“Using Tohei’s Model as a Baseline” by Mike Sigman

One of the big problems with many of the Aikido articles printed by westerners is that they are opinion articles, often with fuzzy interpretations of numerous Aikido or Aikido-related ideas. Sometimes the idea of “Aikido-related” is a far stretch indeed, getting into self-help, psychology, and other areas that Ueshiba never directily mentioned or advised on in his life.

Although Koichi Tohei is treated by many Aikido practitioners as someone who does “a different brand” (or some other minmization), Tohei had some innovative ideas that I think the other styles would do well to borrow, particularly in light of the recent (and very late) realization that many of the “ki” things Tohei speaks of are substantive and they are essential components of Aikido techniques.

If much of the confusing and poorly-translated comments about ki are muted and the function of Tohei’s Aikido are examined, his ideas are not fuzzy at all. Tohei has shown substantive use of physically-verifiable aspects of ki in his techniques since well before he left Hombu Dojo as the Chief Instructor. When formulating the approach for the Ki Society, Tohei used the ki skills as a baseline for usage in all techniques and also as a separate study line for practitioners to base their overall development upon. Frankly, it would appear that he had a good idea. The question is why, other than as some aspect of internecine rivalry, so many other Aikidoists ignore and don’t understand the reason and utility of the basics of ki studies in their own Aikido.

The “ki tests” and skills development within the Ki Society are pretty basic stuff… and they’re very good indicators of basic skills for all Aikido techniques. Tohei didn’t dream these things up as something new and different to be added to Aikido as a hallmark of his own style; he attempted to more clearly explain what was involved in the Aikido of Ueshiba. Yet in a quite human and snippy way, many Aikidoists from “other styles” simply ignore and trivialize the very helpful lesson materials from the man who was second only to Ueshiba before the politics got out of hand.

Looking at the elementary ki-tests and their utility, it is hard to imagine that any bona fide Aikido “instructor” cannot do most, if not all of these ki-usage demonstrations, and do them well. Yet, most Aikido instructors cannot do these simple tests, even though it’s obvious from old films of Ueshiba, Tohei, and others, that these types of demonstrations of ki-skills were quite common adjuncts to Aikido itself.

The next level of accomplishment in Tohei’s Aikido teachings has a lot to do with moving while using ki skills, an advance from the simple static tests so often shown in Tohei’s instructional literature. “This is Aikido” is an excellent example of how ki-skills apply, if you can obtain a copy. The book was written well before Tohei left Hombu Dojo, it should be noted.

As a suggestion, I think the idea of “ki tests” should be adopted by all the styles of Aikido. This is basic stuff. Anyone who can’t demonstrate basic ki-skills cannot be doing Aikido with ki, as Morihei Ueshiba, Tohei, and many others did it. If more people in Aikido could functionally demonstrate these skills, many of the current fuzzes “here’s my guess” articles might give way to the simple function and logic of how the ki, the hara, aiki, and other things actually work. Aikido should be about function, not just feelings and fuzzy opinions.

Best Regards,

Mike Sigman

Durango, Colorado

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  1. Taisho says:
  2. Taihen says:

    Why call this ki? It’s basic, applied biomechanics. Look at the first ki test in the video above. Your wrists are stronger when fingers are extended because the tendons that cross the wrist joint on both sides of the hand are active, vs. a fist where the tendons on the back side of the hand are inactive to allow the fingers to fold into the palm. This is anatomy, not energy from space. So why call it ki?

    All these ki tests are just parlour tricks that proport to prove one thing when they are just demonstrating another. Here is one:

    1) bend over and touch your toes; measure how far down you get to the floor

    2) stand up and inhale, extending your ki to the universe

    3) bend over again and note how far you got; notice that you went further the second time

    Hmmm. Was it the ki breathing, or did the first stretch or the muscle, followed by the contraction of standing up, allow you to go a little further the second time?

    The stretch, relax, stretch reflex occurs due to something called proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, a technique used in the physiotherapy/rehabilitative exercise world to releive contracted muscle.

    By hey, why not just fall back on fuzzy thinking and just call it ki?


  3. bruce baker says:

    There are a couple of things that contribute to making Aikido work.

    One is a physical activation of the body’s reflexes, and in those activations are signals sent throughout the body that trigger chemical processes, some that turn into thoughts or sensations that the brain interprets.

    The difficulty of having words express these sensations, these thoughts, these actions, is that each body is as similar as it is different. One set of sequenced training may only work for a certain segment of the population as the interpretation of those words, those experiences are transmitted in a form that can repeat the desired results for that segment population.

    Think of it as parameters, just like a car is not a truck, and a go-cart is not a car, they all are designed to make a person mobile, but they all have different parameters, that is … if I was to make a completely simple analogy.

    Maybe that is why when I see any person touting one master practitioner my red flags go up …. what one thing doe that master possess that I want to steal, and is my brain, my body, my ability to interpret that transmission of data able to properly process and use that data?

    Sometimes I think we have the CULT phenomena popping up it’s ugly head? Some students want to raise their teacher, their master practitioner to rock star status, but in reality …. it might take twenty masters to teach one person to raise themselves to the level of master practitioner. The many teachers, sometimes students, sometimes one’s own many many mistakes …. are the teachers that raise one’s level of practice to be viewed as … master practitioner.

    I have no doubt that Koichi Tohei was a very humble man who, like most of us, made many mistakes and was influenced by many many teachers.

    Don’t lose sight of the man’s accomplishments, but don’t lose sight that he was man just like many other average men. What Tohei did was … learn to use the tools of his nature, or his human body, and apply that knowledge to martial arts in ways that worked for his mind and body.

    We can try to repeat that process by attempting to understand Japanese culture, or attempt to repeat the training process by trying to train with similar methods, but in the end … we are using a holistic approach of trial and error tempered by results we experience. All the words, all the instruction and knowledge go for naught if we can not interpret the results of our own human body, catalog those results, and repeat those results with higher and higher levels of proficiency.

    When one’s body reaches a physical level one can not improve, one must then exploit other means to achieve the results, hence I say to you that exploiting the many different styles of martial arts will eventually yield to you an avenue to substitute something else that can raise your level of expertise and efficiency for practice also.

    Koichi Tohei … has but one of these tools … dare I say it … TRICKS OF THE TRADE? Yep, tricks of the trade is what it is. Even though it may have a basis in science, the training techniques are indeed a means of circumventing protective bubble, the castle walls, the defensive weapons of an opponent’s mind and body.

    I am not on anyone’s side ,,, but I want people to see the good and the bad so they can take the good while being aware of the bad so they don’t get caught up in the trap of cult thinking.

    What nerves and muscles are we activating with these techniques to send signals to our opponents mind and body, and what nerves and muscles are we activating to receive/ send signals within/out of our own human body? When you realize this .. much of what was once cloudy in your mind about Ki becomes more scientific, and actually finds a place in nature itself.

    I think some people get me wrong when I say some master is not correct. He may be correct for a segment of the population who are able to interpret his words, his teachings, but what about those that cannot? In some ways, Tohei was reinterpreting the aikido of O’Sensei in a way another segment of the human race could understand it. What I am saying is … open your eyes, open your mind …. what Tohei taught may have to be reinterpreted for a different segment of the human population to understand what he was teaching.

    Hence my conclusion … it may take many teachers before one is able to put together enough of what they need to become a master practitioner ….

  4. Graeme MacKendrick says:

    Good for you Mike.
    You hit the nail right on the head. I think that more should be said about Tempu Nakamura the developer of Shin Shin Toitso Do.
    I know there is more to Aikido than mere physical technique.

  5. john says:

    Hi Mike
    Thanks for your post.

    I remember years ago reading Tohei’s comments that when he first met O’sensei he couldn’t tell how he was being thrown since he couldn’t feel where he was being touched.

    When I met Tohei sensei and he used me as an uke I understood what he was talking about.

    In an old article in Scientific American they wrote that as the forearm bone is more flexible than a cinder block that is why we are able to break it with a strike.

    Well if it was just a matter of physics why don’t we all break cinder blocks?

  6. Ezequiel Entelman says:


  7. Alister Gillies says:

    Mike hits the nail on the head. Having practiced ‘Ki style’ for many years, I was dismayed to find that many so called traditional Aikidoists were so up in their shoulders (habitually so), that their practice lacked what I considered basic fundamentals; but comparisons lead to a sense of odium, so I prefer to talk about similarities.

    Regardless of style, all Aikido practitioners need to unlearn physicality to access whole body power. Apart from adopting training regimes and some basic principles, the most difficult task facing any student – regardless of style or system – is getting themselves out of the picture and discovering that power is an intrinsic quality of being human, and not an add on.

    I cannot, however, say that traditional Aikidoists compare less favourably to Ki Aikidoists – both have a lot to offer each other if only they were able to drop the false pride that keeps them apart.

    One thing I have learned is that there is more emphasis, for those that have some understanding of centre, from the traditional side on centre to centre connection than is apparent from the Ki side. The latter tends to focus too much on their own ‘one point’. The shoulder to shoulder competitions that can be observed in the traditional dojos have their counterparts in the centre to centre horn locking that goes on in Ki Aikido dojos.

    Mike offers a perspective that can assist those who want to learn to improve their Aikido, rather than take sides with entrenched attitudes that are of little help in the long run. Life is too short.

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