Aikido Atheist

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One of the first questions that I am often asked by new students in my dojo is my opinion of Ki energy.  I am aware that most of the people who ask me about it have searched the internet already and are looking for my deep insight or secret knowledge on the subject. After all I am an Ai-Ki-Do teacher; who better to explain the esoteric nature of this mystical power of the east.

In order to answer them as truthfully as possible I tell them that I am an “Aikido Atheist”.  I explain that I do not believe in Ki energy as a magical power used by aikido practitioners to enhance their martial arts or throw an opponent without even touching them.  This answer is never met with enthusiasm.  If the conversation continues past this moment of disappointment, I explain that Ki should be understood as a perfection in movement and the harmony created through efficient body mechanics.

While studying at the Shodokan in the 1990’s I was asked about once a week to have breakfast with Nariyama-Sensei after morning training. He would routinely order both of us a Coffee set.  The small breakfast consisted of a single hard-boiled egg, a small piece of buttered toast, and of course, coffee.  All these arrived arranged in a harmonious fashion on a block of wood with special cut outs for each item.  After ordering he would take out the morning Osaka newspaper and begin reading. His exasperation with world events would then follow, and I would dutifully agree with him.

Most of the time I would sit eating my hard-boiled egg and buttered toast and drink my coffee in silence.  However, I would at times, break this ritual and ask questions about Aikido and what training under Professor Tomiki was like.  Nariyama-Sensei in his inscrutable fashion would look over his newspaper at me and furrow his brow.  He would look back at the newspaper and pretend to read again.  He needed time to collect his thoughts on the question that I had just asked.

A few minutes later he would put down his newspaper and explain to me in half English and half Japanese an answer to my question. On one such occasion I asked him about the concept of Ki in Tomiki Aikido. He explained to me what we in Tomiki Aikido call the basic principles of speed, timing and technical skill all synthesize into good Aikido. It is this harmony of movement that is what practitioners of other styles of Aikido explain as Ki. He would also clarify that this is what Tomiki-Sensei told him, I assume, in a similar setting.

Ki is not a topic that came up often, if at all, in Shodokan Dojo.  Each daily lesson usually had a theme. The use of kuzushi (off-balance) in particular set of techniques or counter techniques to be used in randori (sparring) when you are attacking with the tanto (knife).  Even though each of these lessons all had various objectives they all had one common theme, perfection in movement to achieve a Kirei Waza, a clean technique.

When the basic principles of speed, timing and technical skill all come together it seems to an onlooker as if the Aikido practitioner is performing a supernatural feat.  Clean techniques are effortless.  Clean techniques are beautiful. Clean techniques are perfect.  It is this perfection that has been explained through harnessing Ki in other styles of Aikido.  Tomiki Aikido prefers the term Kirei Waza.

Even high level practitioners do not always achieve this ideal on a daily basis.  In truth the only way to come close to this ideal is to devote long hours of repetitive training. Repetitive training allows the brain to form pathways that become familiar. The familiarity with the movement allows the techniques to become natural extensions of your body.  The Aikido appears to happen naturally but only after many hours of practice.

Gathering Ki energy is a poor substitute for proper training standards, but it is very popular.  Some people seem more accepting of the notion that a magical power will manifest itself into their Aikido at some point than the idea that they need to practice many hours.  Practicing the basic principles of kuzushi, speed and timing are the real answers to Kirei Waza, not magical abilities.

For over twenty-seven years I have been an Aikido Atheist in that I reject these esoteric notions that you will gain supernatural abilities through martial arts training.  It is the adherence to the basic principles of kuzushi, speed, timing and technical skill that ignites my passion for our martial art.  Studying and teaching Tomiki Aikido to achieve the elusive nature of Kirei Waza captivates me.  After all, I am an Aikido Atheist.