When I first started practicing Aikido, there was a banner at the front of the room with the four basic principles of Aikido printed on it. One of those four principles was "Extend Ki". I imagined that somehow, perhaps after years of training, or through some sudden revelation, I would discover what Ki was, and - if I was real lucky - how exactly you "extend" it.
But then Maruyama Sensei made things a whole lot simpler for me. One day, he changed what that principle said. He changed it to "Develop your positive mind." After that, things started to get a bit more clear. Ki, it turned out, was not some magical power foreign to most humans. It was something that most of us had already experienced. Ki was thinking positive, believing in yourself, having faith, being the proverbial "litte engine that could."
So then what's the big deal about Ki, or positive mind? We all know that it's important to believe in ourselves. Norman Vincent Peale wrote about that years ago in his very famous book, The Power of Positive Thinking, which was all about how if you believed in something, you could make it happen. But the reality is, sometimes it feels like it's almost impossible to have that kind of belief in yourself. That's where Ki training comes in. The Ki training outlined in this site, and practiced in Aikido, can make that strong, unshakeable confidence in yourself as natural to you as breathing.
Here's how. When you truly feel you can accomplish something, you're not nervous or tense about it. You're calm, relaxed, even your posture will probably reflect your confidence in yourself. Well - surprise - calmness, relaxation, and correct posture (along with positive thinking) are the four basic principles of Kokikai Aikido. So what's the point? They're all interrelated. Inseparable, actually. If you think positive (believe in yourself), you'll be more calm and relaxed. But equally true, if you develop your ability to be calm and relaxed (through Ki training), you'll automatically have greater faith in yourself.
And what good is that? Well, Aikido shows us that the mind leads the body. But a whole lot of people (myself included) believe that the mind leads pretty much everything else, as well, whether it be success in business, gold medals at the olympics, recovery from cancer, or happiness at home. Almost anything great that has ever been accomplished in this world was preceded by the belief that it could be accomplished, residing in some brave person's mind.
That is really the true goal - and the true reward - of Ki training and Aikido practice: Success at whatever is important to you. The development of your full potential as a human being. So here are some specifics on how to go about it.
- Practice Ki Exercises. Next to my actual practice of Aikido, these exercises have been the greatest help to me in achieving a more positive mind. They may not seem like much when you first practice them. But if you do them a few times a week (preferably, every day in the morning), the long term effect will be enormous. Read about them, look at the pictures, watch the mini-videos. Then practice them consistently. They really feel good. I don't practice them because of some pay-off I expect years from now. I practice them because they make me feel better today.
- Work on the Cool Ki Tricks on this site. These ideas are all about positive mind: Making it impossible for someone to bend your relaxed arm. Making it hard for two people to lift you off the ground. These things are only possible through positive thinking. When you catch onto these ideas, you'll have a much better grasp of what having a positive mind feels like. That's the big first step. After that, it's just a matter of making that feeling grow stronger and stronger.
- Practice believing in your ability to make a change. "Faith is believing what you know ain't so," said a character in one of Mark Twain's books. Once you believe something, though, you drastically increase the odds of making it so. Work on telling yourself that you have the ability to do something that's important to you. ("I know I can get this web site finished," might have been a good one for me.) Just keep telling yourself what you want to believe, day after day, several times a day - especially right when you get up in the morning, and just before you go to bed at night. You may not truly believe your words at first. But if you just keep at it, your "common sense" will give up, and you'll end up believing. Then you'll end up doing.
- A positive mind isn't developed by believing you can do easy things, and then succeeding. It's developed by believing hard things, and failing. ("Okay," you're thinking, "this guy has finally lost it.") Think about it. If you believe you can stand up, then you stand up, have you really developed your ability to think positive? That would be like Arnold Scwarzenegger thinking he could develop bigger biceps by curling a five pound dumbell. But if you were constrained to a wheel chair, and each day you believed you were going to stand up, and you gave it a Herculean effort, and failed, but then continued to believe you had the ability to stand within you, man, you'd be developing an incredibly positive mind.
- One of the ideas in the Cool Ki tricks section is called Kokyu Dosa. It's kind of like a pushing exercise with Ki for two people. (If you haven't read about it yet, you may want to do that now.) It's gotten so that it's pretty easy for me to prevent most of my students from pushing me over. But as much as I enjoy that (and I admit it, I enjoy it quite a bit!), it's really more beneficial for them than it is for me. Because it gives them the chance to believe they can push me over, in the face of failure each time. The opportunity for making progress is much greater for them. So find some big lug - or better yet, a small lug who's proficient at Aikido - to practice Kokyu Dosa with. The continual challenge of getting this person to move is a great way to develop your ability to think positive.
- Aikido is not a religion. But the founder of Aikido said something quite interesting about its relationship to religion. What he said (and this may not be an exact quote, because I don't recall where I read it) was, "Aikido perfects and completes all religions." So if you have some kind of religious faith, you may want to think about how Aikido principles apply - particularly the idea of positive mind. Personally, I don't know how anyone has ever begun to understand faith without some experience in Aikido.
- Positive mind isn't just believing in yourself. It's really believing in your world, your fellow humans, your universe. I think it's a little hard to just think good things about all that's around you. It's hard to just let go of your prejudices, biases, and preconceived notions. But through Ki training or Aikido practice, you can gradually change the way you feel about your world, without really even trying. It's like driving home from work when you're sick. You look around, and the whole world seems miserable. The buildings look grayer. The people look less friendly. Then a couple days later, when you're feeling better, you look around and everything looks great! Well, the world didn't change - you did. In a similar way, Ki training is going to make you feel better. And your thoughts about everything around you will become more positive as an inevitable result.
"Faith is to believe what you do not yet see; the reward for this faith is to see what you believe." - St. Augustine