Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of ecamEvidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM
Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2009 June; 6(2): 175–183.
Published online 2008 January 28. doi:  10.1093/ecam/nen005
PMCID: PMC2686635

Philosophy, Psychology, Physics and Practice of Ki


Ki (in Japanese) or Qi (in Chinese) is the key concept in Eastern medicine, Eastern philosophy, as well as in martial arts. We explain the philosophical and psychological background of Ki. We emphasize that the unique aspects of Eastern philosophy are ‘non-linearity’ and ‘holistic’ approach. We then present physics aspect of Ki. Our experiments demonstrated that a ‘Ki-beam’ carries ‘entropy’ (or information), which is different from ‘energy’. We introduce our experience of having taught Ki to 37 beginners in the United States through the Nishino Breathing Method. If beginners had martial arts training or a strong background in music or dance, about half of them could sense Ki within 10 weeks (1 h class per week) of practice.

Keywords: collective unconsciousness, Eastern medicine, Ki energy, Ki entropy, martial arts, Nishino Breathing Method, Qi, Ki information, Taiki practice, Toh-ate technique


A Japanese word Ki (equivalent to Qi or Chi in Chinese) is the fundamental concept in both Eastern medicine and martial arts (1–3). It naturally follows that Ki is an important element in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Many authors have presented work on the effects and nature of Ki (4–15). Still, we can not precisely describe Ki. We cannot objectively say ‘Look! This is Ki’.

When Western people talk about Ki in terms of the healing arts, Ki seems to be understood as ‘vitality’ or ‘life-energy’. For those who are studying Chinese medicine, Ki is presented as being a substance flowing in our body along the ‘meridians’. In the view of martial artists, Ki is a source of spiritual strength for winning. When an Eastern philosopher defines Ki, it is a function of life, which permeates through the life of an individual and the life of the universe. Physicists see it as a new kind of ‘energy’, and still, brain physiologists approach it as ‘information’ or ‘entropy’. Depending upon one's profession, discipline and necessity, Ki is understood differently.

Both of us were born in Japan and were raised in families where the concept of Ki was not foreign to our ways of thinking. In 1963, one of the authors (S.T.O.) started learning Aikido in Japan from Master Morihei Ueshiba (the founder of Aikido) and Kisshomaru Ueshiba (the founder's son), as well as from Koichi Tohei and Morihiro Saito (both were Ueshiba's immediate disciples). From 1967–97, S.T.O. taught Aikido in the USA. From 1997, both authors started learning the Nishino Breathing Method (NBM) by visiting the school in Japan where Master Kozo Nishino (the founder) teaches. In 2006, both authors started teaching NBM in the USA.

Nishino was once a medical student, but became a ballet choreographer after he studied ballet at the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School in New York. At the age of 50, he started learning Aikido and quickly became a master of Aikido. He then founded NBM as a method of raising his student's Ki levels so that they could enjoy life to its fullest (16–18). It has been known for the past 20 years that the practitioners of Ki experienced beneficial health effects (16, 19–24). Through our collaborative study with Nishino using in vitro biological systems, it was suggested that Ki developed by NBM may indeed have health benefit (25–27).

In this commentary, we will first discuss historical, philosophical and psychological aspects of Ki in Eastern medicine and martial arts. Then, we will switch the subject to a more practical question, ‘How quickly we can learn Ki ?’ Finally, we will introduce new methods of testing the Ki-level of an individual. We will also present an experimental method, which demonstrates that an ‘information’ aspect (‘entropy’ aspect) is involved in Ki. We believe that this aspect of Ki is very important from the standpoint of CAM.

Difference between Western Medicine and Traditional Eastern Medicine

Eastern medicine has been built on the fundamental concept that the head and the various inner organs are connected to specific points in distal areas (i.e. hands and legs) with ‘meridians’. The major meridians are 12 regular meridians and eight irregular meridians. They are broadly divided into yin and yang groups and Ki flows through them. Along these meridians, there are about 350 acu-points, which are used for acupuncture therapy. When the Ki-flow is stagnant, we become sick. Acupuncture allows the Ki to flow smoothly. At the terminal acu-point of each meridian in distal areas, it is believed that an exchange of Ki between the external world and the internal body occurs. In other words, Eastern medicine understands the body as an ‘open system’ connected to the external world. On the contrary, modern Western medicine regards our body as a ‘closed, self-contained system’ (2,3). The concept of our body being an ‘open system’ would help us to understand why Ki would have a healing effect. A healer, who emits Ki toward an acu-point on the skin, may be able to enhance or normalize the Ki-flow inside the patient's body.

Understanding of Ki will Help Bridge Western and Eastern Viewpoints

As we described previously (28–30), Western thinking was built upon three fundamental pillars, namely, Greek reductionism, separation of mind and matter (which led to the separation of mind and body) advocated by Descartes (1596–50), and a deterministic-monotheistic worldview originated by Newton (1642–1727). All of these pillars belong to a ‘linear’ philosophical system in which the future is predictable. A serious problem is that both life and the universe are essentially ‘non-linear’ systems, and therefore, the future becomes ‘chaos’ and it is essentially unpredictable (30). Many of today's problems are created because everyone tries to understand the non-linear ‘unpredictable’ universe based upon linear ‘predictable’ thinking. In order to accept that the future is essentially unpredictable, a Copernican change of our philosophy is needed. The understanding of Ki, which is non-linear (30) and involves ‘unpredictability’, would help this transition.

By separating matter from mind, material science was able to undergo vigorous development without the hindrance of medieval mysticism. However, this has carried to the extreme. This has led to the loss of humanism in the last century. Today, materialism has superceded reverence of the mind and even the dignity of human life. To reverse this devastating situation, we have to overcome the dichotomy of ‘either-or’ thinking. Therefore, the more holistic, ‘non-linear’ Eastern approach considering the ‘Oneness of mind and body’ is even more relevant today.

Another urgent issue is the destruction of the ecosystem. In the West, it was taught that human beings appeared first on earth, and plants, trees, animals appeared later for the benefit of the human race. This, together with an endless pursuit of material happiness and fulfillment of desire, has caused today's ecological problems. Contrary to this, it is a common belief in the East that life is created from its environment, and naturally, life and the environment are inseparable. This is in perfect agreement with the results of scientific research. It is known that ‘planet’ earth was born about 5 billion years ago, and a primitive ‘life form’ appeared about 4 billion years ago in the sea. The ‘life form’ developed in the sea, and about 400 million years ago it started spreading on land because there accumulated enough amount of ozone in the atmosphere to provide shielding from harmful ultraviolet radiation. The ape-man appeared several million years ago, and finally Homo sapiens, our ancestors, appeared approximately 35 000 years ago. Civilization began about 10 000 years ago, and modern civilization started only 200 years ago—like a blink of an eye compared with the unfathomably long history of evolution. However, modern civilization is destroying the harmony of the ecosystem, which has 4 billion years of history.

According to Eastern thought, the universe has ‘life’ and the function of ‘life’ is represented by Ki. Ki flows and circulates throughout the universe and through each human being. Ki is a non-linear phenomenon (30), and therefore, it can function as an essential element of life and the universe (both of which are non-linear). If Western people could understand Ki more, they would incorporate holistic Eastern philosophy into their own philosophical system. Then, mind and body, as well as life and its environment, will be viewed as a unified entity, and the world would finally become a better place to live.

Difference of Philosophical Backgrounds between Qi and Ki

In 1972, from the excavation of an ancient tomb in China (believed to be about 2000 years old), 44 pictures of poses related to what we call today Qigong were found (1). The first Chinese literature, which described the effect of Qigong, was inscribed on an ancient sword handle (which was believed to be about 2500 years old). The origin of the character of Qi was traced back to 3500 years ago (1).

Confucius (who lived approximately 2500 years ago), taught moral and ethical behavior. In his Analects, the character of Qi appeared in four locations. It expressed the concept related to breath, food and vitality (1). Taoism, which was founded by Lao-Tze (who was believed to have lived around the time of Confucius or 100 later), have had more influence on Qi and Qigong. In the book ‘Zhuangzi’, which compiled the thoughts of Lao-Tze in the third century BC, the character of Qi appeared 39 times. What it explained was: ‘Qi exists throughout the universe. When it assembles, it appears as a human life. When it disassembles, the human dies. Therefore, do not worry about life and death. Live naturally and freely as you are’ (1). The concepts of Qi, Yin/Yang and meridians formed the foundation of Chinese medicine. Martial artists have also studied these concepts. They knew how to attack vital acu-points to kill an opponent or how to revive a victim.

In Japan, Ki was used for healing from around 1500 years ago. Toward the end of Heian Period (about 800 years ago), Samurai warriors held political power, and continued to do so for 700 years. During that time, the upper class of Samurai devoted themselves to self-cultivation by practicing Zen and Esoteric Buddhism. As a result, the martial arts were not simply combat techniques, but acquired a high artistic sensitivity and spirituality. They trained themselves to enhance Ki through meditation and breathing. The origin for this could be found in a book called Makashikan (Chinese: Mohezhiguzn), which was lectured by Chih-i (a Chinese Buddhist monk; 538–597 AD). He talked about self-cultivation methods and Buddhist medicine. He explained two cultivation methods, namely, ‘meditation with prolonged sitting’ and ‘meditation with prolonged walking’ (3). The former practice became the foundation for Zen, and the latter for Esoteric Buddhism.

Chih-i also explained a method of meditation, which could enhance our health. One of his methods was to imagine that a piece of excellent food (such as a delicious cheese) is sitting on one's head. Then, imagine that the food melts and penetrates the skin and goes down through the head and body, thus cleaning up the whole system. Interestingly, a similar exercise is used in NBM.

As opposed to Chinese Qi, which grew under the influence of Taoism, Japanese Ki was heavily influenced by Buddhism. The Heiho Kadensho (The Secret Text Book of the Military Method, which had been perpetuated though the Yagyu School of martial arts. The Yagyu family taught martial arts to the Shogun, the highest post in the Samurai government) described that the human mind is distinguished into an ‘original mind’ (enlightened nature or Buddha nature) and a ‘deluded mind (easily agitated by egocentric feeling and emotion). The original goal of the Samurai way was the development of a mature personality, which would not be influenced by the deluded mind, through discipline and through enhancing Ki (3).

However, the ultimate purpose of martial arts was changed in modern times from killing others to self-defence and conquering oneself. Aikido was created in this atmosphere. Ai means harmony. It also means love. Therefore, the ultimate goal of Aikido is to harmonize Ki with the opponent's body-mind movement. Ueshiba, the founder, declared that the secret of Aikido is to harmonize one's movement with the universe. In other words, it is to understand that ‘I am one with the universe’. The Japanese Samurai way and Buddhist teachings had a profound influence over Japanese culture and intellectual history.

Secret Technique of Ki in Martial Arts

Stories tell us that the great martial artist possessed such a strong Ki-power that his opponents were immobilized. In Japanese martial arts’ history, there were records that some martial artists could throw opponents without touching. This is known as the ‘Toh-Ate’ technique (literally, hit from a distance), and is considered to be the ultimate form of martial arts. However, this has been a secret technique for centuries and no curriculum to master this technique was taught or published until recently. Currently, at least three Japanese Ki masters (Kozo Nishino, Hiroyuki Aoki and Kojo Tsuboi) are reported to be able to perform the ‘Toh-Ate’ technique (1). It is interesting to note that two of them (Nishino and Tsuboi) had practiced Aikido. Aoki was an expert in Karate. Japanese brain physiologists recorded changes in the brain wave of Aoki when he performed Toh-Ate technique (31,32).

Difference between Sports and Martial Arts

Yuasa pointed out that until recently the training emphasis for modern Western sports was to develop the body's motor skills and muscles capacity. (That is why some athletes use illegal muscle-developing drugs). On the other hand, the Japanese Samurai way (the Bushi way or Bushi-do) was designed with the goal of strengthening the synthesis between consciousness and unconsciousness by controlling unconscious emotional functions (3). Western sports’ training is now also embracing these concepts. Now, we have to study the relationship between Ki and psychology.

Ki and Collective Unconsciousness of Jung

The practice of the Japanese Samurai way is linked to overcoming problems arising from one's unconscious state of mind (exemplified by Freudian psychology). This may be explained by a layered structure of different consciousness as presented by Chih-i. In Fig. 1, the Buddhist concepts are shown on the left side and the Western concepts are on the right. The concepts in five top layers (five levels of consciousness) are called eye, ear, nose, tongue or touch consciousness. Through these sensory organs, human beings perceive outer world. These functions correspond to the five senses in Western psychology, physiology and philosophy. In Buddhism, the sixth level of consciousness corresponds to our mind. It builds up images based upon five consciousnesses, and consciously understands the external world. This is similar to the theory of Kant (1724–1804) on cognition. A Buddhist scholar had built a theory similar to that of Kant 1200 years before. In Descartes’ philosophy, human has a ‘reasoning mind’, which corresponds to the upper half of the sixth level. Unconsciousness proposed by Freud (1856–1939) corresponds to the lower half. The unconsciousness is believed to be the source of creativity and inspiration. Some Western people are interested in Zen meditation because they think that one may communicate with one's unconsciousness through meditation. However, as Chih-I taught, both ‘meditation with prolonged sitting’ and ‘meditation with prolonged walking’ are needed for self-cultivation. Zen uses only ‘meditation with prolonged sitting’ and that may not be enough. The ‘meditation with prolonged walking’ is also needed. ‘Prolonged walking’ does not necessarily mean simple walking. It may also imply a regular physical exercise combined with mental training. In this regard, it is interesting to note that a Zen scholar (who later became the Head Priest of a Japanese Zen temple) wrote that his practice of NBM (which is a physical exercise with Ki) helped him to understand and master Zen (19).

Figure 1.
Schematic presentation of the nine levels of consciousness as described by Chih-i. Explanations on the left are from Buddhist teachings. Those on the right are from Western philosophy, psychology and physiology.

The seventh level is a fundamental egocentric consciousness, which is related to human desire and instinct for survival. Descartes’ ‘ego-consciousness’ can be included in this layer. Freudian ‘Libido’ also resides in this level. All of earthly desires, emotions and sufferings originate from here.

The eighth level of consciousness is considered to be a storage house of all actions, deeds, words and emotions of each individualm created not only during this life time, but also in one's past lives (note: Buddhism considers that one's life continues eternally). In other words, this level is the store house of ‘karma’ (or destiny) of an individual (upper half) and the entire race (lower half).

While Freudian unconsciousness is related to personal experience after birth (especially that of the infant period), collective unconsciousness proposed by Jung (1875–1961) includes the experiences of all human beings from the remote past (in terms of time), and the experiences of everybody in the world (in terms of space) (33). Therefore, the eighth level of consciousness corresponds to collective unconsciousness. Then, a question may be raised: ‘How can an individual relate to the life of others?’ We believe this is where Ki can come in. At the school of NBM, we see everyday that the state of mind of an individual (in this case, Master Nishino) can influence not only the behavior and mind of a student with whom Nishino is directly practicing, but also the minds of everyone in the class room. Ki emitted from Nishino spreads through the air, and is received by everybody.

The manner in which each individual responds to Nishino's Ki is different. The life tendency or personality, which is normally hidden deep inside, suddenly appears when he or she receives Ki from Nishino. In other words, one's deepest essence of life (or personal karma) seems to appear instantly. Not only that, if everybody has the sensitivity to receive and send Ki, then, we all inherit the ability of Ki. This makes Ki the collective karma of the human being. We already pointed out that the practice of NBM may instantly bring the individual to the ‘collective unconsciousness’ (29).

The ninth level is called ‘Fundamentally pure consciousness’. This can be regarded as the highest level of life (in which life of the humans is one with the life of the universe) or ‘Buddha Nature’. This can eradicate all of the deluded illusions of our mind, and change the karma of the individual and the karma of the entire human race. This was explained in the Heiho Kadensho of the Yagyu School of martial arts. Chih-i believed that the Buddha nature exemplified in the Lotus Sutra represents this ninth level. Western philosophy or psychology did not reach to the depth of ninth level of consciousness as the Eastern philosophic counterpart did. Our idea that Ki belongs to the eighth level is derived from these Eastern ways of thinking. In the East, it is believed that Ki is a function of life, which permeates through both an individual and the entire universe. Therefore, Ki must be very close to the ninth level.

Physics of Ki

Since both of us have studied biophysics for 40 some years, we have been interested in the nature of Ki. We recently published a physics-oriented hypothesis that Ki emission may be ‘laser-like’ near infrared radiation (NIR) from the practitioner's finger or hand (34). Several scientists asked us many questions, for example, ‘Have you measured the strength of the Ki-signal?’; ‘Can you simulate the Ki-effect by NIR emitted from an artificial source?’; ‘If you think that Ki has an information, you must analyze the Ki-signal to determine what kind of information is included’; ‘Unless you perform these quantitative measurements of Ki-energy or Ki-information, you cannot proceed to build a theory’ and ‘My idea is that Ki is an entirely new type of energy’. That is perfectly true. We agree with all of these points. An ideal scientific approach calls for many repeated observations. If they are repeatable and reproducible, then we build a theory.

However, in the study of Ki, we encountered two difficult problems. Namely, (i) Ki is manifested by only special people and (ii) we still cannot measure Ki-signals reproducibly with any of our instruments. Although there are interesting claims that ‘Ki-signals have been detected’ or ‘Ki is an infrared radiation’, but the ‘Ki-signals’ from Qigong healers took a long time (at least the order of minute) to grow to its full strength (3,32,35–38). On the other hand, Aoki's Toh-ate or Nishino's ‘Taiki’ can move the opponent almost instantly. Therefore, we decided to uncover the secret of Ki, which enables Toh-ate or Taiki technique (29). What we did was to practice Ki at the school of NBM first. After, we advanced and started to emit Ki ourselves, we studied what our Ki could do to ‘sensitive’ students. In other words, since we could not catch Ki with instrumentation, we used ‘sensitive students’ as ‘instruments’ to measure the Ki-strength. Then, based upon those results, we built our hypothesis (34). This was only possible when both the Ki-emitter and the Ki-receiver practiced NBM. Interestingly, this is related to a difference between the Western and Eastern way of thinking. Let us now explain this point.

Another Difference between the West and the East: Theory and Practice

According to Yuasa (3,39), Western ‘mind and body’ theories have a strongly-held attitude of asking theoretically what ‘is’ the relationship between the mind and body. On the other hand, Eastern theories take the attitude of asking how the mind and body relationship ‘develops’ or ‘changes’ through training and practice. Then, based on how the relationship has developed through practice, the theory asks in turn what is the ‘original’ relationship between mind and body?

Regarding this, Kasulis, the editor of Yuasa's book (39), pointed out that Eastern philosophies generally treat mind-body unity as an ‘achievement’, rather than an ‘essential unchanging link’. He summarized as follows:

  1. In Eastern culture, meditation and breathing are important practices in obtaining philosophical insight. Wisdom must be physically as well as intellectually developed.
  2. If the unity of mind and body is achieved, this can be tested by ‘deeds’. In other words, whether a person attained enlightenment or not should be verified by ‘action’ rather than by ‘asserted propositions’.
  3. Eastern philosophers do not agree with the Western tradition of dichotomies such as body-mind, subjectivity-objectivity and theory-praxis. Eastern people are not doing ‘meta-physics’ in the traditional Western sense. Instead, what they are doing is, what Jung called ‘meta-psychics’. (Actually, Yuasa said that it can be called ‘meta-human science’.)

These discussions clearly pointed out why dedicated, continuous practice is important to master any of these Eastern arts. Be it for Eastern medicine, Qigong, martial arts, Ki-related exercise or breathing, we can reach better understanding only after assiduous practice. By simply discussing them from theoretical point of view or based upon own ideas, we can never grasp the true picture of these arts. For this reason, we would like to touch upon our recent practice of teaching Ki to beginners in the USA.

How Quickly can a Beginner Sense Ki?

If Ki could enhance our vitality and improve health, then an important question would be: ‘How quickly can we learn Ki and utilize it to improve our health?’ Since we have taught NBM to 37 students in the USA from 2006, we undertook a survey of how quickly beginners can sense Ki by attending the class. We taught so far the following three courses:

  1. Private Sunday Course: this is an hour class on every Sunday for those who want quickly to have a brief experience with NBM. We used the basement of our house for the class.
  2. Two Evening courses of ‘Ki-energy and NBM’: we taught two courses, which were supported by the Main Line School Night (an adult education program; we will abbreviate as MLSN), which uses the facility of Lower Merion High School (Ardmore, PA). This course is taught for 1 h per week, once a week for 10 weeks. We used Master Nishino's book as the text (16). The participants signed a consent form before participating in the course. (Previous experiences of participants can be found in Supplementary Table 1 in the journal's website.) In each class, we spent the first 30 min practicing the ‘Breathing exercise’ and the second 30 min the ‘Taiki-practice’.

The Taiki-practice literally means ‘paired Ki-practice’. By combining his experience in ballet choreography and martial arts, Nishino first acquired by himself the technique of Toh-Ate. Then, he developed it into the form of Taiki-practice so that anybody could practice and enjoy regardless of their martial arts experience. This is basically the exchange of Ki-energy (or Ki-communication) between the instructor and the student (16). The Taiki-practice starts with the following Taiki-motion: An instructor and a student touch their hands with each other (right hand to right hand, and then, left to left) and push with Ki alternately. When the instructor sends a strong Ki-signal and extends his or her hand, the student is pushed by instructor's Ki and steps backward to the wall, which is covered by a soft cushion (we used either a bed mattress or an air mattress). Nishino discovered that the individual's Ki-level grows through this practice.

A criticism of NBM was that the Taiki exercise may involve a psychological or hypnotic effect because the student ‘watches’ the instructor. Therefore, we made two modifications to the original Taiki exercise to eliminate that bias.

  • (i) After S.T.O. extended his hand and a student was pushed to the mattress, he ‘instructed’ the student to run toward the opposite side of the room, where another mattress is leaned up against the wall. When the student started running, he ‘pulled’ the students with ‘pulling Ki ’ (Fig. 2A). We found that some of the first-day students were ‘pulled back’ by S.T.O.' s Ki and started running into the opposite direction. Examples of this ‘Pull-back-runner test’ (PBR test) is shown in Supplementary Fig. 1. Since the student was running away, there is no possibility that he or she can ‘watch’ the instructor. The data are shown in Supplementary Table 2, where the ‘Respond’ column indicates the result of the PBR test on the first day. To S.T.O.' s Ki, altogether, 11 out of 37 responded (success rate: 29.7%).
    Figure 2.
    Relationship between the flow of Ki-energy (shown by thin arrows) and the direction of body movement (shown by open arrows). (A) ‘PBR’ test. E indicates a Ki-emitter, and R a Ki-receiver. Ki-emitter sends an unspoken message of ‘Come ...

The most amazing result was that these 11 ‘sensitive’ students were also ‘pulled back’ by a ‘pulling Ki’ of some of the first-day students (see the ‘Send’ column in Supplementary Table 2. After 7 weeks in the MLSN program, the number of students who responded to S.T.O.' s Ki in the PBR test was 13/25 (52%). The number of students who can move other students in the PBR test was the same. The percentages of success rate for the seventh and tenth weeks were the same.

  • (ii) In the Taiki practice (which is done in a face-to-face position), we asked the Ki-receiver to wear a blindfold, and the Ki-emitter attempted to move the receiver without touching hands. We call this the “Face-to-face” test (FTF test) (Fig. 2B). The actual examples are shown on the Supplementary Fig. 2A. The data for this test are shown on the Supplementary Table 3. This test was much harder than the PBR test. When S.T.O. sent Ki without touching the beginners who wore a blindfold (TFT test), none were moved on the first day. Only after the seventh week, 7 out of 25 were moved. Supplementary Fig. 2B shows photos of TFT-test between beginners on the fifth week.

Experiments to Show that the ‘Ki-beam’ has ‘Information’

In 1978, Chinese scientists discovered that a Qigong healer's hand was emitting infrared radiation (35). This was later confirmed by Japanese scientists (38). Through our study, we also demonstrated that Ki, which caused in vitro effects on biological systems, and Ki, which caused Taiki-motions, was the same and both were NIR between 800 and 2500 nm (25,26). Recently, we proposed a hypothesis that Ki may be a laser-like NIR with a wavelength around 1000 nm (34). Being NIR, Ki definitely has an ‘energy’ aspect. However, we found evidence that Ki also has an ‘information’ (or an ‘entropy’) aspect (29).

We reported already that a mirror could reflect the ‘Ki-beam’ and that the reflected beam pushed back a sensitive student in the same way as the straight line Ki-beam (34). If Ki has only an ‘energy’ effect, it would be easy to think that both straight Ki and mirror-reflected Ki have the ‘push-back’ effect. We could simply imagine that Ki energy is something like an ‘energy flux’ pouring out of the emitter's hand and pushing back a student by its energy flow (Fig. 2B). Then, the effect of a mirror is simply to bend the direction of the energy flow.

We experimented on whether we could ‘pull back’ a running student from behind using a mirror reflection. First, we used a flat mirror, which was similar to the one we used previously to reflect Ki in the face-to-face Taiki exercise (34). This experiment worked. The runner, who was running away from the Ki-emitter, felt the ‘pulling Ki’ and changed direction to come back (Supplementary Fig. 3). However, we found it rather difficult to catch the image of a running student, which appeared on a flat mirror but quickly disappeared (Supplementary Fig. 4A). Therefore, we switched to a glass convex mirror (diameter 35 cm; this is sold at hardware stores as a driveway mirror). Since the convex mirror allows us to view a wider area than a flat mirror, the image of the runner is always in the mirror (Supplementary Fig. 4B). Therefore, it is easy to send Ki to that image for pulling. In order to make sure that the Ki-energy, which reached the runner, was from the mirror, we placed a Ki-shield (Super Tuff-RTM heat insulator; Dow Chemical Co., Midland, MI) between the emitter and the runner (Fig. 3). This material was used in the previous study, and we demonstrated that it blocked Ki (34). As shown in Fig. 3 and Supplementary Fig. 5, we succeeded in pulling back the runner by sending Ki to the runner's image in the mirror.

Figure 3.
Schematic illustration of the ‘Pull-back-through-a-mirror’ experiment, which shows that Ki has information content. Note that an infrared shield (S) was placed between the emitter (E) and the receiver (R) in order to eliminate possible ...

If we think of Ki having only an energy aspect, it would be difficult to explain why we can ‘pull back’ a runner from behind. The direction of the Ki-energy flow and the direction of the pulling motion are in the opposite direction (Fig. 2A). It would be even harder to explain why this can be done with the mirror-reflected Ki (Fig. 3).

A possible explanation is to postulate that Ki contains ‘information’, and that the runner moves in accordance with the ‘information’ sent to the runner. In the experiment shown in Fig. 2A, S.T.O. sent an ‘unspoken’ message of ‘Come back!’ In the case of Fig. 2B, S.T.O. sent another ‘unspoken’ message of ‘Go away!’ We believe that the unspoken message was carried by Ki, and the receiver received the message. In analogy, Ki-energy is like a radio wave, and the information (to push or to pull) may be super-imposed by modulating the carrier wave (29,30).

Energy can do the work. The energy in gasoline can move a car, but energy can neither control its speed nor direction. Namely, energy cannot carry information. The driver must give ‘information’ by operating a gas pedal or a steering wheel. Other examples: writings or poems contain information, which essentially consists of complex arrangement and combination of letters. Music is made of pitches of sounds, intervals between notes and combinations thereof. Paintings are composed of the combination of paints with different colors, dark or bright and transparent or opaque. In essence, ‘information’ is related to the ‘combination’. The quantity related to ‘combination’ is called ‘entropy’ in physics. Entropy is a different physical quantity from energy. Shannon described that information is related to entropy (40).

Yoshiya Shinagawa pioneered the discovery of ‘transpersonal communication’ between Qigong healers and volunteers (36,37). He proposed that Ki has an ‘information’ aspect. We also emphasized the ‘entropy’ aspect of Ki (29). The energy cannot carry information, but entropy can. The role of entropy in living organism was first introduced by Schrodinger (41). Its role in CAM was also discussed (9). In the healing art, which employs Ki or Qi, the mind of the healer may be transmitted with Ki as information. Therefore, the information aspect of Ki would be expected to play an important role in CAM.

Why can some Beginners Send and Receive Ki from the First Day?

Why could some students not only receive Ki, but also send Ki to other students from the first day (Supplementary Table 2)? A possibility is that all human beings once possessed the abilities to ‘send out’ and to ‘receive’ Ki to and from other people. This ‘life-to-life’ communication might have been essential to human beings for their survival. However, since they learned to use language for communication, and because of the development of civilized living, they gradually lost these abilities. However, when an emergency situation occurs, for example, when a loved one has fallen ill or is involved in accident, it is natural for other family members to send Ki in an attempt to save the life of their loved one. Therefore, people still maintained the ability to send Ki until the present day.

Ki may be Related to the Rhythm of Life

Most students, who were enrolled in MLSN-1 course, were interested in Ki-phenomena. They had experience in different forms of Ki-practice or martial arts. Some had training in music or dance. On the other hand, most of students enrolled in MLSN-2 did not have that experience. Perhaps the difference between the success rate of the first-day PBR test for MLSN-1 students (42.9%) and that for MLSN-2 (9%) was caused by a difference in the students’ experience (Supplementary Tables 1 and 2). It is natural that previous training in martial arts or other Ki practices is advantageous in learning Ki. However, why is the training in music or dance helpful in learning Ki ? A common factor in music and dance is rhythm. It is well known that our life activities have rhythms, for example, heart pulsation, breathing, a daily rhythm, monthly rhythm and yearly rhythm. The universe also has rhythms; the earth turns once a day, the moon orbits once a month and the earth travel around the sun once a year. Therefore, if Ki is a function of life, then rhythm may be an important element of Ki. This may be the reason why some people who have had serious training in music or dance were found to have a high sensitivity toward Ki.

Although a considerable percentage of the beginners could sense Ki in a 10-week course, this does not mean that 10 weeks is enough to master Ki. As we discussed in this commentary, the essential requirement for the Eastern way of practice is ‘discipline and continuation’. You can become a master of any of the Eastern arts only when you are dedicated to life-long continuous practice. Nevertheless, the finding that a substantial percentage of beginners could feel Ki either from the first week or at least in 10 weeks, is very encouraging. It gives us hope that we could learn and use Ki for improving our health with a reasonable amount of practice time.

In conclusion, the significance of our findings in relation to CAM is 3-fold: (i) Ki has both energy and entropy (information) aspects. In the healing art that employs Ki, the mindset of a healer may be transmitted to the patient as ‘information’. (ii) If beginners have had sufficient training in Ki-related practices, martial arts, music or dance, about 50% of them could sense Ki after a 10-week practice of NBM. (ii) The practice of breathing to enhance the Ki level may in-essence help to restore the original ability of human beings. Therefore, it may contribute to improve our health, wellness and life itself.

Supplementary Data

Supplementary data are available at eCAM online.


We thank Master Kozo Nishino for his Ki instruction. Thanks are also due to the students of the NBM in the USA who participated in this study, to Mr Steven Dennis for preparing illustrations and to Mr Mark Singer for editing the manuscript.


1. Ikegami S. Tokyo: Kodansha Publishing Co.; 1991. Miracle of Ki (in Japanese)
2. Yuasa Y. Tokyo: NHK (Nippon Broadcasting Company) Book Publisher; 1991. What is Ki? (in Japanese)
3. Yuasa Y. In: The Body, Self-Cultivation and Ki-energy. Nagatomo S, Hull MS, translators. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press; 1993.
4. Chang S-O. Meaning of Ki related to touch in caring. Holist Nurs Pract. 2001;16:73–84. [PubMed]
5. Chang S-O. The nature of touch therapy related to Ki: practitioners' perspective. Nurs Health Sci. 2003;5:103–14. [PubMed]
6. Lee M. Effects on in vitro and in vivo qi-therapy on neutrophil superoxide generation in healthy male subjects. Am J Chin Med. 2003;31:623–8. [PubMed]
7. Chen K. An analytic review of studies on measuring effects of external QI in China. Altern Ther Health Med. 2004;10:38–50. [PubMed]
8. Kobayashi H, Ishii M. Mind-Body, Ki (Qi) and the Skin: Commentary on Irwin's ‘Shingles Immunity and Health Functioning in the Elderly: Tai Chi Chih as a Behavioral Treatment’ Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2005;2:113–6. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
9. Olalde JA. The systemic theory of living systems and relevance to CAM. Part I: The theory. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2005;2:13–8. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
10. Flowers J. What is Qi? Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2006;3:551–2. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
11. Kuramoto AM. Therapeutic benefits of Tai Chi exercise: Research review. WMJ. 2006;105:42–6. [PubMed]
12. Hankey A, McCrum S. Qigong: life energy and a new science of life. J Altern Complement Med. 2006;12:841–2. [PubMed]
13. Shinnick P. Qigong: where did it come from? Where does it fit in science? What are the advances? J Altern Complement Med. 2006;12:351–3. [PubMed]
14. Weze C, Leathard HL, Grange J, Tiplady P, Stevens G. Healing by gentle touch ameliorates stress and other symptoms in people suffering with mental health disorders or psychological stress. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2007;4:115–23. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
15. Abbott RB, Hui K-K, Hays RD, Li M-D, Pan T. A randomized controlled trial of tai chi for tension headaches. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2007;4:107–13. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
16. Nishino K. The Breath of Life: Using the Power of Ki for Maximum Vitality. Tokyo, New York, London: Kodansha International; 1997.
17. Nishino K. Le Souffle de Vie, Utiliser le Pouroir du Ki. Paris: Guy Tredaniel Editeur; 1998.
18. Nishino K. Il Respiro Della Vita, La massima vitalita dalla forza del Ki, Esercizi di Respirazione facili, effieaci, completamente illustrati. Rome, Italy: Edizioni Mediterranee, Via Flaminia; 1999.
19. Nishino K. Tokyo: Shodensha; 1989. The Discovery of Ki (in Japanese)
20. Nishino K. Ki-energy in health. Proceedings for the 4th International Congress on Traditional Asian Medicine. 1994;1:148–70.
21. Nishino K. In: The Dictionary of Respiration. Arita H, editor. Tokyo: Asakura Book Publishing Co.; 2006. pp. 678–97. The Nishino Breathing Method (in Japanese). In.
22. Yumi K. In: Nishino K, editor. TAKE Shobo Pub. Co; 2005. The Ultimate Example of Nishino Breating Method: Everyday of Yumi Kaoru with Slim and Bouncing Body (in Japanese)
23. Nishino K. Symposium on Anti-aging, 27th Annual Meeting of Japanese Medical Society. Osaka, Japan: 2007. Apr 2, Anti-aging effects of the Nishino Breathing Method (Symposium Speaker)
24. Nishino K. 47th Annual Meeting of the Japanese Respiratory Society. Tokyo, Japan: 2007. May 10, The Possibility of Respiration in the 21st Century (Keynote Speech)
25. Ohnishi ST, Ohnishi T, Nishino K, Tsurusaki Y, Yamaguchi M. Growth inhibition of cultured human carcinoma cells by Ki-energy (Life Energy): Scientific evidence of Ki-effect on cancer cells. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2005;2:387–93. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
26. Ohnishi ST, Ohnishi T, Nishino K. Ki- Energy (life-energy) protects isolated mitochondria from oxidative injury. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2006;3:475–82. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
27. Ohnishi ST, Nishino K, Uchiyama K, Ohnishi T, Yamaguchi M. Ki-energy (life-energy) stimulates osteoblastic cells and inhibits the formation of osteoclast-like cells in bone cell cultured models. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2007 [PMC free article] [PubMed]
28. Kimura H, Nagao F, Tanaka Y, Sakai S, Ohnishi ST, Okumura K. Beneficial effects of the Nishino Breathing Method on the immune activity and stress level. J Altern Complement Med. 2005;11:285–91. [PubMed]
29. Ohnishi ST, Ohnishi T. The Nishino Breathing Method and Ki-energy (life-energy): A challenge to traditional scientific thinking. Evid Based Complement Altern Med. 2006;3:191–200. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
30. Ohnishi ST. Ki: A key to transform the century of death to the century of life. Evid Based Complement Altern Med. 2007;4:287–92. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
31. Yuasa Y. Qi and Human Science (in Japanese) Tokyo, Japan: Hirakawa pub. Co; 1990. (The Proceeding of Sino-Japan Qigong Conference (in Japanese,) which was held at Tsukuba University, Tsukuba, Japan during November 4 and 8 in 1988)
32. Yuasa Y, Takemoto T. New-Age Science and the Science of Ki. In: Yuasa Y, Tokyo Takemoto T, editors. Seido Publishing Co; 1993. Report on the 1984 Japan-France Symposium on Science, Technology and Spiritual World (held in Tsukuba) (in Japanese)
33. Jacobi J. In: Bash KW, translator. New Haven: Yale University Press; 1951. The Psychology of C.G. Jung.
34. Ohnishi ST, Ohnishi T. How far can Ki-energy reach?—A hypothetical mechanism for the generation and transmission of Ki-energy. 2008. Based Complement Altern Med.
35. Kiang T. Chinese ‘Nature Magazine’: Chinese style. Nature. 1978;275:697.
36. Kawano K, Koito H, Fujiki T, Shinagawa Y. EEG and topography during Chinese ‘Qigong’ training. Neurosiences. 1990;16:503–8.
37. Shinagawa Y. Tokyo: Kobunsha; 1990. The Science of Qigong (in Japanese)
38. Machi Y. Tokyo: Tokyo Denki University Press; 1993. The Science of Ki (in Japanese)
39. Yuasa Y. In: Nagatomo S, Kasulis TP, translators; Kasulis TP, editor. Albany, New York: State University of New York; 1987. The Body: Toward an Eastern Mind-Body Theory.
40. Shannon CE. A mathematical theory of communication. Bell Syst. Tech. J. 1948;27:379–423, 623–56.
41. Schrodinger E. What is Life?—The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1944.

Articles from Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM are provided here courtesy of Hindawi Limited