Author: Bret Gordon
Mention anything related to energy or internals to the average person, and you're sure to be met with a look of both criticism and arrogance. There are so many videos of people claiming to use chi (ki in Japanese) to overcome an attacker with little to no physical contact. Subsequently, when facing a live attack they're embarrassed and seriously hurt. Therefore, the greater martial arts community writes off anything or anyone teaching energy work or internals. And you know what? It's our fault! Very few people in the internal community have spoken out against the frauds. Instead, they simply write off people's disbelief as ignorance and go on about their day.
But here's the thing. Aiki Jujutsu was once regarded as the highest form of jujutsu by such notable masters as Kano Jigoro, and to see it fall from grace for no real reason other than ignorance and frauds hurts me on a personal level. When you're looking at a demonstration of anyone claiming to use internal power, there are very specific bodily responses that you must look for. Unlike external arts where you can watch a technique and replicate it, internal arts must be directly transmitted through hands-on experience because the nuances that internalize the movements cannot be seen except by the expert eye. So how do you distinguish the diamonds in the rough from the slew of frauds and garbage polluting the internet?
Like the martial arts community as a whole, the people who study legitimate internal arts are a tight-knit group where everyone knows each other. However, there seems to be a controversy even among the "big names" as to who "has it" and who doesn't. Keep in mind there are varying levels of internal power (aiki), and even someone possessing shoden level aiki still "has it" and simply needs to continue training in order to refine it and reach higher levels. Okuden level aiki is simply internal power and structure that has been refined so highly that external motion is nearly undetectable, instead compensating by generating force through soft tissue rather than muscular strength. If I was to compile a list of those who are alive and actively teaching legitimate internal arts to various degrees, in no particular order I'd include people such as Steven Hatfield, Salahuddin Muhammad, Sam Chin, Dan Harden, Howard Popkin, George Ledyard, Roy Goldberg, Thong Nguyen, Cady Goldfield and there are plenty others. I'm sure if I thought hard about it, I could come up with about 25-30 people (and there could be more) who are well known in the aiki community as people who "have it" and have refined it enough to be worthy of a nod from other internal teachers. Thirty is not a large number though, compared to the hundreds of thousands of martial artists in the world. Now if I was to condense that list to those who teach how to apply internal principles under duress against a live, resisting attacker instead of simple balance tricks and connection drills, the list would shrink considerably. So obviously true internal power is a rare find.
The rarer something is, the greater its value. When something is valuable, you better believe there will be frauds trying to capitalize on it. They use tricks such as the power of suggestion to coerce their students into fanatical displays, flying across the room as if the instructor has manifested nothing short of the force. Every time I see one of these videos, I start to cringe and have even caught myself hyperventilating once or twice because with every share, my credibility and that of those who have been teaching internals longer than I have begins to shrink. Dojo busting is a time honored tradition in the martial arts, and it doesn't take much for someone to debunk these chi frauds with a swift punch in the mouth.
The real problem here is lack of education. The general public doesn't have the information to distinguish the ones with real internal power from the frauds. To be honest, I could write a hundred articles and post dozens of videos but unless you have felt true aiki you will still be skeptical. Regardless, allow me to attempt to describe the biological processes involved in generating internal power. Keep in mind, this description of aiki is specific to American Yoshinkan Aiki Jujutsu and another internal instructor may describe it differently.
Aiki, translated as blending energy, is the systematic process of receiving the force of the attacker, processing it within our body and returning it while exerting little to no force of our own. Aiki is built around the concept that we all are comprised of energy, so by "blending energy" we refer to when our energies are connected through the point of contact. Rather than through muscular strength, the power of the techniques is derived from three sources: breath, the center line and cohesive movement. By using the body as a cohesive unit (not moving any part segregated from the rest of the body) and projection of the body through the core, power is generated without using any strength. Breath is used (both inhaling and exhaling) to either expand or contract the core depending on what technique you are applying, as air is focused in the lower part of the abdomen known as the tanden. Timing also plays a major factor in aiki, and aiki can immediately be identified by kuzushi (off-balancing) on contact, as well as spirals and waves that can be seen through the attacker's body although at the point of contact they may be nearly undetectable. All of this is transmitted to the attacker through connection to their internal structure (skeletal and soft tissue). With this understanding of biomechanics, as well as maintaining a relaxed yet focused structure within ourselves, we are able to achieve effortless off-balancing into throws and locks.
As you can see, generating internal power is a complicated process and I haven't even begun describing the large role that weight distribution, lateral muscles and the inguinal crease play in technical efficiency. It's not something that can be learned through observation. It must be felt and thoroughly explained to even begin to understand it, let alone replicate it. These chi fanatics that are proclaiming to have knowledge and use of some mystical energy are nothing more than frauds and a black eye on the internal arts community. It doesn't help that the majority of legitimate aiki practitioners focus only the spectacular balance tricks rather than practical application. It wasn't by magic that Takeda Sokaku traveled Japan and bested the country's greatest fighters with ease. I know that I personally am striving to replicate that combative efficiency using internal principles, and there are others as well. Hopefully we're not a dying breed, or what could possibly be the most sophisticated, scientifically advanced form of human combatives may die with us.
This article was originally published on the US Association of Martial Arts blog. To view the original article, please click here.
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The articles posted here have been shared from the US Association of Martial Arts website, run by our headmaster Bret Gordon, for their relevance to Aiki Jujutsu. For more of his writings, please click here.