Most Aikido students today still begin their classes by performing exercises that combine body movements, word pronunciation, breathing combined with visualization, similar to those practiced by the founder of Aikido. These exercises are referred to in Japan as Chinkon Kishin No Ho (鎮魂帰神の方), i.e. “The Method for Calming the Soul and Returning to the Divine”. This definition will surprise many aikido students who probably had no idea of the purpose of these exercises. What are these exercises? Where do they come from? How come that they are still practiced today? What is their purpose?
by GÉRARD BLAIZE
The exercises of Chinkon Kishin No Ho and their origin
It is to a Buddhist Shinto monk, Kawatsura Bonji, who lived between 1862 and 1929, that we owe these exercises. He had actually re-established a system of study for the purification of the self (misogi) which existed in the Shinto of the pre-Nara era, a Shinto that had not yet been influenced by Buddhism and Confucianism. This system included a series of exercises with names that are not easy for a westerner: Furutama — Otakebi — Okorobi — Ikubi no ho — Amano Torifune.
This exercise was practiced in the seiza position. After reciting the Norito Sojo, one shakes one’s clenched hands up and down until the upper body itself is shaken, while pronouncing the name of Haraidono Okami (land of the deities of purification in Shinto mythology). It was claimed that after this exercise, it was possible to predict what was good or bad.
This is the same method used, for example, in Sumo (Japanese wrestling). The two practitioners face each other and each in turn raises one leg and then the other. This is to show we are aware of Tokotachi no Mikoto, who is standing between us and the divine. In Shinto mythology, this is the exercise that Amaterasu O Mikami performs when she welcomes Suzano no Mikoto.
This is the cry representing Tokotachi no Mikoto’s divine power. One shouts “I…É” to draw in all the evil souls followed by “É…I” to make the evil souls return to what they were originally.
Ikubi no ho
This is the breathing method that leads to a state of oneness with God.
After praying, one sprinkles oneself or enters the water and then performs this exercise.
Kawatsura Bonji believed that through this ascetic method one could achieve the unification between the almost innumerable souls residing in all the cells of the body and the Naoi, i.e. the supreme potential consciousness, which is the original consciousness and which directs these innumerable souls.
The founder of Aikido had practiced these exercises with Kawatsura Bonji and introduced them into Aikido. Michio Hikitsuchi sensei recalls for example that in 1953 Morihei Ueshiba sensei practiced these exercises of Omusubi (Ikubi no ho) – Otakebi – Okorobi.
But what about this practice today?
The current practice of Chinkon Kishin No Ho
In most dojos, if this method is even practiced, it usually stops at two exercises: Torifune and Furutama. However, as my teacher Michio Hikitsuchi sensei taught me and I continue to practice today, there are the different exercises described by Kawatsura Bonji, even if the way of practicing them has been modified. Furutama, for instance, is practiced standing and not kneeling, and it is interposed between the exercises of Torifune, of course without sprinkling water on oneself.
The practice of Chinkon Kishin No Ho begins with a “breathing” exercise performed with the hands. One visualises “air” entering the hands, alternately pointing them towards the earth or the sky; then one claps the hands four times, symbolising the four elements: sky, fire, water and earth; finally, one visualises different sounds (I-Ku-Mu-Su-Bi…) while breathing in and out. Hikitsuchi sensei beautifully described these visualisations: “When you breathe out using the I sound, look at how this breath flows through the universe; then breathe in with the Ku sound and look with your soul’s eyes at how this breath flows through your body.
This is followed by the Torifune and Furutama exercises. In Torifune, while pronouncing the sound of Ho while pushing the hands forward and the sound of EI while pulling them back, we visualise that we are “pushing” or “pulling” the Earth. In Furutama, the hands are joined at the height of the navel and shaken while pronouncing the names Amaterasu O Kami (the goddess of the sun), O Haraidono O Kami (the god of purification), and Ameno Minaka Nushi No O Kami (the god of the centre of the universe). The rhythmic pronunciation of these names of deities from Shinto mythology facilitates the exercise: it focuses the mind, helps concentrating between the two eyes and relaxes the body.
These two exercises are followed by Kiai: with the fingers crossed at the head level, the thumbs and index fingers directed towards the sky, by pushing the sound E…I one brings them very quickly back to the level of the abdomen.
This preparation is completed by a series of circular movements intended to direct throughout the body the energy accumulated in the abdomen and the chest.
The benefits of these exercises
The conclusion of this second part is already an answer to the question that one may ask about the purpose of such a practice, which is no longer of our time and which, in our eyes, stems too much from belief.
I agree with all of the above, but these exercises are available to us and it is enough to practice them correctly to discover their benefits, and more importantly their significance.
When you manage to commit yourself to the visualisation exercise involving the I-Ku-Mu-Su-Bi… sounds, your inner abdomen rapidly becomes warm. This heat sensation can even become like a burning feeling and spread to the chest. It’s almost worrying because you’re always anxious to understand what’s going on. Likewise, during Furutama, a warming sensation will be experienced in the forearms, arms and sometimes in the legs. Therefore, thanks to quite simple exercises, we can experience a good and renewable flow of something hot in our body. We can also better understand why in his videos the founder of aikido always raises his hand from the belly to the chest in a circular movement when explaining the exercise of I-Ku-Mu-Su-Bi. He is indicating the flow of this heat “mass” in the body when the exercise is working properly.
There is also another very interesting experiment involving Torifune and Furutama. In Torifune, if you succeed in correctly unifying the movements of your body with the Ei… Ho sounds, the sound of one’s own voice changes; it becomes deeper, lower, but at the same time softer. In that moment the speed of the body’s movement increases naturally, without leading to being out of breath.
In the practice of Furutama, our hands become able to move faster and faster, independently of our will and instead of hardening, our body tends to relax and facilitate the energy flow. Then it will become possible to apply the same kind of experience when executing a technique. These experiences also offer other insights that I leave to everyone to ponder. Ueshiba Sensei called one of his lectures “Aikido is the profound and mysterious working of Kototama”. Kototama (the Soul of Words) is the belief that words and sounds have a spirit and a power (Morihei Ueshiba, Takemusu Aiki, Cenacle editions, p.192). By experiencing at our level, in our own body, the effects of the vibrations of the words we pronounce during an exercise, will stimulate our curiosity and help us to become more open to O-sensei’s explanations about Kototama. It will consequently lead us to discover what Morihei Ueshiba’s Aikido really is, and at what level of awareness of the human being and of the universe it is situated.
About fifteen years ago [in 2006] in Japan, people who did not practice Aikido became interested in its founder and especially researched how this man had developed such abilities. One of the explanations they proposed was that Morihei Ueshiba sensei had found a physical balance through the techniques, a breathing balance through the Chinkon Kishin No Ho and a mind balance through his meeting with Deguchi Onisaburo: these three balances had allowed him to use the true Ki.
I don’t know what that actually means, but why don’t we in turn take advantage of Chinkon Kishin No Ho to try and discover this balanced breathing? As for balancing the mind, to each his own…
Gérard Blaize – Quick Bio
7th Dan Aikikai of Tokyo
5th Dan Masakatsu Bo-Jutsu, awarded by HIKITSUCHI Michio Sensei (Bo of the founder of Aikido)
7th Dan Jodo (Shindo Muso-ryu)
Gérard Blaize lived in Japan for five and a half years. In Aikido, he is a student of Hikitsuchi Michio Sensei, the only teacher to have directly received the rank of 10th Dan from Kaiso Ueshiba Morihei.
He is the author of the books “Recherche du geste vrai” (SEDIREP), and “Des paroles et des écrits du fondateur de l’Aïkido à la pratique”.
He was the first non-Japanese to receive the rank of 7th Dan from the Aikikai of Tokyo.
Gérard Blaize teaches in Paris.
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All rights reserved. Any reproduction not expressly authorised is strictly prohibited
We wish to thank Gérard Blaize for authorising this English translation of his article.
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Gérard Blaize, the first non-Japanese Aikido expert to receive the rank of 7th dan Aikikai, spent five and a half years in Japan where he studied Aikido at the Hombu Dōjō in Tōkyō following mainly Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Seigo Yamaguchi.
In 1975, he met Michio Hikitsuchi, one of the most respected personal students of the founder of Aikido Morihei Ueshiba, and followed his sole guidance until his teacher’s death in 2004.
Hikitsuchi Sensei was a Shinto priest as well as high ranked martial artist. In 1957, Hikitsuchi Sensei received from O Sensei the Masakatsu Bo Jutsu diploma in form of a scroll, as a teaching license in the training with the Aikido long stick. Furthermore, in 1969 he was personally awarded the 10th Dan rank by O-sensei.
Gérard Blaize has inherited and is still carrying the legacy of Hikitsuchi’s holistic Aikido to this day.