“Balance, Breathe, Move, Notice!,” by Nev Sagiba

“To survive a multiple attack situation, to increase your chances of survival, it is imperative that you are firmly grounded, balanced, breathing, moving and know where everyone is at all times! Why?”

Why did Morihei Ueshiba place multiple attack training on top of his list of priorities? Why did he make it a point to denote this in part 2/ of his: Six Rules of Training?

For a start he had live experience. Secondly, he was able to actually do what he preached. And third but not least, he practiced incessantly.

But let’s break it down and analyze it. Since we are not right now being assailed with an attack, it is possible.

A) Why balance? One, “accomplished martial artist,” said to me in 1987, “What has balance got to do with surviving an attack? The same individual, watching us train also said, “That wouldn’t work in real life,” and watching buki tori, “Yes but, (my favourites are the yes butters) if that was a highly trained swordsman.. yada, yada..”

Who meets “highly trained swordsmen” on a rampage every second day in today’s world?

B) Why breath? Aside from fancy convolutions which are totally unnecessary, why is breath vital?

C) Why move at all? Why not just stand there?

D) And why do you really need to be aware of who is behind you with something sharp?

To survive a multiple attack situation, to increase your chances of survival, it is imperative that you are firmly grounded, balanced, breathing, moving and know where everyone is at all times!


Why is it that we PRACTICE like this? Why did the Founder of Aikido? Why should we continue to do so?

This is a contributive exercise. What can you bring to this as a discussion from your experience both in the dojo and live situations?

Please respond with your view.

Nev Sagiba


  1. peter cronin says:

    The need to practice multiple attacks should be utilised more often in the dojo.

    Sadly it is not practiced with the intensity of other techniques which involve a one on one scenario.
    Yes, today we are highly unlikely to meet a highly trained swordsman, however we are more likely to meet a person wielding a machete, or a large knife, so the principle of dealing with this attack is similar and therefore the method(s) of defending should be practiced.

    Proper breathing is important in all aspects, (even in daily life) as it enables the person being attacked to stay in some control of oneself and attempt to “relax” so that the person can respond more fluently to the type of attack(s). We are not talking about a breathing method used in a relaxed controlled environment but one that enables a person to keep breathing under a stressful situation.

    I personally have not taken this advice, and in my younger years, despite being trained in karate was unable to respond to a person wielding a knife when caught in a surprise situation. Although only receiving a minor cut the experience was enough to question why we had not trained more often in this type of situation, (surprise attacks and unseen weapons with multiple people) instead of concentrating on more “older” techniques that were used in a time of defending on horseback or with attacks in a open type area one on one.

    One should commit to training in the dojo as if their life depended on it not just to get another grade or belt. Respect for uke’s experience and commitment to his attack plays an important role. It is no use attacking with flimsy movements knowing that nage will get there. The attack should be proper and if the person defending is not capable of applying the correct technique, then it should be pointed out by the instructors and the correct techniques re applied.

    Multiple attacks should come from any direction and training should include at least one person to be armed, The type of attack should also be random, thereby enabling the defender to apply the various techniques, including moving out of the way but at all times staying firmly grounded and knowing where the attackers are.

    The training should also start by a certain grade. this is debatable, but personally I think it should occur around 4th kyu.


  2. Thank you Sagiba Sensei for another provocative post. KISS can mean “keep it simple, student”.

    One can invest countless hours and years in preparation for a single defining event, and never get to experience “triumph” or victory. Yet, one can move through life with an ease and confidence by simply remembering to be “on point” with the Fundamentals of Aiki. In this fashion, one can enjoy a succession of achieving goals that are accessible, sensible and nurturing.

    The idea is to always think, feel and act in a proactive manner. Be in control of your movements by having tasks to accomplish, priorities to fulfill and goals to achieve. In this way, any disruption to your daily rhythm, including an attack, will simply be absorbed and handled as a matter of course as you continue with your day. It is vitally important that nothing distracts you from the focus of choice for you at any moment.

    Even in your preparatory training on the mat, this same attitude of being in command of your thinking, feeling and behavior at all times keeps you alert and ready for whatever your training partners may throw at you. The great ones, like the Founder, seem to simply move as if they were alone, and treating their attackers as if they were part of the programming from the start, They change nothing in their demeanor, speed of movement, or resolve to continue undisturbed. Their attitude indeed determines their altitude.

    Let’s not forget that “keiko” is accomplished in a variety of ways, none intrinsically better than the other, and all combining to complete the martial artist within. Hitori geiko, Futari geiko, Taninzu gake, Buki geiko, Mitori geiko, Randori geiko, Hanmi Handachi geiko, Shidoo geiko, etc. etc. etc. ( Solitary, Paired, Multiple Partners, use of Weapons, Observation, Free attacks, Half and Half, Teaching, etc.)

    Now, back to training

  3. Joe Peterson says:

    The issue I see is that there is a blurred line between art and self-defense. A blurred line that obscures the modern realities of being able to defend yourself. A blurred line that doesn’t make a distinction between attacks founded on Japanese feudal strategies of attack vs. global.

    As most of us are well aware of, Osensei being Japanese, had a propriety to feudal past and its culture. It doesn’t take a genius to see he reflects that in his Aikido, he maintained an observation, a memorial to budo. His preservation of budo to a great extent was guided by his inspiration to the spiritual giving to the bookmarking of Aikido’s conventions, such as the practice and philosophy of randori. Aikido is highly effective against any group of attackers whose method and strategies of attack work within the conventions of a Japanese feudal sword wheeling attack. Yet, fail to a modern attack by gang members; gang attempted rape, gang home invasion, gang robbery, mugging, or other modern day methods and scenarios by other types of groups.

    Aikido works great when surrounded by a gang of Japanese thugs modeling their attack like an old samurai movie (which some I am told where pretty historically accurate). But not in modern times. Aikido would have to go through a major overhaul to meet those demands. Most Aikido can’t or don’t make that paradigm shift.

    Aikido still practiced traditionally in a mindset of preservation doesn’t address the need for change based on global requirements. Both Tadashi Abe and Kenji Tomiki recognized the need. They may have made some progress forward, but they too where still locked in the same budo conventional thinking. Aikido, like old feudal Japan still has its doors closed.

    Aikido is practiced in a method of preservation geared to attacks model after sword wheeling samurai when in a group surrounded the opponent and often attacked one at a time. We see this to be accurate in the stories of Takeda, and other such historical figures and historical documentation. Aikido’s approach to randori and other attack methods and practices had a firm base in reality at one time to a specific culture. But now, are outdated conventions mistaken as applicable to a broad spectrum of attacks. Such a philosophy, blurs the lines resulting in Nev is taking a hard look at the practice of Aikido.

    I stress that a person doesn’t confuse Aikido in its practice as being nothing other than a performance art. It is an exercise that is a look into period of time in Japan during a cultural transition and a look into a unique individuals life and study. For Aikido to be effective against gang members or others besides noob criminals and drunk assaults, it needs major modifications that would go against the spiritual grain of Osensei. That begs the question, is it then still Aikido?

    When practicing Aikido to keep the lines from being blurred is to realize Aikido’s designs don’t meet the demands or requirements for the conditions of a modern day self-defense. When this is realized, that what is practiced in the dojo is not a realistic representation of what will be faced and how to handle a modern attack will put into focus the lines that define Aikido.

  4. Joe Peterson says:

    I feel the obligation to define a word I didn’t coin, but find highly accurate “performance art.” All Japanese martial arts or those influenced are primarily performance arts, especially the traditional arts. Any activity that forms and adheres to traditions result in having a primary focus to maintain, uphold, demonstrate, to perform, to show, their respecting traditions. In a sense all martial arts are performance arts of the martial nature. The focus is firmly based in preservation and not the adaptability to change. We often are blind to the word “art” in martial art. There are no negative connotations or implied evaluations when using the term performance art. It clearly helps define what something is or isn’t. By having knowledge there is a better understanding of the object and its function and capabilities. Performance art isn’t used negatively, but intended to have a clearer understanding of what is termed a martial ART.

  5. Joe Peterson says:

    I am wondering if the prescribed method of randori as demonstrated by Osensei differs or relates to methods prescribed by traditional of sword school randori. We see Aikido movement to be very dynamic under the conditions of multiple attackers against weapons and empty hand attacks, do they teach the same dynamic movement and philosophy for multiple attackers in sword schools? Knowing this, either way, could possibly give a better depth of understanding of the “why” Nev brought up.

  6. Thank you all so much for bringing forward your views and experiences. It’s really good to see this potentially rich medium of the internet used by those who care about Aikido and its sustainable development. We can learn a lot by sharing and exchanging like this and use it to augment our training practice.

    Joe, you seem to suggest that violence was somehow toned down, “once upon a time.” Do you really believe such a thing? In reality when people go apeshit they forget “culture” and simply try to kill. It’s a primal survival instinct that under certain conditions can go badly wrong. When protecting your loved ones, your clan, village and all you hold dear, let me tell you, people do what has to be done. There are no “blurred lines.” Training is training and mixing it or surviving is whatever it needs to be. Perhaps some academics may have theories about violence but after their first assault, if they live, they soon wake up and begin to bring their Aikido to life. Correct me if I’m wrong but the theories you present tend to suggest you are relatively new to Budo and to Aikido, have attended some poor schools purporting aikido: and you are currently also training in a sport based “fighting” art, and have never been in more than a light hearted rumble, never having faced death squarely either in your own protection or someone else’s. Conversely you have not been exposed to a true standard of Aikido, but aiki-dancerswho also do not understand. Budo is not sport. It is holding the line. This duty can get ugly. There are no rules. Training, because it requires safety, necessarily has to be scaled down so that the gain of it can be deployed when it becomes necessary to do so.

  7. Joe Peterson says:

    Nev, granted my vocation isn’t writing, yes am new at commenting on blogs. I will try my best to answer you i a clear and concise manner as I can. What I have in my head is complex based on my unique perspective that has been built over experiences far and wide. To formulate that in writing for a general audience as a comment isn’t easy for me, as this is my first attempt to do so here.

    Do I agree or disagree with you. Hmmmmmm……to be accurate neither. There is a default juxtaposition with the idea of Budo / Bugei as it was taught to Osensei by Takeda and Osensei’s post spiritual views for humanity. That juxtaposition is reflected equally as strong in how we practice. Japanese are in to preservation of their culture, because they have a great reverence for it.. Japanese people when it comes to their culture are hoarders in that respect, they don’t throw anything out. Osensei shaped Daito ryu into Aikido. Key word there is re- shaped. I stress the word re-shaped to fix two things, first is the level of violence of modern Japan during the 30’s-60’s. A level and method of violence way below the what it is today.

    Aikido isn’t keeping up with today’s type of violence. When Osensei was re-shaping Daito ryu, he did it within the requirements of social violence, and what was socially and lawfully acceptable at the time. All upheld under the tenet of his view of peace. Osensei during his re-shaping, he kept many of the old and traditional methods of attack and their responses to those attacks that where successful for so many generations earlier. Upon that approach you get a connected juxtaposition of both tradition and new ways. The old then becomes the foundation and structure for the new to hang upon. Here inlays the issues voiced by you and so many others about Aikido’s effective and approach to correct training. Aikido and the way Aikido practices is locked in the bugei conventions of Takeda and the budo conventions of Osensei’s time. Here is the heart of all the problems of Aikido. If Aikido changes to fit the modern conventions of street violence and modern methods, it is considered not to be Aikido anymore. That leads to splintering and fracturing of Aikido into organization and in different styles – all of which made lateral changes and not upwardly mobile changes to fit the increasing more complex and violent world out side of Japan.

    Here we have a juxtaposition of views that keep Aikido locked in time, keeping Aikido moving forward in time to meet the modern demands of today’s violent world. Therefore, as a result, practice philosophy, approach and methodology is restricted to the past. You have randori practice that is modeled after methods of feudal Japan when swords and bloodshed ruled the day. A randori that is curb, so that participants are not injured, or killed. A philosophy dictated to be carried over to modern street self-defense situations of the 1930s-1960s of Japan. Obviously, some of Aikido works really well in some low intense and less sophisticated situations, but that is not the point.

    Does the way we practice in the dojo match up to what we need on the street? Failure to recognition this condition results in allot of intense discussion. Nev, you have many questions and criticism of Aikido, I think it stems from not seeing Aikido in this way. I think we need to know what are practice really is about, what it is and what it isn’t. I do, and get so much more enjoyment from it.

  8. Joe Peterson says:

    Nev, I agree with what you are saying. Violence isn’t toned down, instead it is the approach and practice of Aikido that doesn’t matchup. Randori for example, the design and practice of it, comes out of the samurai paradigm. The bugei paradigm. Randori is modification that fit the level and approach of violence of 1930s to 1960s Japan. Osensei based the features of Aikido, like Randori on the level and method’s of violence happening in Japanese society at the time- locally. He didn’t look at methods of attack and violence from a global point of view. In addition, Aikido is practice as all Japanese martial arts, as a preservation of Osensei’s art that hasn’t changed in this respect.

    If change would occur it would be a different art by Japanese martial arts standards. There has been other versions of Aikido, but those changes where lateral. They still followed the model of Aikido and the general philosophy and practice of Japanese martial arts.

    For me, this root for many issues in Aikido. Aikido is locked in a time capsule, because of the prevalent view for the need for preservation. Aikido is built on Daito Ryu. Osensei tweaked Daito ryu wazas to fit the society at hand, as a result of his spiritual awakening. Tweaking doesn’t a complete over-haul. Osensei, didn’t throw out any parts of Daito ryu, he just made the waza less deadly. He made Daito ryu more of a Budo and less of a Bugei. It is important to the Japanese to preserve the past, to persevere their culture, so the past isn’t lost. A standard view that heavily influences Japanese martial arts. Which result in the attitude of you don’t just make it up out of thin art. There has to be some credibility behind it. That is all and good, but the down side is there is a lack of adaption over time. The approach and practice to randori in Aikido, mirrors an attack on a samurai by multi-attackers. Of course in Aikido the alteration is not to kill or harm the attackers, as a samurai would have done.

    Nev,you are correct in my view. You can’t take Aikido randori and expect it to work as it did in the 1930s -1960s Japan as you do today. This is why I feel some Japanese martial arts die. I understand why that is so. For me the issue is when people don’t see Aikido in that capacity, and have expectation Aikido isn’t designed to function in. When that is recognized, I think there is less issues as you have laid out.

    • Joe, What would you suggest? People can’t train harder or better than they can for where they are at at any given time. That has to be nolens volens the starting point.

      I believe Aikido training does have merit. I’ve never known Aikido to not work in violent situations. Indeed without it, or strictured by one of the other arts or fixating on opinions, attacks such as from gangs, guns, axe, machete, knives, spears, bottles, snakes, wild buffalo, sharks, dogs to name only a few could have proved fatal. For that matter the principle works very well in paper wars too. I’m satisfied Aikido works because it has served well. Better than any other training method would or could have.

      I’m not sure what your perception of “aikido” may be. A few soft office workers doing aiki-dance for cardio and social life? Sure, in some places the label appears on the door to something much less than. Aikido may have been degraded by people who were not properly taught, then teaching something not understood, out of their opinions or trying to fit Aikido into a box. Which it can’t be.

      I think by now it is common knowledge that Aikido has been largely done a disservice but that has mainly occurred in societies that never experienced living under the thrall of feudal warring. Following the industrial revolution a new and different way of chewing up human lives in the machinery of tyranny was developed, as the so called west simply made high tech wars, decimating those underprivileged they could steal resources from or who were perceived to get in the way of ideological fantasies. As a result we have prevalent pockets of extreme affluence and the illusion of “security” whilst our societies are riddled with masses of secret violence, drugs, alcoholism, child abuse and mental illness, to mention just a few. Of course we all like to present a nice face as if none of this is going on while we sink, as our dis-economies right at this moment are proving because they reflect our mind states.

      I personally do not care if in some dojos people merely dance and prance. It’s a darned sight better than being somewhere indulging in something that’s causing harm. So long as people are addressing personal excellence they are working at healing mental discord and that has to be a step in a good direction.

      Aiki is a universal principle without any limitation attached and is there to be discovered freely by anyone willing to put the time in. Sure, ways will differ but all roads lead to either harmony or self extinction so there is not much to worry about. As a species we judge ourselves.

      The purpose of Aikido was never intended as a means of sinking better through violence, rather a method of ascending by making violence impossible. A great portion of humanity are heartily sick and tired of lies, corruption, violence and tyranny in all its forms and would like to begin to have the opportunity to start exploring their creative potentials. Aikido shows you the Way to do this in the face of present challenges rather than waiting for “ideal conditions” which never arrive. Each sincere practitioner and trainee has their own views and opinions they bring with them and they are just as entitled to them as you or I are to ours.

      In the end we simply discover through our own research in training. Doing it. The important thing is: Just train.

  9. Joe Peterson says:

    Nev, If training continues to be within the paradigm of Aikido, thinking that is to achieve street effectiveness, real street effectiveness, it will not turn out good. Aikido isn’t designed or intended to be used against today’s street criminal who has no or little martial art training, and yet are highly effective in comparison. Why? Because they adapt. They are not practicing as thugs did in 1950 Japan.

    People have to go outside the Aikido paradigm and conventions set for them. I agree that discovering skills and principles based on your own research is what helps in adaptation, but also needed is the right type of experience and training.

    Does Aikido need to be street effective, no more than naginata or is on the street. Both are performance arts that are practice for the sake of preservation.

    • Joe, Aikido IS street effective. Otherwise why bother? Ballet would do. I must disagree with you. Aikido, proper Aikido which is derived from its progenitor Daitio Ryu Aikijutsu and other VALID ARTS — IS designed to be combat effective. That’s why elite special forces practice it. Well, brother, if you are not adapting it’s not Aikido, but shizen using the label Aikido under false pretenses. And just because many are doing just that does not indict Aikido but rather the fraudsters.

      There is no such thing as “aikido paradigm and conventions.” The basic techniques are as they are for a very good reason and either reveal or conceal depending whether the practitioner is a fighter or a punce using a watered down version of a fighting art for ulterior reasons. The etiquette and protocols exist for respect and so we never forget safety. It’s about integrity at every level.

      YES INDEED Aikido needs to be street effective, without which you will not unlock the other benefits which have nothing to do with fighting but with purposeful creative maintenance of life, society and the world.

      Brother, I won’t debate with you. If you have doubts, train. If you still have doubts, please come to my dojo, give our junior your best shots from any methodology you may choose and we will SHOW YOU!

      AIKIDO AS PER MORIHEI. ‘Nuf said. Time to DO. AI- KI- DOING will reveal the secret. Not Aiki jabbering.

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