Shinichi Tohei (藤平信一), current head of Ai Aikido (心身統一合氣道), appears on a Japanese educational program

By | December 18, 2018

Last year I posted about my training in the Japanese martial art of Aikido (合気道, or sometimes written as 合氣道). There are many styles of Aikido which have many things in common and yet diverge in areas that can be both critical and subtle; for this same reason it can be counterproductive to try and learn specific techniques through Youtube videos since each style (and each region/dojo) can have their own way of doing things. The style I am currently practicing is generally described in English as “Ki Aikido”, and in Japanese as 心身統一合氣道 (shin shin touitsu aikidou)

I have trained in this challenging and rewarding martial art for more than a year now, and while I have been eager to post more about it a few things have held me back. One is that I feel I still have so much to learn and don’t feel qualified to formally teach much about Ki Aikido. Another is that I feel you can only learn so much from reading about Aikido, to really make progress you have to actually train (often called keiko, 稽古, in Japanese). So I may wait a little longer until I write a detailed article about my feelings and comments about this martial art.

Having said that, the other day I came across a really great video where the current head of Ki Aikido, Shin’ichi Tohei (藤平信一) who is the son of the founder of Ki Aikido (Kouichi Tohei, 藤平光一), appeared on a Japanese NHK program called “助けて!きわめてびと” (roughly translated, “Help me, master!”).

Japan has many TV programs that cater more towards entertainment, especially the so-called “variety” shows (バラエティ番組) however this NHK program is more educational oriented with serious content (despite the fact it may look at little like the entertainment programs).

In a relatively short segment (around 23 minutes) this program manages to give pretty good explanations of some of the key principles and one of the key wazas (specifically 呼吸動作, kokyuu dousa). It’s tailored for an audience that knows nothing about Aikido and features a few younger girls learning the basics themselves in order to try and help their interpersonal problems, so in some ways it’s a good introduction to this Martial art. I don’t think the word “ki” (氣) was mentioned even once, which probably was intentional because this concept can be a bit tricky to explain, or should I say fully understand.

For those who don’t know Japanese, unfortunately there are no English subtitles, however if you are studying Japanese I think this is a great video to watch for learning new words and expressions. As with many shows of this type, there are frequent subtitles which help, and the speaking speed (at least for Tohei san himself) is pretty reasonable.

As an aikidoka (合気道家、someone who trains in aikido), this video is really a treasure of information and I’ve already watched it several times. While I train with really excellent senseis, nothing is quite like hearing from the head of a martial art you are training in. I heard his English is pretty good, so if I ever meet him in the US ironically I may not get to hear him speak in Japanese. I know that some of the black belt aikidoka have met him (and/or his father before he passed away),  but it’s not common for people that train in the U.S. to have an opportunity to meet him, or even see recordings of him. This video has been on Youtube for a little over 2 years, but I’m guessing many people learning Ki Aikido in the US haven’t seen it yet.

Before introducing the video I wanted to briefly talk about two key Japanese phrases that are mentioned several times in it. The first is 心を静める (kokoro wo shizumeru), roughly meaning “calm your mind”, and is one of the key principles of Ki Aikido.

The second is 臍下の一点 (seika no itten), often translated in English as “the one point”, which refers to a point in your lower abdomen; it is said that if you concentrate there, it will help calm your mind. The word 臍下 (seika) isn’t that common in colloquial Japanese, and Touhei san himself uses the term 下腹 (shitahara) in the video, which means basically the same thing.

The interpretation and methodology of these terms can get pretty involved, so I won’t go into any more detail in this post. (One of them, however, is a special type of breathing, 呼吸法, which is alluded to in the video)

If you want to read more about Ki Aikido in English, I would recommend checking out this book which is old, but very good. Keep in mind that in the several decades since it was published some things may have evolved and changed somewhat.

But like I said, if you really want to learn Aikido the best place is on the mat.

(By the way, if you happen to train in Aikido, or any other martial art, let me know in the comments)


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