Ki is possibly the many powerful, useful and also even quintessentially Japanese native in the Japanese language. Acquainted to everyone from pan of contemporary manga to practitioners of ancient Aikido, alone or in mix with other syllables, ki have the right to mean numerous things.

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Among the words and also concepts incorporating the one sound are the words for feelings (kibun), weather (ten ki), power (genki), gloom (kiomo), and also on come the words for heart, mind, spirit, flavor, spark, value, humor, scent, interest, essence, energy, atmosphere, will, intention…even tree. The perform is long. And also when linked with other words, ki can create phrases of an excellent nuance and versatility: ki ni iru way to choose something; ki ga kawaru method to change one’s mind; ki ni kakeru evokes the concept of worry.

Uniting every those miscellaneous words is a sense, though difficult to pin under in other languages, the change, of something moving within the soul or emotions the a person, a place…even a thing. The problem of assigning any clear, unambiguous definition of ki is obvious: Ki is ephemeral, ambiguous. In fact, the an obstacle comes due to the fact that that ambiguity is a component of ki itself.

As with many notions in Japanese, the meaning of ki is available on basic, quotidian level – tree, remember? – but the more one looks right into it, that takes on depth and broader levels the refinement and also subtlety. Offered this, that is crucial to begin on the most basic level.

Perhaps the most important of the plenty of meanings of ki is what is often translated as spirit, or energy. That is this sense that us can focus on come begin, for it is the definition of words that lugged the principle to Japan more than a millennium ago.


Brought indigenous China v Buddhism in the sixth and also seventh centuries C.E., the Chinese indigenous chi (or qi) is familiar to many, also in the West. In writing the word, the Japanese still use the Chinese character, or kanji, for what is express chi. The pictogram, 気, combines the symbols for rice and steam or vapor, combining a an easy “inanimate” point with an computer animation that brings it alive, as some kind of power is released.

At the exact same time, this ethereal notion is base in the simplest, most day-to-day process, of cooked rice doing that most basic function: releasing energy, in the form of heat and also vapor.

But the meanings of chi and its descendent ki space different. While the Chinese usage chi to explain the life pressure that animates every little thing – which makes it casually equivalent to native used approximately the world, prana in Hindu, ruach in Hebrew, spirit and its Romantic sports in the West – the Japanese usage of the word is far more subtle, ambiguous, and also thus, much much more widely useful.

Aikido teacher and also theoretician Stefan Stenudd describes ki as “the ether the intention,” and others have equated it with creative flow and also inspiration.

Ki’s role in life is well construed in the martial arts Aikido, the actions of which are focused virtually entirely ~ above the flow of ki. Thus, an strike in Aikido is less about the body of the attacker than around the flow of power he has initiated, and also “ridden.” Consequently, the human being being attacked is lean to usage evasive move to get out that the direction of the attacker’s ki flow.

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‏The Aikido grasp Koichi Tohei wrote, in his 1962 publication What Is Aikido?: “What is the light meaning of ki supplied in our day-to-day life? A an excellent feeling, a poor feeling, a good feeling, timidity, vigor, courage, a retiring disposition, et cetera – these space terms provided in our day-to-day life. In every word or phrase, the Japanese use ki as an integral part. The reason is the a person being was developed from ki that the universe. While that receives ki, the is alive. Deprive that of ki and also he dies; he loser his human shape. So lengthy as his human body is filled with ki and also pours forth abundantly, he is vigorous and filled through courage. ~ above the contrary, as soon as his body has actually run the end of ki, he is weak, cowardly and also retiring. In Aikido training, we make every initiative to find out to to fill our body v ki and also use that powerfully. Therefore, we must recognize well the deep meaning of ki.”

‏But ordinary Japanese perform not possibly put virtually as lot importance on defining ki that outsiders do. Its meaning is so basic, for this reason woven into the language, into everyday life, that few give it a second thought. Ki is just that: ki. A small word the expresses a concept that have the right to be as deep, or as ephemeral, as any given moment.