A converted skeptic tried to define ki in Black Belt magazine: "Although ki has been defined by the founder of aikido as 'the spirit of love and protection for all things, the spirit of peace,' it has also been regarded as the instinctive feeling of danger and the ability to anticipate and overcome it. In this way it is a sort of sixth sense and the proper command of the ki produces a whiplike reaction which is so fast and so sure that a camera cannot properly catch it. The aikido combatant quickly sizes up the attack of the opponent and instantly detects a danger or harmful presence—aikido students claim that they were never really aware of the power of ki until aikido training brought it out. One called it a universal power or spirit present in everyone in varying degrees. Another sees it as a human vitality...a third thinks of it as a psychic energy manifested by applying the mind or will to any part of the body. Whatever it really is, the plain fact of the matter is that it works."
Including those in Japan, practicing aikidoists now number about 400,000. Ten percent are women and, since dexterity is more important than strength, they work and progress on an equal footing with the men. Yoshimitsu Yamada, titular head of some two dozen clubs in the U.S. and Canada, is pleased with the performance of the distaff side, but also a trifle wary. Teaching a feminine student one day, he threw her, then watched with what might be termed inscrutable horror as her head seemed to leave her shoulders and sail across the mat. It was, of course, her wig. A notice promptly went up on the bulletin board: Do Not Wear Two Hairs in Practice. "And please," he once cautioned the ladies in The One Point, aikido's monthly newsletter, "remove lipstick before practice. Some of our men have very jealous wives."
Koichi Tohei also acknowledges the sudden influx of women in aikido. He spent half a practice session while in New York describing the proper method of pinching to fend off attack, and explained to the spectators who daily swarmed up the stairs of the New York club to watch a 1Oth-degree black belt perform: "This not true aikido, I just fooling around with something special for the ladies."
Aikido has benefits other than physical salvation if one is attacked. No one watching Mr. Tohei in action on the mat could have guessed that during his stay in New York he had averaged about two hours sleep a night, for like any tourist Mr. Tohei plays as hard as he works. During the day, between classes, he would frequently disappear, settle himself on a cushion at the back of the dojo, cross his legs Oriental style, and promptly go to sleep. In his book, Aikido in Daily Life, he explains that sleep should be achieved in less than a minute. It is a matter of relaxation. "First of all," he says, "we have to maintain a firm conviction that if we cannot sleep we might as well be awake."
Of all the martial arts, aikido, which is run on a nonprofit basis, is probably the least exploitable.
"Our founder," explains Mr. Tohei, referring to Morihei Uyeshiba, who was called by the superhonorific title of O-Sensei (great instructor), "was not interested in making the practitioners of aikido rich. Once I asked him, what do you do with the money, for at Hombu we have a fine school and teach over 500 students a day, and our founder smiled at me and said, 'I deposit the money in the Bank of Heaven. Later when I die, if you need some I come back down.' "
Both martinet and mystic, O-Sensei, who was still practicing until he died at the age of 87, rarely gave any but equivocal answers to questions about his art.
When was aikido first established?
"The day I was born."
"Is aikido not a scientific refinement of old, traditional techniques?"