What is Ki?

What is Ki?

The first thing I’d like to say is anything I have written is based on my understanding, interpretation, or belief. I do not pretend to be the expert in the subject of Ki and I don’t know who, if anyone, is.
If you look at the Aikido world, there is no universal agreement that one particular person is the guru on Ki. In fact there is no universal agreement on what Ki is or what Ki can do for you.

The interesting thing is that many Aikidoka believe in the concept of Ki and for many it is the major reason for them practising Aikido.

The word Aikido is broken down into Ai- Harmony, Ki – energy, Do – the practise or the “way to”. Loosely putting it together, Aikido means “the way to” or “the practise of” harmonising energy.

On the surface that sounds OK. However if you start to dig deeper, or think more about it, you will soon come to a point where you wonder how Ki actually relates to the practise of Aikido. Especially if you try to answer the question “what is Ki?”

If you research the word Ki it does not directly translate into energy. For starters there are many types of energy that we know about in this world. For example, electricity, heat, light, and sound. These are types of energy which we can scientifically measure. We tend to measure energy in Kilo watts. However Ki can’t be scientifically measured. Translating Ki into the word energy is a very loose translation and has little meaning. As an example, I assure you Japanese don’t have Ki meters attached to their houses to find out how much energy they have used each month.

Looking up the definition of Ki, a common theme or idea for Ki is life energy. It seems to be a concept of a type of energy that sustains living things. Concept is a important word here, because scientifically, there is no proof of Ki.

The concept of Ki is a very old and shared by many cultures. Not just Japan. The Chinese refer to it as chi and it can be found in records dating back to the 5th century BC. In ancient Hindu there is the concept of prana meaning life force which dates back to 1500 -1000 years BC. In Tibetan culture there is a concept of Lüng which is to do with breath and the flow of energy and interestingly enough in Pacific Island culture there is a concept of Mana.

The word in each culture does mean something slightly different. The concept of mana in New Zealand is quite well accepted and has more meaning to New Zealanders than Ki does. Again Mana does not translate into English very well, the true meaning becomes lost in translation. Often we associate it to a person with prestige. However it is a bit more than that as land and forests can also have mana, not just people.

I would say the concept of Ki doesn’t translate into the word mana either. But someone with mana seems to also have Ki. These particular people have it regardless of whether they do Aikido or not. However when they do Aikido it feels different.

Today Aikido seems to be primarily focusing on technique. I believe O’Sensei was trying to teach more than this, but that side of Aikido seems to be straying. There are people out there desperately trying to teach Ki, but teaching Ki and trying to learn Ki may not be practical. If O’Sensei couldn’t teach it, or wouldn’t teach it, is it an impossible task? If it is to be taught, then it needs to be taught well and in terms that can be understood. When Ki is taught badly or learnt poorly, I believe it actually harms the art of Aikido.

I experienced this at least once, where a good instructor, was trying to teach an aspect of Ki. I looked around and there were so many people whose minds had seemingly left their bodies and were on some trip out into to ‘who knows where’. An average person watching that session who didn’t know anything about Aikido would have written the art off completely.

These days you can find videos of Aikido on the web where some great Sensei is throwing an entire room of students to the floor by looking at them. To me this is quite an embarrassment to the art of Aikido.

If I liken Ki back to mana, as far as I know mana never threw anyone, never stopped someone in their tracks, or managed to will a light saber into one’s hand to take on the dark emperor.

I love Hollywood movies and characters with super powers are great. However Ki or mana does not translate into this Hollywood world.

In life when two people come together to solve a problem and do so with both parties truly happy with the solution, there is a great feeling, a great energy that lingers on afterwards and sets them up for a good day. Similar to someone truly smiling, it spreads and is almost contagious.

In Aikido, two people practise coming together and through good technique, find a solution where both parties leave happy and fulfilled, and there is a great feeling, a great energy that lingers on afterwards and sets them up for a good day. In our case we mainly train at night so it resets us, calms us, and puts us in a better space before sleep.

For me, this is the practise of Aikido, the way in which we can harmonise our energies together to become one.

This happens in nature when two streams of different energies come together, mix and become one river. The new river works its way to the ocean with the exact force of two streams. Together they combine and seek out the best solution.

Is there Ki in the daily practise of Aikido? if you are willing to believe it, there will be. It is a personal decision we all can make.

For me Ki is a feeling, a concept and a teacher. It comes from being present and in a very “here and now” practise, but needs to be kept in perspective. Ki naturally happens when Aikido is done well. You can’t force it or “will it” to happen.

Sense the movements of your partners.
Feel the directions of force.
Flow with the solution that is presented.

This is Aikido.

Mark Fitzwater
San Dan 2012