To present Aïkido as we practice it, we have chosen this article, from « Bushido » magazine (3rd trimester 1984). For other articles on the subject it is here
The word Kokyu may be translated into English by respiration, since Ko is equivalent to breathing out, and Kyu to breathing in. It’s the union of these two phenomena which engenders respiration. But for Tsuda Sensei, the word Kokyu extends far beyond the biological, or gymnastic, conception of respiration.
He often said that, through respiration, « Aïkido is an art of becoming children again… without being childish » How can you understand this statement from a technical point of view? It’s simple. When someone stronger than yourself seizes you from behind so that you cannot sit down, what should you do? Throw the person forward so that you’re free to sit down ? As he is heavier than you are, you cannot do that. What then? Tsuda Sensei answers :
« become a child. « I see a wonderful shell lying on the beach and I bend forward to pick it up. I forget about whoever is still holding me tight from behind. The ki flows out from myself towards the shell, whereas before, it was blocked at the thought of the opponent who is holding me so strongly. The opponent becomes light and tumbles over my shoulders… »
The idea of throwing someone forward induces resistance. A child’s movement is filled with the joy of picking up the shell, and that’s what makes me forget the presence of the opponent.
Forgettin your opponent, but remaining aware that he is there, isn’t an easy thing to do. The more you trie to forget him, the more you thinks about him. It’s the joy felt in the flow of ki that allows you to forget everything…
The practise of Aïkido implies adopting the principle of non-resistance, in the sense that we neither push nor pull the opponent. We avoid acting in a way that provokes an antagonistic force. This practice also implies the principle of the non-opponent, because as soon as we think of an adversory, our ki is absorbed by him, our respiration/attention is blocked. To avoid being absorbed by the adversory, we must have a certain depth of respiration (Kokyu).
Master Ueshiba often said :
Aïkido is of uniting and becoming separate again (musunde hanatsu) .».
I have found this alternance between union and separation in the act of inhaling and exhaling.
In Aïkido, action in initiated with the defender’s inhalation (I use the word defender for the time being, though there are no such terms as defender or attacker). As I inhale, I raise my hand, and the attacker immediately follows my movement, raising his own hand. There is a synchronization of the intake of breath of both partners, at the same time as a coordination of movements. This reciprocal interaction is, I believe, one of the distinctive features of Aïkido. One doesn’t find it in Judo or in Kendo, where each person breathes independently from the other and watches for an opportunity to attack the other.
At first, this interaction isn’t at all obvious. You simply perform a certain number of movements you are learning. But after a time, I realized that exists a co-ordination of movements in Aïkido. That is to say, if I raise my bokken, the attacker raises his at the same moment. In Kendo, one doesn’t have to keep to this conventional form of training. If one person raises the shinai, the other may counter with a horizontal swipe at the abdomen.
Why do both partners make identical or symetrical movements in Aïkido? After all, you can’t really ask your opponent : « would you be so kind as to raise your hand at the same time as I raise mine, please? » For such a thing to be possible, there must be a compelling force which makes the partner act as you wishe. I have found this force in the intake of breath, prior even to the action itself. Once the fusion has taken place and the act is in progress, breathing out follows naturally, which allows the flow of ki. Then one sees the projections and the rest as a visible form of the technique.
Respiration is, in my experience, the very foundation of Aïkido.