In Kokikai Aikido, a part of our training involves the use of Ki tests. These tests are essentially posture tests, used to determine how solid your stance or position is. They provide a good illustration of how your physical posture and your mental awareness are intertwined. For instance, take Bruce, a new (and fictional) student. Let’s have Bruce stand in what we call natural stance, with his feet shoulders with apart and his weight shifted just slightly forward so that his center of balance is, well, centered. Now, let’s ask Bruce to think about what he had for breakfast. Hopefully he’ll at least say he ate breakfast–often, when I do this exercise with real students, they tell me they didn’t eat anything until lunch. (Sigh.) Anyway, as he’s thinking about the bowl of fruit loops he ate, let’s gently push on his collar bone, towards his spine. Notice that Bruce’s shoulder gives way almost instantly, and his balance and posture are compromised. This is because while his physical posture was correct, it wasn’t coordinated with his mind.
Now, let’s have Bruce try again. This time, instead of asking about breakfast, let’s ask him to focus on his one point, his center of balance. Let’s try pressing on his collarbone again. Notice that it takes a lot more force to move him now. His body feels solid without being stiff. This is because his mind and body are working together. In Kokikai, we refer to this magnification of power that comes from mind/body coordination as ki power. There are lots of other ways we could test Bruce’s ki as well: test against arm, tests from different stances, and so on. There are even tests that are for when your body is in a poor position, such as bent backwards. These more difficult tests illustrate that, when your mind and body are coordinated, “correct” posture almost becomes a matter of perspective.
These are all basic ki tests. They’re not designed to simulate fights or anything–they’re studies in the principles of balance. What we’ve started to work on at the dojo are more “extreme” ki tests. Let’s return to Bruce again. He’s been training for a while, he’s starting to get an understanding of how aikido works. The regular ki tests have become a standard part of his training program; he’s used to them. This time, then, let’s have him stand in hamni (where one foot is in front of the other, like you’re walking). Instead of gently pressing on his collarbone, let’s grab him by the shoulders (or the front of the gi–whatever). Our goal here is not to push him, nor pull him. It’s to hold him in place. This is a stupid attack–it leaves you open for groin shots and so on–but we’re studying principles here. The idea is to see how much control Bruce has over the situation.
A few things are going to become apparently right off the bat. One: there’s a great chance you’ll feel a ton of tension. You’ve just moved into his space and aggressively grabbed hold of him; the fight-or-flight reflex is running strong. Two: he’s either going to try to respond by aggressively moving in (which won’t work), twist, or back up. In other words, he’s going to struggle. Then, when he realizes that none of those methods are working, he’ll stop, take a deep breath, relax, and try again. He’s on the right track–he’s trying to use principles to make himself strong. Unfortunately, he’s still using principles to struggle, and struggling is not going to work.
Now, let’s tell Bruce to relax. Stop fighting, stop struggling. Tell him to use what we’re giving him to his advantage. This time, as we grab, he stands tall, relaxes, and leans into us. Now, instead of us holding him back, it feels like we’re holding him up. The difference is small, but significant. Bruce has the advantage, oddly enough, even though we’re holding him. By shifting his weight forward, he can easily make us step backwards. By changing directions slightly, he can cause us to lose balance. How did this happen? He used the same ideas that he normally studies in regular ki tests, but now is applying them in a more extreme situation.
While the test is certainly not representative of a real attack it does prove two things: first, that we often don’t have as great an understanding of a principle as we think, and two, the principles we study do work, and work well, even in more trying circumstances.