Kiai and Aiki in Aikidoby Fabio NudelmanMasatake Dojo - Israel Aikikai
Central to aikido is the concept of aiki. "Ai" means to adjust, or to fit, as two objects that perfectly fit each other – a pot and its lid, for instance. A common, but less accurate translation is harmony, which according to the Webster Dictionary means "compatibility in opinion and in action; a harmonious state of things and their properties (as of colors and sounds); congruity of parts with one another and with the whole". I believe that all these meanings are actually complementary, and represent different aspects of the kanji "ai". "Ki" is more difficult to translate; it can be understood as energy, vital energy, spirit, intent. It is present in us and in the whole universe. In general terms, aiki means that one's mind and spirit are connected to the surroundings, such that the practitioner is capable to adapt himself physically and mentally with other events, no matter how contrary their courses may run to his own thoughts and actions. But how is aiki expressed during practice itself?
The primary condition for aiki is awareness and correct breathing, kokyu. Awareness comes from a calm and empty mind, detached from everything. The mind and consequently the body are completely relaxed and thus sensitive to the partner's intentions. Breathing is a means for connection; it connects mind and body and it connects our movement with our partner's movement through connecting one's ki to the other's ki. This connection is called ki-musubi, and is essential for proper execution of a technique, and is one aspect of aiki.
During the execution of the technique itself, aiki is expressed in that there is no resistance involved. Tori moves and adjusts himself according to uke’s natural movements and intentions, guiding his partner and at the same time, staying in a position where it is more difficult for uke to attack him, until the execution of the throw or pin. At the highest level, tori does not react and blend with uke’s movements, but with his intention. Ki-musubi is thus essential; the correct technique is an expression of the fitting and integration between uke’s and tori’s spirit. This connection also has to be expanded to the whole environment, resulting in complete awareness and integration to one’s surroundings.
In short, in aikido we can see aiki at different levels: the integration of one’s body and mind; the connection between the partners; and the connection between the partner and the surroundings. From a technical point of view, aiki can be defined as total coordination of one's own reaction to an attack with the partner's own power of attack. It means the adjoining to the rhythm of the attack and making one's spirit fit in with his partner's, bringing one's movements in accord to his. It is the foundation of the successful execution of a technique.
The principle of aiki should not remain restricted to aikido practice only. In fact, practice should be a vehicle through which we can understand this concept and apply to our daily lives. In bigger terms, to apply the principles of aiki means to be connected and aware of the world around us, to become more sensitive of our surroundings and of other people's needs. Aiki bears the meaning of empathy and receptivity for other people's feelings, and causes the development of the character of the practitioner. It also means that we should not be set only on the things that we want and on being on control all the time. Many times the best approach is to let things happen in their own natural flux, and to adjust ourselves accordingly. We have to be able to adapt to any course of events, no matter how contrary it is to our will or expectations. It can be said that one that is in such a state of mind is in perfect harmony with his surroundings. From a more spiritual point of view, aiki means the union with all beings, nature, the whole cosmos. This kind of union is the goal of most spiritual traditions.
While the concept of aiki is related to the unification of both partners' spirits, the concept of kiai - composed of the same kanji "ai" and "ki" that of the word aiki - means a manifestation, emission or projection of one's own internal energy, or ki, in a single, explosive focus of will.
Kiai is actually common in many martial arts, and is usually manifested through a shout although that is only its most trivial expression. First of all, kiai is always a psychophysical method to organize one’s own energy and will and, at the same time, it is a method of affecting another’s inner world. This can be for a variety of purposes: to distract and disturb the attacker, completely dissipating and neutralizing his attacks, to understand another’s intentions, to deceive them as to your own intentions, or to neutralize an attacker's strong points by manipulating spacing, timing, even breath. In aikido practice, it is most commonly used as a way to focus and project one's own internal energy in order to increase the power of the throw.
Although kiai is commonly manifested through a shout, it may also be silent. A very important point, however, is the use of correct breathing such that it comes from the hara. As explained above, kokyu connects our mind and body and is used to generate ki in the tanden and integrate it with our body's movements. Kiai is, therefore, a means of expression of kokyu power, which at higher levels is what actually is responsible for guiding the partner and for the throw itself. Essentially, kiai consists of all parts of the body being unified and directed to one intent. Indeed, when making use of kiai during a technique, one has the feeling of the hara expanding outwards and encompassing everything around, accompanied by a sensation of energy release and complete relaxation of the body, as if absolutely no force was used at all.
Aiki and kiai are two very interesting concepts present in aikido practice, and are opposite to each other in certain ways. While aiki is related to the unification of one's body and mind and to the partner's ki, kiai is a sudden release of one's own ki directed to one intent. Although these two subjects seem unrelated, there are a few points in common. Correct breathing and integration of mind and body are fundamental aspects of both kiai and aiki; furthermore, they are both means to exert control over the partner during practice, although each act through different ways.References:
- Secrets of the Samurai – A Survey of the Martial Arts of Feudal Japan. Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook, 1973.
- Budo Teachings of the Founder of Aikido. Morihei Ueshiba, 1991.
- Best Aikido the Fundamentals. Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Moriteru Ueshiba, 1997.
- The Art of Peace. Morihei Ueshiba, 2002.