itsuo tsuda philosophe du ki

At the philosopher of Ki #1

This coverage was published in the journal ‘Question de’ in 1975. Claudine Brelet (anthropologist, international expert and a woman of French letters) who wrote this press coverage and did the interview and was one of the first students of Itsuo Tsuda.

First part

At the fringes of Bois de Vincennes, in the rear of a garden in the suburbs of Paris, there is a particular itsuo tsudadojo. Dojo, meaning, a place for practicing the Art of breathing and martial arts. It is not a gym. It rather is a sacred place where ‘space-time’ is different from that of a profane place.
We salute when we enter to sanctify ourselves and when we leave to desacralize.

The dojo of the association Katsugen Kai has Itsuo Tsuda as Master, ‘Master’ who, for starters, refuses the title he was given: « They even blamed me”, he adds, “I’m not wearing the kimono in our dojo. But it is much better when I wear, for example, jeans. If I put on a kimono, to respect the tradition, I would have to send it each time to Tokyo to get it cleaned in the manner required! »

Everything in his attitude, invites us to reflect. Would he be a true Master, this stubbornly modest man, who can conceal behind his kind-natured humor a knowledge of which the scale constantly surprises? If he refuses to be called ‘master’, if he refuses the kind of theater we often encounter in other dojos, we can already be certain of one thing: he is not a businessman in Orientalism as currently being in vogue.

Itsuo Tsuda was born in 1914 in Korea. « At the time under Japanese regime”, he says. And he adds: « At the age of sixteen, I rebelled against the will of my father: I refused to be the heir to his fortune, I refused my birthright. I left my family and I began to wander in search of freedom of thought. Then finally, one day, I reconciled with my father. In 1934, I came to France and in 1940, I completed my studies at the University of Paris, sinology with Marcel Granet and ethnology-sociology with Marcel Mauss. I had to leave Paris because of the war, but the experiences and teaching of these two great scientists have been very rewarding for me… maybe even in a decisive way. » It is perhaps because of them that I could have tried to express and spread in understandable terms and concepts to Westeners, and especially to the French, what is ki and the philosophy of the non-doing. »

Back in Japan, Itsuo Tsuda works as an ethnologist. He is interested in cultural aspects of the old traditions of his country: « In 1950, I began to study seriously the recitation of Noh with master Hosoda, Seitai with master Noguchi and aikido with master Ueshiba. Noh, Seitai, aikido and ki are based not only in Japanese traditional arts, but also in all aspects of traditional life in Japan. »

-What’s that, ki?

-”The most difficult to comprehend in the Japanese language! The word ki belongs to the domain of feeling and not to that of knowledge. The feeling is a primary experience, prior to any mental effort. No explanation can adequately be conveyed to someone who does not share the same experience. This word ‘ki’ is constantly used in the Japanese language, for example: ‘Ki ga Chiisai’ means literally: ‘His ki is small’, we should translate this as: ‘He is too much troubled for nothing’. Or, conversely, ‘Ki ga Okii’, ‘His ki is great’, should be translated as: ‘He does not worry over small issues.’ Solo, isolated, the term ki is almost untranslatable. Here’s a final example: ‘Ki-mochi no mondai’ can be translated as: ‘It is conditioned by the state of ki’, or in other words: ‘It is not the object and tangible results that counts but the gesture… the ki’. This phrase Kimochi has become almost synonymous to gift and when we give a present, one says: ‘This is my Kimochi’, meaning: ‘The object I offer is modest, but please see it as a token of my deepest appreciation.’ Thus we verge on the area of the psychometrics!”

– Why to teach an approach of ki by means of a school of respiration?

– “The Judeo-Christian background which still lives in the West of the twentieth century, makes things very different from what it can be in other cultures, other ways of seeing life. That is why here in the West ki is very difficult to explain because it does not fit within the categorized systems. Everywhere else, as soon as one notice something, one accepts very naturally. It exists, that’s all.

Occidentals are fond of discussion, they are strongly cerebral. But discussions make us drunk with words and prevent us from seeing what is happening right under our noses. So to translate the word ki by ‘breath’ could be very accurate… on condition this to be understood as in ancient Platonic Greeks two thousand years ago, the word pneuma, for example. However, in modern French, we can reflect on the fact that the word ‘souffle‘ (breath) has two meanings: the physical ‘inspiration’ (breathing in) and the creative ‘inspiration’ (inspiration).

In the Far East, Chuang Tzu, the Chinese philosopher of the fifth century BC, was one of the first to have talked about this notion of breath. Also, we must not forget that Buddhism was initially a breathing technique. Here in the West according to some, ki should be translated by magnetism and for others it is nerve impulses, for again others it is vibration, or wave, or electromagnetism.

I think the only one who has really found what ki is… is Groddeck. He is the one who found the European word closest to the concept of ki: the very title of his book, ‘the Book of the it’, is quite explicit.”

« The Ki, if you want, is Vitality. That is, what drives man to accomplish something. A way to explain human that is very different from the physic-chemical image that the West has since Newton and Lavoisier. Cartesianism which is in France the basis of everything (science, morality, politics, administration… everything!), this Cartesianism is a philosophy of knowledge according to which every problem is developed in a homogeneous, immobile space. When dealing with the issue, human being, we therefore define it on the basis of this space: it is divided into two, the mental and the physical. Each one is, on its turn, divided as many times one likes. The philosophy of ki is in this sense entirely different, because the human being is considered as a whole: it is both mental and physical, both thought and action, both individual and environment.”

– What does one exactly practice in Katsugen Kai dojo?

– “We learn the rudiments, if I may say so, of the coordination of ki by what is called ‘regenerating movement’. Then this allows possibly to move on to the stage of learning martial arts for those who want it. We learn aikido. We also listen to recitations of Noh.”

“Aikido is part of my research on ki. Ai -ki -do literally means ‘the way of coordinating Ki’. Saying that aikido is a martial art of love may surprise many Westerners. For its founder, Master Ueshiba with whom I worked, aikido is not a sport or a fighting technique. It is a doctrine of non-resistance, a principle of fusion… This principle of fusion is what ki is. Ueshiba often said: « Ki is the great king of forces. » The strength of Master Ueshiba was not a force, but the ki, this exceptional power that emerges unconsciously, for example, in case of danger. And this power is virtually in all individuals… On this principle of fusion of ki is based the school of respiration of Katsugen Kai.

In Noh theater, there is not the word ki. But when you know what it is, it is obvious: the Noh theater is striking by intuition through intuition. In Katsugen-Kai, our dojo, I recite once a week for a few minutes, a small passage of Noh. My audience, of course, is French. After reciting one evening a passage from the play Uneme, a young woman asked me if this passage wasn’t about a suicide. « That’s right, » I answered her. A suicide by jumping into a pond of the courtesan Uneme, had been contemplating her brother-in-law to commit suicide by poison. How? … Perhaps because the visualization was transmitted directly. This young woman does not speak any Japanese at all.”