“What Is Aikido, Really?” by Nev Sagiba

“The essence that endures is more real than mere paint, but intangible..”

For me, Aikido is not a watered down, collusional pretence of a dance. Not at all.

It must never be forgotten that Aikido has its origins in valid battlefield combat jujutsu of the most virulent kind. Aikido’s forte lies in the fact that the aikijutsu arts continued to refine jujutsu and pare away the excrescences to reveal core principles that optimize efficiency, leverage and economy of motion to their best. And perhaps more.

When practiced with martial integrity, that is, unmitigated honesty, Aikido purges mental clutter and entanglements, to produce clear thinking. This is a never ending process.

Because it maintains an honest body-mind connection this produces a unique synergy that opens up a Way and enables clarity of perception.

Why does it enable?

Nature creates by overcoming challenges, not as in slapping paint on a canvas then expecting it to last. Nature is constantly reworking and changing. The essence that endures is more real than mere paint, but intangible.

When you are going home from the dojo, where is ikkyo? Where is iriminage? Where are.. the things you just practiced?

Much like a more dynamic form of sand art, everything changes and disappears into impermanency, yet the essence remains. Whilst invisible it is more real than the appearances that are swept away.

What remains, albeit unseen by many, are the predispositions which are keys to all Creation. These open up an entirely different view to existence to enable an harmonious and debt free way to negotiate life.

However this awakening attitude must be maintained vigilantly and constantly fine tuned for optimal performance, just like any engine.

Daily training becomes the Way.

“There is no enemy of love.. There is no time and space before Ueshiba of Aikido.. only the universe as it is..” Morihei Ueshiba

Creation of a sand mandala

Nev Sagiba


  1. Strange and inexplicable perceptions may accompany or follow good aikido techniques. Physical aikido, though, is reproducible. Illusions are more consistently reproducible with fasting, meditation, possibly combined with stressful exercise. The Sun Dance of the Plains tribes comes to mind (drag buffalo skulls behind you while dancing by thongs attached to hooks through your pectoral muscles until you either collapse or the hooks tear through the muscles and free themselves). And, hey, this is America so how can I touch on this topic without mentioning drugs. Have I had strange perceptions while training? Yeah. Some. But that’s not what I bought the ticket for. I can go off into imaginary spaces without either aikido, or any other mood altering practice.

  2. Charles, You’re talking about trippin’. I’m talking about a clear head which is the very opposite. Joe, Any practice that clears the mind is instrumental and a clear mind augments the instrument as well. There exist no proprietary rights. Anyone, Unless you’ve done the sun dance you do not qualify to comment. The “strange perceptions” of drugs do permanent damage and have nothing remotely to do with clarity and the counterfeit “clarity” is followed by compounded expenditure not concomitant with the false appearance of the temporary gain imagined.

  3. Joe Peterson says:

    Doesn’t all focused hard training in any martial art achieve a clear mind, a zen state of mushin no shin (無心の心) by default? In contrast, how about Kyudo, absent of shugyo as in Aikido, its passive practice’s purpose is to clear the mind. Nev, I think you wrote a fine article. I am thinking you are saying Aikido has a proprietary right on a clear mind. Or you could be saying that a clear mind is an essential instrument to optimal Aikido? I personally believe a clear mind is the instrument to optimal Aikido.

  4. Joe Peterson says:

    When I read Nev’s article, I didn’t get any sense he was alluding to the any use of drug, or natural induced high from practice. I understood his point of honest training leads to the quieting of the mind. The infernal noise that in our heads never seems to take a break. Having a means to turn that noise off and get that few moments of silence, thus peace of mind, procuring clarity of mind.

    Thinking the experience of clarity of mind, is the same thing as the endorphin feeling from exhausting your body from rigorous and strenuous exercise, it isn’t. No parallels should be made between these experiences or any other like an euphoric one, or being high from drugs with clarity of mind Nev is mentioning.

    Clarity of mind, is a state of mind. Early Chinese Chán (Zen) poems directs the reader to the clarity of mind. These poems often describe a solitude observation of nature, absent of making an analysis of the objects observed. Japanese Zen masters offer oral puzzles that confuse to the mind or a directed practice like includes physical trails. For example, striking a person with a shinai while in seiza when they make any type analysis. All such methods are to bring the mind to a state of clarity, stopping that infernal chatter of the mind.

    The origin of Chán or Zen is rooted in the Buddhism sanskrit word Dhyāna representing a state of mind, a consciousness, of mental clarity. This could be the reason Nev, used images of a Tibetan Buddhist sand painting to practice to represent clarity of mind. Tibetan Mandala sand painting as my understanding it to show the impermanence of life, and importance of non-attachment. The artistic process to make such sand paintings brings clarity to mind, where it is occupied on the focus to detail and care of the work, shutting down the analytical mind. All artistic processes lead to a clear mind, it isn’t proprietary to Tibetan Buddhists. I feel Nev, was a bit too abstract with that connection, it is a very difficult connection to make when doing an article. Article writing isn’t easy. Yet an artistic practice it too can lead to a clear mind, not a quickly shodō( 書道) or Japanese poetry. Now we see why Osensei did shodō and why it is an activity praised in Budo. This is where probably he got his mental clarity he applied when doing waza.

    All in all, I can see why Charles made his comment directed to being high. The article wasn’t the strongest, and was abstract. I see what Nev was trying to do, it was a difficult thing to write about. I would be hard pressed to find others who could do better. Also, clarity of mind doesn’t mean high, or that euphoric experiences from a rush of endorphins from a hard work out. Clarity of mind is sitting on a peaceful park bench watching people enjoying the park without a thought. Dhyāna can also be achieved in Aikido through shugyo, but not as easily because we suffer the analytical mind during waza wanting to get a end result. Mushin no shin (無心の心) is a luxury afforded to the veteran Aikido practitioner and not the novice. It is extremely difficult, a great challenge to maintain Mushin no shin (無心の心) in the proper Aikido dojo. But that is the Japanese way, nothing easy.

  5. Joe Peterson says:

    Clarity of mind in Aikido is usually achieved more readily achieved in a serious practice where the state of mind is equal to a mock combat of life or death situation. It is a state of mind where the pressure not make a mistake is lethal. Where the pressure to perform is a peak because of perceived consequences. The mind is focus, it is at its peak of concentration. We see this seriousness, this state of mind in the eyes of Osensei in many of his pictures. It is that intense state of mind that begets clarity.

    Many think Aikido practice is light-heated lacking that seriousness. I don’t agree, I believe based on Nev’s article neither does he. I think this is a misinterpretation of Osensei promoting Aikido during in public demonstrations, and people seeing what they want to see. Aikido for Osensei was serious business, it was budo. And that is plainly seen though his pictures, his videos and the work Stanley Pranin has done.

    If your not practicing Aikido at 110% giving it your all, fixing your mind with every waza you take or every waza perform, with the mental concentration of a life or death contest then you are not practicing Aikido in its entirety or purely. It isn’t optimal Aikido practice.

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