Ki and Me (And You!)
Ki is Japanese for our life force or energy; you’ve probably heard it referred to as Ch’i, which is the Chinese translation. The concept of Ki is a very important element in American Jiu Jitsu, but I’ve already written a post detailing the best fight scene you’ll ever read on a blog so I won’t get into those details now. Ki is with us always, outside of the dojo or yoga class.
There are days when I can just feel that my ki is strong. I actually say it out loud when I’m getting my coffee at work, “Mmmm, my ki is STRONG today!” When my ki is strong you cannot stop me. And it’s not just because my weight is centered, the energy of the entire Earth is flowing up through my legs into my core, or because I now control the flow and momentum of everything I touch and everything that touches me. It has nothing to do with the fact that you would be like a grape on the railroad tracks of my energy, waiting to be flattened. When my ki is strong, it is not possible to stop me because you are the Bello Train’s Conductor. You don’t actually want to stop me anymore than I want to be stopped. Your wish is to galvanize me further, because I will make you laugh, cheer you up, dish out truth to you in private or egg you on to greater or goofier public glories; whatever your heart or crotch desires (the last bit is dependent upon who you are). When my ki is flowing I am the life of the party or the friend on the couch. I’ll go on a run with you, spar with you, play drums or video games with you or watch ridiculous movies with you. I’ll give you advice for your problems or drink them away with you, whichever you prefer. On a whim I’ll whip out the Inflatable Man dance move in a bar and blow your mind, and I’ll do it confidently.
Life is better when my energy is flowing unmolested, and for once I’ll let that word slide without resurrecting it as a punchline. I walk straighter, taller and make eye contact. I descend stairs two at a time, or sometimes with my eyes closed just to see if I can. I have never fallen. In the office, I work faster and produce better results. When I play video games, I achieve new high scores or finally trounce that last untouchable boss. I feel beats on the drums faster, like they’re part of me. If it’s a jiu jitsu night, the results are insane. Concepts are clear and transitions make sense. Sure I’ll mess up, but I’ll keep moving forward afterwards without pausing to lament about my mistake. In social settings, my jokes are funnier, cleaner and tie punchlines together neatly. I am eager to shake hands with new people. If I’m in the car and I hit traffic, I use the time productively to organize my thoughts or make that phone call that I’ve been putting off. Don’t worry, I’m an excellent driver when my ki is up. In these instances I am all things I aspire to be. Sanguine, open minded, energetic and receptive.
But it’s not like that every day. When the energy is flowin’ low, I’m just a shell of the Bello I could be. You could hit me with a daisy to knock me to the ground, but you wouldn’t even have to because I’d trip over myself first when I saw you coming. I don’t know what to say when I talk, and you want me to stop talking. You are no longer the Bello Train’s Conductor because I am no longer a trainload of positive energy, and it’s like we’re both sad about it. To get my energy going again, I’ll do all manner of things that make it worse. At a party I’ll get skipped in line for beer pong, eventually play, lose, and probably knock the table over by accident on my way out. In private I will drink if only to fill the time, just because I’m bored. Hang out sessions will be reduced to staring at a screen for the duration of the night with little to no productive conversation.
I can’t write because I forget all my shiny vocab words, and more importantly because I’m not inspired or even interested. When my ki is a pathetic dribble (think of the Cupid water fountain statue in The Money Pit) my shoulders are slumped, my head is down and I forget how I’m supposed to swing my arms when I walk. Instead of stairs I take the elevator. A day in the office gets chopped into several hours-long sessions of getting lost on the internet. I grind through levels in video games like a zombie, making small increments of progress. An attempt at playing the drums lasts only a few minutes before I quit, because it sounds like someone dropping an armload of pots and pans down a spiral staircase. I cannot find the beat. In jiu jitsu I’m like a block of wood, which is exactly the opposite of what our style strives for. New techniques don’t sink in and old techniques are botched. One error is all it takes for the mental house of cards to crumble and for me to dwell on it for the rest of the night. And God help me when I drive. It’s almost a guarantee that I’ll be late, because for some reason this will be the time that I’ll try that new shortcut I’ve been thinking about and the road will be under construction. My jokes become so bad that you just feel bad for me, and I don’t know how to smile for pictures. A night at a bar becomes a game of killing time with shots of Beam. I become a shadow, an outline.
But I am not a victim of my ki flow because it is MINE. It comes from me and I am it’s conduit. On good days, the ki moves through me like a river flowing over a mountain, Mount Bello if you will. I don’t control it yet, but I can feel it. Every day I come closer to fully harnessing it, even the bad ki days. It could take a lifetime, but that’s ok because I have one of those. Mastering my energy will facilitate the understanding of every other skill I have now or will ever learn.
I’ve only just scratched the surface. It’s hard to explain what it feels like if you’ve never thrown another person with an irimi, (and I imagine that’s a very small percentage of you) but that’s when I can feel it the most. If you don’t study martial arts, think of the feeling you get when you hit a three point swish in basketball and you knew the second it left your hands that it was going in. You could feel it. When you slam a solo on an instrument or really, anytime you perform exceptionally at any activity you enjoy (I say the more physical the activity the better, but that’s just my own experience). That feeling that you feel is ki, and it didn’t come from the basketball, your sweet new drum set, your sneakers or your irimi. Those things are just keys which helped to unlock your…ki. The feeling itself came from you, and if you figure it out, you can feel that way all the time. I think that’s worth some thought…so with that in mind, KI UP and prepare to blow the hinges off this weekend, AND YOUR LIFE.
*Author’s Note: My ki is through the roof right now.