Over the years, I've written on the subject before but as my level of refinement and understanding develops, I feel it's necessary to continue refining the definition of exactly what it is I'm even doing! In previous articles, I have described aiki as:
"The systematic process of receiving the force of the attacker, processing it within our body and returning it while exerting little to no force of our own. Aiki is built around the concept that we all are comprised of energy, so by "blending energy" we refer to when our energies are connected through the point of contact. Rather than through muscular strength, the power of the techniques is derived from three sources: breath, the center line and cohesive movement. By using the body as a cohesive unit (not moving any part segregated from the rest of the body) and projection of the body through the core, power is generated without using any strength. Breath is used (both inhaling and exhaling) to either expand or contract the core depending on what technique you are applying, as air is focused in the lower part of the abdomen known as the tanden. Timing also plays a major factor in aiki, and aiki can immediately be identified by kuzushi (off-balancing) on contact, as well as spirals and waves that can be seen through the attacker's body although at the point of contact they may be nearly undetectable. All of this is transmitted to the attacker through connection to their internal structure (skeletal and soft tissue). With this understanding of biomechanics, as well as maintaining a relaxed yet focused structure within ourselves, we are able to achieve effortless off-balancing into throws and locks."
While that description of aiki isn't necessarily wrong, it's definitely a lower level of understanding than I currently have. To really understand what these principles are, we have to dig deeper. As Aiki Jujutsu is generally considered an internal martial art, the Japanese counterpart to arts such as Taijiquan, Xingyi, and Baguazhang, I'll be using both Japanese and Chinese terminology and concepts in this article.
One can spend their life learning Jujutsu without any of the aiki components and become a very formidable fighter. Indeed, that is what 99% of the ryuha developed in Japan did. What separated the art that would later become Daito Ryu, the parent aiki art, from other jujutsu systems was the development of aiki.
3 Internal Harmonies
- Spirit harmonizes with Intention
- Intention harmonizes with Energy
- Energy harmonizes with Power
3 External Harmonies
- Shoulders harmonize with hips
- Elbows harmonize with knees
- Feet harmonize with hands
Development of the Six Harmonies leads to what is called Aiki no Rentai, the connected aiki body - that is, one of relaxed structure. Now, "relaxed" itself is a misnomer. Too many practitioners confuse relaxed for limp, when what we're really talking about is the absense of tension. The aiki body is a pre-conditioned state of being that affects the way you stand, walk, carry weight, receive and process force, etc. Ultimately, the goal of the aiki body is to use the body in its most efficient manner.
This is achieved through conditioning of the myofascial meridians and other soft tissue to make them stronger, thicker, and more elastic (like a spring). By doing so, you are able to drop tension in the body and move more freely. Development of the myofascial meridians promotes cross-body connection and allows to you to be aware of where movement originates from. Many martial artists talk about moving from "the center" or "the core," but this isn't accurate. It's the same as when someone says to rotate your hip in order to throw a punch. In order to generate real power, using the example of a cross punch, movement actually originates by pulling the opposite hip back. By pulling the left hip back, for example, the right hip is thrust forward and the arm is projected outward with greater velocity and extension than simply pivoting on the rear foot and rotating your hip.
Through both Qigong and Neigong, a specific breathing technique is used, sometimes called the microcosmic orbit (shown left). By forcing an expansion of the diaphragm on inhalation, you are able to draw in more oxygen. Doing so allows the body to release more tension on exhalation, achieving that relaxed state faster. From a health perspective, as the internal arts do have a healing aspect to them, it allows you to oxygenate the blood better which improves both the circulatory and respiratory systems. With the increased oxygen in the blood, as it flows through the body it flushes out stagnation and inflammation while bringing fresh nutrients. This is what practitioners mean when they say they are "building the chi." Speaking medically, chi/qi/ki is the life force of the body: blood, lymph and electricity.
This connected aiki body can often be seen in high quality Chinese internal martial artists. While they spend more time on solo forms than the average Aiki Jujutsu practitioner, as there are no forms like this in the art, the structure and power is clearly demonstrated and easily recognizable. Take for example Neil Ripski, whom I consider to be one of the top proponents of Chinese internal martial arts in the West and is the inheritor of the Ma family tradition. The relaxed structure and explosive power he demonstrates is the textbook aiki body.
Quite simply, those who were interested in aiki began looking at the art academically, seeing how far they can refine their abilities without any regard for integrating it into their Jujutsu, and those who were only interested in combative use delved into the Jujutsu and ignored the lengthy practice of developing the aiki body. After all, why spend time on something that takes years before becoming viable when you can learn something effective today?
For those who do spend the time putting in the work, once firmly grasped the principles learned through both Tanren and Aiki no Jutsu are integrated into your study of combative techniques in order to create Aiki Jujutsu. While they may still look like your standard joint locks and throws, they feel effortless on the part of tori/nage and devastating to uke. Rather than attacking the specific joint, force is directed at destroying the opponent's structure through the joint. Techniques become smaller and softer, while appearing more brutal and causing more pain to the recipient. These principles can also be translated into absolutely vicious striking that sends shockwaves through the entire body. While this may sound esoteric, anyone who has felt it can assure it is very real.
While my level of understanding and refinement will continue to grow, I can be clear on what aiki is not. It is not using the attacker's momentum against them. It is not blending with their attack to take them off balance. It is not harmonizing with the energy of the universe, and it is not something mystical and unattainable. Many styles and practitioners use the term aiki in their practice, but unless they meet certain criteria, it's just not.
To continue reading, visit Part 2 by clicking here