Ki, the Universal Force

by Gail Lawson

©Gail Lawson 1978

This article is the property of Rainbow Publications and not to be copied or reproduced without permission.

Developing the ki force is essential for excellence in the martial arts. But the subject is both difficult to teach and to learn, for although the effects of ki can be demonstrated, the energy itself is invisible. The only way to understand and learn to use this elusive force is through direct experience.

Ki (ch’i in Chinese culture, prana in Indian culture) is a potential energy in all human beings. We live in a sea of this energy, an energy that renews itself daily and promotes life functions in a manner similar to that of the air we breathe. We are limited as to how much ki we can contain only by our capacity to absorb it. Just as healthy lungs can contain more air than polluted ones, a healthy, strong body can absorb and contain more ki than a weak, sickly one. "Health and strength are the first conditions for the normal perfection of the body, not only muscular strength and the solid strength of the limbs and physical stamina, but the finer, alert, plastic and adaptable force that our nervous and subtle physical parts can put into the activities of the frame. There is also the still more dynamic force that a call upon the life-energies can bring into the body and stir it to greater activities, even feats of the most extraordinary character of which in its normal state it would not be capable.  Sri Aurobindo, The Mind of Light, E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., New York, 1971, p. 41.

This extraordinary state is attained through discipline and aspiration. Practice of a martial art enables the student to increase his or her reservoir of ki not only by building a healthy, physically fit body, but also through discipline of the mind, body and emotions. Discipline is most important for the development of ki.

One must discipline the body to make it clean, strong and a suitable receptacle for the universal force. To attain this end, one must cultivate proper health habits. The kind of exercise provided by practice of a martial art is most fitting for the development of ki, since it encourages coordination and proper breathing. Coordination leads to the synchronization of the mind and body necessary to reach an initial awareness of ki; proper breathing is necessary to be able to expand the ki. However, not only must the mind and body operate in unison for control of the ki power, one must attain the correct "emotional content," as Bruce Lee tersely taught in Enter the Dragon. Only when the emotional attitude is calm and confident can one experience ki. Steadiness of purpose and sureness of success are necessary for its use as well as a healthy and harmoniously interacting mind and body.

Concentration, which involves command and focus of the mind, body and emotions, is like a magnet, drawing ki into the electromagnetic field or aura surrounding the human body. Ki operates through the delicate spiritual or vital body, which is composed of a finer grade of matter than the physical body. The etheric (spiritual or cosmic) body conducts ki current, much as copper conducts electrical current.

Ki is drawn into the etheric body where it is absorbed through the chakras. The chakras, or "subtle centers through which the life force moves," according to Franklin Jones in The Method of the Siddhas, The Dawn Horse Press, California, 1973, p. 350, are seven in number and correspond in location to the seven glands. Ki is filtered through the vital body, then is absorbed by the chakras and finally is converted into usable energy or "horsepower" by the glands, which act as generators. So, for example, when one is frightened or shocked, the chakra near the adrenal glands (the naval chakra) will draw in more ki, which in turn provides the extra adrenaline needed to respond to the situation. In fact, the reason ki is usually thought of as being centered in the abdomen is because it is used most often in public to perform feats of power, which require increased adrenaline. However, ki is not really located in any particular place in the body: it is a flow of energy. There is an ever-present flow of ki throughout the body which can be focused through one of the seven centers by concentration and will.

The martial arts are geared toward the development of ki in a special way: not only is perfection of the body a goal of the martial arts; high moral character is also one of its aims. To return to The Mind of Light, "Of higher import than the foundation, however necessary, of health, strength and fitness of the body, is the development of discipline and morale and sound and strong character toward which these activities can help. There are many sports that are of the utmost value toward this end because they help to form, and even necessitate, the qualities of courage, hardihood, energetic action and initiative, or call for skill, steadiness of will or rapid decision and action, the perception of what is to be done in an emergency and the dexterity in doing it. One development of the utmost value is the awakening of the essential and instinctive body consciousness, which can see and do what is necessary without any indication from mental thought and which is equivalent in the body to swift insight in the mind and spontaneous and rapid decision of the will."  (Aurobindo, op cit., p. 3.)

Thus, ki has practical value, for example, in enabling one to function efficiently in a dangerous or highly tense situation. Ki can be used to sense danger. After the body has recognized the danger, ki can provide extra energy needed to respond with mental clarity and sharp reflexes. Furthermore, ki can be used to help heal an injured body, for ki is the medium of the life force, and is thus regenerative in nature.  Note:  It is impossible to comprehend the power of ki through reason alone, since, as René Descartes pointed out in his classic work, A Discourse on Method, the function of reason is to doubt.  To doubt the power of ki is to nullify the possibility of understanding or using it.  This is why people who know nothing about, or are not aware of, ki are able to use it in extreme emergencies, as in the case of the 120-pound woman lifting the front end of a car to free her husband pinned beneath.  In an emergency situation, one acts without thinking, thus eliminating the protrusion of doubt about the possibility of acting in an extraordinary manner.

Ki is also connected with the force of gravity as in the case of the instructor who remains firmly planted in one position while five of his students try to push him over: he is using ki to increase the force of gravity. In the same way, a magician who causes his assistant to levitate in the air is using ki to suspend gravity. There are many other uses of ki besides those already discussed, both in and out of the martial arts. One of them is the development of the supersensory powers latent in human beings. Study and practice of a martial art involves strengthening mind, body and character with the goal of developing the extraordinary and rarely apparent powers latent in human beings, powers which include clairvoyance, clairaudience, the power to heal without medicine, to suspend gravity, to perform feats of unusual strength and also the power of heightened body awareness which confers the ability to sense danger and respond effectively to it.

Ki, the universal force, is the key to unlocking the human race’s potential. So far, only the ki-flow has been mentioned, since it is present in all human beings. There is, however, a special reserve of ki called Kundalini, or the Serpent Power. This evolutionary energy is located in the region of the lower spinal column and is truly latent, for only a very few people in human history have experienced this energy.

The Kundalini energy is like a miniature atomic bomb, very potent and dangerous. The discipline involved in preparation for its awakening requires the maximum effort of willpower and self-control. One must have excellent health even to have a chance of surviving the tremendous shock of the activated Kundalini as it travels up the spinal column. A knowledgeable guide is necessary to help make sure the energy travels along the correct route (up the spine, rather than down). Finally, only those with the highest moral character can dare to tamper with this deadly force since it magnifies all qualities one possesses. Kundalini can best be described as a magnifier and galvanizer, heightening the subject’s awareness and activating his or her latent powers. Those who have experienced the Kundalini report newfound powers such as clairvoyance, clairaudience, the ability to understand and speak formerly unfamiliar languages, the power to heal, and others.

The human race is at a crucial period in its evolution. We are about to embark on the next phase of our evolution. The phenomenological approach will be supplanted by the intuitive, spiritual approach. It is imperative that we prepare for the next step in our evolution by searching for and unlocking our latent powers. Martial arts are invaluable in furthering this end, because they develop mind, body and spirit. Every person should incorporate a martial art into his or her daily life for individual growth, perfection of the soul, and for the advancement of all humanity.



Arundale, G.S., Kundalini, An Occult Experience, Wheaton, The Theosophical Publishing House, 1974.

Aurobindo, Sri, The Mind of Light, New York, E.P. Dutton and Co., Inc., 1971.

Descartes, Rene, A Discourse on Method, Translated by John Veitch, LL.D., New York, Dutton, 1969.

Jones, Franklin, The Method of the Siddhas, California, The Dawn Horse Press, 1973.

Krishna, Gopi, Kundalini, the Evolutionary Energy in Man, Berkeley, Shambhala, 1971.

___________, The Awakening of Kundalini, New York, E.P. Dutton and Co., Inc., 1975.

Leadbeater, C.W., The Chakras, Wheaton, The Theosophical Publishing House, 1927.