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Home > Spiritual > A Test Worth More than a Thousand Words
by William Reed - April, 1997

Ki testing is the trademark of the Ki Society. It is the yardstick by which we measure our progress and the proof of our pudding, yet it is one of the least understood aspects of our training. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but what is the value of a thousand words? Ki testing allows us to physically experience the practical value of mind and body unification, and gives us a simple means of teaching it to others. To better appreciate its value we need to review what Ki testing is for and how it works.

Ki testing was originally developed by Tohei Sensei as a physical measure of and shorthand for teaching mind and body unification. Before this students were expected to absorb the benefits of martial arts training through years or decades of subjective experience and intuition, with little theory or explanation. The traditional Oriental approach to martial arts training has produced celebrated masters as well as talented performers over the centuries, but also clouds of dubious myth and esoteric nonsense. The old ways were developed for secret societies in feudalistic times, and depended for their success on a life of dedicated service to a master. When Koichi Tohei first brought Aikido to Hawaii in 1953, he found that this traditional method was not only ill-suited for Americans, but that it was a highly inefficient method for teaching modern people whose lives were more multi-dimensional. Moreover, Americans had a habit of questioning everything, and refused to practice something without knowing the reasons why. As a result he developed what we now know as the four basic principles of mind and body unification, and a whole system for Ki development which is both teachable and testable, a perfect match for modern men and women. Ki testing is controlled physical pressure applied on the student's body by the instructor or partner in an effort to gauge the degree of physical stability, as a measure of the depth of mind and body unification. It is the foundation of our training, and we owe it to ourselves to get it right.

Tohei Sensei established five principles to ensure that Ki testing was properly understood and practiced:

  1. A test not of strength, but of Fudoshin (immovable mind).
  2. Test according to the level of the student.
  3. Test to teach, not to pass or fail.
  4. Understand yourself by testing others.
  5. Do not confuse the method with the purpose of the test.

Seeking Your Level

While these principles serve as general guidelines, we must not forget that Ki tests may be performed at different levels to test for specific results of training. There are many levels of training and certification now offered by the Ki Society, but we will concern ourselves with the basic levels of Shokyu, Chukyu, Jokyu, and Shoden, leading up to the equivalent of a "black belt" in Ki Development. Specific Ki tests are prescribed by Ki HQ for each level, which are described in the testing criteria posted in the dojo. For example, unraisable arm is tested under the upper arm at Shokyu, in the same place but with a hesitation at Chukyu, and under the hand at Jokyu.

Shokyu is a test of understanding of the four basic principles of mind and body unification. A Ki test at this level may be thought of as simply touch and test. The idea is to compare right and wrong ways of doing an exercise, keeping it simple and using the test to teach the student how to unify mind and body. It is appropriate at this level to define basic terms such as One Point, and to illustrate errors of common sense in the approach to concentration, relaxation, calmness, and use of the mind. For example, many people unconsciously assume that relaxation is weaker, but Ki testing can be used to demonstrate that by relaxing correctly you actually become stronger. The Ki principles at this stage should be presented in beginner's terms in black and white, showing how the student can consciously control his or her own state of mind and body unity by simply applying the basic principles. Do not confuse the student by taking them too quickly to a higher level, or by using one-upmanship to show who is better. Remember that a Ki test is not a Contest. Touch and test with gradually increasing pressure in a predictable direction with no surprises. The goal at this level is to clearly demonstrate how the Ki principles work with a particular posture or exercise. It's supposed to be easy, if you follow the principles.

Chukyu is a test of continuity, whether or not the student can remain calm once unified. A feint or hesitation is done just before the test to see if student's mind or body is easily disturbed. It is a test of how to sustain mind and body unity, recognizing that it is just as easy to lose it as to attain it. "Easy come, easy go" is the lesson here, for we tend to think that we have it when in fact we don't. It is natural to get surprised, but it is not natural to stay surprised. It is easy to pass a test at this level if you recover rapidly. While a beginner will physically fall for the feint, lunging toward it in an effort to push back, with practice this disturbance becomes so small as to become undetectable. Instructors should be careful not to test with too much Ki at this level, making the test frustratingly difficult to pass. Except for the psychological factor of the hesitation, the Chukyu test is physically not much stronger than the Shokyu test. The lesson to be learned is let well enough alone. Once you are unified, you need do nothing to improve it. Once the faucet is turned on, all you need to do is leave it alone and the water will flow by itself. Do nothing, or Do no-thing to react to the false feint. At this level students learn to calmly trust the state of mind and body unity which at Shokyu they learned to recognize and control.

Jokyu is where the tests become more subtle, seeing whether the student can remain unified under Ki pressure. This is a test of the depth of mind and body unity, and whether or not the student can remain unified without receiving the Ki of the tester. At this level the student is led beyond recognition and trust to positive conviction in the state of mind and body unity. In order to be useful in daily life the four principles must become a natural response, your normal condition. This is a test to withstand the unexpected, only possible if the subconscious has been trained to respond automatically. The test need not be physically stronger, for if the tester's Ki penetrates the student's concentration even a gentle pressure is enough to move the student off balance. At this level students gain true confidence in mind and body unity by rising above the test altogether. It teaches us to take the initiative and not be slaves of circumstance.

Shoden is the equivalent of "black belt" in Ki Development, and only qualified instructors are allowed to test and certify students at this level. It may be thought of as a kind of turbo charged Jokyu, and is characteristically "in your face." The tests may not be physically stronger, but a deliberate attempt is made to disturb your mind, either by looking you directly in the eye, or by combining the psychological impact of hesitation with the penetrating power of extending Ki before the test is made. Shoden also makes use of unpredictability in the direction or timing of the test. This is a supreme test of whether or not you have made the Ki principles a part of you, and how well you are able to truly do no-thing under pressure. Higher levels of testing such as Chuden, Joden, Kaiden, and Okuden may be thought of as more of the same, except that the testing is performed by higher ranking instructors, and usually under the added pressure of a formal test session in front of a large group of high ranking instructors and peers. The pressure is similar to that experienced by public speakers and stage performers, and the test becomes one of maintaining calmness and continuity under more intense scrutiny.

Shadow Boxing for the Real Tests of Life

Ki tests offer objective biofeedback for teaching mind and body unification in a direct and tangible way. They also make effective shorthand for teaching Ki exercises and Aikido arts. More importantly, Ki testing prepares you for the real tests of daily life. Experience is supposed to be the best teacher, but in fact it is often the worst teacher, giving the test before the lesson. Ki tests offer a way to simulate the pressures of physical attack as well as psychological stress, and are a means of "shadow boxing" for the real tests of daily life. It is up to each person to make the connection in daily life by experimenting with how the state of mind and body unification learned in the dojo transfers to the endless variety of individual and specific daily life situations which would be impossible to duplicate on the mat. Tohei Sensei has provided us with an organized curriculum for mastering it at various levels, and we know that Ki testing works through the guidance offered by more experienced instructors and from our own efforts to test the principles against the problems of daily existence.

Nevertheless, Ki testing is a skill which in the wrong hands can produce distorted results. Individual variations, carelessness, bad habits, and egos alike can interfere with Ki testing and reduce its value as a teaching tool. Without proper understanding these distortions become magnified over time.

Many students find that they can pass a Ki test in the dojo, but not at home. Or students become accustomed to the testing style of their own instructors, but find that they cannot pass the tests of a visiting instructor. The ultimate surprise comes when they find that what has worked for years in the home dojo doesn't work at all when tested by a visiting instructor from Tokyo. This can lead people to assume that Ki testing is either subjective or a matter of the instructor allowing the student to pass just to prove a point. Instructors should be careful to emphasize the objective and progressive elements of Ki testing, and not let it degenerate into a game of subjective feelings and vague notions.

Testing without Confusion

Much of the confusion arises from improper testing. You would not stand still if the tester were to take a swing at you, and you should not stand still for a test which shoves you or breaks ma-ai either. In our enthusiasm to invent new tests we sometimes overstep the boundaries of what is a test and in fact deliver a low-grade attack. This can have value if done in a controlled manner to illustrate a point, but it can easily turn into a reckless shoving match for which an Aikido throw or simple evasion might be a better response. Control is the point, recognizing the difference between "I will not move" and "I cannot move." If we maintain the Ki principles correctly, we will know when it is time to move and when it is time to remain in place.

There is an optimal level of testing for the student's growth. If a test is too easy it fails to make a point, if too hard it can create frustration or worse still, lead to little tricks for passing a particular test that miss the point altogether. Ki testing is a two-way affair, so you tend to get back what you give out. The best way to avoid ego conflicts and wrong ideas is to begin with a clear understanding of the fundamentals of testing at each level. In order to get the best results the tester must be unified, that is completely balanced, relaxed, calm, and positive. Since the focus is on the person being tested, it is easy to miss the fact that the tester may be using strength rather than Ki, pushing at an unfocused angle, or giving a low-grade attack rather than a Ki test. Training with bad testing is like taking music lessons on a poorly tuned piano.

As the tester, one way to ensure that your test is valid is to see how little pressure is required to move your partner, not how much. As the person being tested, if you find that you can violate a Ki principle and still pass a test then it is a bad test. It is possible to be stable against a fair amount of pressure by taking a low stance and tensing only the muscles at the point of the test. This little trick does not work against a real Ki test. An old Zen saying has it that a wooden Buddha cannot pass through fire, and a clay Buddha cannot pass through water. We want to develop a state of mind and body unity that is reliable for whatever conditions we meet, not just a set of mental and physical tricks for passing the Ki tests. The purpose of the test is to teach, not to pass or fail. If you come away from the test with a better sense of recognition, control, continuity, and conviction in Ki principles then you have been successful.

William Reed

Reprinted with permission from Virginia Ki Society's "Ki Notes" Newsletter.

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