The Concept of Ki — Stages of Training

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As martial artists, and especially as Aikidoka, the concept of ki is of some importance to us. Visit any Aikido dojo, and you will probably hear the word ki mentioned in a variety of contexts and with many shades of meaning.

It is possible to research the history of this concept; such research would lead us from Japan to China to India and beyond in an attempt to find the original origins and meaning of what we call ki. While this might be of interest, however, our main concern is the direct experience and personal understanding of ki, especially as it applies to our Aikido arts and philosophy. I would like, therefore, to make clear the words we use to designate the levels of ki development and training. In this way, with a clearer understanding, Aikido students may progress more easily in their experience of ki.

Ki is often translated to mean "energy". Another translation might be simply "existence." This is important; we should not think of ki only as some energy or force, internal or external. Existence itself is ki. To get caught up too heavily in the question of ki or to become attached to it as a phenomenon in itself can be a serious problem in your training.

In Aikido training we have what we call "ki tests," methods to test the degree of mind-body coordination of a student. If the student at that moment starts wondering what ki is, where it resides, whether it is an internal energy or so on, he will probably fail the test. If on the other hand, the student has some recognition and actual experience of this ki state, he will pass. Of course it is up to the student how deeply he will recognize and apply this state. The instructor must give appropriate instruction to this end.

Beyond this initial recognition of ki is the second level of ki development, the level of kiai. Kiai to most martial artists is simply a yell given when executing a strike, or perhaps a type of breathing technique. For us, kiai refers specifically to the harmonization of physical action with ki energy. An example of this would be a dried out plant. Given water, the plant will manifest energy, grow strongly, and express its original livingness, its inherent oneness with nature. In the martial arts, our training is like the water; it helps us to manifest this same energy, and we train to express our true state and potential in oneness with energy. Kiai is seen in good, dynamic technique, in precision, good timing, and grace.

The next level is expressed by two words that have similar meanings: kihaku and kiroku. Kihaku means "spirit of ki"; kiroku means "power of ki." Both words carry a feeling of intensity. In Aikido and in life, kihaku and kiroku imply the transcendence of technique, timing, and space. A person at this level has a tremendous amount of spiritual power. Hie is able to draw the ki of others. This means he is able to help others.

The final level can be called hibiki - echo. When a sound is created, an echo returns immediately and precisely. No one tries consciously to make an echo. It simply happens, perfectly mirroring the original sound. Similarly, a person at this level of ki development instantly harmonizes with the energy of his surroundings, like an echo. He can react to anything, at any time in any way, completely one with existence. Without thinking or emotional confusion, his job is perfect in any circumstance, no matter what the outcome.

No matter what our level of training, we should seek in our daily Aikido practice to make the above principles our own. In this way, manifesting energy, harmony, power and spirit, we can pass our days happily.

Is our training ever done, though? Even if you could reach the highest levels of ki development, you would always be surrounded by human beings who have not. Your job can never be done because there will always be others for you to help.

And finally, there is one problem you cannot escape: your death is coming.

Fumio Toyoda, Aikido Today, Volume 8, No. 2, 1993

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