In this post I’d like to review the self-help book “Correcting your posture and breathing to realize your full potential” (「調子いい! 」が続く姿勢と呼吸の整え方” ) by Shin’ichi Tohei (藤平信一). This was published by Daiwa Shobo (大和書房) just a few weeks ago (Mar 5, 2022) and is available in Japanese on Amazon Japan in both paperback and ebook versions here.
It so happens that Shin’ichi Tohei is the head of the martial art called Shinshin Toitsu Aikido (心身統一合氣道), sometimes called “Ki-Aikido” for short, a style of Aikido focusing on Ki, the coordination of mind/body, and application to daily life that has over 50,000 members in over 20 countries worldwide. What he teaches includes both techniques where you physically throw people (the Aikido part), as well as slower paced training involving little or no movement (“Ki training”).
I personally have been training in Ki-Aikido for several years now, and have also read and reviewed a few of Shin’ichi Sensei’s books (one and another). But before I talk about this latest book from the point of view of an experienced practitioner, I will look at it from the eyes of an inexperienced reader. Finally, I will talk briefly about using this book for Japanese reading practice.
There’s some important background I should mention before getting into the book itself. In April of last year, the NHK talkshow “Asa Ichi” (あさイチ) ran an extended segment where Shin’ichi Sensei introduced the fundamental principles of Ki-Aikido titled “Live an aikido lifestyle and say goodbye to unneeded effort!” (ムダな努力よサヨウナラ!“合気道的生活”のススメ). I was fortunate to be able to watch this interesting and entertaining program, but unfortunately it seems currently not available for viewing from the US due to geo-restrictions of NHK plus (if anyone finds a way to legally purchase and watch this program from the US please let me know). In this program, Shin’ichi Sensei spends time with a Japanese family who was under extra stress due to Covid-19 repercussions, and teaches them various Ki-Aikido principles and techniques to help improve their lives and interaction with one another.
The viewer response to this program was apparently very good, so Shin’ichi Sensei was asked by someone from Daiwa Shobo (a publisher) to make a book about the content from the show. As you might expect, the result was “Correcting your posture and breathing to keep being the best you can be”.
This book is broken down into six parts. Here are rough summaries of the high level themes and highlights of each part.
Part 1: Focuses on posture, balance, and removing tension from the body (including neck, chest, and hips). There is a brief discussion of Ki tests as well, an important part of Ki-Aikido that differentiates it from other styles of Aikido.
Part 2: Applies the ideas of removing unnecessary tension and exertion to making common daily-life activities more comfortable: carrying heavy objects, holding tools such as a knife, washing dishes, laundry, cleaning, sitting (both in a chair and traditional seiza style), driving, riding a bike, and even carrying a child.
Part 3: Focuses on breathing techniques to calm and improve the condition of the mind, including basic instructions for how to do the fundamental “Ki breathing” (氣の呼吸法) technique.
Part 4: Takes the idea of how the mind controls the body and talks about techniques to improve more daily life activities such as sleeping, waking up, multitasking, etc. There is also some discussion about related topics such as relieving anxiety, seeing the flow of a series of events, taking action after calming the mind, sensing “Ki” and using it to find the right timing, and using your abilities to their fullest without being persuaded by others.
Part 5: Tips for living an Aikido lifestyle, based on feedback from people training in Ki-Aikido who are applying such techniques to their lives. This touches on some topics mentioned earlier in the book (holding a knife, sitting for long periods of time, etc.), but also introduces some new ideas (improving relationships with others, enhancing negotiation ability, performing before a crowd, etc.)
Part 6: This relatively short part is about how the beneficial changes an Aikido lifestyle can make to one’s daily life, although it focuses mostly on the aforementioned Asa Ichi program and direct feedback (in the form of letters) from some of the family members featured on that.
The vast majority of the sub-topics are only a page or two, which helps in reading the book in short bursts. The first half of the book has a handful of diagrams drawn in a simple but tasteful style, helpful for understanding things such as proper posture when standing, sitting, or riding a bike.
I am not going to go into much detail about each of the individual sub-topics, but I want to talk about one of them to give you an idea of what to expect. Page 54-55 is about getting rid of tension from your lower body, which can build up over time due to bad posture habits in our subconscious. This can cause pain and discomfort, and make it hard for us to move effectively in daily life. Shin’ichi Sensei says that in order to “reset” things in our lower body to remove tension and improve posture, we can try jumping up and landing on two feet. If we make a loud sound when landing, or there is a big jolt to our body, tension still remains. By trying to do this where we land softly, like a cat, we can improve our posture and be able to move more freely. (This is actually a technique I was taught in Japan when training in a dojo there in 2019.)
While the content of the book generally is for everyday people who know nothing about Aikido, and targets everyday activities, there are four single-page “columns” after some of the parts that go into slightly more Aikido-related topics such as applying some of the principles when throwing another person, or a brief discussion about the 5 rules of Ki-Aikido.
All in all, while this book is far from an extensive coverage of Ki-Aikido, it touches upon a few of the most important principles and techniques in an easy-to-understand style and applies them to a wide array of everyday activities in a way that is likely to benefit the average reader. The book can be mostly understood without having seen the Asa Ichi program, but if you are able to watch that I think you will be able to appreciate the book a little more, since it is in some ways a supplement to that program.
Because much of what this book focuses on is about changes to your mind and body, and the life improvements you can reap from them, it isn’t the kind of self help book you can just read and magically expect changes without effort (if even such a thing exists). You have to actually put these things into practice, and working with other people in a dojo will make it much easier to learn and get feedback on the various techniques, not to mention help keep you motivated. Having said that, I feel that some of the things like how to drive or lift heavy objects more comfortably can be picked up fairly quickly (no pun intended) without much training. And even if the book is just enough to pique your curiosity and try heading to a nearby dojo, I think it’s done enough.
Now as I said in the introduction, I have been training in Ki-Aikido (and related Ki training) for some time now, so I wanted to talk briefly about this book for experienced students.
If you’ve trained for a few years, or even a few months, you will likely know about the majority of the principles touched upon in this book. However, you may not be as familiar with some of the real-world applications like sleeping, cleaning, riding a bike, or improving personal relationships.
For those who have seen the aforementioned Asa Ichi program, as well as had significant training, this book is mostly a review of topics you likely already know. But while I am also in that category, I still picked up on a few interesting points here and there. For example, in one illustration about breathing (pg. 114) the book says “If you imagine your exhalation going straight and far, you should be able to breathe comfortably,” something I had never heard phrased that way before. There was also an interesting example about mountain climbers who focus on making it to the summit, then “cut Ki” and end up injuring themselves on the way down due to what is essentially lack of focus (pg.150). In addition, I found Shin’ichi Sensei’s discussion on the connection between ourselves and the outside world, and being thankful for things nature provides like food, to be very thought-provoking (pg. 123-124). Finally, I found his comments about smartphones to be especially applicable to my life (pg. 121-122):
“In modern times, more and more people are uncomfortable when they are not busy doing something. We can no longer tolerate periods of time when we are doing nothing. Smartphones compensate for this; we have become addicted to them and cannot part with them day or night, to the degree it has become a societal problem. Smartphones are the natural enemy of training to calm our breath. When we are using a smartphone, we are unable to focus on our breathing. The first step is setting aside time away from our smartphones, even for just 10 minutes.”
For those learning Japanese, I think this book is a good way to practice reading due to the relatively simple sentence structure, the lack of too many uncommon words, and the way the sub-topics are broken up into small chunks. For me part 5, where there was feedback from people who trained in Ki-Aikido and applied it to their lives, was especially educational because I learned a few words I hadn’t seen before, and since the topics were about daily life it’s more likely I’ll be able to put those words into practice. (Actually I think this section was my favorite part overall, with the largest amount of new material for me.)
Having said that, you will still need a good grammar foundation and knowledge of common jouyou kanji to get through this book without much trouble, since there are very few furigana reading hints. But even if you have to look up a bunch of words and kanji, I think it will be a good use of your time. And once you read a book or two by Shin’ichi Sensei, you can try out a book by his father Koichi Tohei, the founder of Ki-Aikido, whose writings tend to go into a little more detail and complexity. Here is a review of one of his books that I enjoyed.
But the real question is: since I didn’t learn too much new material, was it really worth me reading this book?
I’m happy to answer with a resounding yes. Besides the new tidbits about real-world application or commentary about Ki-Aikido principles, I found it very informative to see how Shin’ichi expresses himself in Japanese in this book. Personally I try to approach learning Ki-Aikido and Ki principles in both English and Japanese so I can get a more complete understanding, and reading his books is one of the best ways to further that objective. In theory, I should be able to pick this stuff up just using English, but it definitely helps to know Japanese. And even for the parts where I felt I understood the topics quite well already, I was able to pick up new Japanese words, or nuances for words I already had seen before.
As I gain experience in Ki-Aikido and Ki principles, I have more opportunities to help other people learn these things, and being able to see some of Shin’ichi Sensei’s most recent thoughts on various topics in his native language, including how he describes things, really helps me deepen my own understanding. While language is ultimately just a tool that helps us to learn things like controlling our mind and body––and a deep understanding shouldn’t depend on any specific language or words––effective teaching strongly depends on easy-to-understand explanations and consistent terminology. And while I happen to be training primarily in English now, who knows maybe someday I’ll train again in Japan.
By the way, when reading the part about washing dishes effectively (pg. 75-76), I was able to make a connection to something I have been focusing on in my training on the mat. In this section, the book talks about how over-reaching for something like a dish can break out posture and cause tension to accumulate. By taking a step closer to the object (or moving it closer to us by some other means) we can prevent these things from happening and improve our endurance doing said activity. Similarly, in the dojo when doing a technique involving a partner (kumiwaza) we also have to be aware of the distance between us and the other person in a similar way, so that we are not overextending our arms and breaking our posture. Once our arms are naturally extended, the only way to bridge the gap without breaking our posture is to either use our feet to get closer to the other person, or in some cases wait a little longer for them to come to us. I’ve also found this principle to be applicable to some other areas in daily life that were not explicitly mentioned in the book, like bending at the knees when picking up something (to avoid bending your back and the bad posture that results), or even moving closer to someone when talking to them.
But back to the topic of what I got out of this book, as I alluded to above, learning something like Ki principles isn’t as much about memorizing techniques or information, it’s more about making changes to your body and mind, and actually integrating them into your life. That’s why in Ki and Ki-Aikido classes you sometimes see the same exercises repeated, so that you can practice them and get more accustomed to them, with the goal of learning to control your mind and body better. There does happen to be a large number of techniques (especially in terms of Aikido throws and such), but the important thing is mastering the principles rather than being a walking dictionary of techniques.
For me, this book was similar to a class in the dojo. I learned a few new things, but its primary purpose was to reinforce fundamental principles, which includes reminding me of a few things I had forgotten, or at least forgotten to apply to my daily life. I think of this type of learning as a spiral, which is more about gradual refinement than linear progression.
At present this book is only available in Japanese, and while I would gladly translate it at Shin’ichi Sensei’s request I think some of his other books might end up getting translated first. Fortunately there are already many resources for English speakers to understand more about Ki-Aikido.
One of the best is Shin’ichi Sensei’s blog in English, which you can find here. Unfortunately it seems he hasn’t posted since April 2021, but there is still a lot of good content there. There is even an English translation of an entire book on Ki breathing online here, and while the Ki-Aikido official YouTube page has mostly Japanese content, some of the martial arts demonstrations can still be appreciated even if you don’t know Japanese. Here is one example of an interesting video about weapons training, including performances by both new and experienced students.
You can also see my detailed introduction to Ki-Aikido here or other related posts here. Finally, you can find a bunch of books on Ki-Aikido in English here, though the majority are quite old and may contain out-of-date information.
[Note: the translations and summaries herein are not official, and the content of the article as a whole represents my own opinions.]