The discussion about truth or nonsense is non-productive as we try to find a Western answer on the question if Ki exist. Martial art with the Ki-concept as Aikido, is based around the existence of Ki (Qi in Chinese). When we cannot accept the existence of the ki-concept we cannot define our art as Aikido. Studying Aikido is related to the study of Ki. The practice of the art of Ki starts in most cases with preliminary exercises to develop better ki-flow. My exposure to Hachi Danken (Ba Duan Jin or 8 Brocade exercises) was my early training in AikiKai Aikido (1970-1978) with teachers like Tamura-sensei and others. Kanetsuka-sensei taught me Makko-Ho, which resembles the many JAA warming-up exercises. There was influence from Macrobiotic teachers and Oki Yoga instructors. Later Hachi Danken and Makko-ho went to the background, but never was forgotten. The JAA-exercises became just a physical method for warming-up and flexibility. It came back to the foreground when my interest in competition faded away and was succeeded by concepts focusing on self-development and health. There is a vast difference between a sole physical method and a method which included physical and mental involvement.
Different versions 8 Brocade
As with Aikido or other martial art, there are numerous versions of these millenium old exercises. Although most of the versions taught nowadays are of recent date.
The Chinese government made big efforts to rationalize the old methods of moving the body for martial or health purposes.
Makko Ho – Meridian Stretch Exercises
As with the 8 brocade exercises, there are multiple versions of Makko-ho. The main purpose of these exercises is to create a better Ki-flow in the body. When Ki or Qi can reach every part of the body in a optimal way, the result will be a better well-being, more flexebility and certainly a better focus for martial training. The brain receives more blood with the associated advantages of it. The characteristics of these exercises are the absence of strong contraction or strong stretching of the muscles. The objective is to open the ki-meridians of the body.
So what is “Ki flow”? In the body, Ki flow means proper operation of systems and organs. In the mind, Ki flow implies coming and going of thoughts and feelings. Ki flow being interrupted means Ki blockage, or mental and/or physical illness. The concept of Ki is for many people controversial and for most of them Ki doesn’t exist. But if we consider Ki as a concept to understand how the body works as a holistic whole, we can explain why we prefer soft exercises and not the hard muscular workout. In Western psychology, there is the concept of “the flow” also known colloquially as being in the zone.
Ki flow and martial arts
As mentioned earlier, the concept of ki flow has 2 components.
- a physical ki flow
- a mental ki flow
Feeling Ki-flow is a matter of using the mind to create body movements. The mind stimulates the ki-flow in a relaxed body with muscle tone ready for action. Only when the body and mind are working as one unit, ki-flow can be optimized for perfect martial techniques, called waza. Hachi-danken and makko-ho are basically physical exercises to stimulate ki-flow in the body. Exercises to use the mind to stimulate ki-flow can be found in methods which promote ritsuzen (zhan-zuang) or posture training.
Academic studies on the benefits of postural exercises gives indications on a certain flow of energy and power in the body using the fascia system. Find here an excract of such an academic study:
A SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION INTO POSTURE TRAINING IN THE CHINESE INTERNAL MARTIAL ARTS: A MASTER’S THESIS ANTOINE CAMILLERI B.Ch. D. 1992 Mgarr, MALTA JULY, 2018
Power generation A powerlifter can lift 250kg but spinal muscles alone can support 50kg. This is explained by the coordinated utilization of the fascia (Gracovetsky, 2008). It has been shown that when the pelvis tilts so as to straighten the lumbar lordosis (curvature), forces in the pelvis and back become borne mainly by the lumbodorsal/thoracolumbar fascia rather than by the erector muscles (Gracovetsky, 2008). In the upright posture and during walking, the power from the legs to the upper body is ideally transferred via the lumbodorsal fascia so as to minimize stresses on the intervertebral joints of the spine (Gracovetsky, 2014). The lumbodorsal or thoracolumbar fascia has been described as the connecting system that joins the pelvis and lower back regions to the upper and lower limbs (Cortell-Tormo et al., 2017). These findings support the requirement of the internal arts to keep the ‘lowest vertebrae plumb erect’ via the pelvic tilt, so that the power from the feet and legs can flow upwards unimpeded as efficiently as possible along the myofascial trains. Wilke et al. found that fascia is thinner in the arms than in the legs, and thicker in the posterior regions than at the front (2018). This suggests that myofascial force transmission is largest posteriorly i.e. along the back and through the legs (Wilke et al., 2018). This is aligned to the internal martial arts’ teaching that power is generated from the feet and legs and transferred up the pelvis and back to be released in the hands.
The benefits of power training
Do I dislike power training? No, because we need exercises to develop and/or keep the optimal tone of the muscles. The heart need also training, mostly called cardio. Only when power training is out of proportion, the benefits of the short term will have a long term effect which is not always beneficial for body and mind.
The benefits of aikido training
Aikido is a martial art where we use an optimal mind and body connection. Before we can perform such an aiki-skill we have to prepare our body and mind. So, the benefits are not in the skills of winning from an opponent, but in the development of our being by practising “taiso” and “waza”. Self-development is not only for attaining mastership in martial art, but also to become a stronger person in body and mind than yesterday.