On this blog I’ve written a few articles about the martial art I train in, Ki Aikido (more formally called Shinshin Touitsu Aikido「心身統一合氣道」, “AIkido of Body and Mind Coordination”). It’s something I’ve invested a great deal of time into, training and teaching around four times a week for roughly six years. With a limited amount of free time, I’m pretty picky about how I devote my time, and some people have asked me what I like so much about Aikido. While I’ve given brief answers, this is a topic I wanted to think about and give a proper response to, not only for others but also for myself.
One of the core aspects of Ki Aikido is learning Ki principles that you can apply to your daily life to help, among other things, keep calm and do your best, whether it is in work or play. It’s fair to say that I do benefit from this to a certain degree, and have noticed myself being able to better maintain calm in a variety of situations. However, I don’t think this is the main reason that I continue to train.
I think many of us (especially when we are young) see people doing martial arts in a movie, whether it is a hand-only form or something with weapons, and think “Wow, that is cool!” I must admit that Ki Aikido gives me this feeling a little, call it samurai-play if you like, that makes training fun. But this is tempered by the fact that many of the physical techniques themselves are ultimately something I would never actually do in the real world, so in one sense it is little more than a game. (As a side point, when asked about if I would use Aikido to defend myself in a real-world situation I generally answer that while I could and would in certain situations, generally there is a risk of the other person getting injured and the complications that can arise from that, which make me hesitate, but more importantly the ability to stay calm and think straight can be very valuable in such situations.)
That’s why the “martial” part of the Aikido isn’t the main reason I continue to train all this time, even though I feel the somewhat scripted martial situations are an excellent forum to practice staying calm, as well as refine other things such as proper posture and reaction time.
I’ve been dragging things on a bit so I’ll finally get the point: I believe the top reason for my continued training in Ki-Aikido is the ability to learn and refine a set of interconnected skills that can be practiced and tested in a clear, straightforward way, a subset of which I can apply to the real world. In other words, in Ki Aikido I can actually learn something that I feel is worthwhile—something that is, at times, surprisingly difficult but wonderfully satisfying when I make a discovery that helps me make a noticeable improvement.
The previous statement may sound a little funny, because after all there are millions of ways to “learn” things, whether it be in a school class, from reading a book, on the job, or even in daily life. But while I will acknowledge that I still learn things from these sources, often there is some confusion about if I really learned the material correctly, how to apply the material, or even if the material itself was correct. To give a specific example, I feel that much of the material I learned in school was either misinformation or not useful (history class is a good example). Also, I don’t read self-help books often, but those I have read I feel, while interesting, ultimately don’t result in a change to my life most of the time. (I think it’s fair to say that self-help books in general are padded for increased size to sell better and for entertainment value, and the core information is only a very small portion.) To give another example, I used to watch YouTube videos for the sake of learning certain skills, but I realized that it was 99% entertainment and 1% learning, at least for some of the skills.
Ki Aikido has a variety of things that can be learned and their results observed in a clear way, whether it is body posture, executing a huge number of dynamic techniques, ukemi (safe falling), meditation, or Kiatsu (a special technique that promotes healing for yourself or others), etc. Although to me it isn’t really the number of these things, it’s how deep each of them can be, a depth that requires years if not decades to master, and in some cases requires a completely different way of thinking, a perspective change that can have a tangible effect on your life.
This brings me to the second main reason I train in Ki-Aikido, which is intimately related to the first: teaching others––or perhaps it is better to say “helping others to learn”––these same things that I was taught. I’ve enjoyed teaching in several forums including being a TA in college and also teaching Japanese in recent years, but Ki-Aikido is a great subject where there is a great deal of material that is difficult to master, and really benefits from a good teacher. Helping others to learn can happen when I work with a child (as an assistant or main sensei of a kid’s class) or when working with adults. Even when working with someone who has more experience than me, it is not uncommon for me to give feedback to that person that helps them in some way, and there isn’t a strict top-down hierarchy such that the more experienced have nothing more to learn from everyone else. (Here’s an article I wrote about this topic sometime ago.)
I can see myself continuing to learn, and teach, KI-Aikido for the next decade, or more. And it’s important to mention that of course both the teaching and learning side are generally quite fun (though I’ll admit there are a handful of exercises that I don’t particularly enjoy). Not to mention that it’s also a wonderful thing to be able to train with and teach my own son.
One of the other reasons I continue to train in Ki-Aikido is that I really love being an uke (attacker) for someone with a lot of experience. It can be a thrilling, fast-paced activity where moving correctly on a split-second timescale matters, and there’s always more to learn and ways to train my body to be able to perform better. There’s a great thrill in being thrown across the mat with an amazing amount of force and landing safely, only to spring back up the next instant, ready for more. An added advantage of such aggressive practice is that it is great cardio and works many of the muscles of the body, and is more enjoyable and enriching than other things I have done for cardio such as jogging and swimming. You can read more about ukemi in this article.
Those are the primary reasons that I train, but there’s a bunch more secondary ones that I should mention. One is the strong ties between the Ki Society and Japan, as well as Japanese culture and language. While learning Japanese is not a main focus, it is really helpful for learning techniques, and there’s many opportunities for me to help explain a term or throw in a random Japanese expression. Knowing Japanese enabled me to train in Japan once (which I hope to do again), which was an enjoyable and educational experience.
The community of the Ki Society itself is great, made up of many kind, caring people who support one another in many ways, and often travel from long distances to meet and train (sometimes from as far as Canada or even Europe). Many of the members are interested in Japan’s culture and/or language, and a few of them speak Japanese to a certain degree. Except for a small handful of people, I’m not the type of person who goes out of my way to keep in touch with old (or even new) friends, so being able to talk to Aikido friends before and after training is a good social supplement to my daily work and family lives. Despite our shared interests, it’s a diverse set of people and it’s always fun to talk to everyone and learn about various things.
The extensive experience of many of the senseis I practice under is another reason I continue to train. There are a good number of people with several decades of experience, with a few having over 40 years of training, and my primary sensei’s sensei is one of the top ranked individuals in the world within the Ki-Society. Each sensei has their own personality and own perspective on the teachings, and being able to learn from various sources enriches my training. The many stories I hear from the upper-level senseis is one of the things I enjoy learning in my training, and extends far to more than just details about techniques; hearing about their experiences with Tohei Sensei (the founder of Ki-Aikido) or his son Shin’ichi Tohei Sensei, the current head of the Ki Society, is always a treat, and sometimes contains information I would not be able to find anywhere else.
There’s some other things that make training fun and convenient, like a nice dojo that is close enough to make travel relatively painless, or various sayings that teach a form of wisdom (like “do good in secret”), but my goal here isn’t to enumerate every single reason I train.
In the future, I am not sure exactly how my Ki Aikido journey will continue, but I hope to continue training under excellent senseis (not necessarily the same ones I am with now) and find more opportunities to help others to learn, both children and adults. I’d like to write more on Aikido, possibly a book on Ki-related ideas. And someday maybe I will be able to even open my own dojo.
Are you interested in learning more about Ki Aikido? Do you train in Aikido or any other martial art? Please feel free to let me know in the comments.
(Interested in more articles about Aikido? Check out these.)