- Holy shit, I’m going to die!
- I might as well eat, drink and be merry.
- This might make me die sooner, so, I should eat healthy and exercise.
- I could get hit by a truck and die anyway.
- If I eat healthy, exercise, and drink a lot of expensive hooch, I’ll cover all the bases.
- Expensive hooch is no better for me than cheap hooch, and costs more.
- If I eat a lot, build huge muscles, and drink cheap hooch, people will think I’m an existentialist.
- If I learn a martial art, people will think I’m a dangerous existentialist who doesn’t fear anything.
- If people think that, they will want to test me.
- Holy shit, I’m going to die!
Any one with at least a passing acquaintance with martial arts knows about ki, or chi, depending on the country of origin. Most can give you some kind of definition, along the lines of, “a mysterious force you can tap into.” Higher ranks will get you more mystical rhetoric, but the gist is usually the same. You can “have” more or less of it, depending on your skill level in the art.
This is contradictory, since the force is said to pervade everything, a kind of combination of ancient Egyptian ma’at and the “ether.” As a member of the universe, then, one has as much of it as anyone else, if indeed such a protean force can be said to be had. Shin Shin Toitsu (Ki Aikido) recognizes this contradiction, and no longer speaks of an individual extending his or her ki, but rather being mindful of its existence. There is, however, still talk of blocking ki, as if a miniscule speck can stop a force of nature from acting. Worse yet, this is usually said to be done inadvertently, as if it is a human’s nature to block another nature.
I have seen amazing things done in martial arts, both in person and on video, even the famous touchless throw. But all of what I have seen is explainable in terms of skill and timing, and the ability to anticipate how one’s opponents actions will unfold. So, do I believe there is such a thing as ki or chi?
Yes and no. If I have to accept a mysterious force that is separate from gravity, momentum, and biomechanics, count me out. There are ways of moving, however, in concert with those familiar forces that are far more likely to get the results we want. You don’t have to find a martial arts master to see it in action. It’s there in a laborer who’s been at the job for years, and has pared down the energy required to dig a hole to the maximum efficiency. I recall when I was a young man working on construction jobs, coming home spent at the end of the day. There was an old man, Leroy, who never seemed to break a sweat. He never hurried, never cursed, and was cheerful no matter what the situation. Some people said he was lazy. The only thing was, when you looked to see what everyone had accomplished at the end of the day, Leroy was always way ahead, untired, and still cheerful. Leroy “had ki.”
Had he tapped into some mysterious supernatural force? No. He had simply stopped wasting energy on actions that did not contribute to the task at hand.
I say simply, but I do not mean easily. His cheerful demeanor was not unrelated to his skill; to do this you must relax everything that isn’t working towards your end. That includes your mind. I won’t go into the techniques that will get you there. Suffice it to say that Leroy’s skill was the result of a lifetime of work.
More examples of this are everywhere. Think of a skilled musician, a carpenter, a surgeon, an athlete. Think of yourself walking through a crowd. Do it. Go to a crowded mall, walk, and try to think ahead of what to do next to avoid each oncoming person, each person passing, each physical obstacle. Then just give it up, and walk. Which was the more successful?
How did you do it? It’s not obvious. Watch a toddler try the same thing. Chaos. You managed because you and everyone else involved have been walking and avoiding people and things all your lives. You’ve gotten good at it. No mysterious force required.
Of course, if someone is trying to harm you, that complicates things considerably; it’s as if someone in the crowd were deliberately trying to bump into you. It’s a situation you’re not as familiar with. But what if you trained to keep your body in a position to move in any direction in an instant? What if you also trained to anticipate the intention and the momentum of someone coming towards you. Those things require calmness and total relaxation. Nervousness will distract you, and muscle tension will impede your movements, so what if you trained yourself in those arts as well?
You’d have ki, my friend, all from within yourself.