“Aikido’s Ethical Dimension,” by Nev Sagiba

“Aikido is not a better way to fight but a way to make conflict impossible by opening our mind’s eye to the numerous creative possibilities that will obtain equal or better results in all things. And each time we fall, as we will, enables ukemi, to stand up and try again to get it right, to refine ourselves as much as possible.”

Aikido without ethical standards would either revert back to a killing art or degenerate into a meaningless dance.

It would cease to be Aikido and will have become something else.

To aspire to such a vacuous monstrosity would be like saying, “I love democracy but only when I can implement tyranny in its guise.”

A dangerously implosive trajectory indeed.

The Founder’s lofty and unique, but very possible approach to Budo has global implications. Since the world is made up of all its parts influencing the whole, also in daily life. What you do to one affects us all and how we comport ourselves reflects on all of us.

One of the most unhappily miserable individuals I know has spent his life “studying spiritual ways” so that he can better manipulate people in business. He proudly gloats how he, “can screw salesmen out of their commission,” “nails little old ladies to the floor,” and, “can close an evil deal.” He treats women atrociously after often charming then seducing them and is so humiliatingly abusive to waitresses I was sorely tempted to break his nose in public one day.

Each fortune he made, he lost. Each of his marriages failed. He leaves a trail of burnt and suffering people in his wake.

He remains a lonely, frightened, embittered, cheap con man who entirely misses the point of everything! He is still at it.

Such behaviors (including my temptation to punch him) go nowhere. The ancient instincts of the primitive, aggressive, abusive, violent ape are no longer valid for human beings. In the face of the technologies we now command, this “dark side,” if left unaddressed could, by our own hand, render us extinct as a species. This is a matter of serious concern. The power of creation and the power of destruction cannot mix with good results.

It is decision time. Do we want to replicate “Planet of the Apes?” Or do we want to move forward and become truly human? The fence is too sharply spiked to sit on safely. Equally unsafe it is to have a foot in each camp. That razor sharp dividing line right now threatens our vitals. Lukewarm will get ejected if not rent in twain. We need to be hot or cold over this issue. We have one card left to play.

There can be no going back and we will drown if we think we can tread water on the issue. The Universe and nothing in it can stand still. There can be only forward motion. Ahead of us lies a fork in the road. The trajectory we choose cannot be changed later if it proves inconvenient. We should be giving due consideration and not wait till the last moment in case the decision may prove to be the wrong one that leads to self annihilation..

For a human species aspiring to a future and continued existence this matter should be addressed with the utmost seriousness and urgency it deserves.

By now we should have come to realize that there is no need to force anything or cause harm in order to achieve a result. There are easier, more efficient ways available. What’s more the results of efficient ways tend to sustain.

The blueprint of the universe is that of recycling everything. In the process of refinement gross matter feeds energy or spirit. You cannot sell out the higher to gain perceived benefits in the lower without a loss of clarity. The transfer of matter into energy generates light, not the other way around.

Use any words you choose, higher/lower, gross/refined, discordant/harmonious and so on. The principle remains. This is not my opinion but a tested observation which is immutable. I did not manufacture it. Nor I not anyone can change it. Opinions don’t come into it and in any event influence none of the workings of the Universe one jot. We are left with a path of discovery to learn what the laws and predispositions most conducive to a thriving existence may be. Or not.

We can learn the hard way from the recoil of our misdeeds, or the easier way by moderate and respectful exploration of possibilities.

Actions accrue consequences. We may choose to learn or we may choose to keep trying to cheat and “influence” and change the Universe. If so we will fail.

When we learn, we find that we can get equivalent and better results with integrity, without the stresses, depletion and suffering generated by, “kicking against the pricks” of the natural infrastructures of harmony.(Ancient tillers used oxen to work the soil. The prick or goad was a device, usually a wooden shaft with a pointed spike (prick) at one end positioned the goad in such a way as to exert influence and control over the ox. If the ox refused the command indicated by the farmer, the goad would be used to jab or prick the ox. Sometimes the ox would refuse this incentive and rebel by kicking out at the prick. The more the animal rebelled, the more the animal suffered. Hence, the archaic terminology: “To kick against the pricks.”)

The trajectory of the universe is towards light. Otherwise towards a black hole which devours everything to be recycled back into light. There is no avoidance which is possible.

Of course to the mad, or the confused on the way to learning, in their heads they fail to see their smallness and relative insignificance and will continue to try to dictate to God. Until they break, fragment and are recycled as everything must be.

The Founder of Aikido was continually refining his observations of the inner and outer workings of the Universe and striving to articulate the ethical standards of Aikido, the glue that holds it and makes it so uniquely in the image of the workings of the Great Universe and Nature in a beneficent way.

That he dressed these in the language of his favorite mythologies is neither here nor there. Mere details.

That the “playthings of the dojo” serve to augment such awakenings is no coincidence, but verily because Aikido necessarily addresses the chaos of violence with the rational order of harmony in a practical way, beginning inside ourselves.

Aikido can and will enable a quantum leap in the spiritual evolution of the practitioner who is sincere and does not have an agenda to cheat by somehow extracting a skewed something else out of it.

Much like the proverbial goose that laid the golden egg, Aikido can only be Aikido when it is allowed to be Aikido. Vast and broad as the universal Way may be, it is also straight and narrow in its definitions.

The Founder has voluminously stated and restated what these conditions are and there would be no point in me repeating them and rehashing them again and again.

Puns only serve to indicate where there is a commonality of experience. Otherwise they either mean nothing or will be misunderstood, filtered by colored glasses of ideas held only in the mind. The individual must do their own work in the dojo, in themselves and in life in order to discover. Seek and you shall find.

As a species we are inexorably co-dependent. No person can be an island even if they tried.

We can co exist happily or miserably, but one thing is for sure, the relationship is a marriage that has no divorce. We are left with two choices. We can choose the unhappy way and spiral down into what the ancients referred to as the levels of hells. Or we can learn to co exist to mutual advantage which I suppose would correspond the various heavens.

Since no escape exists other than in fictitious vain imaginings, we are left with the choice whether to face the work to bring about our mutually agreeable courses of action and the learning that this brings. At best we will all gain, at worst we will all share the suffering that is the outcome of errors. If the greatest good is not immediately easy we may have to make a starting point at the lesser evil and painfully grow from there. Thereby we may hopefully learn the lessons that will enable us to grow up into spiritual maturity. Change being the primary universal constant, the one thing we cannot do is to stand still for it invites risk.

Aikido is not a better way to fight but a way to make conflict impossible by opening our mind’s eye to the numerous creative possibilities that will obtain equal or better results in all things. And each time we fall, as we will, enables ukemi, to stand up and try again to get it right, to refine ourselves as much as possible.

In our training as sincere practitioners we should always stay mindful of the Founder’s vision of a harmonious humanity which is properly cared for, nurtured, protected and living in accord with the Great Harmony of the Universe working with what is possible. The impossible should not concern us as it relegates itself without any effort required on our part. Striving for it is a folly. Since all things are possible with goodness, the effortless efficient, ergonomic and socially well lubricated way thereby distinguishes itself.

This is the never ending research of the universal and endless Aikido made possible on earth and in life by restoring the bridge that links Heaven and Earth, the clarified body-mind connection in the Hito-jinja, or temple of the living God, enabled by the misogi of Aikido training.

If you just want cardio and to “throw” each other for an hour or so and then go home happy that’s OK too. One way or the other Aikido will change you for the better.

It’s all very simple really. The bigger dojo for humans is life itself, the world.

Aikido is a gift that can only be earned!

Nev Sagiba


  1. Purely imo, the ethical dimension of aikido, if there is such a thing, is measured in outcomes. If you engage with a thought of ethics, you’ll probably get hit. If you then get angry, and reactive you may get seriously whupped.

    Again, imo, the sense necessary at the moment of engagement is, to use a frequently misunderstood word, transcendant. O Sensei said “walk the bridge between life and death”. As we start on the side of life, it logically seems seems that our first move will be toward death. Unlike the advice of Hagakure, however, we aren’t required to get off the bridge on the death side. What is much more subtle is avoiding Musashi’s apparent invitation to enter into a winning and losing match. Musashi would probably agree that thoughts of winning and losing are as inappropriate as those of ethics, or living and dying.

    Aikido is distinctive, to me, in that in most techniques injury is optional. Avoiding injury is an option open to the other party, though the necessary techniques to do so aren’t any easier than those applied by the dominant party in the situation. If there are ethics in aikido, which I actually question, they are demonstrated by the ability to continue training for decades.

    • Charles, If you are stuck in the fighting aspect of Aikido only, it is cause for concern. Dealing with conflict too late to prevent it, reveals neglect. It is playing catch-up as a result of lack of CONSTRUCTIVE SKILL. By analogy we may look at Aikido like a tree. If the tree fails to bear fruit and we fumble too much digging up the roots, it dies having no purpose. Societies crumble from lack of creative maintenance. There are numerous tiers essential to a flourishing society.
      Budo is akin to firefighting. (Interestingly the insightful Morihei Ueshiba wasted no time implementing fire brigades when developing Hokkaido. And there is the operative word. DEVELOPING. And I do not mean the corrosive rendition of the word today’s real estate agents use to subdivide good land so than can squeeze another buck out of creating modern ghettos full of little boxes made of ticky-tacky that look all the same!)
      In the old days of “firefighting” the guys would sweep floors, polish brass and mop toilets, complete some paperwork and then watch tv or variously misbehave. At any time, at a moment’s notice, they would be called upon to place their lives at risk to “fight fires,” most which were entirely PREVENTABLE ! Over the years the fire fighting “industry” learnt that the proper, intelligent addressing of the science of firefighting which included due liaison with local government bodies to co-operate in implementing SAFER BUILDING CODES and PUBLIC EDUCATION into non-stupid behaviours which MANUFACTURE RISK where none needed to exist, does make a difference. Its still evolving. As a result they turn out less nowadays. They still practice drills and debrief to refine technique for those times they still need to turn out. And they still liase and educate. This is Budo. This is Aikido. If training serves to have no effects other than combat ability, you are wasting your time. We all are. If Aikido and all Budo fails to uplift and refine society, alleviate suffering and generally improve the wellbeing of humanity overall then it fails in its task. If Aikido does not improve you in all other ways and other skills than merely fighting, then something is very wrong. If Aikido fails in augmenting the SCIENCE OF LIFE, then we may as well all play bowls or go fishing whilst waiting for the end or the next brutal assault. That’s not life, it’s the dark ages. They have been tried already. They failed. Otherwise, in-between fighting to protect core values, human rights, integrity, your loved ones, ones own safety in situations of imminent risk, whatever else requires protecting; WE BUILD. Prevention is better than having to slug it out at high risk. Best wishes, Nev

  2. If you train and live aikido in an ethical way, you will develop the sensitivity and timing which saves you from getting ‘whipped’, there can be no anger, no reactivity, i.e. no ‘whupping’ either.

  3. Larry Novick says:

    For me, ultimately the ethics of Aikido are grounded in it’s spirituality, which in turn is grounded in a connection to what is sometimes known as “highest good.” We can’t “pre-judge” what the highest good of a situation is, it is through our own connection and presence that it can manifest through us, if we can participate in events conscous of that, and allow our being to be informed by it.

  4. Very well said Nev. I once wrote a blog discussing the non fighting aspects of Aikido and was vilified and subjected to all kinds of abuse.

  5. Hello Nev,

    Kudos to being consistent on matters of principle, and for giving us reminders of our individual responsibility to represent all phases of our art of choice, and not to pick and choose those we fancy, or choose to ignore.

    Yet, don’t you see that you are preaching to the choir, and that we all share the same dismay and feelings of helplessness in addressing the evils that you describe. The fact of the matter is, we cannot. You cannot, I cannot, and throughout human history, no one has been able to live the life of integrity, compassion, honesty with self and others, and being widely recognized for achieving and inspiring others to do the same.

    I have heard that it is better to “sell the sizzle”, rather than the steak. People are motivated at the end, by how they will actually benefit from a change in behavior, a shift in working policy, and being recognized in positive ways. We need to identify and emphasize the benefits of correct thinking, taking right action, and being willing to be held individually accountable for what we think, say and do. Only then, Nev, and no guarantee.

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