As an Aikido instructor I cannot imagine telling a student that they were unable to understand the powers of “Ki” because they were lacking in someway. This is however a technique used by some instructors to make students feel inferior, and feel that they must join so that they too can “receive Ki”. I invite anyone to come to my dojo, and I will be able to show you in about ten minutes how typical “Ki” demonstrations are done. Preying on a student self image and sense of guilt is an underhanded manipulation, not a teaching technique.
Real “Sensei power” is a culmination of a lifetime of learning. Imitation “Sensei power” can be seen in choreographed demonstrations where students fly through the air without being touched. This is of course not real. Remember that the “magic” you are seeing in these kinds of demonstrations is the skill of the ukes and their ability to take high flying rolls.
Interestingly, audiences also bring a psychological component to the dynamics of a demonstration. At a demonstration, let’s say an instructor fairly slight in build, chooses a volunteer from the audience. One technique is to choose a volunteer who is much larger in stature than the demonstrator. The volunteer is naturally self-conscious and wants to do a good job. Usually these volunteers also have good hearts, therefore they do not try as hard as they can when asked to bend the arm of the demonstrator. What is disconcerting is if the instructor demonstrating these “Ki” techniques begins to believe in his or her own illusion of power, forgetting the other human dynamics involved. It reminds me of the old fable “The Emperors New Clothes”. It is actually relatively easy to resist “Ki” demonstration techniques. For example, to be able to lift up a demonstrator who claims he can’t be lifted, one just needs to bend his knees and get under the center of gravity of the demonstrator. From that position it is easy to lift anyone up. When these demonstrations are exposed, the power of these imitation Sensei disappears as well.
If you watch a thin elderly instructor that seems to be able to defy anyone to bend his arm, it looks like magic. But there is another factor to examine in these demonstrations; that being the relationship between Sensei and student.
Speaking from experience, I can relate my feelings about being an uchideshi and uke to the Founder, Morihei Ueshiba. Perhaps only those students who actually practiced with the Founder will truly understand my feelings. As full-time students of the Founder, our respect for him was of course paramount. Especially towards the end of his life, if the Founder asked his students to “push against him as hard as they could”, there was not one student among us who could do that. It was not that we were not able to physically push him, it was that we couldn’t.
At the age of eighty-six, the Founder commanded so much respect for his life and accomplishments, that no student of any rank, even 7th or 8th dan, were able to breach this level of respect. Beyond the obvious differences in rank and experience, I feel this was part of the true “Ki” power the Founder possessed. It is understandable when looking at old photos of the Founder resisting the efforts of ten students pushing on his body to think it looks like magic. As one who was there, his power was derived from his presence, not from magic. At the height of his physical prowess, I have no doubt that he used technique to keep students from overpowering him. I attribute his powers at the age of 86 to real “Sensei power”, the personal power he possessed after a life time of hardships and accomplishments. Not only in the world of Martial arts, leaders world –wide who have reached this level command this type of respect from those around them.
For the past ten years, I have been personally researching the life of my teacher, Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba. I have followed his footsteps, traveling to Hokkaido and even Mongolia in order to understand the life that he led. I have conducted countless interviews, and collected volumes of information on the political and social conditions of the times of his youth, including who the Founder associated with, family histories, data on climate and geographical point of references. I have also collected artifacts from the same era and locations, including tools, clothing and utensils.
I have conducted this research not to write a book, but to discover for myself what happened in the Founders life to give him the personal presence he possessed as I knew him later in his life. What gave him the powers that made it impossible to push him over when asked? I wanted proof for the real ‘”Sensei power” he possessed. For me personally, it is important to have correct historical information about the Founder. If not, it is very difficult for me to teach with whole- hearted conviction. If an instructor misunderstands this, then of course so will his students. I wish to know and teach the truth.