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The Development Of Ki
The development of Ki. It’s a subject almost all martial artists are concerned with. Whether one practices Karate, Kung Fu, Akide or any of the other arts, almost every practitioner has at least questioned the existence of Ki. And once convinced that there is such a force, the next task is to find out how to develop the Ki.
It is true the various martial arts have different ideas on the degree of physical and mental emphasis inherent in the power of Ki. There is also some difference of opinion as to how that power is cultivated. Nevertheless, it can be generally stated that learning Ki control is a system comprised of both mental and physical development.
But hard style martial artists, however, place as much, and often more, emphasis on physical development as they do on mental discipline for developing Ki. The soft style Budoka, on the other hand, tends to regard Ki development in more abstract terms.
The soft stylist would refer to Ki as a discipline designed to build harmony between self and the laws of nature. The opposing school of thought, the hard stylist, tends to put Ki training in terms of getting the body in shape.
Kam Yuen, a national director of the Tai Mantis system, is a follower of the more physical view of Ki. “Developing Ch’I,” says Yuen, using the Chinese term, “means to develop yourself physically. It’s not just a mental thing. If you’re going to reach the limits of your potential,” he concludes, “You’ve got to be physically ready.”
Yuen, the former technical adviser for ABC’s defunct Kung-Fu series, certainly doesn’t deny the importance of mental development in directing the inner energy, but he point out that being physically adept can increase the power of Ch’I. “You can’t just ‘will’ yourself into running a four-minute mile,” he explains. “You have to develop your body physically so that it’s able to take the stress that your mind demands of it.” Yuen does admit that the mind can force the body to use more power. “But,” he says, “that presupposes that your body is capable of exerting that power.”
Although Yuen does encourage students to thoroughly develop themselves physically, he does realize that mental outlook is also essential to the development of Ch’I. Behind all that physical development, Yuen stresses the importance of learning how to control that development. “You’ve got to feel your mind working with our body. You have to understand the mechanics of the force and how to control the force,” he continues. “You should be able to control the intensity of that force, and that just comes from practice and physical exercise. You can’t just think about it.”
Along with physical practice, Yuen suggests that the student should be more aware of what’s going on inside the body-where his energy is actually going. “In order to generate and control this force, you have to understand more of the body-the muscles and circulation,” he states, adding that, “you have to understand your limitations.”
In understanding one’s body, he will learn just how far he can go before he’s straining the muscles. Along with this understanding comes the ability to relax one’s muscles. In an attempt to teach students relaxation, Yuen also teaches breathing exercises, not in the yogic manner of many soft stylists, but primarily to allow students to recover from particularly strenuous exercises, encouraging the student to strive for the next level of physical attainment.
"The breath shouldn’t stay in the upper lunge. It should remain deep,” he explains, pointing to the Tan T’ien area below the navel, where Ch’I is traditionally thought to have its source. But for the Tai Mantis enthusiast, the Tan T’ien means nothing more than the basics of proper breathing.
Breathing is a key to relaxation and body control according to Yuen, and likewise, relaxation and control are essential to the proper development of Ch’i. However, unlike some martial artists, Yuen does not emphasize the deep breath through the nasal passages as a development of Ch’I, but as a simple means of relaxation after a hard workout.
“If they don’t feel they need it, I still advise that when they inhale and exhale, they try to relax and breathe deeply. Usually,” Yuen adds, “they concentrate on keeping their tongue on the roof of their mouth during the inhale and down during the exhale so they are forced to breathe deeply.”
Yuen feels that such relaxation is important even for the new student. “The first thing to do is to get them to relax and not to use extra force that is not required…Most beginners are too tense to move naturally because they keep their muscles more tense than they should.”
However, the beginner cannot expect complete relaxation after just a few lessons. “Even though we stress relaxation, you can’t accomplish that from just breathing in the first few months of classes,” says Yuen, pointing out that the most difficult and most important factor is learning to relax while the body is in motion.
For his more advanced students, Yuen gradually introduces more philosophical forms of Tai Ch’i as a means of achieving relaxation. “Te recuperate,” Yuen explains, “is just a important as the training aspect.” The “warm-down” as Yuen calls this period of relaxation after exercise, is “the natural progression following a workout.”
According to Harry Ishisaka, expert Aikidoist who teaches the Tehei method, this idea of relaxation similarly plays a key role in the development of soft stylists Ki. Because Aikido is firmly based on the concept of Ki, Ishisaka’s guidelines for developing Ki match those for learning the art of Aikido. “It is only when the body and the spirit unify into one element,” he explains, “that we are able to function as complete human beings.”
In Ishisaka’s Dojo, Ki is regarded as the essence of universe-the force behind all things. His instruction is designed to help others understand this force and “make the laws of nature become part of our own bodies and make us become one with the Ki of the universe.”
Returning to the self-defense precepts of such philosophy, Ki is generally a means of attaining a harmonious, healthy and positive way of life. Ishisaka practices Ki development exercises with his students for at least an hour a week, suggesting that they also practice on their own. This series of rather mild physical exercises is meant to increase one’s awareness and control of the power emanating from Tanjen, counterpart of Tan T’ien.
Ishisaka employs several other techniques for the development of Ki power, including Misegi (controlled deep breathing), meditation and Ki Atsu (promoting self healing with Ki).
Four basic techniques that Ishisaka outlines as fundamental to the cultivation of Ki are to keep the one point, relax completely, place weight underside and extend the Ki.
Ishisaka explains that keeping one point means the weight should be concentrated in the Tanjen. This area is the center of gravity for Aikidoists and they emphasize that it should always remain the center. Unlike some offensive styles, Aikidoists generally don’t concentrate this force in any area other than the Tanjen. “That way,” Ishisaka postulates, “if you miss, you don’t lose your balance.”
However, Kam Yuen disagrees with this theory. “A person should know where his center of gravity is and they should know how to shift it at will. If they do change their center of gravity, they should know they are changing it and they should be aware enough not to do anything that makes them feel off balance.” Yuen adds that, “The reason why people do feel off-balance is because they are not aware of where their center of gravity is.”
Both Ishisaka and Yuen find the same result of balance. Ishisaka’s second basic technique for strengthening Ki is complete relaxation. “Most people don’t know how to relax,” he says. But in the form of Aikido Ishisaka teaches, relaxation is paramount. If you don’t relax, your body won’t become pliable, as it should. Instead it will remain rigid and vulnerable.
To this concept, Ishisaka adds his third rule, that weight should give to the gravitational pull or left “underside.” Two common examples of this technique are the unbendable arm and the body, which can be lifted one minute, but is too heavy the next.
The basic idea of the skills is both workable and understandable. It’s a matter of making the lower body (or your arm, as the case may be) heavier and more resistant to force by relaxing rather than tensing your muscles.
Finally, the Tehei form of Aikido calls for the extension of Ki. Ishisaka feels the only way to really understand this is to feel Ki flowing from the Tanjen through the body to the fingertips. But a student can practice it by concentrating on the weight of various body parts and on their circulation.
Probably the most interesting part of Ishisaka’s concept of Ki is the manner in which it is used to intuit and anticipate the moves of your opponent. “Move the mind to move the body,” Ishisaka repeats incessantly. This includes the use of fakes to bend the mind and body of an opponent, which is often called leading your opponent’s Ki.
Ki also gives a very keen sense of awareness and timing so that the student not only knows his opponent’s moves, but also sees a move in time to avoid it. As for fully developing the Ki, Ishisaka suggests practice, faith, patience and virtue – the positive philosophy that ideally forms the basis of self-defense.
It may take three or more years before the basic techniques of Ki development in Aikido become second nature, Ishisaka says. But once they do, and if a student continues to practice the techniques, the development of Ki is inevitable. The rather philosophical concept of Ki as harbored by Harry Ishisaka is actually very common among martial artists. If they talk about Ki at all, if they lend it even the slightest credence, chances are that they’ll think of it as having ever tones of wisdom and harmony. And because of the philosophical breadth of the concept, many people prefer not to explain Ki to their students. Instead, they’ll design forms and exercise so students will feel Ki before they attempt to understand it.
Tai Ch’I expert Mary Chu is one who nurtures both an abstract and deeply personal feeling about Ch’i. She felt uncomfortable trying to explain (through our interpreter, Dr. Lun Hem) what role the power of Ch’I played in her life-not because she didn’t know, but because Ch’I was such an integrated part of living for her.
Chu does not have any special ritualistic forms or exercises for enhancing the power of Ch’I, but says that Ch’I should be a part of every Tai Ch’I form. She doesn’t discuss Ch’I much with her students because she doesn’t want to make it any more mystical or obscure than it already is.
Chu also steers away from breathing exercise to develop the power, emphasizing that the power of Ch’I is a natural feeling and that breathing exercise can become quite mechanized. “Too much in the way of breathing exercises,” says Chu, “can become a deterrent from coordination (of mind and body). Especially for new students.”
So Chu prefers to avoid any potential disadvantages of systematized breathing altogether. “The important thing is to be able to vary your breathing methods so they’ll synchronize with the movement of the body, whatever it may be.”
Instead of employing exercises, many Tai Ch’i instructors ask their new students to imagine the flow of Ch’i through their bodies. Actually, this is concentration enable breath flow as it travels to and from the lungs.
But Chu also shuns this technique. She prefers to emphasize the movements, which she views as physical forms of meditation. Even though she never denies the importance of breathing, she’d rather see good breathing habits develop unconsciously while concentrating on forms. “If the forms are to be done correctly,” Chu says, “you’ll be forced to improve your breathing techniques because you can’t do the exercises without breathing properly.”
The most important aspect of Ch’i is probably the excellent health derived from it, Chu says. “When you’re old, you’ll still have good circulation, good blood pressure, and you’ll feel and look twenty years younger,” says the almost 60-year-old woman who looks nearer to 40.
Among those with a strong sense of Ch’i this youthfulness in later life is not uncommon. Ark Wong, a 76-year-old Kung-Fu instructor who’s been practicing since 1922, may look 55, but he certainly doesn’t look his age. Breathing exercises, as Wong practices them, are basically geared to concentrating, again, on the Tanjen area. “You will learn how to use your Ch’i by learning what it is not,” he explains. “It is being used correctly if you are getting hurt or sore. But, in mastering Ch’i, you will always feel more relaxed.”
This sense of relaxation is most apparent in later life. In fact, one Karate expert, Fumio Demura, says that if you take two young people of equal physical development, with only one person having an awareness of Ki, the difference between the two would probably not show up until later life. “Maybe for the younger years, the two can build up the same way,” Demura says. “But when the body starts to get old, the one without Ki – his inside will slow down too quickly, and he won’t have any energy to bring it back again. You see many fighters in the same position.”
With the power of Ki, Demura feels the body is unquestionably healthier – it’s got more energy, greater resistance and better circulation. “If you have god basics,” he continues, “I believe that at sixty or seventy – you can still work right. I know a guy eighty-six years old who’s still training with young people.”
Demura is another one who incorporates breathing exercises into his training program. “Breathing has got to be done from the Tanjen. A lot of people don’t understand that; most people don’t do it…but correct breathing will develop the internal strength side of your body.” It’s that internal strength that Demura says determines your health in later life.
Demura’s five basic breathing forms are the same as those taught by most Karate instructors:
1) Long inhale, long exhale – done without body movement, as you would breathe with sleeping or deeply relaxing;
2) Short inhale, short exhale – as you would breathe when you’re running at a regular pace;
3) Short inhale, long exhale;
4) Long inhale, short exhale;
5) Mixed long and short inhales and exhales – Ibuki method.
Demura waits at least three months before he introduces the concept of Ki to his students. Otherwise, “it just confuses them,” he says. And even Demura does go through various breathing methods with his class, he says, “I don’t pay too much attention to breathing for Ki training. We do breathing exercise mostly for body control and concentration. Aikido people use Ki for body control. But Karate people use Ki when they’re punching or kicking – right at the time of impact.”
Experts’ ideas on what Ki or Ch’i is don’t really differ that much. Neither do their means for increasing the power. It’s true that people (instructors included) talk about Ki when they have never even experienced it themselves…and that’s one way the concept gets blown out of shape and abused. But if you aim towards good health, clean-cut emotions and physical flexibility, you’re on the right track.
Let moderation be your guide. And take the words of Kung-Fu devotee Fumio Demura to heart, “you study more, you goin’ get better. But you go too much, you goin’ to the circus.”
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