Tomoya Nakamura in aikido gear close up

Japan has recently experienced a “yukata boom,” where one can often see couples wearing yukata at events such as summer fireworks shows. Yukata is a traditional form of clothing in Japan. Also, near the Tokyo (Kojimachi) Campus of GLOBIS University, one also has many opportunities to see people wearing kimonos, due to the proximity of the tea room of the Tokyo Omotesenke. So, then, when you think of young people dressed in kimonos and yukata, what kind of images come to mind?

The Sense of physical intuition in Japan

Recently, yukata have become fashionable, with brilliant print designs and more accessories and goods. However, I get the sense that something is out of place. If you observe closely, you can see that the way people physically stand while wearing yukata is not as beautiful as it could be.

People’s lifestyles have changed greatly since the days when Japanese wore kimonos and yukata. Now, most daily customs–clothing, diet, and living quarters–have become quite Westernized. With these changes, Japanese people’s own physical intuition—their sensory perception of bodily feelings–has begun to fade away.

Professor Takashi Saito of Meiji University, in his book “Taking Back Physical Intuition—the Revival of Koshi and Hara Culture” (original title “Shintai Kankaku wo Torimodosu—Koshi and Hara Bunka no Sairai”) published by NHK books, writes the following (translated by GLOBIS):

(Note: Koshi and hara are two Japanese terms roughly translating as the areas around the lower back and stomach, respectively. In addition, these words carry significant physical, spiritual, and, therefore, cultural meaning. Koshi and hara act as the physical and spiritual foundation for the body and mind, the platform on which the upper body rests upon. Finally, when Prof. Saito writes the hara character, he uses the“ground” and “body”radicals to emphasize the meaning that “one’s body is firmly rooted to the ground.”)

“Recently, the weakening sense of one’s existence has become a frequent problem. In order to feel that one truly exists here and now, the assistance of physical intuition, not just the psychological aspect, is necessary. In present-day Japan, how many people can say that their koshi is truly supporting their body on its axis?”

“If the traditional sense of Japanese ‘physical culture’ could be put into just one phrase, I would call it ‘Koshi -Hara culture.’ If you talk with people in their 80s and 90s, you will hear many phrases using ’koshi’ or ‘hara.’”

“‘Fix your koshi (Sit tight and settle down)’ and ‘Decide with your hara(gut)’ are basic vocabulary. I once heard a man in his 90s say, ‘In the past, those who were given responsibilities were the ones who had hara (guts) that were prepared (meaning one who is prepared for anything).’ These phrases using koshi and hara include a spiritual aspect, but, fundamentally, they are rooted in fact that there is physical intuition in the koshi and hara.”

The physical intuition to which Prof. Saito is alluding has continuously been passed down to today’s martial arts and performing arts, and has a very deep relation with Ki.

Cultivating Ki through physical intuition

At the first master’s training session I attended for the Aikido Club at my college alma mater, my instructor Sadateru Arikawa taught us how to stand and how to sit.

“Now, stand!” “Now, sit!” “Now, stand!” “Now, sit!”

Through this repetition, you can gradually develop physical intuition. Once you start to feel the gravitational of the earth, if you concentrate, you may be able to sense physical intuition in the area below your navel, called seikatanden in Japanese. If you begin to master this, you will be able to physically feel the Ki energy in your body.

Next is the shikko training. Shikko means to move back and forth with your knees in sitting form. (In ancient times of war, shikko was used in castles in front of the lord, where it was regarded impolite to stand before being permitted to do so.) If your seikatanden is not constantly at your center of gravity, you will lose your balance. If you have been able to achieve this central feeling, now you can train with a stick or wooden sword that gives a greater centrifugal force. Thus, physical intuition is one of the physical techniques that can be achieved through daily practice.

You may have heard of what is called the “natural position” or shizentai in Japanese. The natural position is a condition where your lower body is planted firmly on the ground in order to feel the earth’s gravity in your seikatanden, and your upper body gently rests on top of that. It is beautiful to see the posture of a person wearing a kimono who has established this natural position. Sakamoto Ryoma, whom I described in Volume 3 of this series, “Great Men at the End of the Edo Period and We who Live in This Era,” also has this beautiful posture.

It is said that traditional Japanese were able to strengthen their physical intuition (physical techniques) through their daily activities. Through okonai (deeds) such as cooking and housework, they were able to cultivate this kind of physical intuition.

I also believe that communities shared this sense of physical intuition, and because they did so, members were able to make reasonable ethical decisions and act collectively in the face of crisis.

Leveraging Ki in daily life

When you cultivate Ki through physical intuition, you can also learn to apply it in your daily business life. Here I want to introduce three examples of how I personally use Ki in business.

For about 5 years, I have been in charge of starting new businesses. Starting a new business involves a high degree of difficulty and uncertainty. In some cases, the businesses may not be blessed with much management attention and may not be given adequate resources compared with the core businesses of the company. Therefore, in order to expand the business in the midst of this difficulty, I, as a leader, must display a strong attitude and put forth a lot of energy. For this purpose, I must recognize my Ki (energy). If I notice that my Ki (energy) is low, in order to fill my energy, I re-connect with nature, spend time with my family or close friends, or enjoy art or a good book.

As a graduate school faculty member, I try to sense the movement of each student’s Ki in the classroom. I try to sense the Ki when students are thinking. For example, I think, “Although Mr. A hesitated to speak out, he really wanted to say something there. Therefore, next time when the class covers the same topic, I will encourage Mr. A to speak up.” Or, “because this is a discussion about strategy, many students have raised their hand. However, I will call on Ms. B, whose aura says she definitely has her unique comment to make on the topic.”

And, finally, I ask my body (koshi and hara) about things that I don’t understand logically. Does Ki accumulate more toward strategic direction Z or toward strategic direction X? Why is this? If so, for how much time will Ki continue to accumulate? Through Ki, I am often able to see these directions and make my decision. (For more information about this, please read Volume 2 of this column, “Perspectives of the Universe and of Humanity.”)

The third example contains a hint for Japanese management. For answers that do not arrive through deductive reasoning, we can believe in the power which arises through the important connection between employees (humans) and this kind of deep intuition. Furthermore, by uniting with management logic (such as strategy and PDCA), I believe that the Japanese management can perhaps outperform a management style that is rooted on pure economic logic.

By incorporating Ki into our daily activities, I hope that everyone’s business lives and activities become more fulfilling. Traditional Japanese cultivated Ki and brought Ki into their activities through physical intuition. Through our awareness of Ki, I believe that we can live happier and healthier.

(This article was originally published on June 9, 2010)

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