Quite early into my study of Aikido I came across the scanned pages of Ki Sayings, which was published by Koichi Tohei in 1973. At the time I pretty much dismissed it as little more than a pseudo-religious text, such was the mystical language Tohei included. As it turns out, an explanation of this little book provides a fairly useful introduction to the concepts we discuss in Aikido, and why Tohei’s ideas were incorporated into what was a much harder style of Aikido.
According to Henry Ellis, in one of his many rants on the state of modern Aikido, Ki was never mentioned or discussed among junior grades at Abe Sensei’s dojo, and for understandable reasons. Aiki will always be something of a hidden secret, not because anyone choses to keep it a secret nowadays, but because an adequate understanding of it only comes gradually with years of practice. I don’t think the word ‘Ki‘ has a clear definition in English. A general description would be the phenomenon that manifests when everything is connected and in co-ordination with one’s centre of gravity. Ai-ki-jutsu, or Ai-ki-do, is the martial art based on this principle.
At the front of our dojo are displayed Koichi Tohei’s Four Major Principles to Unify Mind and Body:
- 1. Keep one-point.
- 2. Relax completely.
- 3. Keep weight underside.
- 4. Extend Ki.
Keeping ‘one point’ is to maintain awareness of your centre of gravity, and how your body is behaving in relation to it. To relax completely is to remove all tension within the body, so techniques aren’t about fighting strength with strength, but instead changing the direction of the opponent’s effort. To keep ‘weight underside’ is tricky to put into words, but very generally it means to keep your shoulders down and you body relaxed – it is much harder to fight against dead weight. Extending Ki is about practising techniques and throws with confidence, to project force. To this we’ve added a fifth principle: ‘Respect your partner’s Ki’. People do occasionally get injured when they over-estimate themselves or under-estimate their training partner.
So, all this background is important when reading Ki Sayings, because again Tohei used mystical descriptions that distracts from what needs to be learned. Tohei must have come to this realisation by the time he authored ‘Ki in Daily Life‘ (a pricey but strongly recommended book). Having progressed so far in Aikido, I know that Aiki can (and probably should) be taught without any reference to religion or spirituality. This, I think was one of the main things behind the disagreements that ended with Tohei’s departure from the Aikikai.
Unification of Mind and Body
‘Do not think that the power you have is only the power you ordinarily use and moan that you have little strength. The power you ordinarily use is like the small, visible segment of an iceberg.‘
This is at the heart of the Aikido we practice. Have you noticed how much easier it is to carry weight when it’s distributed around your body? Likewise, we can use more than 10% of our body when moving and manipulating objects. The hidden strength is manifested when the body works in co-ordination, and there are very useful self-defence applications of this, even beyond accepted Aikido techniques.
The One Point in the Lower Abdomen
When Tohei stated the ‘one point’ is the centre of the Universe, I think he meant that, from the Aikido practitioner’s perspective, the ‘one point’ is the centre of everything s/he interacts with. It is to make your centre of gravity the ‘unmoved mover’ within the dojo, so you’re the one directing the movements of opponents.
Main point is to be relaxed, and not to react by transferring your body’s weight from your centre of gravity to a weaker position, not to react by focussing all your efforts through one part of the body.
Doubt and the subconscious are the biggest obstacles to overcome in Aikido. Most of us started practising Aikido with the preconceptions that fights are won (or survived) using little more than strength, that resistance must be overcome by physical effort, that a smaller man cannot throw someone considerably bigger and more powerful, that relaxation is the worst response to imminent danger. Maybe you’re extremely skeptical that a man like Morihei Ueshiba once forcefully threw a Judo master to the ground with his little finger. The core of Aikido is counter-intuitive.
Ki Development Exercises
Often our sessions begin with 20 minutes’ Ki development exercises, though this probably isn’t really necessary since it’s developed alongside our competence with techniques and katas.
These exercises initially test the ability to relax completely, and progresses to a test of our ability to maintain that relaxation against physical resistance. For senior grades, the ability to move always with co-ordination is tested.
Ki Breathing Methods
Also essential to develop is the habit of breathing correctly, because people have a tendency to hold their breath as they perform a technique. This isn’t sustainable when continuously dealing with one opponent (or attacker) after another for several minutes – and you’d more than likely black out during a higher level grading.
Breathe deeply through your nose, as much as you can, and exhale slowly through the mouth. Breathe in as you receive the opponent’s entry and exhale as you throw the opponent.
I’ll end this post with two closing pages from the book.