N.B. I wrote this article over twenty years ago. I’m putting it up on the blog ‘as seen’ but do want to make some changes to it. It will eventually become part of a book called ‘Life Lessons from the Edges of Aikido’
Ki is a Japanese word which means energy – either personal or universal.
The form of Ki development we will be studying comes from a Japanese
martial art called Aikido. The word Aikido translates – roughly – as ‘The way of Harmony with the Universe’.
Aikido was developed by Morihei Ueshiba (1885 – 1969) at the beginning of the 20th century. Ueshiba studied and became expert in a range of martial arts. He synthesised what he considered to be the best out of these systems and combined with his own original techniques to create Aikido.
Through the practise of Aikido many people have found subtle and sometimes dramatic changes taking place in their lives – greater calmness, humour, resourcefulness and creativity in dealing with life’s challenges. However, the development of this resourcefulness requires a great deal of Aikido practice and, even
Then, the results can be somewhat haphazard.
Ueshiba’s chief instructor, Koichi Tohei, addressed himself to this problem. It appeared to Tohei that many people practiced the techniques of Aikido mechanically with little or no understanding of the underlying spirit or Ki embodied within them.
After years of teaching and observation Koichi Tohei formulated the four principles of Ki Development. These four principles could now be taught to people in a step by step manner which would allow them, from the very first lesson, to apply Ki not only to their martial arts practice but also to the rest of their daily lives.
Koichi Tohei spent several years teaching Ki development (separately from
Aikido) in schools, universities, workplaces and private homes to people
from widely ranging walks of life.
The four principles of Ki development as formulated by Koichi Tohei are:-
1. Keep one point
2. Relax completely
3. Keep weight underside
4. Extend Ki
1. Keep one point:
Keeping one point means letting ones attention rest in the lower abdomen (which corresponds closely to body’s centre of gravity), approximately 3 or 4 inches below the navel. Nowadays with our greater and greater emphasis on rationality and thinking skills our main physical focus of awareness has tended to be the part that we think we do our thinking with – our head.
In other cultures this has not always been the case. When the psychologist C.G. Jung visited the Pueblo Indians he was told by his host that ‘the white man’ was very strange because he thought with his head. Jung was somewhat surprised by this statement and asked his host what he thought with. “With my heart of course” was the reply.
a) So how do we allow the mind/attention to rest in the one point? To give an idea how simple this is, start off by holding your index finger in front of your eyes. As you hold your index finger in front of your eyes, become aware of the physical sensation of the finger itself. Now let your hand rest at your side, out of direct eyesight, and continue focussing on the sensation of the finger.
In a similar way allow your attention to move from your head to your one point 3 or 4 inches below your navel. Allow your hands to cover this area of your lower abdomen. As you place your awareness in your one point say out loud, or just think the words, “Keep one point.” In this way the words and the experience of keeping one point become linked. Soon just thinking or saying the words “Keep one point” will be enough to recall the experience itself.
b) Keeping one point does not mean excluding contact with the world around you.
As you keep one point so you can also become curious about your surroundings. Notice/see six things that you haven’t noticed previously and as you continue looking, remember where your one point is. Continue keeping one point as you listen to the sounds around you.
c) THE BASIC KI TEST
If you have the opportunity to practice with a friend, try the following test.
Stand side by side with your friend, facing in the same direction, your bodies a little apart from each other. Ask your friend to put their attention in the middle of their forehead. Reach out with your nearest hand and test with a very smooth and gentle pressure to the middle of their upper chest or on the nearest shoulder.
A likely result of this test is that your partner will be pushed off balance backwards or that they will use a great deal of muscular effort to stay in place.
Repeat the same experiment. This time ask your friend to place their attention in the one point. Again test with the same smooth and gentle pressure to the upper chest or nearest shoulder.
Notice the results. It is likely that your partner will now stay easily in place using an absolute minimum of muscular effort.
2. Relax completely:
Modern living is often a very challenging affair and many of us believe – consciously or unconsciously – that mere survival or keeping our heads above water requires grim forced effort. This is often referred to colloquially as ‘toughing it out’.
Relaxation on the other hand, while regarded as being pleasant and desirable in its place – evenings and weekends if we’re lucky – is often thought of as being a somewhat weakened and inadequate state from which to deal with our daily affairs.
Unfortunately this is all too often true. Our habitual means of relaxation often amount to a condition of physical and energetic slump or collapse. A state which could rightly be called ‘dead relaxation’.
There are however a number of seemingly charmed individuals who, enviably, seem able to bring qualities of ease and ‘alive relaxation’ to whatever activity they are engaged in.
We can all think of someone in the world of artistic or sporting endeavour who make the most challenging and complex activities look easy and simple. To these individuals ‘Alive Relaxation’ is not only second nature but first nature.
There are also times in the lives of most people when we wake with that ‘on top
of the world’ feeling when the pressures of the day like ‘water off a duck’s back’, when we ‘sail through’ challenging situations and turn problems into opportunities.
For many people the hallmark of alive relaxation is a sense of lightness in their physicality accompanied by a sense of effortless effort.
Adopt a strong ‘muscleman’ posture, bunch up your fists, set your jaw, dig your heels in. Be stubborn.
Have a friend give you the Basic Ki Test by applying a smooth and gentle pressure, straight back on your upper chest. You are very likely to fall over. You may of course decide to push against the testing hand thereby equalising the pressure. If the tester is cunning (i.e. sneaky) she will quickly take her hand away causing you to overbalance forwards. Clashing with a situation head on has its own unique disadvantages!
Scan your body and notice how this tough, over muscled, posture affects you. What is your energy level like? What is it like to walk around like in this posture? How is your breathing in this state? What is your attitude, toward yourself and the world like now?
Now adopt a slumping ‘relaxed’ posture. Your partner will now apply the Basic Ki Test by gently and smoothly pushing on the upper chest. Notice what happens.
Continue slumping. How does this affect you physically? What is it like to walk and move while slumping? Energy levels? Attitude? Breathing?
And now for something completely different! Stand looking straight ahead with your weight equally distributed on your feet. Imagine that there is a puppet string attached to the top of your head. Someone (your Guardian Angel?) gently stretches the puppet string. Effortlessly your head follows the puppet string allowing your whole spine to
lengthen. Don’t try. Don’t push. Let the puppet string do it for you.
The puppeteer continues pulling the string as you physically rise up on to your toes, allowing your heels to leave the floor. Very lightly, like a butterfly landing on a cherry blossom, settle your heels down on to the floor again.
Your partner applies the Basic Ki Test as you continue looking straight ahead. You are likely to test very strong, passing the test with ease.
As the puppet string suspends you observe how this affects your body. Notice how you move. Notice your breathing and energetic state. Attitude?
Now try the following experiment. Think of a situation in which you generated more tension than you required. And now notice what happens to you physically and energetically.
Now put that situation to one side and let your attention gently rest in the present moment, listening, looking around you and allowing the puppeteer to ease you into a condition of alive relaxation. Repeat the words “Relax Completely” to yourself a few times. The words will link up with the experience and amplify it. Walk around a bit.
Now recall the situation that bothered you. As you recall this situation stay in contact with this easy state. Repeat “Relax Completely” to yourself a few times.
How do you see, hear, feel about the situation differently now?
If working with a partner, apply the Basic Ki Test to each step of the experiment above.
Try the above experiment, stage by stage, with a state of collapse/dead relaxation’ as your starting point. Think of a context. i.e. a situation where you were in a state of ‘dead relaxation’. Then create a state of alive relaxation. Maintain alive relaxation as you review the situation where you were in a state of ’dead relaxation’.
3. Keep Weight Underside:
The weight of all things drops toward their underside. If you lift up an inanimate object and let go of it the law of gravity requires it to drop towards the ground. We would be very surprised if it flew off in any other direction.
This may seem to be a case of stating the obvious. Everything on the planet earth is subject to its gravitational field. Human beings, however, do not always seem to act in harmony with the law of gravity. We often seem to struggle against gravity rather than work with it.
A common startle response in primates and human beings to falling or the threat of falling (i.e. the withdrawal of supporting surfaces) is for
(l) The head to be drawn down to the middle of the body.
(2) The shoulders and arms to be drawn up – thereby protecting the head.
(3) The legs to be drawn up towards the middle of the body.
When the above three elements are present the primate or person will tend to roll up into a self protective ball thereby protecting the skull and brain from impact.
Unfortunately this startle pattern seems to be stimulated in human beings much of the time by anxiety provoking situations. We do not of course curl up in a ball on the floor every time we feel anxious. We do, nonetheless, tend to display the same physiological patterns to a lesser degree.
We recognise when we or others are ‘uptight’. Apart from the frown we often notice that the shoulders and arms are held higher, sometimes inches higher, than they need be. Often the neck will be contracted thereby pulling the head down towards the shoulders.
What is not always so obvious is that the legs are also contracting and pulling up towards the centre of the body. This tends to cause a bracing either forwards or backwards of the knee joints.
This startle pattern, if not fully released, tends to use up great amounts of energy and quite rapidly leads to fatigue.
Simply stated, when our weight is ‘kept underside’, the core of the body, i.e. the head and spine, indirectly suspends the shoulders and arms and legs allowing them to drop towards the floor. Paradoxically, allowing weight to drop underside is often experienced as feeling physically light.
When our weight is ‘upperside’ the core of the body (the head and spine) tends to be shortened and compressed towards the floor. The spine and head no longer suspend the rest of the body so effectively. The shoulders and arms tend to be pulled up. The legs are stiffened. Often there is a tendency to hold the breath. Paradoxically ‘weight upperside’ is often experienced as being comparatively heavier or more ‘weighed down’ than ‘weight underside’.
Stand facing a wall so that you can place the palms of your hands on the wall about shoulder level. Without leaning into the wall allow your hands to make a nice full contact with the wall. Notice what that is like.
(a) Now hitch your shoulders up a bit and stiffen your fingers. Now ‘walk’ your hands up and down the wall. Notice what that is like. You will probably not have as good hand contact with the wall now.
For the purposes of this experiment your hands on the wall represent the way that your feet contact the ground. Stand away from the wall. Keep your shoulders up and stiffen your toes. Walk around. Observe how this affects you.
(b) Face the wall again. Slump a bit. Put your hands against the wall and lean on them. ‘Walk’ your hands up and down the wall. Observe what this is like.
Transfer this into walking on your real feet. Slump, be heavy on your feet. Notice what this is like.
(c) As you face the wall allow your weight to be evenly distributed on your feet. Think of an imaginary puppet string gently taking your head up. Don’t force your head up. Don’t push. Only think of it flowing up. Think of your shoulders dropping down and widening apart from each other.
Gently raise your hands up on to the wall. Do not lean on them. Allow your hands to make a very gentle full contact with the wall. Let your hands walk up and down the wall being aware of the ‘touch’ of the wall as you do.
Stand away from the wall. Think of the puppeteer stretching your puppet string. Allow your shoulders to drop down and widen away from each other. Let your hands hang easily at your side. Think of your feet ‘touching’ the floor in the same way as your hands touched the wall. walk around. Observe how this affects you.
l) Unraisable Arm
Tester (A) Tester (B)
B extends her arm straight in front of herself at shoulder level. A is going to test by pressing upwards on the lower side B’s arm – between the elbow and shoulder.
B uses direct muscular strength to resist this lifting. B may find her arm becoming fatigued and overpowered. Alternatively B may pass the test but use up a great deal of energy in the process.
If B passes the test then A can vary the pressure of the test by pressing straight along the length of the arm towards the body. B is likely to lose balance backwards because she has not been employing full body-mind co-ordination.
2) B stands, arms at sides, and thinks of her weight dropping underside. B then raises an arm, pointing straight ahead at shoulder level. She puts her attention in the lower edge (underside) of her arm. A can help by tracking all the way along the lower edge of B’s arm from armpit to the little finger.
A then applies the same test to B’s arm, by pressing gently upwards between elbow and shoulder.
B should pass the test with greater ease. By may find it helpful to regard the tester as a personal servant providing a useful armrest. Even if A varies the direction of the test, pressing directly up the arm towards the body, B should remain easily unmoveable.
3) B keeps weight underside as she raises her arm straight in front of her at shoulder level.
A traces along the upper side of B’s arm from shoulder to fingers and then immediately applies the test upward on the lower arm between elbow and shoulder.
B’s arm is likely to go flying upwards due to lost body-mind co-ordination.
4. Extend Ki:
Extending Ki basically means extending good positive feeling.
A counter example of extending Ki would be the feelings and body sensations one experiences when unexpectedly bumping into someone you would really rather avoid!
As an experiment, remember unexpectedly meeting someone you’d rather avoid. Notice your response energetically and physically. The experience may well be one of shrinking into oneself.
Now try the opposite. Remember unexpectedly meeting with someone you really like. What happens physically and energetically at that moment of recognition?
It will probably become clear that extending Ki means extending positive energy or good feeling from inside to the world around you.
Try a variation on the above experiments. Put your attention in your one point and think of good feelings radiating from your one point out to the room all around you. Think of good feeling radiating from your one point and creating a beautiful big sphere of energy around you. As you continue extending Ki think again of the situation where you unexpectedly met someone you didn’t like. Radiate more Ki.
Notice if you feel any differently about the situation now.
Think of some other situations that you would like to extend Ki into.
If working with a partner try the above experiments and apply the Basic Ki Test to each stage.
A = Taster B= Tester
l) B raises her arm to shoulder level pointing it straight ahead. B makes herself very strong and ‘muscles up’..
A tests by trying to bend B’s arm at the elbow, by pressing down on the elbow joint and up at the wrist joint simultaneously (see primitive drawing)
B’s arm will probably fatigue and give way. Alternatively B will pass the test but use a great deal of energy in the process.
2) B raises her arm again and this time imagines a powerful jet of Ki arising from her one point up through her body and all the way through her arm, out of her fingers and shooting off into the distance. B’s arm muscles should be kept very soft and relaxed.
A applies the test by simultaneously pressing down on the elbow and up on the wrist. B’s arm should remain unbendable with minimum effort and maximum ease.
3) B raises her arm and extends Ki through her arm. A ‘cuts’ B’s Ki by touching B’s fingers with the palm of her (A’s) hand. A then immediately tests B for unbendable arm. B is likely to fail the test.
(Write a summary and conclusion here)