A growing trend in the martial arts world is that of "internal power".
(key music, start intro-video da dum .... da dum .. dadumdadumdadumdumdum .... eeeeekk !!!!!.....
Back when I started training in the late 60's it was almost never mentioned; at least until everyone got past the judo phase and then the empty hand karate phase and then the PKA safe-kick/punch phase and then the Bruce Lee phase and then the kung fu/grasshopper phase and then we hit (almost simultaneously) the Aikido phase and the Ninja phase (which seemed to occur simultaneously with or shortly after the transcendental meditation phase) and then suddenly it was every where and Sensei had to fight off the young grasshopper wanna-bee's with his chop sticks every week. Except that it wasn't called "internal power" but instead was "ki" or "chi". The phase I remember was "aiki" or just "ki" for short with no use of the phrase "ki power".
Then we got into the UFC/BJJ phase and all that came before, for the most part, went away in favor of more rationalistic thought esp. after the first UFC bout where all the "traditionalists" had their fundoichi's handed back to them.
Suddenly many training regimens changed in response to that first UFC thrashing that we all saw on tv.
- Some changed back to where they had originally started from but had left due to desires to grow their dojo (back to more practical, more hard training, broader view of their own history instead of the new marketing ploy).
- Or, they changed for the worse ("Ok, kiddee's ... let's light our candles and hold hands .... hmmmm .. kumbaaaayaaaah my ....").
- Or they just stayed where (and where they had always been) since they had never left or "evolved", weren't into trophies and had never lost their effectiveness to begin with, having ignored all the "Aiki-Bunnies" running around.
I can live with the terms ki and chi since they're oriental and not easily understood and kinda' "global" since they cover about as much territory as you want them too; so in my mind they're actually easier to work with. You can do a lot with them such as defining them logically and then applying that to training ... "No Little Johnny, you cannot levitate nor can you will your zafu to float across the floor with you on it like you're attendees at a TM festival. Just focus, breath deep, relax, concentrate, control your fear and just whack him with gusto and mutual respect." ..... or ..... "So Sensei, is that what ki is? Sure if it makes you feel any better now get to work and gimmee' another 100 kote-gaeshi's and some ippon seonage to finish up with and then we'll talk about some concepts of kuzushi."
See .... problem solved without any smoke and mirrors involved and now everyone is happy with what aiki is .... just hard work and a focused game plan that takes place and evolves over years in the dojo as you strengthen your body, focus your mind and learn the kihon and then the kata and then the bunkai.
But today the idea behind them (ki and aiki and chi) has been "Americanized" and "marketed" and has been more clearly defined and labeled as ... "internal power".
Hmmm ..... In-ter-nal pow-er ..... Now just what is that? Gas? A strong constitution (or strong case of constipation)? Too many vaso-dialators downed at one time and now they have to stand you in the corner until you can relax a little? bwahaha ... I know ... maybe it's .... more of an electrical phenomena ...........
Naw ... that can't be it. So what is it?
Humans are physical beings and subject to the laws of physics. If you cannot control your body you fall down a lot. The laws of mass, inertia, gravity, heat transfer, oxygen usage, proper eating and exercise, healthy life-style all impact us every moment of every day and failure to correctly observe the laws of nature and what our bodies are capable of will, and does, result in "fail" of whatever we're in the middle of at any moment.
Early martial arts were started by people who did not drive cars, eat "organic" food (it was ALL organic assuming you could get to it before the critters ate it, or ate you). They worked hard every day because they had to and the old saying of "root hog or die" was observed daily. So the MA started in small villages or on a farm somewhere and all the students entering the dojo already had strong bodies and focused minds (no work-no eat ..... no train hard-guy down the creek will kill me and steal my woman). All-in-all pretty simple, pretty basic, primal in many regards and there was no mistaking how life went.
What do we have today?
Processed foods leading to obesity. (So is that why all the Sensei I see look like they spend too much time at the buffet counter? Come on man. At least wear a girdle would ya' please? Jeeeezus!)
Little exercise leading to weak muscles and poor posture. If folks spent more time at the gym and less time yelling at the plasma flat screen during Monday night football they'd be in better shape to do some ukemi.
People were mentally tougher since they most likely grew up having to fight for food at dinner or fight the kid down the path to get back something he stole from you. Today if your kid touches someone he's in detention for days and lord help him if he actually (gasp..) gets into a fight and bloodies some little truant's nose for him.
Today's humans are as a rule (but not universally since some of us still grow up with some old-style discipline and hard work and the occasional fist up the side of our head) ...... softer, less mentally tough, less able to work with physical stress, less able to deal with pain and much less able to fight thru pain and discomfort to keep moving forward and have lower frustration tolerance.
Comparing the two types of humans ..... the one's from rural times were physically tough and therefore able to generate physical power while today's people have to start from scratch and slowly build up physical power and fitness before they can even do the waza, much less worry about something like ki or chi.
So the "already fit" person goes to the dojo and is accepted for instruction. He learns the waza and how to apply his already existing physical strength and only then goes to the temple where he's taught ki and chi and .... ok, ok, ok .... "internal power" so he's way down the road to mastery pretty quikly (on a relative basis) without Sensei having to work that dunlop disease off his belly, get him shape and then have to have instruction in how to use his body.
The "softee person" has no physical power, can't throw the uke and now assumes out of ignorance (or is told by an unethical instructor) it's because he has no ki and no chi charged up in his tanden and that he must "learn" and "accumulate" and go after that Mystical-Magical-Mystery-Tour that today is called "internal power".
The instructor is now faced with a choice. Does he tell the little butterball the truth; that he needs to get into shape and stretch everything out and become stronger and then learn the ryu and understand how to use his body efficiently BEFORE he starts worrying about ki/chi/internal power?
Or does the instructor take the route of least resistance .... that of teaching "internal power" to out of shape students who can't take decent ukemi, much less take hold of an opponent who is 6 inches taller and 50 to 100 pounds heavier and whack them with panache and proper principle?
Given our current "state of the culture" in which the easy way seems to be the only way, in which self-promotion is rampant, in which instant gratification is endemic, in which too many look for the "magic bullet", in which the deshi wants to be an instant simulacrum of Kwai Chang Cane/Obi-wan Kenobi/Seagal, and in which the Sensei has learned basic economics and understands how to market and bring home the bacon (not ot mention having a firm grasp of the principles of self-aggrandisement) then we end up in seminars, training clinics and dojos in which the hard work is simply pushed aside in favor of the fast way, the easy way, the mystical way. The student, and eventually the Sensei all want to believe and this is what all too many times occurs .....
For a time when I was attending the university I finally graduated from (too much party down dude with my Frat-Rat brothers) I considered majoring in psychology. One course (taught by a semi-madman who came to class stoned and who kept buming cookies from everyone, but was very skilled and knowledgeable in what he taught) explored the ideas, concepts and methodology behind hypnosis.
There's not a blog big enough to lay out a comprehensive picture of this but suffice it to say that ever since the time of Mesmer and all the way back to the Egyptians these ideas have been used both on the individual level and on small groups. What this video shows is a technique called "rapid induction" which was popularized by Milton Ericson (look these up in Wiki for more fascinating detail). Having taken the college course work and having been to martial arts seminars and having seen this done .... well ... you make up your own mind about the ideas (some but certainly not all) currently being floated around out there in the "No Touch Knockout Kingdom" and "Internal Power Land".
Here's something to consider.
Real "internal power" comes from refining, understanding and being able to use nature's principles of the natural body structure and composition (such as knowing the function of fascia for example). If a student tries to take that giant leap forward into the higher level, more sophisticated waza and randori areas that are designed to enhance and polish the fundamental principles and kihon (without already having the body understanding and development in place) then he will quite simply fail.
Martial arts kihon and kata are based in and are intended to be a way by which to learn, internalize and make intuitive all the patterns of stimulus/response to various combative conditions and situations that by their very structure are designed to push the present limits of the students' body and prepare them (that body) for the application of the ryu's principles. Ergo .... no practice, no improved shape, no understanding of how to use the body to apply the basic kihon or kata, much less actual waza, bunkai and randori.
Proper practice, good conditioning, internalized intuitive responses, learned thru' repeated practice enables the student to apply the correct movement/step/use of muscle and limbs at the correct moment in time and space and do it all on a subconscious/intuitive level .... in essence the mind controlling body without conscious thought. Until this point is reached in the students' development then all attempts to learn internal power is useless and without purpose since achieving this level of intuitive ability is, on its face, itself internal power of the highest sort.
"Internal power" is nothing more than a calm and focused mind, giving internalized and intuitive directions to a body that has been developed and can make the most efficient use possible of the mechanical design and advantages of being a bipedal/bilateral creature, alignment and posture, the natural elasticity of tissue, muscle, ligament, tendon and fascia, stretch and contraction reflexes and muscular strength to most correctly apply the principles of the martial art form to the opponent at the absolute correct moment of time and space in the most efficient manner possible.
Mind controls body with calm spirit; and at the highest levels of ability (achieved only after years and decades of steady training) all the potentials of the subconscious are brought into play and under control of the conscious mind. Not in a magical sense but instead in the sense of looking at the opponent with such a calm state of mind and confidence in your ability that the opponent changes his mind about attacking but if he does, everything you do is made to look ridiculously easy.
That's all it is folks and I'm really sorry to have to be the one to tell you that it only takes a few thousand repetitions if not 10's of thousands to get there.
So I guess I'll see you on the mat.
L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX