Thursday, July 25, 2013


Come to think of it, last week’s Ki story, though a powerful personal experience, isn’t the most dramatic demonstration of internal power that I’ve ever witnessed.

I think it was Ripley’s Believe it or Not or some similar show on AXN.. An old man with a wispy fu man chu was introduced to the audience as a martial arts master from one of the temples in Korea’s mountains... I can’t quite remember if the venerable master’s martial path of choice was Hapkido, Hwa Rangdo or Taekwondo.. but if you’d chain my hands and put a gun to my head to my head and ask me to bet on one of the three, I’d have to go with Hapkido, since it shares the same root with Aikido...

Anyway, this master looked more like a chef than a fighter, for instead of bricks to break and slaps of ice to smash, the man was standing behind a table which had a metal pot of some sort with some kind of a rather ominous looking heater under it. The host announced that the container the master was peering into right now contained a molten metal of some sort and both the container and the long handled spoon that the master was holding were made of special reinforced materials that could withstand the intense heat that had turned cold metal to boiling liquid.

The old master then took his knob-headed spoon, stirred the liquid furnace with it and then, just to prove his point, dipped a regular spoon into the magma and saw it literally wilt, wither and melt in the heat. And then, as jaws dropped, gasps escaped and involuntary screams jumped out of shocked mouths, the Korean master took a spoonful and poured that liquid death into his mouth.

With far greater ease than lava burning furrows through the earth, that burning brook would have burnt holes through a normal man’s insides. But the great grand master just nonchalantly swirled the liquid in his mouth, as if trying out a new brand of mouthwash and then spat out two marble sized metallic spheres onto the table. I can’t seem to remember what the table was made of but I do remember one of the spheres melting a neat hole through the table and bouncing on the floor below.

I wish I remembered the specifics which would have added credibility to this fantastic little fairy tale, but as much as I can remember, this is what I saw on the telly nearly a decade ago and was impressed enough to have remembered it all through all these years, and I’m pretty sure my mind isn’t playing tricks.

Then, on a cold winter evening in Beijing, I walked into a bright red theatre and saw magic unfold. Bald headed super humans smashed iron bars on their heads, and balanced their bodies on two fingered handstands. But the icing on the cake was this finale in which these Shaolin monks balanced their bodies on the sharp point of a spear while others lay down on a row of sabers so sharp that when a melon was dropped on one, it sliced straight through the fruit.

This mystical power that lets a man rinse his mouth with molten metal and withstand an assault by iron bars or edged weapons is known in martial arts circles as the steel jacket or iron shirt.

Steel jacket training is advanced qigong. (Incidentally, qigong is a form of standing or sitting yoga that travelled to China from India through a Buddhist monk named Damo)

It is a rather advanced form of mind boy and breath training that both heals as well as strengthens the body. Practitioners believe, and demonstrate, that steel jacket training creates this layer of energy underneath the skin that insulates the body from any kind of blow or assault. If you go to Youtube, you’ll find lots of videos of qigong masters being clubbed by baseball bats and these guys just stand there and smile while thick wooden clubs get smashed to smithereens on their strong as steel bodies.

A Discovery channel documentary featuring the Shaolin Temple in Henan, China showed these steel jacket masters chopping rocks with their hands and attacks with meat cleavers failing to penetrate the skin. The abilities of these qigong masters defy science, and yet science must admit that even though it can’t explain this phenomenon, it exists.

The reason why I shared these astounding facts with you is because I intend to meet my old Aikido teacher and ask him to reveal the secrets of ki. It is this cosmic force that Japanese call ki, the Chinese qi and in India we know it as prana, that is the source of these miraculous feats.

In most martial arts, the discovery ki or qi is an incidental process – something one encounters almost by chance during the course of one’s practice. But there was one man, Sensei Koichi Tohei, Morihei Ueshiba’s dearest and highest ranking student who founded the Ki Society, an institution dedicated to the study and pursuit of ki.

Sensei Tohei (January 20, 1920 – 19 may 2011) and his students trained to unify the body and the mind and routinely demonstrated the power of ki through the unbendable arm and other such demonstrations.

Next week, in the concluding part of this three part series, hopefully, with a little help from Sensei Sethi, we will embark on a journey, seeking the ki within and seek answers to that most important question of all – why bother with ki? Will it make my life any better?

Until then, keep the faith…


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