily events. To become Aikido, it includes balance of mind and spirit by refraining from engaging contest, yet still acknowledging the energies involved with unmitigated honesty and precision of balance that results from a clear mind.

In training, as uke, you are in charge of every part of the ukemi as well as the attack you conduct. On this basis you are not in any way being “thrown.” Rather you are integrating yourself, generating maai and in many cases preparing for kaeshiwaza. There is no contest. Neither “wins” or “loses” but LEARNS AND HARMONISES.

As nage, you are equally in charge of yourself, embracing the attack as energy, not entangled in ideas about attacks.

Energy output thereby relegated its natural conclusion, conflict becomes resolved.

In Aikido training, all violence is thereby neutralized and rendered incapable, by draining the intent of violence. In practice, if required of necessity to do so, equally so, albeit more intensely.

For the spiritually immature, and for fools, this carries no excitement since violence and the subtle nuances of violence and ego are destroyed. Annihilated. Made void. The secretly held uglies near that core can no longer be fed. No more fire is added to fire. Rather, violence becomes extinguished.

Violence, by its very definition, strives to control others. It is a disease of the mind and a lack of integrity of soul. Sometimes the feeble-minded word “power” is used by individuals having a delusional view of the how the universe operates.

From a deep core level where it matters, Aikido, teaches to leave others alone to fulfill their own mission and to CONTROL ONESELF, mastering one’s own constructively creative mission in life. And adjusting our relationship to obstacles, hopefully converting them into steppingstones.

So, who is it that controls the technique?

Some schools appear stuck in a fixational belief that nage controls the technique. Others give the appearance that conversely, uke does.

In fact neither happens in real violence and mastering the outcome relies on understanding the RELATIONSHIP of energies involved.

The question should be: Who controls the outcome? Until this question is asked, it does not begin to be Budo.

The terms Shidachi and Uchidachi possibly better define roles but even here there sometimes are found fixations or expectations of a rote outcome.

The difficulty is that in Budo, unlike sport, we are enacting Bujitsu potentials and on this basis, for safety in training we cannot permit a degeneration into mere contest. Contest would teach little, and if that, too permanently.

We research potentials and active flows of intention or ki.

In violent contests, no one remains unscathed. These also invariably neutralized through exhaustion of resources if nothing else, or severe injury or death. This ends up proving nothing more than that a mental disease was present at the time, but not the science of skill. In any event, usually much harm and damage is sustained by both sides. Otherwise you need rules which then kill out efficaciousness and develop bad habits.

The predetermining of outcomes, in order to obviate injury resulting from contention during research, may well elicit the accusation of collusion, or fakery. Indeed, there are times that this can be a real risk when the practitioners are not vigilant in their training intent.

Understanding survival circumstances clears the mind to notice the rest of life in clearer perspective.

In the nature of life, both violence and quieter times, tend to cycle like everything else. Whether it be an “office discussion” among the protected, or something more real and serious involving real protectors, intense clashing of energies is a part of life. So to speak, we as species have not yet learned to drive on the correct side of the road spiritually, or indeed know what this may be.

The universe and the nature which reflects it, needs to be navigated with skill. Only the adaptable survive.

It is the nature of extreme and pent up energy to express intensely. This too is a natural and universal predisposition. Between and beyond attacking and defending, there exists an immutable paradigm, the harmony of the universe, as some would name it. In this harmony, opinions hold no sway. Here the interplay of the energies involved is its own master, subject only to “laws” of existence as they’ve always existed. The economy of life and the market forces of energy interplay.

In the end, much as in fire, nobody controls any technique. The exchange being an interplay of various factors and forces; and the best techniques are those that seem to arise and subside of their own accord, controlled neither by nage nor uke, but the nature of the universe itself. And yet with spontaneous active skill deployed by at least one participant.

Identifying this universal principle of eventual neutralization, Aikido aims for it as immediately and as harmlessly as possible for all concerned. Not only in training, but also in real circumstances as well. This sets the conditions for creative possibilities to follow more immediately and without obstruction.

All things fall into place from there. And this then harmoniously; and then the creative mission of life can be resumed, hopefully, without further ado, until the next attack whether, real, circumstantial or verbal, and so on without end.

For students of harmony, this becomes an adventure of discovery and infinite possibilities without end, applicable in all phases of human life.

This core essence may one day, if sufficiently embraced, make the difference in life on earth and elevate us from the schizoid pretense of “humanity” covering up largely bestial and harmful behaviours.

“A good stance and posture reflect a balanced state of mind.”

Morihei Ueshiba.”

Nev Sagiba


  1. beautiful –brilliant– nev you always knock my socks off with your incisive posts, but this may be my new favorite –having come up in systems that leaned heavily into both nage driven and uke driven interpretations of aiki, i too have relaized that the activity is neither and both, a move in prespective that both transcends and includes the fire –interdependant co-arising relationship driven activity.

  2. bruce baker says:

    There is always three or four things happening as the interaction of the Uke and Nage send signals of physical interaction, mental interaction, and subliminal signals that cause us to feel confused or make decisions based upon our interaction for the situation at hand.

    What we often neglect is the opposites of emotional thoughts, or lack of focused emotion that is added into the interaction.

    Yes, the human body with all it’s electrical signals and impulses that travel through our neural network, our nervous system, does generate low level electrical energy and it can reveal our intentions when we interact during practice or get into a fight. That is but one reason to control your thoughts and emotions, it not only translates into body language that transmits our intentions, but translates into our practice partner or opponent picking up thoughts and ideas how to respond or react to our actions also.

    A few years back, I did a seminar with Master George Dillman who explored the theory of emotional states of being affecting the interaction of two practice partners or two opponents. The positive and negative attraction of striking between men and women, who have different frequencies for their body’s electrical operating system, so that women must strike a man the on the opposite side a man would strike a man to induce pain or cause a knock-out. Yeah, there was some evidence on a test instrument for the body’s electrical energy that men and women operate on slightly different frequencies. There was also evidence that a person’s emotional state of anger, calm, or insanity affected how their effectiveness was like the attraction of two magnets, an analogy not science, causing attraction, repulsion, or neutralization of effectiveness.

    Sure, the human body has similar structure for men and women, but the slight differences in the chemistry of men and women changes the frequency of their electrical impulses in their nervous systems and thereby, in the eastern thought of medicine, creates an opposite. Well, not really an opposite, but frequencies of electrical impulses that are more like harmonics that accentuate or negate certain sounds but it works the same way for the human body sending signals to the brain.

    After all, even in Aikido we are simply talking about what we do in practice for the physical interaction sending signals to the human body and the human brain that are interpreted and analyzed before, during, and after the event at hand.

    At hand … we are talking about the least harmful result of a technique that seems to result, from an observer point of view, in a throw or a fall or some type of submission.

    We are indeed causing some actions or motion to occur, but in doing this interaction we are not giving away what we intend to do by sending messages through our body language, or our subliminal signals, or our emotional transmissions before they need to be sent so that the uke is interpreting our intention before it needs to be interpreted.

    Of course, during practice, we learn to use slow deliberate intentional signals so practice partners who are not familiar with us as their practice partners can become used to our signals, but as we become more and more practiced the warning time before we do a technique is shortened until it is almost undetectable to an observer. The control of our physical, emotional, and mental states of the human body cause what seems to be perplexing reactions to the mind and body of the uke and yet the uke if they are not resistant find themselves unharmed.

    To discover these things, you need to study not only science, but take a holistic survey of what is affecting the visual results, as well as take stock of what others who completely confound you during practice are doing.

    It may be as simple as emotional opposites, or using three or four direction motions during a technique that confuse the body and mind, but it is never ever one simple thing you can put your finger one thing that is the mastery of a technique. Just like harmony it is more than one note.

    The best physical technician of Aikido may become a child at the hands of one who can decifer their emotional and subliminal signals that may be uncontrolled. So I tell you … study … research … learn. There is so much more to learn when you get off the mat and need to figure out what just happened. Did you get thrown, or did you throw yourself, or was it just the natural reaction to work within the safest parameters of the actions you encountered? Figure it out.

  3. I’d be curious to know what the original Japanese for “invincible” is before drawing any conclusion (I’m assuming that this is based on John Stevens’ “Invincible Warrior”)?

    The most likely word that comes to mind (無敵) means, literally, “without enemies”, and is often translated as “invincible”, but you can see immediately that several interpretations would be possible.

    • Thanks Christopher, Good point. I think you are onto something and we all need to look even more closely at etymological roots. We may get so much more out of O’Sensei’s didactic odes, kuden, speeches, writings, discussions and preserved conversations. Your interpretation is more lucid and comnprehensive in my view and would concur with Morihei’s, “There can exist no enemies of love..” Having no enemies can only be achieved with love since all “enemies” have brothers that survive and plan reprisals against the unjust. Having no enemies would be the only truly invincible condition since contention could not then be a consideration. The only caveat being, in such a condition the enemy then becomes complacency and unfounded elite feelings. In which case the cycle of violence would start over. Mitigating unconsciousness, as in Budo training, is in maintaining the vigilance required to continue to have no enemies, as in the originally intended, ‘Si vis pace par bellum’ of the Romans before some idiot twisted it to connote strike preemptively. The brothers must have got their revenge. Rome as an empire is no more!

  4. In Sunadomari Sensei’s Enlightenment Through Aikido he references in his preface a conversation with The Founder in 1942:

    “This Budo is a divine revelation from God. If you practice it for three months, you will have no enemies under heaven (tenkanamuteki, which can also be interpreted as ‘invincible’ or having ‘no rivals’).”

    This is clearly about the transformational, rather than the confrontational aspect of Aikido. Sunadomari Sensei went on to quote:

    “By transforming those who appear as enemies into enemies no more, it (Aikido) leads to the absolute perfection of self.”

    I think it is safe to assume that something other than just kata was being taught and practiced. Perhaps something that has been lost in the fast-track corporate approach to growing Aikido in the twentieth century? More haste less speed:)

  5. This is a very old thread, but I feel compelled to opine:

    As an Uke, I have always felt that my role is is not to guide, much less control, a technique, but to be a conduit through which a technique may be safely (harmlessly) expressed.

    As an Uke, I may, in fact, be injured by my inability to correctly divine and react to a technique, therefore, to be both fair to the Tori, I must act aggressively while both retaining AND extending my Ki in such a manner as to both challenge the Tori without compromising my Self.

    This, IMO is the challenge, and benefit, presented to the AiKidoka. Maintaining oneself while accepting Loss that Harmony may be achieved…

  6. I leaned aikido and tai chi concurrently since the 70’s, and very early on I realized that what aikido needs is tai chi Push-hands practice. Not the sort of Push-hands commonly practiced (it has devolved in similar ways). Proper Push-hands practice, in the old days, employed proper postural structures as well as wrist-locking, etc. techniques that we usually think of as aikido. The tai chi people i lost contact with opposed this and twenty years ago I had an aikido black belt tell me I shouldn’t do tai chi on them (how ironic). Proper Push-hands trains responses that arise naturally relative to changing forces. It teaches improvisation relative to flowing forces. Takemusu Aiki (spontaneous execution of a technique, appropriate to the attack, and with the right timing, is trained directly in proper Push-hands.

  7. I’m late to the party. Good stuff. Thank you everybody. My inspiration of the moment is that good technique exists in another plane, normally invisible. Nage and uke can render it visible for a moment like a shaft of sunlight illuminating dust motes in the air of a dark room.

    Push hands is an interesting practice. Like any other exercise it explicitly limits some things. In this case it limits timing and distance. To do it you start in range and in opposition. Aikido is rarely in range and in opposition so it is a bit strange to aikidoka. The big advantage to push hands practice is to present alternatives to strength and power if you find yourself in that situation.

  8. Great article, Nev,

    This somehow reminded me something a teacher said to me once. They were convinced that you should give the uke very little consideration…in fact you shouldn’t be trying to throw them at all. You shouldn’t even be considering them, or what they are doing, or will do. They said “you can’t fight crazy” and “don’t make the exchange about them, they take your power from you.” It was a little bit of an eye-opener for me. This idea that I’m just going about my business, and by the very laws of how things work, so long as I’m on balanced things that are off balanced will just bounce off me–I shouldn’t be concerned with them, or if they get thrown. That’s not really the point.

    Great read!

  9. John Hillson says:

    Integrity, structure, balance, and self responsibility. Practice with a partner as a vehicle to develop my sense of physical balance and structure as well as my mental balance and intuitive adaptability. Accepting never ending responsibility for my self control, and for my impact on the larger universe.

    While it is common to hear Aikido is about developing ourselves, it is rare to have such a clear and succinct road map. Thank you.

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