I am having issues with the word “energy.”
My first issue is in its overuse. Growing up in Eugene, Oregon, semi-permanent home of the Grateful Dead, words like “energy” and “lifeforce” were more than New Age terms to describe the world; they frequently ended up as the names of some of my classmates*. Hearing someone talk about “energy” has often given me the image of an aging hippie staring off into space, mumbling about how we’re all connected in this vast cosmos…
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way because as soon as I myself use the term during aikido class my own students start to roll their eyes a bit at me. I’ve just about decided to drop the word from my vocabulary altogether; I can’t afford to use terminology that causes my students’ brains to switch off.
My second issue with the word “energy” is its common-use definition. Specifically, the fact that it is quantifiable. People often talk about how they need “more” energy, or that they’re “out” of energy. Even the notion that you feel “energized” implies that there are times when you don’t feel energized at all.
To address the first issue, I’m going to try and drop the word energy from my teaching vocabulary. I haven’t set upon a new term to use in its place yet; currently, I have words like “zanshin,” “power,” and “presence,” but nothing has become a permanent replacement. I want to find something, however, because the notion that we can move with a noticeable implementation of hidden strength is very important to aikido practice. We need to be able to describe not just the physical movements or the mental thought processes, but the net result that occurs as these two worlds combine. One could, of course, use the word “ki,” which is highly appropriate. However, I fear that in an English-speaking class this word has even more of a “New Age” tinge to it than the “energy.”
To address the second issue, I want to try to explain to my students that this feeling, whatever we call it, is not something that we turn on or off. It is already on, and it remains on throughout our lives. If we don’t feel it or perceive it, it is because we are moving or thinking in ways that inhibits its impact. Moving stiffly, for example, clouds our perception to its impact. Thinking negatively does the same thing. By studying correct movement and by employing a positive mindset, we don’t “turn on” this feeling; we simply become more aware of its existence. Just like the sun rises and sets, but if we don’t bother to look up from the ground we likely will never notice it.
My open question: what word or words best describes this feeling of mind-body coordination to students? Is it ki power, with its unusualness to English speakers? Is it power? Is it simply energy, and my own experience with the word has clouded my judgment?
*No, not really. But some of my classmates had names that came pretty close.