Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Okinawan Kiko

Okinawan Kiko
According to legend, the theory behind the Kiko exercises taught in Okinawa traces back to around 520 AD. At this time the Buddhist monk Daruma (aka Bhodidharma - webmaster) traveled to the Shorin Ji temple in China. On arriving, he discovered that the monks at this temple were weak and unhealthy. Daruma taught the monks a set of exercises to develop their ki in order to restore their strength and health. Since the monks at the Shorin Ji temple could not own weapons they began to practice unarmed martial arts for self defense. It did not take the monks long to discover that the exercises Daruma had taught produced tremendous internal power for the martial arts. Daruma's method of Kiko, recorded in two books called Ekkin Kyo and Senzui Kyo, eventually reached Okinawa and merged with the Okinawan fighting arts.
Today most Okinawan masters still regard Daruma's teachings as the "most fundamental precepts of Karatedo."

The Okinawans base their Kiko, tuite and vital point striking on meridian theory. Meridian theory states that the body takes in energy, primarily through breathing, and circulates it through well defined pathways called meridians. A person will have excellent health and strength when ki is smoothly circulating through the meridians. Kiko exercises are methods by which a person can build up and circulate his own ki.

The first stage of Kiko in Okinawan Karate consists of building up energy in the tanden. The tanden is a point a couple of inches below the naval that stores the vital energy of the body. Acupuncturist call this point Kikai, which means sea of ki, because of this. These exercises consist primarily of specialized forms of abdominal breathing. After students build sufficient amounts of ki in their tanden, they learn how to circulate this energy through their two primary meridians. First the student will raise the energy up the meridian called the Governor Vessel. This meridian, called Tokumyaku-kei in Japanese, controls the positive (yo or yang) energy in the body. The Governor Vessel controls the 6 positive meridians of the body. These 6 meridians are the Large Intestine, Stomach, Small Intestine, Bladder, Triple Warmer and Gall Bladder. The Okinawans believe that when the ki rises through the Governor Vessel during Kiko exercises the positive meridians and their corresponding organs benefit. Once the ki completes its path through this meridian and reaches Governor 26 (Jinchu) the student must guide the ki down the Conception Vessel (ninmyaku-kei). In order to connect the Governor and Conception Vessels the students must touch their tongues to their pallets. The Conception Vessel, called Ninmyaku-kei in Japanese, controls the 6 negative (in or yin) meridians in the body. The 6 negative meridians are the Lung, the Spleen, the Heart, the Kidney, the Pericardium and the Liver. The Okinawans believe that once the ki has been lead through the Conception Vessel the 6 negative meridians and their corresponding organs benefit. Once the ki fills the entire

Conception Vessel it joins the Governor Vessel in a continuous cycle. At this point the student has completed the Small Cycle of the Sky or the Shoshyuten. At this point the student begins to use Mnun breathing. Mnun breathing is a type of abdominal breathing. It involves retaining the breath while performing special muscular "locks." This type of Kiko increases the circulation of blood and ki to the internal organs. Mnun breathing also flushes out accumulated toxins, improving the condition of the internal organs. Last, Mnun breathing improves the flexibility of the internal organs and their protective facial coverings.

Once a student has become proficient at Mnun breathing he will begin the Large Cycle of the Sky training. In the Large Cycle of the Sky or Daishyuten training the student learns how to circulate the ki through the entire body. During Daishyuten training the students charge specific vital points with their ki. Charging specific vital points with ki is like a form of self acupuncture. Large Cycle training is performed by meditating in a Karate stance for several minutes at a time. This type of training also increases tendon strength. This type of strength is very different from normal muscular strength. Karate masters maintain tendon power to a very old age.

During Large Cycle meditation the student practices merging his ki with the Earth. The Okinawans call this rooting. When a student has mastered basic Large Cycle training he will test his ability at rooting. He does this by having a partner strongly push him at both slow and fast speeds.

When a student can take both slow and fast pushes at full power he has developed a strong base for his defensive and offensive techniques. Rooting is not a matter of muscular development. Rooting relies on the ability to lead the ki to the soles of the feet and into the ground. It also relies on the ability to unite the entire body into a whole through ki exercises. After creating a solid root, the students practice connecting the ki in their lower body with their upper body. A student may test his ability at this by having a partner attempt to bend his outstretched arm. Another way to test this is to have a partner try to push the student back by strongly pressing on a student's arm. Often the martial arts community holds these two test up as being a very high level of ki development. In reality these two test only represent beginning exercises.

When a student develops a strong level of ki throughout his whole body he tests it through the exercises mentioned above. When he is good at these tests he begins practicing "energy transmission exercises." Energy transmission exercises do not involve projecting your ki beyond your body to affect your attacker without touching him. What an "energy transmission exercise" does is train the ability to lead the ki to the striking limb. This greatly increases the power of a blow. The one inch punch (sun zuki ) exercise mentioned above is one example of this type of training. The Okinawans call the type of power created by these types of exercises "bu no chikara." When a student's internal power is at a high level his instructor knows the student has a good level in Large Cycle training. The instructor may introduce Daruma undo training after Large Cycle training is complete. The Daruma undo exercise stimulates each of the 14 major meridians in turn. The practitioner uses a small bundle of thin rattan sticks to tap the entire length of each meridian. This exercise expands on the Large Cycle training. It increases the amount of ki flowing through each meridian. It also helps to unite the entire body into a whole using the meridian system. After tapping the meridians with the rattan sticks, the student traces each of the meridians with his hands. This is a type of acupressure massage to ensure that the ki flows smoothly through each meridian. The Daruma undo has many beneficial effects. The vibrations relax bodily tensions and stimulate blood circulation. These vibrations also shake out accumulated toxins. The Daruma undo strengthens the muscle meridians and skin. It also strengthens the blood, organs and bones. With daily practice, the entire body becomes robust and sturdy. Once again this training is to be a soft type of training not requiring physical strength or endurance. At 70 year old Yuchoku Higa uses the Daruma undo every morning, at midday and in the evening. Mr. Higa even at his advanced age is still able to take blows on any part of his body. He attributes this ability to his Kiko training.

The training we have outlined above is only beginning training in Okinawan Kiko. This basic training called ekkin kiko is the "tendon changing energy exercises" used in Okinawa. The more advanced exercises used in Okinawa, called senzui kiko, are the "bone marrow cleansing energy exercises." This advanced training strengthens the bones and creates more red blood cells. It also balances the endocrine system and energizes the cerebrospinal system. When mastered, the ekkin kiko and the senzui kiko give the practitioner tremendous internal power. The practitioner also experiences excellent health and abundant energy. These exercises play a large role in the amazing longevity of Okinawan Karate masters. Many Okinawan Karate masters have continued to teach their art well into their 90s. As you can see Kiko training is an invaluable asset to students of Okinawan martial arts.

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