I’ve received a number of questions recently about Usui Shiki Ryoho, the system of Reiki I teach. People have asked what it is exactly, how it differs from other forms of Reiki, and how to choose a Reiki teacher.
In the world today there are a dizzying array of practices with the name Reiki. The form of Reiki I practice and teach is called Usui Shiki Ryoho. That is the name of the system of Reiki taught by Hawayo Takata in the Americas in the 1970s. Takata slightly changed the name of the system she taught to differentiate it from the system taught by the founder Mikao Usui, which was called Usui Reiki Ryoho.
Usui Shiki Ryoho
The system of Usui Shiki Ryoho is characterized by four aspects and nine elements. The four aspects are steps on the journey that a Reiki student may go through in their practice of this system. The 9 elements are the specific characteristics that make up the form of teaching and the form of practice. So attending a class of Usui Shiki Ryoho will look, sound, and feel different than attending another type of Reiki class.
For example, in our form of teaching students pay fixed fees for each level of Reiki training. They receive four initiations (also called attunements) in the first degree class, which is taught over 12 or more hours and over several days. Our classes are taught orally, through storytelling, and through sharing of personal experience. Students are told the Reiki story, or the history of the Masters who have come before us. They are taught face-to-face by a recognized master who has spent many years preparing to lead the students through the class experience. In our classes students are taught the practice of the Reiki precepts. They are also taught to perform hands-on Reiki treatment, first on themselves, then on friends and family, and also for emergency situations such as injuries.
For students of the second degree, we offer at least one or more initiations, and we teach them three symbols. Each of the symbols is a specific tool to access the Reiki energy in a different way. This is a very deep commitment on the part of the student and of the master. These symbols are formal keys into the unseen world, accessing other realms of existence and deepening our experience of being human. We ask students to treat them as sacred, and to work with them as sacred keys. We do not tattoo them on our bodies nor wear them as jewelry. After taking the 2nd degree class, the three symbols will have specific functions and a defined form of use in the students’ daily practice of Reiki.
Is it exactly what Usui taught? Is it Japanese or Western?
Usui Shiki Ryoho is the system of Reiki that Hawayo Takata taught in Hawaii (before it was a state), the United States, Puerto Rico, and Canada. She was also lucky enough to return to Japan after World War II and reintroduce her teacher Chujiro Hayashi’s Reiki practice there to several groups of students. Takata learned this method in Japan in the 1930s from her teacher Chujiro Hayashi, who was a student of Usui’s. Therefore I think it is most fair to call this system a traditional form of Japanese Reiki. Takata had to change some of the Japanese words of the practice into English to explain it to a western audience. But for the original students who learned from Hawayo Takata, the practice they learned was almost exactly what was practiced in Japan at the time.
Unfortunately immediately after Takata’s death a great many Reiki teachers started changing the system. They started adding all kinds of outside practices that were not part of Japanese Reiki. They sped up the trainings and the time between levels. They decreased or eliminated the element of money in the system. They stopped performing some of the practices that Hawayo Takata had taught. They changed the names of the practice. Instead of four initiations in the first degree they started giving only one. Instead of training students for years, they started training them in a weekend. These changes created what many people think of today as Western Reiki.
How is this different from Usui Reiki, or Usui Tibetan Reiki?
I’m not qualified to say much about any other form of Reiki. I have only learned Usui Shiki Ryoho from my teacher John Harvey Gray. He learned it directly from Hawayo Takata, and he spent three years with her training to be a Master, hosting her in his home for months at a time, and hosting classes for her almost weekly while she was there. He had the chance to observe her teaching and practice of Reiki over years, and he recorded many of her classes on giant reel-to-reel audio tapes that he used to play in his classes, so I am certain what he taught me is almost exactly what Takata taught him.
Usui Shiki Ryoho has the most thorough preparation and training of students of any style of Reiki in the West. Giving four initiations to each student in the first degree assures they have a very strong lifelong connection with Reiki that will never fade away. The very simple pattern of hand positions we teach is easy to remember and forms the foundation of a lifelong practice. The three symbols we teach in the second degree are given after months of practice with the first degree, and are much easier to remember than the dozens of symbols that are sometimes taught by other Reiki teachers. Training and preparation for the Master or instructor level takes years, not days, because our teachers are people who are making a lifelong commitment to Reiki and they are willing to invest years to have the clearest possible connection to the source of Reiki. That is often not true of people who take a weekend class and leave calling themselves a master or “grand-master.” In my experience, there is nothing in this world that yields Mastery in a weekend. My personal journey as a master has taken 27 years, and I feel I am just at the beginning of having something to offer myself and others.
I have received many students who attended shorter classes and faster trainings, who after some time had forgotten most of what they were taught and could no longer feel the Reiki flowing through them. They came to me seeking retraining because their own masters were inexplicably no longer teaching Reiki, or had disappeared, or were now teaching something different and didn’t want to teach Reiki anymore.
While I do not have much opinion about any other form of Reiki, I can say that I have a low opinion of Reiki instructors who claim to teach first-degree, second-degree, and the Master level (teacher level) in one weekend. This is unethical in my opinion. Rare is the student who leaves those classes who, after a few months, feels that they can remember anything they were taught. Almost all of them will end up retaking Reiki classes eventually with an instructor who offers a more thorough hands-on training.
When there is no storytelling in the class, such as the Reiki story, or stories about healing reactions in the body, then students also leave without a foundation for understanding their practice. When the Reiki Precepts are not taught in class, or the self treatment practice, students leave without the keys that will open them over time to all the gifts Reiki may reveal to them. Reiki does not exist in a vacuum. It comes from a specific time and place in Japan, and students who do not understand that context will be at a significant disadvantage.
I recommend to all students seeking a Reiki teacher, please find a teacher who respects the value of time and thoroughness of preparation in your Reiki training. If the class is just a few hours, if there are fewer than four initiations or attunements, if the teacher doesn’t teach you to treat yourself and others, and doesn’t tell you the story of Reiki, of Mikao Usui who climbed Mount Kurama in Japan after a lifelong quest, and had a spiritual experience that connected him to the source of Reiki, then please find another teacher who is better able to introduce you to all Reiki has to offer.
I wish you the best on your Reiki journey.