À propos du KI

Ki Aikido (氣合氣道). 3 kanji (or ideograms, one of the three systems used for Japanese writings) are behind this expression.

  • 合い Ai: to fit, to join, to be in sync/in harmony
  • 氣 Ki: energy, breathing, air, life, electricity
  • 道  Dō: way, path

( 道 can be written as dou or dō in Japanese romaji, and « do » in english)

The ideogram for KI often uses the old spelling 氣 (from before the 1946 kanji reform in Japan), rather than the modern spelling 気. The bottom part is made from a key radical for steam/breathing that was simplified. Before becoming « breathing », the key radical used to mean « offering rice ».

Ki Aikido was started by Tohei Sensei in the 70s, based on the Aikido created by Morihei Ueshiba, which Tohei Sensei had been teaching since the 50s (technical director for the Aikikai) and also on the techniques from his second master, Tempu Nakamura the founder of Japanese yoga (shinshin toitsu dou, or « the way of mind and body unification »).

In Japan, he called his Way (martial path) Shin shin toitsu aikidou (心身 統一 合氣道, or « Aikido with mind and body coordinated »). This type of Aikido became more famous in the West under the name Ki Aikido, putting much emphasis, during the teaching of Aikido techniques, on ki principles, ki tests, ki development exercises, ki breathing, etc…

But what is KI ? If you cannot come and experiment it on the mats, here is a short text with a few references on KI. This Japanese concept of KI , this kanji (ideogram), used in many expressions, is hard to pin to a very specific definition.

Can this KI be reduced to an object or a physical force ? Or conversely, to some esoteric idea ? Is it a concept used to make people think, similar to a Zen koan training the mind to think about new ideas, from illogical ones ?

Is it a mental training technique, a mental picture enabling practitioners to grasp ideas (easier to speak about KI than muscles or fascia, etc…) ? A Japanese concept describing movement, willpower, energy ?

A mix of all these ?

In Ki Aikido, we use this word in our KI development exercises, our KI tests to develop and improve our coordination. When meditating or doing a technique, we speak of « extending KI », « following KI », or « respecting the KI of your partner ».

Tohei Sensei wrote in his « Ki Sayings » (or « Shokushu », short texts which were read before practice, to inspire students) about KI:

The Universe is One. We called this KI. Our lives and bodies are born from the KI of the Universe

(Shokushu 3)


We begin with the number ONE in counting all things. It is impossible that this ONE can ever be reduced to zero. Because just as something cannot be made from nothing, ONE cannot be made from zero.

Ki is like the number ONE. Ki is formed from infinitely small particles, smaller than an atom. The universal Ki condensed becomes an individual, which further condensed becomes the one point in the lower abdomen, which in turn infinitely condensed never becomes zero, but becomes ONE with the universe. Thus we understand the definition of Ki.

(Shokushu 11)

Kenjiro Yoshigasaki, one of Tohei Sensei’s students, wrote that

Ki is a Japanese word which is written with a Chinese character so there is a Chinese meaning and a Japanese meaning of the word Ki which are very different which creates much confusion.
Of course for the Chinese meaning -I suppose that the Chinese pronounce it as Qi or something like that-you better ask the Chinese people, but since I am Japanese I prefer to use the word Ki in the Japanese way. So in the Japanese meaning ki is something which is unclear, something that cannot be defined.
In daily life it means something like feelings, sentiment or emotions or ideas which are not yet clear but will become clear later. Or some motivation, etc.
That is why to understand Ki is very important in the sense that it is a proces of understanding one´s own life and understanding ourselves.


Kisshomaru Ueshiba in an interview said

In Aikido, we constantly train to control our partner’s ki freely through the movement of our own ki, by drawing the partner into our own movement. Next, we practice how to turn our bodies. You move not only your body but your arms and legs together. Then the whole body becomes unified and moves smoothly.

This idea, this kanji, is found in many Japanese expressions:

  • ki o tsukete: to take care
  • ki ga au: to be similar
  • ki ni iru: to be satisfied
  • ki ga ii: to be good natured
  • ki ni sawaru: to be offended
  • kakki: energy, vitality
  • ki ga tsuku : to realise, to notice
  • tenki: weather (ten: sky, paradise)
  • denki: electricity (den: electric)
  • kion: temperature (on: heat, warmth)
  • kimochi: feeling
  • ki ni shinaide: don’t worry
  • reiki: spiritual energy ( 霊気 ) or cold (with 冷気)
  • genki: health
  • kisoku: breathing
  • keshiki: feeling
  • yuuki: courage, bravery
  • iki: spirit, heart
  • kiai: short shout
  • aiki: union of two spirits
  • sakki: bloody
  • ikki: one breathe
  • kekki wo imashimeyo; restrain your temper
  • seiki wo tamote: maintain your energy

« KI » is linked to feeling, mood, perception, air, gas, how you feel, what you feel, charisma, placebo, mysterious forces, life force inside every living being, etc…

In his book « The mysterious power of ki », Kaku Kouzu writes about the history of « KI », its use in martial arts (especially Aikido) to promote a more holistic practice of martial arts.

He gives the Kōjien dictionnary definitions for Ki:

  • something that can be considered to fill the space between earth and sky, and the action of the same
  • a natural phenomenon such as rain, wind, heat or cold
  • the origin of all creatures
  • the impetus of the original life-force
  • a word expressing the state, movement or action of the mind
  • the atmosphere of a place that can be sensed but not seen
  • something that forms the essential nature of a thing, a particular taste or fragrance

A research institute on Ki was even funded by Tohei Sensei in Japan, to improve the techniques (respiration, meditation, massage, posture corrections, etc.) and try to study their impact on health. A book « Ki in Daily Life » was also dedicated to Ki.

That’s all for today !

See you soon on the mats.