No Ki, no Aikido. I first heard this phrase when I began my study of Aikido. Being eager to learn and having no idea as to the nature of Ki I accepted the statement at face value. As the years have marched inexorably onward I have come across many ideas, definitions and opinions as to what Ki is/is not. Some practitioners go so far as to deny the existence of Ki altogether, preferring instead to focus on the purely physical manifestation of Aikido as the core of their practice. As my Aikido study has matured I have come to view Ki as an emergent quality resulting from the unification of mind/body/spirit; independent of the metaphors one chooses to explain the achievable results of the so called Ki tests (unbendable arm, weight underside, push tests of many varieties etc.)
The theme of this post is how I use Ki exercises as training tools to help my students grow stronger and more centered; how repeated iterations of the exercises under continually increasing stress enable the student to experience the "correct feeling" that comes from having a unified mind/body/spirit. I dislike the reference of Ki development exercises as Ki testing. Viewed solely as tests minimizes or does away with altogether the benefits of the exercises themselves as a unifying practice. The implication is that the exercises are merely measuring tools that can be used to gauge the student's progress resulting from the practice of waza.
The exercises are designed to build the "unification musculature" of the student in much the same way that pumping iron builds the muscles of the bodybuilder. Increased pressure on the student is like adding weight to the bar. The increased force that the student is exposed to during the exercises pushes the student always right up to the point of failure. The student experiences correct feeling in a variety of situations under varying levels of force application. Then when I speak of "extending Ki" the student has a frame reference (correct feeling, unified mind/body/spirit) which relates concretely to the metaphor.
In addition to paired Ki exercises I also practice solo Ki exercises that many people view as simple warm-ups. The solo exercises enable me to find my center and keep it in my awareness as I move. I encourage students to perform the solo Ki exercises daily, maintaining correct feeling as they move. These exercises remove applied force from the equation replacing it with the disorientating distraction of motion.
Taken together, paired and solo Ki exercises provide me with fundamental building blocks from which I can construct techniques that are performed with correct feeling. Having a correct feeling allows me to connect with my partner without the need to control or force the outcome. I am able to "sport freely" (O Sensei) and let the outcome of our encounter arise naturally.
(Original blog post may be found here