(Update: my feelings about Ki-Aikido have changed somewhat since I wrote this article, especially how it differs from other styles of Aikido. I will keep this article for historical reasons, but hope to write more on this topic eventually).
Over 3 years ago, I posted an article about the Japanese martial art Aikido (合気道) in which I noted that I was taking a break from training. I also mentioned that I was waiting until my son was old enough to be able to train.
Last year, my family and I moved to Portland, Oregon, and one of the reasons we moved cross country was to get more exposure to Japanese culture on the West coast.
My son is a little older now, and a quick search revealed (not surprisingly) there is good number of Aikido dojos near Portland. In particular, I was drawn to the Oregon Ki Society, which at present has 7 locations around Oregon as well as a few satellite programs. Some of these have only been around a year or so, and others several decades. Though initially my main purpose researching Aikido was for my son, it turns out in addition to several classes for children, they also have adult classes.
I went to view one of children’s classes, and they were nice enough to allow my son to participate even though he hadn’t yet become a member. The teachers seemed knowledgable and great with kids, so I signed up my son to become a member, and soon after became a member myself. (I call this my “Saikido” (再気道), which is a bit of wordplay from the word “Saikido” (再起動) that means “restart”, except my word replaces last two kanji characters with those from from “Aikido”)
Back in South Florida, the dojo I trained in years ago was part of Aikikai (technically, the “Aikido Foundation”, 公益財団法人合気会), which is basically the organization directly connected all the way back to the original founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba (植芝盛平, also called 大先生 (Ōsensei)).
As it turns out, the Oregon Ki Society is associated with a slightly different branch of Aikido called “Ki-Aikido”, or more formally “Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido” (「心身統一合気道」, literally “mind and body unification Aikido”), founded by Koichi Tohei (藤平光一). I won’t go into the history too much here, but in short it it seems Tohei sensei had a slightly different philosophy about what Aikido was and should be, and ended up creating his own school called “Ki Society” (気の研究会). You can read some more details about Ki Society and the related branch of Aikido on this page (Japanese only), or read about some of the principles of Oregon Ki Society here (English).
While “Ki” (roughly meaning “energy” and written in Japanese as 「気」or 「氣」) is already part of Aikido as created by Ōsensei, one of the fundamental differences of Ki-Aikido seems to be its greater emphasis on understanding and developing ki.
But, philosophy aside, how does this actually translate to what happens in everyday practice in the dojo?
I’ve only attended a handful of classes at this point, but so far I feel there are more similarities than differences between Aikikai and Ki-Society’s versions of Aikido. Many of the fundamental waza (techniques, 技) seem to be the same, as well as some of the stretches. However, there is a set of additional exercises that are new to me which focus on developing or feeling ki. There are also differences in how the waza are performed and explained.
In Oregon Ki Society dojos, there are actually three types of adult classes: aikido (involves moving), ki development (usually involves standing in place) and kiatsu (気圧, a healing technique involving ki). They are all strongly related, and while I have only attended the first two, I am interested in the kiatsu class as well. From what I have seen, all of the classes are taught by very experienced members, their time with Aikido generally measured in decades. The teachers generally have the calm, controlled demeanor I’ve come to expect of people skilled in Aikido.
But, getting back to the similarities, it was truly amazing the number of commonalities with my experiences in South Florida Aikikai. Not just the techniques and stretches, but also the people and how everyone interacted. If anything, I felt I was learning a dialect of the same core language. Since both schools ultimately descend from the teachings of Ōsensei, I guess this isn’t that much of a surprise.
I’d love to write pages and pages about Aikido and my experiences at Oregon Ki Society, but I think first I’ll get a little more experience under my belt so my words have more weight. It will be nice to get out of this state of Aiki-limbo where I’m sort of a newbie (from the perspective of Ki-Aikido), and sort of not (having at least a year and a half of pretty intensive training). But it’s interesting to see what my body remembers and what it doesn’t, and also, in some sense, be a beginner twice for the same martial art.
If you have even the slightest interest in this unique martial art, I highly recommend finding a dojo near you and stop by to see Aikido live. It doesn’t hurt to read up about it, but it’s important to actually see (and feel) the techniques in person since words only go so far.
You can see an article that talks more about Ki-Aikido (and has a reference to a video about it in Japanese) here.
On a final note, while Aikido does use many words and concepts from Japanese, you don’t need to know how to speak or understand Japanese to learn and become skilled at Aikido. However, I feel that for those who do know Japanese, you have access to a larger set of resources which can really enrich your understanding and inform your training. Another perk would be the possibility of someday training in Japan under a teacher who knows no or little English.