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[Credit to Ron Ragusa and Raul Rodrigo for inspiring me to think through this dialogue]
Q: Is Ki just mystical crap? Is it a physical, tangible thing, or just some woo-woo energy of the cosmos?
A: There are very good reasons to accept Ki as a physcial concept and a real perceptible thing that can be understood in purely physical terms, and yes, to actually justify, in a sense, some of the statements that is like an "energy" that pervades the universe.
Q: Accepting an assertion that Ki is a part of the energy spectrum pervading all the universe -- raises a few questions.
A: I'm going to take up the issue because the premise of the likely questions (and the implied belief of others on the woo-woo front) both illustrate the misperceptions of the concept of Ki, understood physically.
Q: Where in the spectrum does the energy of Ki lie?
A: Ki is the oscillation forming every wavelength of the spectrum.
Q: What is the wave length of Ki?
A: Any of them, because Ki is the wave oscillation, itself.
Q: What is the exchange particle responsible for the transmission of Ki energy?
A: Every wave/particle possesses Ki which is its oscillation. Even the background vacuum oscillates from zero to +1/-1, constantly.
Q: What theory of physics predicts the existence of Ki energy or the Ki particle?
A: All three -- classical, relativistic and quantum mechanics, are predictive of angular momentum (which defines oscillation) as a more fundamental quantity relating what we commonly distinguish as mass and energy.
All "energy" is carried in quanta of wave/particles, but even massless energy, such as light, has a non-zero angular momentum defined by its oscillation, alone. Momentum is independent of mass.
Even seemingly at-rest matter with "zero" velocity has momentum called inertial moment. This is the "resistance" of "non-moving" matter shown in Newton's first and third laws of motion. Inertial moment is simply the sum of the oscillations of the mass (and massless) wave/particles within it. In the same exact way that a gyroscope resists motion of its axis because of its periodic motion, the randomly oriented and incessant oscillations of the wave/particles comprising the mass resist any motion, in any direction.
Reduce the the oscillations substantially (cool it) and the inertia of the mass can changes radically in certain ways, as seen in the superfluidity of liquid helium, or BEC states of matter, and more commonly in the simple changes of physical state from gas to liquid to solid.
Align and match the phase of all those oscillations of matter that has loosely bound electrons and you get an electromagnetic field, which being nonrandom, shows the cumulative positive and negative poles of the oscillations which are now coordinated.
Q: Surely this view of Ki cannot be used to relate it to "everything?" What about gravity? Or are you so woo-woo that you think the yin-yang of Ki involves "anti-gravity?" OOOOOooo!
A: Not in the way you suggest. Seen in this perspective, (although this is speculation on my part), gravity may simply be the "opposite pole" pairing the inertia created by mass oscillation. "Gravity" is seen to operate as a force, while inertia is not (though there is no rational reason for not calling inertia a "force"), if we choose that convention, since "action" by definition requires a force, and the inertial reaction of mass is also force -- but we somehow fail to fully realize the significance of that fact. The oversight is simply an artifact of the scheme of analysis -- if you posit forces, vice oscillation (momentum) effects the parity that seems obvious from an angular momentum perspective is hidden by a circular definition in terms of forces, since inertia is rarely recognized as a "force." Gravity may simply be no more than the fact that all mass pulls other mass because all mass pushes back when pushed. It may be a parity law, after all.
Q: Can you propose possible experiments that can be conducted in a lab that would lead to the formulation of a theory explaining Ki energy in terms of physical law?
A: They've been done (apart from the gravity thing, but that's unnecessary to a practical use of the concepts, just as we didn't worry too much about the lack of a quantum theory of gravity to go to the moon). It is simply a matter of applying the right physical convention, understood in a broader way to see Ki as a real, physically exploitable and analyzable thing.
Q: Assuming you may have a point, how then does one put that information into a framework for training? Would it eventually enable a student to carry out the standard ki tests or otherwise improve Aikido training?
A: I cannot speak explicitly to the Tohei Ki-testing framework, since I trained through both Saotome and Saito's lineages, and some limited exposure to Yoshinkan. But I don't think that really matters, because Ki is Ki, and training that improves any uses of Ki improves all the uses of Ki.
Q: What is the nature of Aikido training that your perspective may help to improve, then?
A: Aikido training is tapping into the fundamental and powerful nature of oscillatory power (our bipedal balance system is explicitly oscillatory) -- and O Sensei signalled this throughout his teachings on things like kotodama, furitama (spirit shaking), tekubi furi, (wrist shaking) funetori (boat rowing) and any number of Doka, like the red an white jewels, that control the ebb and flow of tides, and my favorite of which, capturing both low frequency (undulating) and high frequency (buzzing) oscillations as the explicit manifestations of Ki is this:
O Sensei wrote:
The honored techniques of KI
May manifest the spirit of the Great Snake
Or that of Bees
To make such spirits (tama) appear
Is the Way of Takemusu
Q: Is it just a matter of the right techniques? Are there different techniques or methods of training you would suggest?
A: It is my considered opinion that the combined aspects of sensitizing the body to be attuned to these natural rhythms (Ai-ki), allows one to begin to exploit them more readily -- at points in space and time that when there can be no resistance to the manipulation.
In oscillatory terms that point of absolutely no resistance ( in both spatial and temporal terms) is another explicit concept that O Sensei tauight -- Juuji -- 90 degree or right-angle relationships -- harmonic relationships, creating a driving resonance between two interacting oscillating systems. At 90 degrees phase difference in oscillations, when one system is at maximum positive or negative the other is at zero, and when the one is at zero the other is maximum positive or negative. No resistance is possible in this orientation.
Q: How is sensitivity to be gained from your perspective? What is it we trying to become sensitive to?
A: The secret in gaining in sensitivity is simply in rigorous training in the "mystical crap" or otherwise "weird-seeming" aiki taiso -- such as furitama, tekubi furi, ude furi, funetori (and I do not rule out kotodama training, though it has never been taught to me, apart from certain vocalizations for funetori). Paired practice such as the kokyu dosa, and the forms of the waza, help to isolate the sensation of the nature action from the anticipation of the form of the action. These allow one to begin to learn the feel of the other persons structure and dynamic through these mechanisms.
I know it works, because I can literally feel my way into another persons body in a tactile sense in kokyu tanden ho, and the same way my seniors told me they could do when I still thought it was mainly mystical crap (but unmistakeably effective mystical crap). Now I know it is physical. It is as entirely real as the sound I can hear without seeing the immediate cause of it. I may have finally sorted out why, or at least found a decent starting position for doing so.
Q: What would this perspective mean in trying to better apply Aiki in training and otherwise ?
A: One way to approach this in application, I have come to conclude, is to think deeply about the ways in which resonance, harmonics and other aspects of 90 degree relationships may be set up or addressed in the response to attack, and to begin to see how these are already powerfully expressed in the formal waza, especially in the spiral rotations that signal such as situation. And in developing an intense weapons practice where they have to become much more precise, and which finally disposes of any hope of using leverage as the principle of action at the point of engagement.
Q: Is this any different from what others maintain was developed in the training of aiki in other systems of jujitsu, and notably in Daito Ryu ?
A: I have not the resources to compare the portions of the DTR syllabus that O Sensei explicitly dropped. Plainly DTR formed a training regimen directed at Aiki, but as koryu it was primarily pragmatic, not systematic. There were things in addition to pure Aiki in DTR training. Even many techniques in Aikido can be applied to an extent without a good understanding or grasp of physical Aiki. But that is like saying the butt of a shinken can also crack nuts.
But my gut at this point tells me that those DTR techniques O Sensei dropped likely exhibited little or none of these principles and were more allied to leverage principles also seen in other schools of jujitsu. If I am correct, those were therefore discarded, in favor of his more systematic concentration on this view of Ki as a martial tool. Someone around here was working on classifying what was dropped from the DTR syllabus. It may be possible to use this hypothesis as a rubric to examine them to see if this may have been among the rationales (there were surely others, too) that may explain some of those he dropped.
Q: Back to Ki-tests, how can this perspective practically help in addressing or trainign ki tests ?
A: In the case of unbendable arm, one "ki-test" I have been exposed to, it would be to emphasize letting only one of the paired skeletal muscles do work at any given time -- i.e. ensure that the body is orienting itself in properly positive-negative poles in every element when expressing Ki. The more typical situation of untrained persons is to have counter-action of the skeletal muscles at every joint (as with the biceps/triceps) that is used to stabilize the joint fulcrum when using leverage. With leverage, limb rotations are opposed to one another. Ki doesn't use leverage. All rotations go the same way with Ki (until, of course, they automatically reverse (reflect) at some discontinuity and all go back the other way again).
The counteraction (entirely necessary to use effective joint leverage) is wasted energy when using Ki. Leverage stability counteraction directly reduces the effective force of the action muscle. The counter-tension also inhibits the free flow of Ki (understood as oscillation) in the body in the negative (or zero) channels (depending on how you look at it), by damping oscillations that would otherwise move freely, and thus also be felt more clearly.
I hope that this dialogue gives some practical and hopefully useful, initial consequences to this admittedly large attempt at a comprehensive physical theory of Ki. I welcome any comments on the whole set of concepts outlined, either in criticism or suggestion of further inquiry.