“What is Ki,” by Francis Takahashi

In Japanese, the word “Ki” has many meanings, dependent on the intent or purpose of the user. By itself, it has little or no utility or significance. It is when it is used with other words that the true intent of its use is revealed. For instance, “Ki ga aru” means having an interest or a mind to take a fancy to something or someone. “Ki ga nai” signifies the opposite, being reluctant to pursue any possible interest at all. “Ki ga kiku” means to lose heart, or to be dejected, while “Ki ga ne” means to be generous, large hearted and to be relieved at some result or accomplishment.

The word “Ki ga tsuku” means to think, feel or have a hunch about something of interest or attention. This use of the word “Ki” may come closer to the interpretation of what Aikidoists are generally in favor of. So too are words like “Ki o kikasu”, to be watchful or alert, and “Ki ni naru”, or to pay attention.

All of the usage of the word “Ki” found above involve the same Kanji, or Japanese character widely used in the word AI Ki DO. Yet, it is not the same applied definition of the character “KI” as used by Aikidoists in the word “AI KI DO”. It is uniquely in the arena of professed Aikidoists that the word “Ki” is given special treatment, and given an interesting and unique variety of meanings and interpretations consistent with their own agendas.

The word “Mind” has several Japanese examples of treatment. For example, “Kokoro”, connotes a sound mind in a sound body. “Kioku” may mean “out of sight, out of mind”.” Kangae” may be found in “a thought just came into my mind”. “Iken” may well mean “I am one with your mind”. Each of these words have a Kanji that is different and distinct from the one use in the word AI KI DO.

The word “Spirit” likewise has different words with different meanings. “Kokoro” is similar in usage to the word “Mind” previously mentioned. “Tamashii” is quite popular, as in “God is a spirit”. Words such as “Seishin”, “Shin-i”, and “Kakki” also are in usage in Japanese communication. Again, however, each Kanji symbol differs from the one use in AI KI DO.

So, the preliminary conclusion may very well be that each Aikidoist, or anyone discussing the meaning of the Kanji used in the word AI KI DO, are essentially unrestricted in interpreting the Kanji , and the word itself for their own purposes. It appears that it is left to the power of group decision making, and with uniform and consistent usage of agreed upon definitions to make an accepted common usage workable.

With that said, here is my interpretation of the word “KI”. First of all, it must be forgiving of the countless attempts to capture and define it for narrow or exclusive usage. It must be general enough in interpretation to satisfy the majority of folk who use it in good faith, and with positive intentions. It should always be amenable to be used like Play Dough or Silly Putty, allowing for constant experimentation, for constant re-interpretation, and to inspire growth in thinking, understanding and accomplishment for the student. The future may well witness even more valid and useful interpretations and applications for the open minded and serious students of Ai Ki Do.

To me, then, the concept of “KI” is one of connection, where the Body attains a certain level of development due to focused and enlightened training, where the Mind can clearly perceive and conceive of a technique of mental channeling of all relevant resources, and the Spirit can then infuse the entire process with an uncompromising and unfettered release of pure intent and knowing purpose upon command. It should never be passed off as a “one of a kind” experience, or an unconscious event of marvelous serendipity and happenstance. It must be mindful, yet allowing of the subconscious to tap into its source readily and with immediate response at need. When all three components work seamlessly, this heightened state of activity is called “Ki No Nagare”. In this moment, all conscious thought is either secondary or forgotten, as the flow of energy moves to its own purpose, and towards its inevitable consequence.

By no means or stretch of my limited imagination can I state that my personal quest is over. Far from it. I can state honestly that it will require countless lifetimes for me to comprehensively understand the process. It is enough that this challenging journey is one of my own choosing, and one I willingly undertake anew each day, with anticipation and with joy. It is my hope that others will do likewise.

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  1. Ki is a mysterious word to us Westerners, so short, but with a varied and broad meaning in eastern culture.
    Thank you very much, Takahashi Shihan, for this wonderful article in which you explain your deep thoughts about Ki, help us to clarify its meaning and inspire us to think about a concept we use so often in our aikido but of which does not exist a real translation in our language.

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