Recommended reading: “Interview with Koichi Tohei (4)” by Stanley Pranin

The interview below with the famous Koichi Tohei, aikido’s first 10th dan, has been selected from the extensive archives of the Online Aikido Journal. We believe that an informed readership with knowledge of the history, techniques and philosophy of aikido is essential to the growth of the art and its adherence to the principles espoused by Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba.

It is the same for the character for person (hito). Its original meaning in Chinese, based on its shape (which shows two people leaning on each other) was to the effect that “people must rely on one another to get along in the world.” In Japanese we retain the readings nin and jin that approximate the original Chinese, but we also have the Japanese reading hito. Like mizukagami, the word hito existed in Japan prior to the introduction of Chinese characters. It comes from the classical language of Japanese spirituality, with a specific connection to the word naohi (direct spirit). The syllable hi expressed the spirit of the universe, and when this spirit coalesces into a physical form, you have hito (“spirit-stop”) – a person. The same applies to the word kokyu (breath); I teach my students to exhale with “haaah” sound and inhale with a “suuuh” sound-in other words, to use the more natural pronunciation instead of the words themselves. Whole-body breathing would be impossible if you tried to exhale with the sound “koooh” an inhale with the sound “kyuuuh” (i.e. kokyu).

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