Kan Vision:

A Foundational Practice Toward Developing Harmony

by Jaime Dunkle, 6th Kyu

Editor’s Note: This is the beginning of a new series of articles from instructors and students at the dojo. Very grateful to Jaime for getting this series started again. If you would like to submit an article to be shared with the larger dojo community, please just email me and let me know. As was the case a few years ago we would very much welcome sharing perspectives and learning from each other in this way. Please enjoy this first article from Jaime on ‘Kan’ sight. Domo arigatou gozaimasu!

Studying kan vision as a novice has revealed to me that overall awareness, and compassion, can be increased the more one expands visual capability.

When kan vision was introduced to me as a concept in the NOLA Aikido dojo, the class was instructed to widen our vision to perceive not only the space ahead, but also the ceiling above, the mats below, and the walls on either side of us. This indicates that at the rudimentary level, exploring kan vision is the conscious utilization of peripheral sight.

This aspect of kan vision practice reminds me of when I studied juvenile corrections in junior college. We did exercises that imitated police officer training, which tested peripheral vision in the context of quickly analyzing crime scenes and writing police reports. Of course, this is a very useful skill. Honing peripheral vision allows one to see and recall details beyond the average scope. It also allows one to immediately sense potential risks of harm in emergencies. However, this is merely the external practice of kan vision. Beyond the surface, there is an even more life-changing and enhanced sensory development, in my opinion.

With the unfettered freshness of a beginner’s mind — known as shoshin in Zen practice — I’ve unwittingly allowed myself to extend kan’s amplification of view beyond stretching literal sight. Kan vision is also a way to enhance perspective.

In the book Vibration and Connection: The Aikido That I Pursue, Endo Seishiro Shihan says, “Think, execute, see, and feel broadly during aikido keiko [discipline, i.e. regular practice].” Likewise, in the NOLA Aikido dojo, we are instructed to practice softly, which also stems from the guidance of Endo Shihan. This makes me wonder if, as an internal practice, kan awakens the ability to comprehend and experience interconnectedness firsthand. Kan’s sense of interrelatedness can then assist aikido practice to traverse from the mats and throughout everyday life. Could it be that strengthening kan vision cultivates practicing broadly?

In the Spirit of Aikido by Ueshiba Kisshōmaru Dōshu, he talks about “the working of kan” as being an “intuitive quality” only achieved after years of training. However, this was in the context of sword making. Apparently a German scientist was unable to replicate the Japanese formula for crafting swords because there was a special ingredient missing, which Ueshiba Doshu called kan. He likens kan to an amalgamation of single-minded concentration and spiritual wisdom only emergent after diligent practice. Although it’s framed to be nearly unattainable, perhaps Ueshiba Doshu’s book passage hints at the internal process of kan insight.

From what I can tell so far in my aikido practice, as I develop a sensitivity to seeing widely, I’ve inadvertently developed a sensitivity to my surroundings. Notably, this sensitivity reaches further than physical spaces. Subtle nuances in mood, inflection, or body language are even more obvious to me now.

I have already used this newfound kan acumen as a way to de-escalate conflict in the workplace, avoid physically harmful scenarios, and skillfully navigate emotionally charged incidents. In an unobvious way, kan has helped me intuitively move through difficult circumstances, without stoking present dangers.

When practicing kan, it becomes easier to read situations and people. This means kan is also a way to become more thoughtful toward others. Elongating circumferential view via kan practice eventually transforms to the practice of harmonizing the aikidoist with other individuals and the environment.

Kan opens the eyes, broadens practice, and increases capacity for compassion because kan is foundational in the development of harmony.