“Headhunters and Aikido Cover Ups,” by Nev Sagiba

“In order to be ABLE to securely ‘not fight’ in a dangerous situation, you must first be capable of fighting. Only then can you have the power and ability to make this choice!”

For too long there has been a cover-up about Aikido practitioners learning to cover up.

“Aikido people don’t cover up,” according to some “ex-spurts.” And they will argue intensely about this non-point. Apparently they enjoy receiving atemi with their face.

In fact they’ve never been really hit, that’s why these proponents still live in fantasyland.

Also, presumably they’ve never heard of jodan and chudan. Scary thought. Big titles cannot hide the abject incompetence I’ve noticed in my travels.

In any Budo you must protect your face and body.

In a dance, you have, hopefully, total trust for your opponent. In combat the very opposite. If you are practicing Aikido as Budo, and not dance, you have to at least make an effort to fake the mistrust and survival caution that comes with real violence.

I once had an acquaintance that practiced a quasi-eclectic minestrone of fighting arts and he reckoned, “Aikido people are hypnotized with their own stupidity.” He based this on his idea that no attacker will grab your wrist.

Some do, some don’t. This much I know. When they do, they don’t just stand there holding your hand.

I then disagreed with this fellow’s criticism. Now, following observation, I daily think he is more correct as more and more “aikido” appears to be descending into the quagmires of mediocrity and a convenient pastime of self delusion that neither resembles any budo, nor will ever be effective when the litmus test comes.

As it happens, this fellow has succeeded in hypnotizing himself, that all fights must be conducted lying down. Heaven help him when several armed opponents one day assail him. He is going to have an awakening the hard way. If he lives.

But “martial arts are nothing about fighting.” So we are told by pontificators.

No? Really? What is then? A social club?

I hope they are fast runners.

In order to be ABLE to securely “not fight” in a dangerous situation, you must first be capable of fighting. Only then can you have the power and ability to make this choice!

Mars, was the “god of war.” Hence the term MARtial.

The worst enemy of all budoka is self-deception, and following that: Mutual deception. So easy to fall into. Only problem, tall tales of holes in doughnuts will be of no avail when the real thing comes.

Reality has different plans to that of theories, opinions, hypothesis’s and fairy tales. Violence is harsh, even for the trained “expert.” You seldom survive unscathed. It has nothing to do with “winning” or “losing,” as in points or other fictions. Rather, staying alive. That’s the distinction.

When a murderous whoever attacks you, you should give a damn about scoring points, rather every effort goes in to staying alive every which way you can.

So, when training, instead of making eyes and giggling within striking range, you should be training as if for life and death survival.

Come alive. Jodan only “looks aggressive” if you start pulling faces. Otherwise it is a pacifying or “surrender” posture. This is deceptive. It was banned from sport fighting because Jodan techniques can be devastating and do serious damage. As for Chudan, everybody knows it because it’s in all the movies from kung fu, to karate and boxing and signifies nothing much unless you know what to do with it. Its not really for either “blocking” or punching although that’s how its mostly used. Practice will reveal. Hand held weapons, buki practice: bokken, jo, wakazashi length weapons and tanto, more so enables the unlocking of these significant battle postures using gravity and tsuki.

Practice and become competent, if for no other reason that you will give the art a bad name when the newspapers print, “Aikido master killed by a midget in a scuffle..” it should be the mission of each and every practitioner to EXCEL in Aikido, not merely to impress with a semblance of it.

If you’ve never been hit in the face, you will have no conception about covering up and you will tend to freeze with surprise long enough to be overwhelmed. If you want to learn a softened reality, go to a boxing gym. Try out just once. Ask them not to hold back. (perhaps humbly request they use thicker and more padded, soft gloves.) Find out what happens to your delicate face, fragile opinions and your theories about “doing aikido.”

I can tell you now, THE MAJORITY OF YOU WILL GET POUNDED. “Doing aikido” will not work.

Then go back to your dojo with an improved insight into the nature of fighting.

O’Sensei – Morihei Ueshiba, is on record as having easily defeated boxers!

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE? Ask yourself this question with absolute sincerity, then set about finding the answers with determination.

I know, I know, you don’t train to fight. What often happens in a situation, the attacker will overwhelm you with a barrage of punches to the head. Then if you fail to cover up it will be followed by another, and another until you are overwhelmed and sometimes injured.

Attackers do not care why you train, if you train, or what you practice. They just want to cause harm.

When set upon with a flurry of persistent head strikes, most people will fail to cover up; and often end up crouching in a corner, rolled up in a ball with hands over their head weeping and begging, a deeply ingrained instinctive submission posture. Even “martial artists.” Not all, mainly those addicted to the idea of “styles.” It has happened frequently but is usually kept quiet.

This is what happens very fast, even to people who like to imagine this “style” or that to be useful. In such a position, if the attacker does not then stop, you are at immense risk and could get knifed. To avoid injury, the solution is simple, but requires serious practice. Immediately drop your chin, cover up and enter strongly whilst looking for openings. Then use them. Follow up immediately. Most Aikido basics will work well. At close quarters and with strong intention, you won’t have to fake anything. What works best are ikkyo, kaiten-nage, irimi-nage, gyagku-irimi nage, tenchi-nage, variables of sumi-otoshi. Koshinage if you are skilled and enter immediately and fearlessly, and of course obi-otoshi. In some instances kote-gaeshi will fall into your hands: but don’t go looking for it, especially if you are under the belief you can simply catch a wrist. You can’t, and yet, if your attacking tai no henko is correct, you may end up doing so. Indirection. Anyhow it is all about practice. Simply practice against headhunting flurries until you get it. And be prepared to use combination, flow-ons, transitions, henka waza.

You can not merely, “do aikido” in the conventionally accepted slow motion, big circle, silly maai, one technique, training drill sense. You need to reflect your opponent’s attacking method, then aiki it once you are in. NEVER step back or you will be merely sparring and he will land some blows and it will escalate instead of finalise. This has already been done to death with the very valid experiments of shoot-fighting and other forms of wrestling that use whole body weight as counter, to take the boxer to ground. And you must be prepared to wear a punch or two on the way in although it is not necessary. Do not stick your chin out like so many “aikido” people do. Tuck your chin in. The chin is the button. The one that puts you to sleep. The training should be to enter whole bodyweight, covering up, head low, then effect a finalization without going to ground (where possible). Yes, it’s challenging training and you will get very fit.

It’s not about having a contest, or sparring, but learning to notice and use OPENINGS. In other words, don’t try to “do aikido.” Instead, box deploying aiki principles. You won’t be able to do this if you bounce around. Or take a static stance. That’s neither boxing not aikido, but a nonsense. Preferably get a boxer to do the striking. One who can enter with a flat footed wide stance with determined strikes, not playful ones. And one who can take ukemi (for mutual safety in training.) To merely jab and cross is not an attack but only half a drill. An attack is the intent to overwhelm with ten, twenty or forty or more, continuous strikes in combination. You will have to enter and enter, in and through.. If you step back you will get hit!

You must be prepared to go to ground; but not as an accepted foregone conclusion as some do. If you inevitably do, then use suwari-waza where possible (although the attack was not much watch Rendezvous to Adventure Observer what Mr. Koichi Tohei does.) If suwari-waza is not effected, you will need to know your ground work. To minimize going to ground, work on your irimi-tankan. Realise that there are more implications to atemi waza and grappling than permitted in sport. In a real situation you will need to think outside the box. Good aiki is assertive kime and terminates the flurry before the first blow can land. This is where irimitankan comes in.

Watch the DVDs and study how Shoji Nishio and Yoshio Kuroiwa senseis move.

Instructors should be able to exemplify immunity from continuous head-hunting attacks beyond the beginner drill, wrist grabbing stage, by stopping such an attack promptly. Aikido training begins when the attacks are atemi-waza and you learn INTECEPTION AIKI.

These drills should be practiced and tested safely in the dojo until clarity and relevant skill appears. Even a barrage of weak and harmless training slaps can feel intimidating to a person acculturated to training in slow motion and not notice openings during attack. Can you imagine the result when the intent is bad and the attacker is genuinely going apeshit?

Brutal training? Not at all. Essential training. Real attacks are brutal! This is BUDO! It is expected you to survive the next real attack, if and when it happens. Knowing how to cover up correctly and use it to enter and finish, is reiterated in the writings and demonstrated in the videos of the founder of Aikido. Training is expected to reflect SURVIVAL CAPABILITIES.

Some people like to use gloves and head gear for this kind of training, but accouterments, I’ve found, tend to allow for escalations in training and the risk of injury. Also they spoil the fine-tuning of real distance. OK for strongly supervised young males perhaps. On the other hand, use both. Soft slaps can be modulated to be harmless and provide a greater sense of reality. Simply don’t escalate to cause real harm in training. It’s a mental exercise. And a test of authentic capability because it will nevertheless present a feeling of being overwhelmed to the improperly trained. Yes, it may sting a little. This is good. It provides a perspective and an opportunity to make corrections.

Knowing how to enter in a protected manner will increase your chances of success exponentially. Departing from what works, ceases to be Aikido.

Real Aikido is spiritual. Very spiritual. So spiritual that it works well in reality. The other stuff is collusional self-deception and a danger to itself and its own reputation.

Children who grew up in a era where parents slapped them, know ikkyo before they come to the dojo. They understand jodan and chudan stances immediately. They cover up because they are, quite frankly, sick and tired of the pain of abuse.(or its memory) The same abuse a real attacker will dish out.

Why do most attackers head-hunt? Because a strike to the face, whether it succeeds in breaking a bone or not, is disorienting. It shocks the delicate nerves in the neck, by jarring the seven suspended vertebra balancing and holding up a heavy head rather badly. If well placed enough, forceful and correctly timed, it can jar the brain as well as inflict other injuries.

An instant shock ensues. As representatives of Budo you are supposed to be representing it by demonstrating competence from such realistic attacks. Not making a mockery of it.

Some years ago, an individual who had been training at another school, was welcomed into our dojo. We trained. But he hated the idea of covering up. And not only voiced it, but pointedly refused to. Problem was, every time he trained with one particular student who had been a boxer, he got clipped.

He wanted his “rank recognized.” I settled for ability only. He sulked.

Instead of correcting his m.o. and learning something, he would rudely interrupt class to whine about it. I kept repeating “cover up” again and again and I would even restructure the class to reiterate and again explain the vital importance of jodan and gedan gamae and their purpose. But he had this opinion that, “You don’t cover up in aikido.”

Obdurate would be an understatement. After some time my reply changed to say to the boxer, “Hit him harder,” hoping he would get the point, the reality, not his failed hypothesis. Needless to say he kept getting clipped, but for some strange psychiatric quirk, probably an unhealthy attachment to a delusional peer group opinion, his ideas about not covering up only got worse, and stronger. And he got clipped more often, instead of accepting reality and making corrections. (He was actually walking into very kind and considerately soft punches.)

One day, he failed to turn up to class but arrived late and enraged, interrupted a rather heavy duty kendo class in a basketball court, to loudly proclaim to everyone that he was, “Quitting this school, because there is no covering up in aikido.”

Being today’s world, I took a good ukemi as the same ex-boxer with whom I happened to be training at that particular moment, used the opportunity the distraction of the interruption provided, to effect an immaculate uppercut ikkyo action with his shinai. Why waste a good opening?

I stood up, stopped the class and thanked the intruder. In the old world his bad manners would have earnt him being sent scuttling with multiple shinai strikes the whole dojo after him up the road. Such a lesson would have been wasted on this extremely thick fellow who refused to simply learn from factuality.

Having said that, techniques from gedan gamae ARE indeed valid. Gedan must be practiced also. Not only. And this with care to gain understanding. If you are surprise attacked, or if you know how to control the opponent using maai to draw the attacker in; then gedan can be sublime instead of ridiculous.

But you must be CONSCIOUS of your body. What stance are you in, which foot is forward, what is the ground, what is behind you, what is terrain, what is the opponents real intent.. and include everything else as well. Each moment is unique.

Well, I’ve given the clues here. If you know them good, you are practicing well. If you glimpsed them, time to start putting into practice. If you missed the point, there is hope, keep training.

If you vehemently disagree, there is hope for you too, but only after you have experienced a real and sustained attack. And only if you live. Take a very thick pad and lots of new pens to hospital. You will be wanting to take notes.

If you don’t know what jodan and chudan stances are; as well as the limp and unconscious gedan some seem stuck in; or how these interact and can be deployed with hanmi gamae, in both ai and gyaku stances, I suggest you look them up as a matter of urgency. And practice them till you know them in your sleep.

It will both help you in producing factual functionality in your Aikido; and it will help the noble art of Aikido from going down the drain in an orgy of fakery and self-deception and acquiring a bad name as a result of dancing roters doing only mere slow forms, without any measure of understanding of their real and live application. Don’t get me wrong. Slow motion is an essential attribute of training, but it is not the all of it. In a real situation, as in good training outside of slo-mo; matching the opponent’s ki and deai is essential.

It is difficult to deal with this subject with mere words. It requires lots of training and working things out for oneself. All good practice.

Remember, the practical application of Aikido is not in brawling, but in using skill too arrange it so that destructive encounters are made impossible, as much as possible. After that, improvise.

Aikido does ‘cover up’ by controlling the maai in conjunction with Jodan and Chudan stances as well as Gedan. If you don’t know what these are FIND OUT as a matter of urgency and include them in practice.

Uncover the truth about Ikkyo and its use as a defence-attack against headhunters. Learn to USE Jodan, Chudan and Gedan for more than merely posturing. And discover how the basic techniques work against real and continuous strikes.

Meanwhile, learn to protect your face. It’s the only one you’ve got. Cover up. And enter. Or don’t be there.

1/ In Boxing terminology as a simplified rendition, to “cover up” means to protect the body and head with the arms.

2/ Here’s another clue to covering up. As I recall hearing it. It is a tradition that a student represent his teacher in a duel and indeed O’Sensei was required to do this on occasion for Sokaku Takeda sensei. On this occasion O’Sensei found himself in such a quandary as to have no alternative than to make the request. It is said that in the old days, the Founder’s dojo was being watched by spies as a result of the Oomoto incident. One day a famous Karate-do expert applied to join O’Sensei’s dojo and he had come with references. Morihei had an intuitive feeling that this guy was a spy, but it was difficult to diplomatically refuse him without generating offense. Off the cuff, he invented an immediate screening procedure. “Sir, we would just love to have you here, but the rules of joining this dojo require that you must first beat the most junior student.” The candidate agreed. O’Sensei rushed to the back of the dojo where the deshi were and asked for the most junior apprentice. A young kid appeared. He asked: “Son, what have you been practicing and how long?” “Only Ikkajo for about three months sir.” “You have been selected for the honour of representing our dojo in a very important contest. Don’t worry. I will invoke the kami to be with you. Just do Ikkajo and enter as if your life depends on it. Or it will!” The moment arrived. This kid confronted the Karate master, shaking. At the right moment he performed Ikkajo as if his life depended upon it and all but knocked the Karate master out. On coming to, the Karate master conceded and O’Sensei was able to dismiss him whilst saving face.

Nev Sagiba

Josh Gold

Executive Editor of Aikido Journal, CEO of Budo Accelerator, and co-founder of Ikazuchi Dojo.


  • Thanks for writing this. For a long time I was lazy to put my hand up to cover in the inital stance however, I always did protect my face – particularily when a lower ranked student would do clothes-line” as opposed to the irimi demonstrated.

    I have recently been training with my hands up similar to a boxers stance as opposed to my habitual hands at side positioning. My sensei has been getting hard on us for our laziness lately and I understand why. It’s much easier to begin any technique with hands up, ready to cover the head as opposed to the side. He often says – “You know the punch is coming – why not be ready for it – or you’ll get hit.”

    A book that opened my eyes lately was “Meditations on Violence – A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence” by Sgt. Rory Miller. He is a long time practitioner of martial arts and a jailhouse sergeant who has seen a variety of violence and been attacked many times. His premise is that there is a gap between what most martial artists train for and what real world violence is like. I was able to see the fantasy illusion I had that I’d be able to take care of myself through the way I had been training – it’s not my sensei’s fault – he’s all into covering up and training a more realistic fashion. Rather, I’ve been lazy but now I see I need to step it up unless I want to get pulverized.

    I hope that acquaintance wakes up and sees the value of covering up…

  • I agree, some people need to be hit hard enough to cause pain but not injury… to wake them up!

    When you come across a real fighter or a real boxer you had better be ready to experience pain and failure because the only way you are gonna win is to either be better then they are, or injure them so they can’t use their skills.

    Too many comments and blogs in Aikido are about the high road of morals where we use our skill to overcome dirty tricks and someone’s skill in another style of martial arts, but more often than not.. none of us is that skilled, we use deception and trickery to fool the senses of an opponent so our aikido technique seems superior.

    READ the biography of O’Sensei. Read the variety of sources, not just one book or one source. It is only after being a failure that he pushes himself to his limits and discovers he is able to focus his mind and body to do extraordinary things. There will even be times when he admits to opponents that that equal or superior to him in skills and make them his friends. There is no perfect warrior, only imperfect human beings who try to survive in this imperfect world.

    Yep, ya gotta get hit, make mistakes, and find a way that works for you to protect yourself against the violence that you learn to integrate many different styles of martial arts into the general category that eventually becomes your practice of Aikido.

    Good Blog Nev .. good blog.

  • First, NO Aikido dojo I have ever been to, seen on video, youtube, DVD, book, you name it, practices against someone moving around on their toes pucnhing and kicking at them. It simply does not occur at 99.9% of ALL aikido dojos. If it did AIKIKAI would be doing it along with most of the other varied organizations across the globe.

    Second, all of these articles for the most part focus on the wrong things: TECHNIQUES. Techniques DO NOT win fights. Distance, timing, speed, power, movement, heart, determination, focus, etc., are what win fights. If techniques won fights then we all should be invincible because we all know the EXACT same TECHNIQUES as O’Sensei.

    Third, until the Aikido community gets over simply “preserving” O-Sensei’s techniques and moves forward to applying the CONCEPTS/PRINCIPLES he left behind in a way that FUNCTIONALIZES the art we will remain just another one of those traditional arts that people get their ass kicked with.

    Finally, my advise would be focus on the concepts, NOT the throws and joint locks and techniques. When you do this then you slowly begin moving around with someone and they slowly intensify the pressure they put on you (kicking, punching, grappling, etc). After a while you are just flowing no matter what they do and whatever comes out is what should be done. By doing this, you will a few things that work for you most of the time and you will notice that YOUR aikido will vastly improve and be USEFUL.

    Jason Rhodes

  • …covering up is a matter of distance. when you’re in range, which in aikido should be rarely. you either better be covered and/or placing atemi. covering up when out of range not only looks a bit silly, it also limits both forward vision and peripheral attention, while simultaneously telegraphing intent. a standard defensive cover, as in boxing, also limits downward vision – perception of kicks. basic kokyu-ho can be used as a cover, but best if covering is only a transition. being uncovered is certainly a way to get hit. being too covered is another way to get hit.

  • In order to be able to not fight you must first be capable of fighting. At last someone said it. Its only a lofty aiki-ism if you could have crippled your attacker but you choose to spare him. Nev I hope they hear you.

  • Wow this should be required reading for every aikidoka.

    Like any other skill you have to be in the real situation or close facsimile in order to train yourself. Teachers can teach you i.e. show you but only you can train yourself or learn yourself.

    I prefer to call the cover up your guard hand. Anytime you drop your guard you are open to attack and if it is a fast one you will never get that hand up fast enough to overcome or survive the altercation. Furthermore, if you have one hand down and asleep it robs power from the active hand. If you go to any gym and watch someone do bicep curls when they do not know you are watching the second arm will never be hanging limp at their side. It will usually be in a natural guard position because that empowers the lifting arm.

    If you are never really attacked or close facsimile thereof you will never be able to train yourself to defend yourself. Of course you don’t take a raw beginner and bombard him or her. It is a process that you develop so as you advance the attacks are more rigorous. In training the strength of the attack should be just below that which would cause the receiver to break from form. Then over time the individual will be better able to handle him or her self while maintaining form and structure. Again the gym analogy-you see the majority of people in the gym lifting more weight than they can handle so their form breaks down. It is much healthier to weight train keeping proper form-less chance you will hurt your back or joints.

    In the current state of aikido most practitioners are practicing for rank which necessitates imitating the leader of your particular style. If you do not imitate etc. you will not get the rank. “We do not do nikkyo that way because of …. you fail”. To perpetuate this the attackers are programmed to attack in specific ways (telegraphed, one arm limp, exaggerated over committed movements, unrealistic attacks…) so the technique works. Sadly real life doesn’t work that way. If you ignore a real attacker’s free hand and focus on the other one without a guard hand as back up you usually get hit with that free hand. It could get messy.

    As for wrist grabs not being practical I think O’sensei was brilliant because he opened up martial art for anyone of any size, shape, fitness level, flexibility etc. Almost anyone can do aikido. Your way of practicing or doing aikido may not be practical in the sense of defending yourself but just being able to fall down without breaking your neck has its merits. No matter what anyone says Aikido does not really have any attacks so if you are not cross trained to any degree and do not practice with someone who has you will not be able to defend yourself against a real attack in the street unless of course you are physically stronger than the attacker. Nishio, Shioda etc. had backgrounds in karate, judo etc before starting aikido so they understood a real attack. You can be spiritual about it and say I train in aikido so that I can avoid any altercation and never really have to use it but hopefully you will someday come back to earth and be realistic. I prefer to see the wrist grabs and telegraphed yokomenuchis as ways to open the art up to a wider group of people. Eventually what you do against a wrist grab should work against a real punch as your skill level progresses. After all there is force coming in your direction with the grab only it is slower and less powerful than a full on punch. If you choose to stay at whatever level you train at so be it. Again that is the beauty of aikido it is a very accommodating art-sometimes too accommodating.

  • Probably true. However, if you wish to train yourself as to be able to fight in real situation. Stop Aikido and start Karate.
    Running might also be an option. Anyway, please just don’t practice Aikido if you have “fighting” in mind.

  • Jason – You put in in a nutshell 1-Yes, 2 – “Techniques DO NOT win fights. Distance, timing, speed, power, movement, heart, determination, focus, etc., are what win fights.” Yes, 3 – “..applying the CONCEPTS/PRINCIPLES he left behind in a way that FUNCTIONALIZES the art..” Yes, 4 – Aikido is intended to be USEFUL! – That takes WORK. People are lazy and prefer to make excuse than face the pain of change.

    Aaaron – Yes! “Like any other skill you have to be in the real situation or close facsimile in order to train yourself. Teachers can teach you i.e. show you but only you can train yourself or learn yourself.”
    The limp arm syndrome is a grave problem in pseudo-aikido and screams FAKE! The techniques are springboards or launch pads. People try to collect them instead of finding out how to use them to fly. Finger and moon syndrome. The finger points to the moon. Notice the moon, not the finger. Too many of today want to use that finger to pick their nose whilst make excuses for not putting in the work, and thereby fail to unlock the treasures of Aikido that stand before them.

    lls – It’s not the art, it’s the individual and application to task, which is refined in consistent training, accepting nothing but the best of yourself. Karate and Aikido are the same thing. Refined they function. Mimiked they fail.

  • A ronin was passing through a village and while in the crowded square, turned abruptly, banging his scabbard against the tea master’s hip. “You banged my sword, the ronin said, “That is a grave insult, and I will kill you for it.” The tea master knew immediately the ronin really meant to kill him, and he was gripped with fear. “I meant you no insult sir. Please excuse my clumsiness and let me live. As you can see, I’m not a warrior and I have no sword.” Get a sword and meet me on the road tomorrow at noon. There, I’ll let you die like a man. But, if you don’t show up, I’ll find you wherever you are and cut you down like a dog.” He turned his back and walked away.

    The tea master was beside himself with fear. What can I do, he thought. I’m a dead man. Then he remembered hearing that a famous master swordsman, was also in the village. Perhaps he will help me, he thought. So, he sought out the swordsman and told him his story. “I don’t teach martial arts to commoners. Besides, what can you learn in a day?” the swordsman said. Even though the man was a commoner, the samurai realized he was an innocent victim needing help. He finally agreed to teach the tea master what little swordsmanship he could in a day. The tea master bought a sword, and the two men began their practice that afternoon. But alas, the poor man was hopelessly inept. After several hours of watching the tea master struggle through hundreds of awkward practice cuts, he shook his head and sighed. “Tomorrow you are going to die,” the swordsman said with calm conviction.

    The tea master was crushed. He was physically and emotionally exhausted. He dropped his sword to his side and stood there staring at the ground, shoulders sagging and sword hanging loosely from his hand. The samurai pondered him for a moment then said, “Let’s have tea.” The tea master looked up in puzzlement, but he carefully sheathed his sword and began unpacking his tea set. The two men settled beneath a tree, and the tea master began his familiar routine.

    The swordsman marveled as the man gracefully poured water into the bowl containing the bitter, green powder. As he artfully whisked the mixture into a frothy brew, the swordsman saw a remarkable transformation occur. Gone was the tired, broken man who stood before him only moments ago. Now the tea master’s back was straight, his shoulders square, and his head erect. Before the swordsman now sat the solemn, dignified master of an ancient ritual. The tea master poured the tea into a cup and, turning it in the ritual manner, offered it to the swordsman. His face was the picture of calmness, and looking into his eyes, the swordsman immediately identified mushin.

    “Stop!” the swordsman said firmly. “Do you want to kill your enemy tomorrow?” “You said I was going to die.” “You are, but do you want to die like a warrior? Do you want to kill your enemy?” “Yes,” the tea master said calmly. “Then do what you are doing right now.” “But I’m doing nothing right now.” “Exactly! Your mind is clear. You neither desire life nor fear death. Tomorrow when you meet your enemy, I want you to empty your mind-chatter as you have now and raise your sword above your head. When he attacks, do nothing but cut and die.”

    The tea master being a master, understood. The next day the ronin was surprised to find the tea master standing in the road, waiting for him. When he approached and the man raised the sword above his head. As he got closer, he began to feel uneasy. He expected to see the man shaking in fear, but the tea master’s sword was still, and his face was grimly calm. He stopped a few paces away and searched the tea master’s eyes. He saw nothing…only death. The ronin’s mouth went dry. After a moment he said, “I cannot defeat you.” With that he turned and walked away.

    Freeing yourself from doubts about outcomes opens up possibility. Training persistently with a questioning, critical mind and attention to detail, neither accepting, nor making any excuses, enables you to continually refine yourself to become competent and clearer about possible outcomes.

    Not being there is not a choice you often get when attacked. You have to engage. You can’t half engage and hope to achieve anything just like you can’t half drive a car, or half work, or half anything. And nobody half attacks, just like you can’t half catch AIDS. It is or it is not. You have to deal with what is.

    Aiki-Do or Aiki-don’t, but wistfully picking one’s nose, with the other arm hanging loosely, is not an option if you hope to survive any serious attack. Not is the vain imagining, those famous last words of all the worlds victims: “It won’t happen to me.”

  • Dear Mr. Sagiba,

    Thank you for your well written article. I have been practicing Hapkido for half my lifetime (I’m 47). I have been punched in the face as well as other areas of my body. You have to experience the impact to understand what it’s like to be hit. I am a little aquainted with some Aikido terms, but not all. I also teach Kenpo and Shoto-Kai styles as well. They make a good meld. In our style, we tell our students the best block in martial arts is to not be there (to be hit).

    I was at an Aiki Jujitsu seminar once and found that the senior students didn’t know how to form a proper fist for an oui-suki strike. If you can’t strike with it, you’ll have a hard time defending against it (some of the attendees were at dan rank, very sad).

    Hopefully others will get the hint when they read your entry. Keep up the good work/writing.


    A. Espino

    P.S. Head gear is a good tool you shouldn’t rule out too soon. Keep’s your bell from getting rung good. a.e.

  • Thanks for writing this article and your following comments, Nev! It’s a great thread! Shows the power of aikido if you have understanding and imagination. All that presupposes the basics (kihon). Liked the story about the ronin and tea master a lot. Thought it was going to end like this: The next day when the ronin arrived the tea master explained that before they fought the ronin must first do him the honor of letting him serve him tea. Then we have the same continuation which you described: “The swordsman marveled as the man gracefully poured water into the bowl containing the bitter, green powder. As he artfully whisked the mixture into a frothy brew, the swordsman saw that … the tea master’s back was straight, his shoulders square, and his head erect. Before the swordsman sat a solemn, dignified master of an ancient ritual. The tea master poured the tea into a cup and, turning it in the ritual manner, offered it to the swordsman. His face was the picture of calmness, and looking into his eyes, the swordsman immediately identified mushin [clarity].” Embarrased for himself the ronin felt appalled by his previous conduct and resolved to change his ways. After drinking the tea, the ronin bowed to the tea master and left, this time no longer strutting and scoffing but humbled down and grateful for his lesson and the opportunity for a new beginning. [Who says it couldn’t happen, fact is often stranger than fiction.]

  • Just what I feel about the art. Where I train, they try to get more realistic, and we have half a dozen excellent Senseis and visiting Senseis who show us what you can do in a “real” situation.

    Saying this, I have a plan to go and do some boxing training in the near future. It’s just part of my plan to be effective in a the real world. I would start slowly and build up to solid sparing. Getting hit in the face regularly would strengthen my desire to improve. lol

    On another related note, some of our techniques are practiced with nage at some stage catching a wrist or doing the same technique without catching the wrist. Lately I have come to appreciate the second option as catching a moving hand can be impossible at real speeds.

    Thank you for an excellent article.

  • hello friend.
    First I apologise for my not so good english.

    The best thing I like aikido, is that it doesn’t poison your mind and it doesnt turn peolple into killing samurais.
    It is a physical way to accept other people, to accept differences.

    Aikido is love and harmony. it’s not a way to take down a person, it’s a way to have attitude of love on a daily basis.

    If a person trains in a violent martial art or other violent sport, THEY WILL BECAME VIOLENT IN DAILY LIFE. Aikido does the opposite; it teaches to accept daily circumstances.

    If you live in a dangerous neighborhood, the best thing to do, is to go living in another place. 🙂
    or….. live angry at life, and thats just sad.

    nuno (portugal)

  • I had a friend; P.S., who was a ferocious fighter but preferred to use verbal devices to stop a fight before it started. He would literally charm the socks off the would be perpetrator. At least half the time they would leave laughing at the jokes he would insert into the conversation he wove. When attackers chose to fight instead, P.S. would strategically cover up, enter and terminate.. the fight. Very fast. P.S. preferred a good conversation than a fight, but after that it was the attackers decision.

  • Mr. Sagiba

    If someone and ask for your wallet, what do you do? And if he has a gun?

    If someone calls you “names” or calls “names” at your mother, or children, what do you do? And if he has a gun?

    If someone threatens you or your family, what do you do? And if he has a gun?

    If you are in a “bar” and someone threatens you saying that you were looking at his girl, what do you do? And if he has a gun?

    Well, I think you get my point. I can’t think of ANY situation that you can’t AVOID or if for some inexplicable reason you can not avoid, you MUST use aikido (or whatever else “martial art” you know).

    If a situation can be handled using a “martial art” so this same situation can ALWAYS be handled in many other ways, even if this means that apparently you will be hurt in your pride.

    If the situation can not be handled in a “civilized way”, so to fight is probably the dumbest thing to do.

    hum.. Seems to me that “fight” is always the dumbest thing to do.

    Anyway, I believe that sometimes, by OUR fault, this can happens. Then, It is the LUCK that will decide if you will SURVIVE or not, not your fight martial skills.

    Even for people that risk their lives for living, like police officers, security guards, etc, It’s always LUCK that drive them to home at the end of the day, not their “fight skills”.

    To ensure the safety of those we love, we need people who are genuinely engaged in improving our society, not more “fighters”.

    I didn’t disagree that we need to training with genuine commitment.
    Commitment is need to anything that we want to do right.

    But I totally disagree with the “reasons” you give for do it the way you think aikido must be trained.

    Before any people get offended, I already fight, I already have a gun pointed to me and I already have a guy with a gun shouting that he would kill me. All the times, the “guilt” was with me. All the times, to fight would be or was the worst choice. All the times there were others choices.

    I was LUKE the times I chose to fight.
    With aikido I learned that if you really understand life, probably you will never have to fight. And if someday you have, it will not be your skills that will ensure your “survival”.

    I started to train aikido because its “intrinsic philosophy”. I was not seeking “self-defense skills”. And never this will be my motivation, for sure.

    And I think is very sad that people let the fear get so deep inside themselves that the only way to them to felt safe is to become more “strong” (or do a martial art). To think that is possible to win a “fight” if you are “bigger” than your opponent (bigger, stronger, more skilled), is the bigger illusion of all. And commonly leads to people that think that they can do whatever they want. And this is sad. And this is the error of every teacher that feed their students illusions of be able to defend themselves instead of help them to better understand life.

    Sorry Mr. Sagiba, because I disagree with you in this matters. Like I said before, I agree that we must train in the right way to get our objectives (and many people do aikido for many different reasons), but I strongly disagree with this view of inevitable violence that make “fight” the only option, or that the choice of to fight or not to fight is in the hands of others.

  • Nev, this is a good awakening to anyone who has not faced all-out destructive intent. It reminds me of the true level of alertness required in the face of real danger. The title is that high-end humor that I don’t often get the pleasure to find. As so many others have mentioned in one way or another, your piece is praiseworthy.