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Aikido Principles

Understanding the Five Principles of Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido

There are five principles in Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido (aikido with mind and body coordinated) which form the nucleus of the arts an aikidoka might perform. The principles also may be used in daily life during interaction with other individuals. These principles are:

1. Ki is Extending
2. Know your opponent’s mind
3. Respect your opponent’s Ki
4. Put yourself in the place of your opponent
5. Perform with Confidence

Several of these principles have multiple applications and meanings. An aikidoka’s initial definitions of a given principle may later change as (s)he becomes aware of other ways of looking at a given situation. Aikido is a path where, as one opens a door, (s)he may simply find more doors to choose from, and some of those doors may lead back to the original door. However, the door will not look the same as it did during the first journey through it.

The following is meant as a discussion of some possible meanings for the five principles and is not meant to limit the possible definitions for any given principle.

Ki is Extending

Many practitioners of aikido begin the performance of an art by thinking, “Now I must extend ki.” This is not correct in the sense that one should always be extending ki. Taking this one step further, if one is relaxed at all times, then ki is naturally extending.

Extending ki is also one of the Four Principles of Mind and Body Unification. Ki extension is a principle of the mind which affects the body. The mind leads the body, and ki extension is the connecting link between the thought in the mind and the action of the body.

Another way of saying “extend ki” is to say “extend the mind”. Many aikidoka extend their arms physically, but lack the unity of the mind in performing the motion. This is “extending limbs”, not “extending ki”.

Know Your Opponent’s Mind

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu writes, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself, but not your enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Master Koichi Tohei, founder of Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido, offers the parallel rule, “Know your opponent’s mind.”

The word aikido is composed of three Japanese characters: ai (harmony, ki (energy), and do (the way). One possible translation might be simply the way of harmony with energy. In the performance of the arts of aikido, the energy of the nage (defender) must harmonize with the energy of the uke (attacker). Before one can be in harmony with the energy of another, (s)he must first determine the intent of the attacker.

This intention can be broken down into two components: the intention of the mind and the intention of the body. Before commencing an attack, uke will have a certain mental attitude. If this attitude culminates in an actual attack, the attack itself will have certain characteristics in terms of direction and intensity. To successfully defend oneself, the aikidoka must understand both the mental and physical components of uke’s attack, and this understanding must begin with uke’s mind. By being sensitive to uke’s mental and physical states, nage will become aware of the exact intentions of uke, and application of the proper technique will be naturally forthcoming.

When a student first begins studying aikido, (s)he will often hear senior students and instructors using the phrase, “Lead the opponent’s mind; his body will follow.” This is only possible if one first understands the opponent’s mind.

Respect Your Opponent’s Ki

This is simply an extension of the principle just discussed. Uke’s attack has distinct elements of direction, velocity, and intensity which must be recognized. Once identified, nage must move in harmony with these elements for a technique to be successful.

In their book Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere, Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook define the motions of uke and nage in the early stages of an attack as motions of convergence. The goal of nage is to move in harmony with the energy of uke, guiding it into a circuit of neutralization, a movment which by its very nature not only dissipates the energy of the attack harmlessly, but which succeeds because of its non-dissension with the attacking energy. Such a movement is not possible if one does not recognize uke’s ki and respect it.

Put Yourself in the Place of Your Opponent

In Aikido with Ki, Koretoshi Maruyama, former chief instructor of the Ki Society International, write, “Even if you think someone is wrong, first try to understand his opinion. You must put yourself in his place.”

By putting yourself in someone’s place, you develop a different understanding of his or her perspective and motivations. Such an understanding may allow you to defuse a potentially explosive situation, eliminating the need for a physical altercation.

If an attack does occur, the performance of an aikido technique typically involves substituting nage’s center (one point) for uke’s center. Where as uke initiates the motion of the attack, nage performs a technique in which (s)he becomes the center of motion, leading uke’s energy in the process. Mune-tsuki kote-gaeshi tenkan is a good example of the substitution of nage’s center for uke’s.

Perform with Confidence

If nage has followed the first four principles, (s)he should simply perform the technique without hesitation. If nage lacks confidence (s)he may hesitate, which in turn will disturb the harmony of the attacking energy and nage’s lead, and the technique may become frustrated.

Will Reed, in Ki: A Practical Guide for Westerners, says it best: “Do the thing in your mind quickly, and relax completely knowing that it is done.”


This Guide Copyright 1989, Virginia Ki Society, all rights reserved.