Martial arts>Concepts>Ki

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The existence of ki has never been proven; it is a belief and as such, it can affect the body through the placebo effect (if you believe a concept is true; you may experience its effects even if the concept is false).

Etymologically, the word "ki" derives from the Chinese word "chi." In Chinese philosophy, chi was a concept used to differentiate living from nonliving things. But as Chinese philosophy developed, the concept of chi took on a wider range of meanings and interpretations. The differences between things depended not on some things having chi and others not, but rather on the principle of "li" (ri in Japanese) which determined how the chi was organized and functioned.

The principle behind ki is known by many names:
  • Metaphysical science calls it “vitalism” or "vital force." 
  • Wilhelm Reich called it "orgon." 
  • Friedrich Mesmer called it "animal magnetism." 
  • Bergson called it “√©lan vital” (vital force). 
  • Indian and Hindu yogis call it "prana." 
  • Chinese kung fu and tai chi practitioners call it "chi." 
  • Western science defines it as "biorhythm." 
  • New Age thinkers call it "cosmic energy.” 

Some explain the existence of ki as a kind of "energy" that flows within the body, especially along certain channels, called "meridians.” Some claim that certain forms of exercise or concentration enable them to feel ki flowing through their bodies. Traditional Chinese medicine bases some of its therapies on ki. However, these mostly anecdotal accounts of ki have not been substantiated by scientific experiments. Ki may exist as an objective phenomenon, but reliable evidence to support such a view is lacking.

Dr. Wayne Dyer, in his theory of “Power of Intention,” speaks about your internal power of intention and how it may give you strength. He speaks of connecting to the "source" to gain internal strength. Sounds like ki doesn't it? Ki is just being able to harness all your internal resources and use them together at the same moment to accomplish some task.

While on the subject of Dr. Dyer, just because you have a Ph.D. and are a successful motivational speaker (which translates to people paying you exorbitant amounts of money to tell them what they already know so they will feel vindicated) does not mean you necessarily speak the truth. For example, Dr. Dyer speaks of the energy of objects. One of his examples is that you may gain physical strength from holding an organic banana next to your heart and that you will lose physical strength by holding a CD of gangster rap next to your heart because of the energy the objects emanate. If you believe this, then I have an organic rock to sell you that will give you super strength.

Ki without all the metaphysical mumbo-jumbo is simply being able to harness all your internal resources and use them together at the same moment to accomplish some task.


Some martial artists claim to be able to demonstrate the objective existence of ki by performing various feats, such as the unbendable arm, kneeling push, immovable body, finger circle, and fist wall, which are described below. Supposedly, ki is what permits a person to accomplish the feats. However, there are alternative explanations within the scope of physics or psychology that may account for the effects, such as subtle changes in body positioning or biases and expectations in the participants.

Some “masters,” such as Rod Sacharnoski, claim to be able to move people using ki, without ever touching them. However, when these claims are tested using scientific methods using subjects who are not students of the masters, the claims are proved false. The students who claim to feel the effects of the master's ki are not necessarily lying, they are just being manipulated by their belief in the master's powers and the ideomotor effect.

Ideomotor effect

The ideomotor effect refers to the influence of suggestion on involuntary and unconscious motor behavior. The term "ideomotor action" was first used by William B. Carpenter in 1852 in his explanation for the movements of dowser rods, movements of the pointer on Ouija boards, and the movements of Charcot's pendulum (where a small weight hanging from a string held by a person seems to answer personal questions). Carpenter argued that muscular movement may be initiated by the mind independently of volition or emotions. Suggestions may be made to the mind by others or by observations without your conscious awareness of it happening. These suggestions may influence the mind and affect motor behavior.

These involuntary ideomotor movements have been used by charlatans for centuries. They have been used more recently by people such as chiropractors with their "Toftness Radiation Detector," by naturopaths using their "black boxes" in radiesthesia and radionics to harness "energy" for use in diagnosis and healing, by practitioners of qigong in their "pulse diagnosis," by Deepak Chopra in his ayurvedic medicine, and of course by advocates of ki.

Scientific tests by American psychologist William James, French chemist Michel Chevreul, English scientist Michael Faraday, and American psychologist Ray Hyman have demonstrated that many phenomena attributed to spiritual or paranormal forces, or to mysterious "energies," are due to ideomotor action. The tests show that honest, intelligent people may unconsciously engage in muscular activity that is consistent with their expectations and that suggestion that may guide their behavior may be given by subtle clues.

How the term 'ki' is used

Ki is very commonly used in the Far East. They use it in all kinds of expressions and contexts, such as "genki" good health, without necessarily adopting any philosophical position on the existence of a specific energy.

Ki is not a native part of Western culture, so we tend to view it from a different perspective. We only use the word when referring to the internal energy of ki. Some reject the concept altogether while others accept it as a magical, spiritual force. Pragmatists prefer just to use it for whatever usefulness they may attain from it.

Pragmatists fall into two categories: the rational believer and the rational skeptic. The rational believer views ki as a not-well-understood energy generated within the human body that may be developed, controlled, and used. The rational skeptic views ki as a synergy of various psychological and physical effects within the human body that has no real existence as a separate force but is a useful concept that may be developed, controlled, and used.


To develop ki, we train to:
  • Open, connect, and relax the body. 
  • Focus, develop, and strengthen the mind. 
  • Develop some synergistic combination of 1 and 2. 

Modern ki

Modern martial arts students are not too concerned with the metaphysical aspects of ki; they just want to know what it is, what it does, and how may it help them. Many martial arts practitioners view ki as an expedient concept that includes intentions, momentum, will, and attention.

Whether you believe in the physical existence of ki or not, a belief in its physical effects may give you increased power and confidence. If you believe that ki may literally be extended to another person, it may give you a physical and psychological edge over an opponent, even though the opponent does not feel anything or even know that is that is what you are trying to do

Why use ki

Some ways some people claim ki may be used are to:
  • Increase stability, such as in the immovable body. 
  • Increase strength, such as in the unbendable arm. 
  • Increase power, such as an effortless yet powerful kick. 
  • Increase sensitivity, such as sensing an attack. 
  • Increase health, such as increased resistance to illness. 
  • Heal, such as used in kiatsu. 
  • Develop non-physical contact, such as a no-touch throw. 

Effects of ki

The effects of ki on a practitioner may be explained using two concepts:
  • Physical. This refers to a relaxed body that allows connections to be made through the entire body to the ground with minimum tension and strain. Most of the effects of increased stability and power come from this concept, since a relaxed and a properly aligned body distributes forces throughout the body, not just in one area. For instance, in the unbendable arm ki demonstration, the applied force is dissipated through the large muscles of the back, not just in the arm. This concept also has a health benefit since the relaxed connectivity requires a release of body stress and tension, which allows better blood circulation, deeper breathing, etc. 
  • Mental. This refers to a strongly focused mind. This concept is more difficult to explain than the physical concept. Everyone accepts the idea of "will" and the fact that it can clearly affect physical behavior, yet it cannot be measured in any direct way. Most people accept that the mind can affect the physical body, such as the placebo effect in medicine. Ki affects the body in the same way. If we believe something may give us power and we focus on it, we may indeed gain more power.

    Mental focus has two components: the effect on self and the effect on others. It increases the connection between the various parts of the body performing an action, resulting in a greater efficiency and power. Since mental focus is perceivable by others, whether directly or via subtle clues, this intent can cause effects in others, such as your intense stare breaking an opponent's concentration and thus reducing their power. Also, one may perceive an attack is imminent and step to the side resulting in a no-touch throw where the opponent's momentum causes him or her to fall. The focus of an opponent who is pushing may be diminished to the point that the power they believe they are exerting is much less. This effect helps explain some of the effects of ki.

Feats that demonstrate the presence of ki

Here are some feats used to prove the existence of ki. If you try them, you will find that anyone can do them without the use of ki. Of course, ki “masters” will probably say that happens because the person possesses ki and doesn’t know it.

It is always good to precede each feat with some cosmic BS about how you met an old dying monk while walking in the mountains of Tibet who passed on to you the ancient secrets of ki that he had learned from Mork, an alien visitor from the planet Ork. Then, when you get to ki part of each feat, put yourself into a trace and make strange noises. Otherwise, people will think it is all a trick that you are using to fool them. If you give people a good backstory, they will believe anything.

Unbendable arm

This classic ki feat is shown to students by most instructors. It’s where someone tries to bend the instructor’s when it's stiff and succeeds. But when the arm is very relaxed, it becomes impossible to bend. It is an effective way to introduce students to ki.

To perform this feat: 
  • Hold your arm out horizontally, elbow pointed downward, with just a slight bend at the elbow, make a fist, and tighten all the muscles in your arm. Now have someone put one hand on top of your elbow and put the other hand under your wrist, and then try to bend your arm. He or she will probably be successful. 
  • Now, hold your arm out again and relax all the muscles in your arm, letting the wrist hang loosely, using only just enough muscle to hold up your arm. Look ahead in the direction your arm is pointing and mentally extend your arm outward for hundreds of feet; imagine reaching and touching a distant object. 
  • Maintain this focus and have the person try to bend your arm again. This time, he or she will not be successful. 
  • As with all the feats, practice this slowly with a friend and build your confidence before trying it in public. 
  • Different visualizations work better for different people. Try thinking of your arm as a fire hose and shooting water. Or, think of yourself as being extremely thirsty and reaching across the room for a cold drink. 
  • Do not make your arm completely straight; keep a slight bend in your elbow and orient your arm so that the thumb side of your hand is up. 
  • Ensure the person knows to bend the arm upwards not downwards. 
  • Do not be distracted by the person attempting to bend your arm. Just keep your eyes looking out over the arm and maintain your image of the arm being very long. 

Kneeling push

A fascinating but subtle test of ki that demonstrates that size and strength are not that important. You and another person sit in a formal kneeling position where you rest on your knees with your feet crossed behind you and then you sit back on your feet, keeping your bodies upright.

Sit facing each other with each other’s knees about five inches apart. You then extend your arms and the other person grabs hold of your forearms. Although the person holds tight and uses all his or her strength, you will find it easy to push him or her over. Yet, when the person tries to push you, you're immovable.

To perform this feat:
  • Review the unbendable arm feat. 
  • Raise your arms in front of you with the wrists hanging limp, with an unbendable arm feeling in both arms. 
  • Have the other person grip your forearms at the sides. The person should try to be stable, but not push. 
  • Smoothly reach your arms forward until you meet resistance. 
  • Now, bow forward from your hips, keeping your arms extended as you bow, not letting your elbows bend. 
  • As the other person loses balance, gently guide him or her down. 
  • Stay relaxed.
  • Push softly and gently. "There is nothing so strong as gentleness, and nothing is so gentle as real strength." -Ralph W. Sockman
  • Don’t think of your partner as a huge, immovable object. Think of the person as a small child or fragile stick figure.
  • Don’t think about pushing the person over, just think about moving forward comfortably, as though nothing is in your way.
  • When you are the one doing the holding and the other person is pushing, hold securely, but do not grip firmly. Think of how you might hold a young child's arm when walking near the road. You want to hold securely, but gently enough so that it does not hurt.
  • Concentrate on your center of mass and settle your weight into the floor, do not think "resist," think relaxed. If you find yourself being pushed over, do not fight it, just keep settling into the floor as if you were melting. 
  • Feel asleep and relaxed. Just melt away; unaware of any pushing. 

Immoveable body

This feat is difficult to believe. You stand erect, arms at your sides, and have two people grasp your forearms, one person on each side. On the count of three, they try to lift you. They do it easily. Then you have them try it again. This time, they cannot lift you.

To perform this feat:
  • Stand erect with your feet side-by-side with your arms at your sides. 
  • Have one person stand on each side of you. Have them hold onto your forearms with both hands. Caution: Make sure they hold below the elbow. 
  • Tense the muscles in your arms, think up, and, on the count of three, have the people lift you straight up. They should do it easily. 
  • Now do the lift again, but this time, relax your entire body. Feel like you are slowly sliding into the floor. Shake your hands a little before the people grab you. Feel as though your arms are extending deep into the earth—sort of an unbendable arm in a downward direction. Think down and, on the count of three, have the people try to lift you again. With practice, you will become impossible to lift. 
  • Do not worry if this feat does not work the first few times. 
  • The people doing the lifting should bend their knees and lift straight up, toward your shoulders. 
  • Relax. Keep your eyes forward. Expect that you will succeed. 

Another immovable body

To perform this feat:
  • Stand erect with your feet side by side, your arms at your sides, and bend your arms so the forearms are vertical (hands upward, elbows out toward the sides). 
  • Have a larger person than you stand in front and try to pick you up by placing a hand under each elbow and lifting upward. They can lift you. You have them try again and they cannot lift you. 
  • If upper arms are kept vertical with elbows under the shoulders and you stiffen, the lift will work. 
  • If elbows are moved slightly forward of the shoulders and you relax, the lift will not work. 

Finger circle

This feat is like super-gluing your thumb to your forefinger so that they cannot be pulled apart. You make a circle with your thumb and forefinger by pressing their tips together. Then ask a person to pry them apart; he or she cannot do it.

To perform this feat:
  • Relax your hand and arm by shaking your hand vigorously for a few seconds. 
  • Place the tips of your thumb and forefinger together. 
  • Imagine that your thumb and forefinger have been fused together, or that they are one solid ring of iron. 
  • Have someone try to pull them apart. 
  • Relax and maintain the iron ring image in your head as that person tries hard to pull them apart. 
  • Practice with a friend pulling gently and gradually increasing the pull. 
  • If your thumb and forefinger were glued together, would you have to use any muscle to keep someone from prying them apart? No, because the glue would do the work for you. So, rely on "mental glue" that you are applying with your mind to hold the fingers together, not on your muscles. 
  • If you have a little trouble capturing the mental glue feeling, try using muscle first. Put your thumb and forefinger together and press hard. Then have someone try to pull them apart—it should be easy. Now that you know what using a lot of muscle feels like, shake your hand out, and try it again using very little muscle. Feel almost as though you're ignoring the person who is trying to pry your fingers apart. 

Candle snuffing

The feat of snuffing a candle without touching it or blowing on it only requires a small prop, a candle, but it looks impressive. Light the candle and then use a hand strike or kick straight at the flame, it only takes a quick, snapping, well-focused technique that stops just short of the flame to snuff it.

This technique does require skill since the hand or foot must be fired with enough quickness and power that, when it suddenly stops, the air it has been pushing before it will continue into the flame and snuff it. It is easier to use a strike or kick that travels just above the flame to snuff it. With enough speed in the movement, the flame will be sucked out as the hand or foot passes over it.

Another impressive way to snuff a candle is by pointing your finger at it from a distance and "shooting ki" at it. This is simple to do; it only requires timing. Before the feat, place a suitable non-flammable substance at a predetermined point on the wick. During your act, light the candle, talk about the powers of ki for a predetermined amount of time, and then point at the candle and project your ki at it. If your timing is right, the candle will go out as the flame reaches the applied substance.

Fist wall

This ki feat is used to illustrate thinking beyond an obstacle.

To perform this feat:
  • Two students stand facing each other in strong front stances, one a right stance and the other in a left stance. 
  • They extend their leading arms in fore fist punches and move forward until their fists are touching. 
  • Then they force the two fists together as hard as they can, forming a fist wall. 
  • Now, you approach perpendicular to the fist wall and walk through it as the two students attempt to resist your walking through the fists. 
  • To penetrate the fist wall, you must relax and think beyond the wall. 
  • Don’t accept the wall's existence. 
  • Don’t change your pace, your body tension, or anything in your posture. 
  • Just ignore the fist wall and walk through it as if it did not exist. 
  • Think of the wall as a wispy strand of spider web that is insignificant.

  • Aikido Kokikai. (1999). [Online]. Available: [1999, December 4]. 
  • Ki Aikido Center. (1999). [Online]. Available: [1999, December 1]. 
  • Sotnak, E. (1999). A Note on Ki. [Online]. Available:

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