Using Koichi Tohei’s Model as a Baseline, by Mike Sigman

A young Steven Seagal attempts
to lift Koichi Tohei, c. 1972

“Steven Seagal can’t lift Koichi Tohei!”

One of the big problems with many of the Aikido articles printed by westerners is that they are opinion articles, often with fuzzy interpretations of numerous Aikido or Aikido-related ideas. Sometimes the idea of “Aikido-related” is a far stretch indeed, getting into self-help, psychology, and other areas that Ueshiba never directily mentioned or advised on in his life.

Although Koichi Tohei is treated by many Aikido practitioners as someone who does “a different brand” (or some other minmization), Tohei had some innovative ideas that I think the other styles would do well to borrow, particularly in light of the recent (and very late) realization that many of the “ki” things Tohei speaks of are substantive and they are essential components of Aikido techniques.

If much of the confusing and poorly-translated comments about ki are muted and the function of Tohei’s Aikido are examined, his ideas are not fuzzy at all. Tohei has shown substantive use of physically-verifiable aspects of ki in his techniques since well before he left Hombu Dojo as the Chief Instructor. When formulating the approach for the Ki Society, Tohei used the ki skills as a baseline for usage in all techniques and also as a separate study line for practitioners to base their overall development upon. Frankly, it would appear that he had a good idea. The question is why, other than as some aspect of internecine rivalry, so many other Aikidoists ignore and don’t understand the reason and utility of the basics of ki studies in their own Aikido.

Tohei demonstrating "unbendable arm"

The “ki tests” and skills development within the Ki Society are pretty basic stuff… and they’re very good indicators of basic skills for all Aikido techniques. Tohei didn’t dream these things up as something new and different to be added to Aikido as a hallmark of his own style; he attempted to more clearly explain what was involved in the Aikido of Ueshiba. Yet in a quite human and snippy way, many Aikidoists from “other styles” simply ignore and trivialize the very helpful lesson materials from the man who was second only to Ueshiba before the politics got out of hand.

Looking at the elementary ki-tests and their utility, it is hard to imagine that any bona fide Aikido “instructor” cannot do most, if not all of these ki-usage demonstrations, and do them well. Yet, most Aikido instructors cannot do these simple tests, even though it’s obvious from old films of Ueshiba, Tohei, and others, that these types of demonstrations of ki-skills were quite common adjuncts to Aikido itself.

The next level of accomplishment in Tohei’s Aikido teachings has a lot to do with moving while using ki skills, an advance from the simple static tests so often shown in Tohei’s instructional literature. “This is Aikido” is an excellent example of how ki-skills apply, if you can obtain a copy. The book was written well before Tohei left Hombu Dojo, it should be noted.

Mike Sigman

As a suggestion, I think the idea of “ki tests” should be adopted by all the styles of Aikido. This is basic stuff. Anyone who can’t demonstrate basic ki-skills cannot be doing Aikido with ki, as Morihei Ueshiba, Tohei, and many others did it. If more people in Aikido could functionally demonstrate these skills, many of the current fuzzes “here’s my guess” articles might give way to the simple function and logic of how the ki, the hara, aiki, and other things actually work. Aikido should be about function, not just feelings and fuzzy opinions.

Mike Sigman blog on aikiweb

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