Wednesday, May 31, 2006

It Is What It Is



The other day I heard from my college friend Rob. What a great surprise. I remember the first day that I joined the fencing class at Colle of DuPage, and we became instant friends. That led to a wonderful time in my life from 87-90 or so, with a lot of discussions about everything and the occassional spontaneous camping trip thrown in for good measure.

He asked me, "what is Ki?" Yikes. After being involved in the martial arts in one way or another for almost all of my life (all of it that meant anything, anyway), had I found the answer yet? At the same time, the answer to this elusive goal is something that most of us have in the back of our mind all along this journey, and the answer changes as we change.

As well, this question speaks to the nature of we martial artists as spiritual beings, and underpins the close relationship to Buddhism and Shinto in our training. Hollywood movies attempt to make a lot out of this, whether it is the insidious Star Wars saga with its "May the Force be with You" or the Karate Kid series "wax on, wax off".

For a preface, I would say that any traditional zen master confronted with such a queston would be likely to give the student a whack with the kyosaku (the "stick of awakening" used during zazen training) not just because even they might not know the answer, but also since the question is even more important than the answer, and trying to put it into words could not do it justice.

However, here's my personal view. You need not agree with it or believe it. Even I may not believe it next time I read this.

KI refers to several things. Here I want to look at two broad topics:

1) the force of life
2) faith or conviction

An example of the first of the above two points: I am amazed at the grip my newborn second son Ray has, even though he is only 10 days old. He cries with a singular sense of purpose, much more loudly than I could if I were his size, and it is pure and without prejudice.

Life wants only to live, and this driving force is KI. It is what causes fish to swim upstream, birds to migrate thousands of miles, and trees to grow in even the most hostile of conditions. It is at once a beautiful and desperate thing, and involves the instinctive hope of any living thing to surivive and prosper. What we feel here is the most primal of all our basic natures, and animals are great examples of KI.

It is for this purpose that man-made things do not have KI. Quite simply, there is no life force in things which were never alive (although I must confess I like the romantic idea of Japanese swords and other ancient things having KI). We are also made acutely aware of this force when people die. It is as if the light leaves their body and what has held their molecules in the same place for so long just lets go and then the light goes out.

We are all born with KI, which is in us until we die. This is our common starting point and our connection to the natural world around us. A deep awareness of this through meditation can help develop our "connected feeling" (the AI in Aikido) but everyone has KI regardless of whether they know/acknowledge it or not. Considering our KI as our "soul" gives a Christian connotation which is not really appropriate, and also hints at Buddhist discussion about such things as whether animals have souls/Buddha natures, which is more academic than is necessary here, it is enough to say that since they are alive they have KI.


An example of the second part is during certain classes when I finally stop thinking and analyzing and just let my body move as it has been taught. This purity in motion, rare as it is for me, is when I let my faith in my techniques, my training, and myself take over.

This is really where we have an opportunity to develop KI.
When we extend our KI in class, or in our life, what we are doing is extending our faith and conviction in the moment at hand. This is faith and conviction in ourselves, in our cause, and in our technique. We TRUST. That is also KI. We let go and allow what is to be, to be.
Our training should help us to have this happen more and more often, until it becomes our natural state of being. That is, always letting go, and allowing ourselves to be connected to the natural world around us and, more importantly, not resisting that connection but instead rejoicing in it.

I have mentioned in other posts about "right action in the right moment without hesitation", and I believe this is a central concept to KI development, and the instinctive, decisive action it helps develop deepens our connection to our life force (as above). Humans are unique among the Earth's creatures in that we are self-aware (and may be the only living things on Earth that are so). This means that we can be concious of these things, and can actively seek to deepen our connection. So saying, we can develop our KI, at least inasmuch as we can make better use of the Ki we have been given.

Rob mentioned to me that he is "in tune with his body", to which I would say that strength of the body is surely important, but even more important is to be in tune with the world around us, since that is a power greater than our own.

I am setting the stage for a larger post about martial arts and religion which I owe this blog, but for now I want to get this out as a starting point.

I want to know what YOU think. Maybe we can find the answer together.

OSU!

John

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