The way people most talk about ki these days tends toward the occultish, but I will say that I have never done anything even remotely involving the occult. Much of what Ueshiba Sensei talked about, on the other hand, did sound like the occult.
In any case, I began studying aikido because I saw that Ueshiba Sensei had truly mastered the art of relaxing. It was because he was relaxed, in fact, that he could generate so much power. I became his student with the intention of learning that from him. To be honest, I never really listened to most of the other things he said.
Stories about Ueshiba Sensei moving instantaneously or pulling pine trees from the ground and swinging them around are all just tall tales. I’ve always urged aikido people to avoid writing things like that. Unfortunately, many people don’t seem to listen. Instead, they just decrease the size of the tree in the story from some massive thing to one only about ten centimeters in diameter. In reality, it’s pretty difficult to pull even a single burdock root out of the ground, so how in the world is someone going to extract a ten centimeter pine tree, especially while standing on its root system? Such things are nothing but exaggerations of the kind often used in old-fashioned storytelling.
The stories have gotten rather incredible since Ueshiba Sensei passed away, and now people are having him moving instantaneously or reappearing suddenly from a kilometer away and other nonsense. I was with Ueshiba Sensei for a long time and can tell you that he possessed no supernatural powers.
Koichi Tohei (藤平光一, Tōhei Kōichi) (born January 1920, died May 2011) was a 10th Dan aikidoka and founder of the Ki Society and its style of aikido, officially Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido (literally “aikido with mind and body unified”), but commonly known as Ki-Aikido.
Our friends over at the Bryn Mawr dojo of Kinokawa Aikido have an article providing a survey of the basic information about Sensei Tohei.
Unfortunately, I never saw Sensei Tohei in person. Today, the closest one can get is any of the myriad of videos which remain. One can find a great deal on YouTube. However, a much better place to go is to Aikido Journal (AJ). If you’re an aikidoka, you should go over to AJ immediately and join. There is an enormous amount of information available in general, and about Sensei Tohei in particular.
In particular from AJ, you can find books, DVDs and ebooks for download that are specifically about, or written by, Sensei Tohei. Log into the members site and search for ‘koichi tohei’. You’ll find interviews of Sensei Tohei conducted by Stanley Pranin, details of Sensei Tohei’s split from the Aikikai (including his resignation letter), and much more.
As for Kinokawa’s relation to Sensei Tohei, remembering his soft and flowing style is something to which we continuously pay attention. Sensei Wirth provides some more details related to Kinokawa’s history:
The grace and power I witnessed in those first few hours at the Dojo drew me into the way of Aikido.
In those early days we spoke little and trained very hard. There were only a few students who endured for long.
Maruyama Sensei was a student of Koichi Tohei Sensei and O’Sensei. By 1971, two years after O’Sensei’s death, divisions of viewpoint regarding who was to lead Aikido and how it was to be conveyed and directed lead to a split between Tohei and Kisshomaru Ueshiba, the Founder’s son. Maruyama Sensei aligned himself with Sensei Tohei, and so it was that our practice in the 1970’s reflected both the early style and training of O’Sensei as preserved and conveyed by Aikikai and the flowing late life Aikido of O’Sensei presented by Tohei.
~ Sensei Wirth, from ‘A History of Kinokawa ryu Aikido’