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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Re: Ki to the Highway

He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.
- Proverbs 28:13

By far the greatest generator of traffic on this blog to date has been last July's entry "Ki to the Highway", specifically, the extensive and sometimes contentious discussion it generated on AikiWeb. I owe a great deal to that little bit of controversy.

For those of you who never read it, the piece rather presumptuously labels the entire concept of ki as nonsense, at best obfuscating the real physics behind the martial arts and at worst leading some martial artists to silly and even dangerous delusions; it suggests that martial artists stop using the word altogether. To put it gently, for all that the piece as brought me a lot of attention, it has not made me many friends.

The concept of ki (or chi) is positively sacred to many martial artists, so it stands to reason that some readers were none too happy to hear me, a humble novice, assail it. And in hindsight, perhaps I was a little too harsh in doing so.

I visited my old aikido club back in November, and after taking class and sharing baby pictures, I spent nearly two hours hanging out with an old training partner and talking about anything and everything. He is a reader of this blog, and brought up "Ki to the Highway" in the course of our conversation.

He is an acupuncturist, a profession I took about as seriously as pet psychic before I met him. He is a trustworthy, educated man who speaks the language of biology and anatomy, not magic. He told me that in his line of work chi is part of the standard terminology, a term the ancient Chinese used to encompass lots of different things for which scientists would later find more specific names.

He made a strong case that chi was useful to the acupuncturist as an all-encompassing term that summed up several different things whose scientific name and explanation would certainly be more specific, but also much more cumbersome.

In light of this, I think I must back off a little on the harsh anti-ki stance I took in "Ki to the Highway". If what my friend says is correct, then it would seem possible for a martial arts instructor to use the word ki effectively as a summation of several different physical, bio-mechanical, and psychosomatic factors, so long as both he and his students are not ignorant of what those factors really are.

I maintain that I have never seen this done properly, and furthermore that I will never attempt it. That said, there are probably a few people out there who are smarter than I am using the word ki in the right way, and it would be wrong of me to simply dismiss them offhand.

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