The term “ki” refers to the invisible “life force” within one’s own body and encompasses the energy of the universe. When its power is harnessed it can be used for healing, protection or generating force, all of which are important skills to have across most martial art disciplines, but are imperative to a shinobi.
“Ki” is the Japanese word for this energy, but in China it is more commonly referred to as “Chi” or “Qi.” In Sanskrit it is called “Prana”, in Western culture, “Vital Energy” and in the Hawaiian culture it is known as “Mana.”
Though Ki is all around us and within us, it takes intense training and focus to master the skill of cultivating and exercising this energy. To do this, the mind and body must become one through patterned deep breathing, which serves to keep the practitioner calm and composed. This is said to allow the ki to flow and bypass consciousness, starting from the center of the body, which is called the “dan tien.” One’s dan tien is located about 2-3 inches bellow the navel and another 2-3 inches inward and with focus it can be identified by a warm tingling feeling inside the abdomen. All breathing should start and end in this center.
Though ki operates through a subconscious level, the only way to channel the power of one’s own ki is through a conscious effort to meditate routinely and with intent. Breathing through one’s dan tien with an awareness of the breath’s path and distribution through the body can eventually lead the ki energy to be directed to a particular part of the body at will.
The practice of using ki energy is found in a number of traditional martial arts, and is most commonly associated with the art of Tai Chi. For a shinobi, this energy can be the deciding factor in the success of an encounter with an opponent because of its ability to strengthen both blocks and strikes.
Uke with Ki
Blocking is the act of physically deflecting or receiving an opponent’s strike. In ninjutsu, blocking is called “uke”. Much of Ninjutsu’s defensive techniques for evading an opponent’s strike are primarily based on body movement “Tai Sabaki,” though uke with hands, arms and legs is also an integral part of the practice. Harnessing ki can allow one to focus their internal energy forming a semi-shield to the specific location where the strike will be received. This “ki shield” dulls the harshness of the impact, allowing the shinobi the advantage of being able to maintain composure during battle without the hindrance of intense pain, which may otherwise impact performance of bone or muscle.
Striking with Ki
There are two main types of strikes, both of which can be much more powerful with concentrated ki energy.
Penetrating strikes focus energy generated by velocity into a small surface, such as shakoken (finger strikes), boshiken (closed-fist strikes with thumb), shikanken (knuckle strike), shuto (knife-hand strikes), and gheri (kicks). Weapons that also use penetrating energy include the yari (spear), daito (sword), and tanto (knife). By harnessing ki energy and directing it into very localized areas to complete the strike it can be directed into the opponents the body in such a way that the skin and muscle are forced inward and sometimes torn by the impact of the blow.
Crushing strikes use one’s mass to focus energy over a larger area. The impact is often best directed at areas less massive than the particular weapon used. For example, a punch to the bridge of the nose may easily crush the septal cartilage, but punching to the forehead may cause more damage to the punchers hand than to the target. To apply this kind of ki energy, the shinobi must focus on directing the energy through a larger mass such as a fist, elbow, knee or shin. One’s ki-charged body part should also be in tune with the body’s center of gravity so that one’s body moves with the impact. This is one reason that proper kamae is so crucial in ninjutsu.
Transfer of Ki
One basic principle of ki is it’s ability to be transferred. It is common in action movies and cartoons, to see a strike touch an opponent and despite whatever armor they are wearing, that character goes flying into the air in a manner that seems inconsistent with the amount of force applied by the impact. This is the concept of transferring ki energy. A more commonly applicable example involves the game of pool/billards. When a cue ball is struck by a cue stick, the energy from the stick is transferred to the ball, causing it to roll. Depending on the angle, the cue ball may then strike another ball on the table, causing the cue ball to stop immediately while its momentum is carried on by the ball struck. This is a transfer of ki energy.
A shinobi skilled in focusing ki energy may be able to both receive and disburse it at will. To heighten ki energy in the heat of battle, one must maintain proper breathing under pressure and be prepared to absorb any impact with existing ki. Ki can also be acquired by grounding oneself to the Earth with proper kamae. At all times the shinobi must be willingly conscious of the transfer, embracing and diverting the energy in their path.
Healing Power of Ki
In the same manner that one is able to focus ki to a specific point on the body to create an external defense or offense, it can also be done internally to promote healing. As is true for most health promoting activities, prevention of injury and illness is the best place to start. By practicing the circulation of ki through the body via controlled breathing and meditation, the body is strengthened from the inside out. It is important to remember that ki energy is not only found within the human body, but everywhere in the universe. This is the reason that many ninjutsu practitioners choose to focus much of their training outdoors where they can receive energy from the sun, the Earth and the elements around them.
Should injury or illness arise, it is often a test of the mind to be able to remain in full focus on the direction of energy to the specific location that needs to be healed. It is for these times that one must continue a to prepare and train ki energy during times of good health.
Mainstream Concepts of Practicing Ki
Dre Parker: So what are we learning today?
Mr. Han: Chi. Internal energy. The essence of life. It moves inside of us. It flows through our bodies. Give us power from within.
Dre Parker: I get it. Like the Force in Star Wars. You’re Yoda and I’m like… I’m like a Jedi.
In referencing Jedi it is only proper to mention that “The force” is in fact with us in the form of ki. In the words of Obi-wan to Luke Skywalker in the movie Star Wars: The force is omnipresent. It envelops you as it radiates from you. … It is a nothingness that can accomplish miracles.
Another action hero that is known for his ki-harnessing power is the Marvel Comics character “Iron Fist.”
This character’s “superpower” comes from controlling ki (or chi) energy, augmenting all of his natural martial arts abilities. His big move involves channeling the Chi into his fist, wrapping it in energy so he can really lay down the pain. Iron Fist also has the ability to heal himself and others.
Universal Ki Energy
Ki energy is everywhere. It is within us and it surrounds us. It does not come with a bill like electricity. It is free and available so long as we choose to breathe and focus.