Global Resilience Solutions > Kenji Tokitsu: Brilliant Insights into the Warrior’s Way

Kenji Tokitsu: Brilliant Insights into the Warrior’s Way


There are two kinds of people who study Warriorship. For lack of better terms, we’ll call them the external warriors and the internal warriors. External warriors are content with the physical and the visible in the disciplines they study. They believe that Warriorship is about proving oneself and dominating one’s opponent. Internal warriors see that there is something far more substantial than that in the warrior’s path.

As a long-time teacher of Karate who has studied the junction between Chinese and Japanese martial arts as it relates to the development of ki energy (qi in Chinese), Kenji Tokitsu is uniquely placed to comment on this distinction. Faced with a situation in which Japanese martial arts are rapidly losing their historical methods for cultivating the inner dimensions of Warriorship, he explores the boundary between the external and the internal in a way that has tremendous relevance not only in a dojo, but in the development of personal strength in every area of life.

Because Tokitsu approaches this question from the perspective of a Japanese martial arts insider, we’ll try to make things simpler by presenting his thinking on Warriorship in three different levels.

Level 1: Gross Technique, Raw Aggression

This is the level that the Western materialist mindset and the competitive sports derived from martial arts love to revel in. At this level of thinking, victory comes down either to superior technique or greater strength and aggression.

This is the level that Tokitsu has so often seen Karate practitioners peak at. At the stage of life where most Karate practitioners practice competitive sparring, they rely on youth, strength, aggression and external technique to win. Without teachers who can familiarise them with ki cultivation and given the extensive damage to their bodies sustained in sparring, they soon have to withdraw from competition, having no way to advance further in their art. Karate then becomes a game of the young, rather than a lifelong path of development.

In addition to its shortcomings as a method of practice, Tokitsu brings out the unsatisfactory nature of this level as a way of analysing Warriorship. Honest analysis of higher-level martial competition cannot put victory down to superior technique, strength or aggression. Something else is happening.

Level 2: Willpower, Ki and Refining Form

That something else is a contest of ki energy. What is observed particularly in martial arts such as kendo is that by the time the first blow is struck, the match has already been won and lost. The winner is the one who has been able to project the most stable ki into the most useful form without allowing his opponent to disturb his ki. In other words, the ability of the person to control his own mental and energetic state, without the need for rational thought, merely responding to the opponent’s energy and creating whatever form is needed to defeat him without losing inner balance is much more important than any amount of strength or technical perfection.

When the student starts to notice this, the connection between ki and focussed intention becomes obvious. Intention leads ki, causes it to take shape. Therefore, some approaches to developing ki focus on cultivating the will or intention. This carries some danger, especially if, as in some martial arts, the intention being cultivated is animalistic or destructive. This carries the potential to do great damage to the psyche and leaves one no further ahead with regard to the ultimate goal of an immovably serene ki.

Level 3: Serene Ki and the Morality of the Human Organism

Here is where we approach the fundamental paradox of Warriorship which the samurai encountered. The samurai took up Warriorship explicitly in order to kill their enemies. They also realised that the ki and hara arts could help them become better, more focussed, more powerful killing machines. But in order to perfect that line of development and win battles on the level of ki, the mind and emotions had to be serene. Without serenity, there is no inner stability and ki does not flow naturally. To achieve serenity, the ego and its grasping emotions and desires had to be overcome. The same ego that led them to the desire to kill their enemies in the first place.

What they discovered, Tokitsu explains, is that the human organism itself has an inherent functional morality. When it is overcome by anger, greed, fear, when it does something inherently out of harmony with the world, when it is actuated by the defensive ego, physiological symptoms occur that are very noticeable in combat. At high levels of practice, attempting to fight in one of these states, that is, outside of serene awareness, defeat becomes inevitable. Ki no longer flows properly and the body’s movements are disrupted. In the contest of ki, the serene party always prevails, and the distracted party cannot give form to his energy properly. It follows that by experiencing that defeat and finding the source of the symptom that led to it, the practitioner can learn and address that defect.

Everyday Warriorship

This is where ki meets the inner, functional morality of the human being. We are designed so that we thrive by functioning in certain ways, and not in others. The martial development of ki is an excellent indicator to us of what those ways are. This is also where Warriorship meets everyday life. The warrior in daily life is the one who strives to align himself with what confers inner stability and thus, personal effectiveness.

Tokitsu evokes the classic image of a calm river, smooth on the surface but powerfully moving beneath the surface to express the relationship between the serenely clear awareness and the great potential energy of the ki in such a state. An observer would see only the calm, but the practitioner experiences the state as a fiery energy. This is the state that is at the root of the experience many students of high-level masters have, of discovering that their meek and kindly teacher is also, for no apparent reason, invincible, not only in the ring, but in life.

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