What is Ki? 氣とは何ぞや？ Part 1
This is a deep and complex subject. There is a large number of books written in Japanese on this subject but unfortunately the articles and the books in English or other language (other than Chinese) are rare. I have thought about writing an article on this subject for a long time but I always hesitated as it is so involved. I plan to write a longer and more comprehensive article in the future, but for this blog I will cover mainly the part that is related to karate and its relationship to breathing.
OK let us start. For many of the readers, Ki may be a mysterious and possibly dubious concept of Asia but it really is not and I wish to put some light on the subject today. In essence Ki is “the source or the energy that gives life”. In other words, it is something that is enabling us to live. As long as you are alive you have Ki in you as a living being. When you die, your Ki is believed to return to the nature. All the living things such as animals, insects and plants that are alive have their own Ki. In fact, we Japanese believe even non-life matters and objects in the nature such as stones, mountains, lakes, rivers, rain, lightening, cloud, stars, etc. have their own Ki in them. This is why we have feng shui (風水),a Chinese system of geomancy believed to use the laws of both Heaven (Chinese astronomy) and Earth to help one improve life by receiving positive qi or chi (氣). The term feng shui literally translates as “wind-water” in English. If you are interested in this art you can look up in Wikipedia that explains the history and the theories. The basic concept comes from different natural factors such as directions and things such as mountains, rivers, etc. have different energies. Different combinations have positive or negative impact to the people. Asian particularly the Chinese take this very seriously and feng shui becomes one of the major deciding factors when they choose a house. This is very popular with the Chinese people even living in the US and probably in Europe too.
Anyway, we believe everything has its own energy and its unique vibration (波動) called Ki. This is a profound concept as the modern physics (special and general relativity) came to realize only a century ago that everything in the universe is consisted from energy and the base construction is vibrations (waves) created by the energy. Even if you do not know quantum physics you know the famous Einstein’s energy formula; E=MC2 which he announced in 1905. Mass–energy equivalence is the concept that the mass of a body is a measure of its energycontent. In this concept, mass is a property of all energy; energy is a property of all mass; and the two properties are connected by a constant. So the 3000 years old Chinese concept cannot be considered totally groundless or unbelievable.
Though the concept of Ki extends to everything in the universe, let us look at only the Ki that is related to us, people here in this article.
When we look at our body we find different waves and patterns. The most obvious one that we all know is our brain waves. Another one is blood pressure which changes in the general patterns throughout a day. There are other not so visible or noticeable physical conditions such as body temperature and hormone level that also fluctuate during a day. A circadian rhythm is something you will notice only when you travel a long distance covering different time zones. According to Wikipedia, a circadian rhythmis any biological process that displays an endogenous, entrain-ableoscillation of about 24 hours. These rhythms are driven by a circadian clock, and rhythms have been widely observed in plants, animals, and cyanobacteria. One’s hormone level changes by the hours and it is tied to a circadian rhythm and you may need a help from the tablets of melatonin to be able to sleep during your overseas trips. Most of these cycles and waves are closely tied to the tides, and the fact of having day and night.
So, Ki is the energy source in our body that can affect the waves and the cycles of our bodily functions. Everyone has his Ki then how do we increase it? In fact there are two ways to increase the energy in your body. One is what everyone does every day, eatingand drinking. It is an outer source. This is why your diet is important to your health. The other source is internal and it is Ki that was discovered or recognized a few thousand years ago in China.. In the western world, Ki was not discovered or recognized. Instead, the area of mind was developed by the modern-day psychology notably by Freud and Jung. It came about only since mid-19th century. If you have a consistent depression your doctor will tell you that you are having some chemical malfunction in your head so he recommends you to take some medication (the upper) to lift your feelings up. On the other hand, Ki master or Ki doctor will tell you that your Ki is weak and point out a specific area of your body that is lacking the Ki or the Ki flow is slowed or blocked. He may suggest acupuncture or moxa treatment along with the breathing exercises. Those treatments will stimulate the local Ki and that results in better flow of Ki throughout your body. The Ki doctor may also give you some medication but not made of chemicals but mainly of the herbs and the natural ingredients. It is taken in a form of tea or soup.
The difference of treatments and diagnosis between two schools does not stop with mental and it is also into physical domain. When you have back pain or if you suffer from some type of allergy you can resort to the acupuncture, moxa and or herbal treatments.
Acupuncture (針), is famous even in the western world. Moxa cautery or simply moxa (灸) is probably less known but it is a very popular medical treatment for many illnesses in Asia. I remember my grand-mother used to put a lot of moxa pieces on the shoulders and back to ease her headache, backache and arthritis pains In case you do not know moxa, you put fire to the pieces that look like a bit from an incent stick. It burns very slowly and in fact it burns your skin and that stimuli gives a shock or an energy to the Ki spot that needed the energy, Ki. I tried it so I know it burns. I have also tried acupuncture and I like that better than moxa. Anyway, there is more radical medical treatment using Ki. One is Ki anesthesia and the other is Ki operation. You might have seen the video clips on these treatments. They are all related to Ki and its flow. I will not go into these particular treatments as I do not have any experience in them and my focus in this article is not Ki’s medical applications. There are some extra ordinary reports of such treatments so you can look for the video clips and other reports if you are interested.
I give a lot of credit to modern western medicine and medical accomplishments so I am not discounting or bad mouthing those treatments. To find a cancer symptom you must go to a hospital and take an X-ray. However, in the area of prevention, light illness and especially an early stage of the illness, I believe, natural treatments and Ki training may be a better choice and would make better sense. I want to emphasize that I am not a medical doctor so I am not qualified to give a medical advice or recommendation.
We believe that our body system is run by or filled with the waves and cycles. When they are off tuned or imbalanced we get in a situation or a condition called sickness or illness (both physical and mental). So the ancient people created various ways to strengthen the Ki and maintain the patterns steady and in balance. The methods include Chi-gong or Kiko (気功), Yoga, Zen meditation(座禅), Tai chi chuan or Taijiquan (太極拳) along with some kung fu styles and a few other martial arts like aikido (合気道).
I practiced Nishino style kiko in Tokyo for three years (1997 – 1999). I included the experiences I had at Nishino dojo in my recent book, Shotokan Mysteries so I will not repeat them here. I only say that the training was mainly to relax your muscles with deep breathing exercises. Let me point out that Tai Chi can be an excellent Ki building system but only when it is taught with its breathing method correctly. It is an internal martial art practiced for both its defense training and its health benefits but moving slowly itself will not ensure the Ki building. It must be done with a proper breathing exercise in a harmonious way with the body movements. In fact, for Ki building alone Tai Chi is a better method than karate training. I will explain why I say this later.
Chi-gong, Yoga, Zen meditation and Tai chi chuan are in essence the slow-moving exercise that is closely tied to deep breathing. You may wonder why I include Zen meditation in Ki building. I can see why you wonder as there are no body actions in Zen meditation. It may seem no movements as the arms and legs are still. However, Zen meditation if done with deep breathing requires a lot of movements with your lung, diaphragm, abdominal and inner muscles. By breathing deeply you will strengthen the diaphragm and the inner muscles in the lower abdominal region which is called Tanden (丹田) which means the source of energy or storage of Ki.
(Continues to Part 2)