Aikido: The Ki in Aikido

What is Ki ?

Use the Force, Luke..
Ki is “the force” of Aikido. In Japanese culture Ki is the living energy that flows through all things. It is the essence of life. It is everything and it is nothing. (Don’t you just love those Yoda-like sayings?) It is everything because it’s an energy that permeates all things, living and inanimate. It is nothing because it has no substance, no form. It is very real but it is intangible. It cannot be touched, only experienced.

Ki as a perceivable life energy:
Have you ever met someone and you were amazed at the amount of life they had? I’m not talking about just an over-abundance of energy. I mean an almost glowing aura of energy that can only be described as positive energy or presence? They were probably the kind of person that everyone wanted to be around, not because they were especially charismatic (though sometimes they can be) but because you felt alive when you were around them. They projected and shared this energy to everyone and everything they came in contact with and their supply was boundless.

Many people describe O’Sensei, the founder of Aikdio, as this type of person. He was infused with a great amount of this Ki energy, or more to the point he had opened himself up to accept the energy that’s already around us. Ki is that subtle brilliance or glow that you just can’t put your finger on when you meet someone new. Everything feels right, like it’s just “flowing”.

Ki in metaphysics & religion:
The manifestation of Ki that I just described is only one facet of how Ki can be represented in the world around us. This same energy has been used as holistic or “mystical” medicine by various cultures for centuries. The Taoist religion is based on the much of the concept of ki, as well as many other religions. Reiki, a Japanese-based wholistic healing discipline that utilizes visualizations and energy work, also uses the concept of Ki. Shin-shin-toitsu-do, Japanese yoga developed by Nakamura Tempu Sensei (1876-1968), is an oriental form of meditation and healing that also puts a great emphasis on Ki. Chi in the Chinese culture is often likened to Ki as well. As you can see, several disciplines are all built around this central spiritual concept. Ki is life and Ki is energy and Ki is very real and very much a part of our world once we become aware of it and skilled enough to effectively utilize it.

This may be a bit controversial but it is my opinion that the “holy spirit” represented in various forms in many different religions is also a pure and often conscious manifestation of Ki. If that is so then Ki has an especially close tie to faith or belief. Much of Aikido practice emphasizes visualization, which puts the spirit in line with the physical and, in my mind at least, backs up this theory.

Ki as sound:
Ki can also manifest itself in the form of sound, or voice. There is a form of marital art known as Kiaijitsu which devotes exclusive study to the kiai (or spirit shout). Kiai is a focused shout that can cause various effects on an opponent depending on the intent of the person doing the shouting. This is based on the principle that sound is a form of energy and can thereby effect the world around us and others in our world, especially on a spiritual or psychological level.

Your Kiai should feel energetic and cleansing. It should not feel strained or forced. The sound should originate from your center(hara). You should feel your abdomen tighten and the air and sound should explode from your body with intent and spiritual vigor. Do not shout solely from your chest. Ki comes from the center and a kiai comes from Ki and should thereby originate from your center. Your throat should remain open and unobstructed so that sound and energy can flow easily. Focus and visualize your kiai before releasing it, feel the buildup of energy and then feel it unleashed from your center as you release it.

It is said that O’sensei’s Kiai was described by Sensei Roy Seunaka as a force that “sapped energy from an attacker” or simply “draining their will to fight.” Sensei Seunaka’s book also describes film footage of O’sensei’s kiai knocking an attacker to the matt with the force of his shout alone, Twice in a row no less!

Shihan Tohei sensei’s kiai shout is described as being more physical and much lower in tone than O’sensei’s shout. Where O’sensei’s should would drain an attacker, Tohei’s would cause an instant fear reaction. It was described by Seunaka Sensei as “bowling or blowing you over.” Perhaps this difference in effect comes from the intent and the visualization used to back the shout? This intent change changes the vibration and thereby the effect of the energy put out by the kiai.

Another sound manifestation of Ki is the study of the Kotodama which is an ancient Shinto doctrine that held that certain sounds are “sacred” and have divine origin. This same principle is also present in other religions as well. O’sensi was said to be a practitioner to both the Kiai (spirit shout) and to the principles of the kotodama.

Ki in Aikido:
This realm gets into a sphere where I am far from an expert but I will be more than happy to express what I have learned on the subject thus far.

The presence of Ki in Aikdio is that perfect technique where everything falls into place seamlessly and executing a technique was almost effortless. Uke practically threw himself but, in fact, had little choice in the matter. It is also that extra “juice” that you have learned to give a technique when the extra power comes not from muscle but from connection of center, stealing balance and projecting.

Ki can be felt in the connection of centers. When an Aikido technique steals an opponent’s balance and connects the opponent’s center to yours, rendering him dependent on you for balance you have effectively connected centers. When centers connect you are both one force dancing together. Where you take your opponent he must follow (going with the flow).

Experienced Aikidoka:
Ki is most prominent in experienced practitioners of Aikdo. You will notice the relaxed yet focused concentration (very meditative-like) mindset of an experienced aikidoka executing a technique. They are experienced in letting the energy and momentum of the technique guide them. This focus and the power of visualization put Ki into motion and allows them to channel this energy and increase the potency of their technique. How else can a frail little old Shihan throw people five feet in the air? It’s mind over matter or really, more to the point, Ki over mater.

How do you project ki?
Many experienced practitioners of Aikido talk about “projecting ki.” This is the practice of visualizing a force or stream of energy coming from you and the universe around you THROUGH you. This energy is mentally visualized as projecting from you into and through your target, often to infinity. This visualization will “open the door” for Ki into your technique.

A good illustration of this concept is the Aikido “unbendable arm.” This technique involves holding your arm out from the body with a slight bend at the elbow with a semi-relaxed feel. The arm is not to be rigid but should be imagined as a stiff, yet bendable and pliable object that is generally intent on staying where it is. The visualization that accompanies this technique often involves imagining that your center is the center of the universe, behind which is a massive flood of water waiting to rush through your center with great force and momentum. The water is allowed to flow through your center and up your body and project out your arm as if you were a water hose with an infinitely forceful jet of water shooting from your hand. The water projects out to infinity.

This “water” is the Ki flowing through you. The effect on your body is such that your arm may move slightly but the force of the water flowing through at great speed keeps your arm from being bend, though it is slightly pliable.

This same visualization can be used in many many aikido techniques to give your application of the technique a very subtle but very powerful boost. When throwing an opponent imagine the well of water forcing itself out through you and into the uke being thrown and the momentum of that energy transferred to them carrying them the extra distance. Or, when you must maintain your balance and become immovable imagine the water projecting up into the sky or down into the Earth, thereby rooting you where you are. Look at any Aikido technique and figure out how the water will flow, look at the way the energy is exchanged and back up that exchange of energy with a visualization of your own.

Don’t Abuse Ki:
Be very careful with this added power obtained from directly and consciously utilizing Ki. The added power in your technique can cause unnecessary damage to the opponent. This extra potency should never be abused. Aikido is founded on the “loving protection of all things” in the words of our founder, O’sensei.


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