Aikido Principles Applied To Red Teaming / by Modern Adversary

Maybe it’s the day, or maybe it’s my age… I think it’s time to get a little philosophical.

I’ve practiced Aikido (and other martial arts) for many years. Like Red Teaming, you are always practicing and learning. Morihei Ueshiba, the creator of Aikido, once said:

“If we stop growing, technically and spiritually, we are as good as dead.”

In Aikido you are always training, you are always discovering new things about yourself and about your possible opponents. Over the years, the different Sensei (plural) that I’ve had the privilege of training under, mentioned different Aikido Principles. Some resonated with me and I can see how you would also apply them to Red Teaming and security in general. Bear with me, please, while I try to make sense of this.

Masakatsu Agatsu

Or “True Victory is Victory over Onself”. This is one of the hardest things to learn in Aikido. In Red Teaming, in order to know what security issues you might have, you need to know your enemy. To know your enemy, first you need to know yourself. It is a recursive problem, I know, but one that has to really be addressed during a Red Team assessment.

Principle of Circular Motion

In Aikido, the circle is a key element. Regardless of the ways the opponent attacks, linear, circular or angular, a circular motion allows you to blend into the attack and gain control of your opponent. The same can be said in Red Teaming. Try to force something, try to stop something and more likely you will fail. However, if you blend in, if you find that circular way in, the gaps in the security of your “opponent” (the organization or plans you are red teaming), then a much greater chance for success is achieved.

Extend Ki Forward

In Aikido, Ki is energy, our life force which keeps us alive. Ki is the binding force of our mind and body. Think of it as “The Force”. Aikido practitioners focus on harnessing this energy and using it to achieve both a greater control over their bodies and minds, and to control the opponents. Extending Ki Forward means to present to the world an image that you are in control, that you are sure of yourself and, while you are calm, you can defend yourself if needed. This means to be alert, to be always aware, in Red Teaming parlance. Always project that sense of being aware of your environment, of being confortable and sure during stressful situations. It will help you and your team.

Keep One Point

Similar to the provious principle, keeping one point means being centered. Being in control of your emotions and your body. Once you achive this, you can begin to control your opponent. Think about this when you are trying to find the holes on a plan, the vulnerabilities on a network or that gap that will allow you to break everything. Keep your focus, your “one point”.

Aikido is the act of redirecting the attacker’s energy

In Aikido redirecting the opponent’s attack and its energy is key for the techniques. Rendering the attack harmless to you is what you are trying to achieve, blending it and controlling the attacker. In Red Teaming, think of this as the art of misdirection. Try to get the Blue Team “attack itself”, send them in a wild chase after a ghost. Think about this.


Or “controlling the first move”. In Aikido, you get to a point where your situational awareness allows you to “see the opponent’s move before he has made it”. This allows you get control of the attack better by “being there” before it happened. Those precious seconds can save you or those around you. This is a general situational awareness tip. Very relevant not only to Red Teaming, but in all aspects of life.

(originally posted on Red Teams)