“The Many Faces of Self-Victory,” by Nev Sagiba

“Victory has nothing to do with fighting per se and everything to do with understanding what we were previously blind to.”

Sometimes the adage, “Learn to fight in order not to fight,” is not well understood.

Or why it is that training MUST be honest and why it is vital to practice as if preparing for a real life-threatening situation. Various complacencies of mind-rot can too easily set in, which can corrupt the budo arts effect on the trainee. Excuses, spin, compromise, cultishness, avoidance-mechanisms, politics, self-deception and other sidetracks from the Path of clear mind.

The Founder of Aikido propounded living life as if taking charge of your self at every moment, no matter what.

The journey is the Way and it never ends. Without precision and authentic personal discipline, a life is only a part existence half lived. Regular training is simply a way to keep reminding us about life itself with all its vagaries, challenges, tests, trials and tribulations and to enable us to handle them better. Sometimes this involves fighting and sometimes not. Mostly not. There are so many other challenges to be understood by mastering ourselves.

Victory has nothing to do with fighting per se and everything to do with understanding what we were previously blind to. Whereas the spiritually blind will comply readily to any “authority,” buy and consume what they are told to without stopping to question, or follow any enticing carrot held before them to make them pull someone else’s cart, the person without blind spots cannot be dominated. They become empowered to master themselves and give to the world to make human existence a better proposition, if even slightly, than it otherwise could be and has been in darker times..

Over the years I have been privileged to witnessed so many individuals turn their life around because of Aikido that I no longer need convincing or to “believe” anything. I have seen it and I know.

Where can I begin to tell the oh-so-many stories?

Here’s but one:

“Bags,” his nickname, changed his life because of Aikido. He had been raised by a single working dad and mostly alone was left to his own devices. Growing up, his dad had instructed him to dutifully turn his socks inside out every six months and to change his underwear every two or so. They did not own a washing machine and soap to them was anathema. Bags left a trail of smell. To make it worse he rode a bicycle. This made him sweat.

When he started training, I nicely requested he show due dojo courtesy as a condition of training. He listened but washing was not a habit with him. He would frequently lapse. And stink again. Until nobody wanted to train with him. Bags was one of the very few who actually managed to fail his 5th kyu exam! But that was never held against him. To make things worse he had a dope habit. And no one would employ him. He was professionally jobless as it is possible to be in some lands.

I told him if he wanted to continue training he would have to quit the ganja. “Choose Aikido or the weed!! Go cold turkey. Do whatever you have to..” To his immense credit, he did!

He loved training and appeared to get so much out of it. But people, politely tried to avoid practicing with him. In fact the whole school one day got together and asked me to find a way to get Bags to wash, otherwise they would out and out refuse to train with him or walk out. Mutiny was afoot and all at the caprice of one crew. My gentle coaxing to wash more than once a week and actually change into clean clothes as well, had not been enough.

The next time he arrived he reeked. I told him to go home and shower and wear new clothes or never to return. He did and from that day on he would come to training in better condition. He even proudly announced that he had purchased some more socks and began to study how to wash his clothes properly.

This went on for a while and Bags’s girlfriend whom he’d met during one of his wash cycles, was threatening to leave him for lapsing into an unwashed state. But she was now pregnant to him. Responsibility had reared its head. Bags, (not his real name) asked me what he should do. I told him to make it his Aikido practicing to wash and wear clean clothes daily for the sake of the ones he loved most. And to remain free of the bhang giggle smoke by making personal discipline his addiction instead. If he truly loved her and the child that was on the way he would make personal hygiene at all levels, inner and outer, his Budo.

Despite his natural dreadlocks and matted, sometimes soup stained beard and pong, Bags had the kindest heart in the world. But then, as many often do, he stopped training. Thereafter from time to time I would often wonder upon his fate.

For some time we ne’er saw nor heard from Bags. Then one day he came to the dojo beaming and clean, with visibly clearer eyes than I had ever known him to posses. He had come to to thank us profusely. He had given up the ganja altogether and life had become so much happier and productive. He openly attributed this to the Aikido training, but confessed that his whole life had become a full time training and he was doing a course of study. He apologized that he could no longer attend dojo, so many were his responsibilities now. He said he hoped to do so some day in the future. I was happy for him. We all were. The other students liked bags notwithstanding.

Some years later I was in the local co-op waiting impatiently for what I thought was a lady in jeans standing in the way, with the most perfectly combed and glisteningly cared for hair to make her selection of shampoo. I based this on the assumption that no guy could have so well kept long hair that it sparkled.

Some time passing and buying shampoo not being rocket science, I becoming possessed of considerable impatience and gruffly said, “Excuse me.” I wanted to move along, grab some soap and go.

It was Bags himself who turned around with his beaming smile but no longer the characteristic smell of rotting sweat laden hessian with tinge of THC I had previously learned to recognize him from about three hundred metres. Even his beard, now well trimmed was shining. We chatted briefly and during the course of the conversation discovered that his wife had given birth to his son. As a proud dad, he now had a career in publishing. He described at length how he had become a connoisseur of shampoo (very evident from the sheen of his now perfectly manicured hair and beard and the time he took in the selection of it) and how some are better than others. And conditioner, well, I had to eventually excuse myself as the dissertation on the science of it looked like taking a better part of the day. He even joked about himself in his benign and self effacing manner. It was very evident he had learnt to shower and to change attire daily.

Some time after that I bumped into him again on a train and he was virtually unrecognizable, so well manicured was he in suit and tie, progressing in his career of choice.

He never came back to the dojo. But Aikido had once again wrought its magic. From no hope to immense promise and awakened potentials, this one soul had entirely turned his life around from an existence of depression, a diet of hemp, dirtiness, slovenly lack of unwashed discipline, into that of a prospering model citizen contributing to society and his family.

Bags had fought a great battle and won. Today he is still winning. They no longer called him by his nickname now but his real name.

Everyone has their unique battles and journeys and victories.

It may be possible that Aikido somehow helps.

“Kami no hikari ni hiraku kono michi,” was a favourite saying of the Founder Morihei Ueshiba and he proposed regular Aikido practice as a valid Way of awakening and self transformation.

Nev Sagiba


  1. Thanks Nev,

    I tell students all the time that there are two adversaries to deal with. The one in front of you and the most dangerous one is invisible and never seen. He is inside. That’s one of the reasons I say Aikido is like dancing life. That invisible partner has to be mastered and made friends with. It’s a lot like learning to dance. You have good days and not so good days but attention to details can work wonders.

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