Understanding 'Ki' and it's development.
If the origins of nearly every traditional martial art in existence today were explored, one would find that the theories and principles of 'ki' training are in existence in the original teachings. Many martial artist today who are studying these arts do not understand exactly what 'ki' power really is. Although some people like to market 'ki' as some mystical power that only they possess, 'ki' is no secret. The word itself translates to "energy, life- force, spirit, and/or breath." Everyone has 'ki': If you didn't, you'd be dead!
It is beneficial in seeking a definition to explain 'ki', that we understand that there is only one Chinese ideogram used to write the word 'ki'; and further to understand that this particular ideogram is only descriptive of this force, and is not used to define or write any other idea or word. Also, we must research the occurrence of this ideogram in conjunction with others, and then explore the definitions of the words made with these conjunctions. Some examples are... (in Korean)
ki-gae (spirit, high-mindedness, moral courage, pride, self-respect)
As one can see, many of the uses of the word 'ki' are within the explanation of the defining of a frame of mind, or an attitude, or the appearance of one's body or expression during an emotional "high." Additionally, although not well represented by the definitions listed above, 'ki' is used in words defining "air" or some attribute, state, form, usage, or other regard thereof. Also, there is an, as yet, scientifically undefined energy within the body which travels through pathways known as "meridians." There are fourteen meridians in the body and each meridian consists of many sensitive points called hyul in Korean or acupoint in English. It is on these points that an acupuncturist (Chim Sool Sah) inserts his needles or an acupressurist (Ji Ahp Sah) presses with his fingers.
The stimulation created by the insertion of needles or the pressing on certain points, either releases built-up 'ki', or opens the pathway for 'ki' to again flow properly. Certain numerous, physical symptoms can be observed on the body when there is either an obstruction, or a build-up of 'ki' at some point on a particular meridian. An example would be the formation of moles at specific locations adjacent to a meridian. Yet another would be a particular toenail becoming thick, hard, and discolored. There may not be an explanation for this according to Western medicine, but Eastern medicine can not only explain it using 'ki' theories, but through acupuncture or acupressure, they can cure it.
The practice of acupuncture and acupressure has been around for at least three thousand years. Nothing lasts that long without having some sort of measurable effect. It has been scientifically proven that there is a greater concentration of nerve endings at each point on the body where the Chinese originally defined the acupoints - at least in comparison to the surrounding areas. It can be reasoned that stimulation of these nerves causes the reactions within the body, that treatments in either form produce - but nobody knows for sure. The one thing we do know for sure is that the human body is tremendously resilient and able to take care of, and repair itself, if it is kept healthy and strong. 'Ki' training, in addition to diet, is the best way to maintain the condition of homeostasis required for the body to function at it's peak.
In laymans terms, 'ki' is the combination of such things as, the proper frame of mind (attitude or concentration), adrenalin and endorphins (produced through emotional/mental stimulation), oxygen (allowing the body to function closer to homeostasis), knowledge (of body mechanics), and the "undefined" energy within the body. Hopefully, it is becoming clearer that 'ki' is not one definable thing or idea, but rather, 'ki' is created or exists as a combination of many factors, both internal and external. Hapkido, by definition seeks to create harmony, or the coordination of each of the factors listed above, among others, to make the practitioner a dynamic source of energy and control.
To define exactly what "ki" is would take pages of explanation... Simply put, every object, living or otherwise, has "ki." 'Ki' is the energy inside every atom of everything around you. You can expel from, and accept 'ki' into your body. This is the "energy" form of 'ki'. The physical form inside our bodies is adrenaline. So, in actuality, there are many forms of 'ki' which we need to practice to utilize. That within the atoms of our body is our "life force," without it, we would die. Adrenaline, is our super hormone - at our "fingertips" whenever we need it. You will learn techniques through your training in Hapkido to allow you to summon the several types of 'ki' on command.
The level of 'ki' energy within your body relates directly to your breathing and how much oxygen you take in and absorb. Nearly every body function, from muscle contraction, to the ability to focus or concentrate, can be enhanced by an increase in the blood oxygen levels. Additionally, toxins which are produced as a part of the normal functions and processes of the body, are more rapidly expelled. A research group in Chicago found that there are enough toxins brought into and produced by our lungs, in one hour to (if concentrated) kill over 60 people. Obviously it is easy to see that proper breathing techniques are vital to a healthy, prolonged existence.
Most martial artists have heard the word "ki-hap" (Korean) or "ki-ai" (Japanese) used to define the yells that are so common in any fighting art. Unfortunately, however, the definition "to yell" is a poor one. More accurately, the word "ki-hap" or "ki-ai" defines the harmony which is created during the yell, between the energies of the mind and body. Were you to try, you would find it quite difficult to focus your mind on anything other than the technique you are performing in association with the "ki-hap." This is good! It means that your whole 'being' is sub-consciously coordinating all of the activities and thoughts necessary to generate a maximum amount of power with that technique.
In the old days before many of the martial arts became sports and recreational activities, most serious martial artists underwent 'ki' training in addition to the physical practice of the art. Hapkido, as was stated earlier, by it's name and definition, involves a good deal of training in the development of this "internal energy." Hapkido simply would not be the same art, minus the 'ki' training and the power, both mental and physical, along with the health benefits it (ki training) promotes.
Kuk Sool Master In-Joo Suh said, "Everyone has a maximum power potential, exceeding their normal ability. By developing their 'ki' energy, they can bring out their maximum power whenever needed. 'Ki' training is the way to develop that power."
'Ki' isn't just something you build-up, like a weight lifter does muscles. The level of 'ki' related energy is different for men and women, and varies at different times of the day. For instance, daily times for 'ki' "highs and lows," are opposite for men and women and closely follow the oriental concept of um and yang. According to many experts, a man's 'ki' energy is high in early in the morning and in the evening (sun-up & sun-down), and at it's lowest during the afternoon and during the middle of the night. Women's 'ki' energy is low early in the morning and in the evening, but high in the afternoon, and during the middle of the night. Therefore, martial arts training will be respectively more beneficial to men and women during their high points of the day, or during the time when their level of 'ki' energy is highest. For both sexes, physical strength and stamina are best when 'ki' levels are at their maximum. This is not to say, however, that martial arts training during other times of the day will not be greatly beneficial to the practitioner, just that there is an optimum time for training.
Meditation is a daily must! Since 'ki' travels more freely when both the mind and body are relaxed, daily meditating becomes very important to your training. Your mind will not relax until your body is physically relaxed and vise versa. Quiet, calm breathing helps the body to relax. Anytime you are engaged in the activity of concentrating on your breathing, you are meditating! This period of meditation allows the body to perform many of the same functions and processes which occur during sleep, therefore creating more "rest" time for the body.
Daily abdominal breathing (dahn-juhn-ho-heup-bup) is also a must. Hapkido training consists of twelve basic techniques of abdominal breathing or "dahn-juhn" breathing. Four standing, four sitting, and four from a prone position. Typically, these techniques are practiced before and after a class. However, many of the masters will train in dahn-juhn breathing for 1-2 hours at sunrise and then again at sunset. Remember though, when meditating or practicing dahn-juhn breathing out-of-doors, that the techniques should always be practiced with the sun to your back.