Ikioi [pronounced “i-key-oy”] is “momentum” — an incredibly powerful force that moves us forward in life and in our karatedō.
Momentum makes such an incredible difference: to have momentum is not only a matter of moving in the right direction, but also the tendency to keep moving in the right direction.
And to lose momentum can mean more than just a slowing down in progress — it can be the “slippery slope” that turns positive movement into actively moving in the wrong direction.
Momentum is About Catching Fire
One of the best ways to think of Ikioi is to think of a fire in the dark woods. The fire is essential to survival, because it offers warmth, illumination, and safety.
However, to start a fire from nothing is difficult: first, we must locate a small amount of combustible wood that is dry, and we then have to carefully start and stoke the fire so that it is stable and burns. At this point, the fire is small, and gives off only small amounts of warmth and illumination, but its a start.
As the fire glows, we can see further in the darkness, and then we can find more wood that previously was hidden in the forest. And then we can gather that wood, and add it to the fire. And the fire grows, and we can see even deeper into the forest, and gather even more wood, etc.
Momentum is exactly like that. There is a certain inertia in life — once we overcome that inertia, we move onto another level, and that itself becomes a self-reinforcing energy that moves us forward, higher and higher, towards our goals.
Halting Backwards Momentum
The other side of momentum, however, is that it is also possible for us to move backwards at an ever-accelerating rate as well.
To use our analogy of the fire in the woods, if we begin to lose our momentum, the fire starts to go down, and there is less illumination for us to see deeper into the forest. That means less wood can be gathered, and the fire will continue to go down. Eventually, the fire will go out completely as we exhaust our ability to supply it with the critical fuel that it needs to grow.
Backwards momentum or negative momentum is a very harmful and counter-productive state to inhabit. And, as we saw in our "fire" analogy, a very difficult state to reverse.
Equilibriums are Unnatural
Many popular philosophers have noted that “if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards” — and there is in fact great truth to this point of view.
Ikioi is not so much about an efficient way to go forward as it is about a requirement for moving forward.
Momentum is a necessity, not a luxury.
It is important for us to find, maintain, and celebrate Ikioi in all aspects of our daily lives. The importance of this is rooted in a fundamental fact of the universe: there is no such thing as a mantaining an equilibrium where we are moving neither forward nor backwards.
Equilibirums do exist in nature, and in fact, are quite common. They are the basis of many biological systems, and many states of nature in on land, in the seas, and in the deepest reaches of outer space.
But those equilibriums all require energy to maintain: in effect, equilibriums do not exist in nature without effort to maintiain them. They are unnatural.
Forward Momentum or Backwards Momentum: You Choose
So we understand the fundamental point of ikkoi: either build forward momentum and reap the rewards of ikkoi, or do nothing, or do the wrong things, and suffer the effects of backwards momentum.
There is no middle ground. We must work constantly to improve our position, improve ourselves, and keep moving forward. We must guard against complacency, and must zealously protect and enhance the good that we create.
"Whatever you are going to do with your life, get at it. All good will be attacked. All values must be defended. In all areas of the human existence, what we put into this world, we get back from it.” – Jim Rohn (well-known American business lecturer)
These are fundamental facts of life, and ikkoi is a powerful fundamental force of the universe, and of karatedō.
Editor's Note: This lecture was first delivered by Sensei in San Rafael, California on 15 October 2014, and then again at the Goju Karate NYC Dojo on 8 March 2023, and then once more at the Goju Karate NYC Dojo and via Livestream on 10 March 2023.